Two drawings by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656) have been acquired by The British Museum recently. They are the first securely attributed sheets by the seventeenth-century Dutch artist to enter the Museum’s collection.
Honthorst was the foremost member of the so-called Dutch Caravaggisti, the Utrecht-based followers of Caravaggio (1571-1610), who traveled to Rome and adopted elements of the Italian artist’s style, especially dramatic light effects cast from candles or windows. He was the only Dutch follower of Caravaggio who left behind a group of drawings, owning to his training with Abraham Bloemaert in Utrecht (1566-1651).
The freely drawn sheets depict expressive, young women illuminated by candlelight – one is holding a painting or a mirror – and may have been intended as studies for prints or records of paintings produced in his studio. With carefully applied painterly white chalk highlights, Honthorst captured the light effects of the nocturnal scenes. He established a large workshop in Utrecht when he returned from Italy in 1620, fusing local tradition with Italian developments, and his portraits were in demand across European courts including England, Denmark, Bohemia and Holland. The newly acquired drawings are foremost examples of his draftsmanship, and they characterized the international directions of Dutch art in the early seventeenth century.
Olenka Horbatsch, Curator of Dutch and Flemish Prints and Drawings