The central theme of this exhibition of drawings and paintings from the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw is the role these works played in the workshop practices of 16th – 18th century artists.
In the Workshop of a Netherlandish Master is the largest exhibition of Dutch and Flemish drawings from the museum’s collection ever presented. On display will be works spanning three hundred years, the oldest dating back to between the late 15th and early 16th centuries, with the most recent arising in the early 19th century. Among them, visitors will find drawings by artists such as Pieter (I) Coecke van Aelst, Maerten de Vos, Lodewijk Toeput, Jacques (II) de Gheyn, Pieter (II) Stevens, Peter Paul Rubens, Theodoor van Thulden, Jan van Noordt and Ferdinand Bol. Ordinarily stored in the Department of Prints and Drawings due to the frailty of the techniques and materials, these works will now make a rare appearance for a wider public.
The selection of drawings was informed by a desire to highlight their manifold functions. Interestingly, the medium of drawing was often the most intimate form of artistic expression, as it was intended solely for the artist and perhaps a small circle of his peers or students. Among the works on display will be studies of the human figure, animals and landscapes drawn from life, alongside compositions arising from the imagination, such as designs for stained-glass windows, tapestries, paintings, prints and even silverware. Some of the drawings are copies made by students practicing their craft, or established artists searching for inspiration in the compositions of the Old Masters.
A section of the exhibition will be devoted to underdrawings – preparatory sketches made directly on a primed panel or canvas and gradually covered with layers of paint during the painting process. Especially for the exhibition a number of 16th-century Netherlandish paintings from the collection of the National Museum have been analysed using infrared photography, revealing what lies beneath the layers of paint, with the results being presented in detail by three of the most interesting examples. Examination of underdrawing sheds light on an artist’s initial vision, on the number of individuals involved in the production of a given work, and even on how a composition changed over time through alterations made at the behest of those who commissioned the work, or its subsequent owners. Visitors to the exhibition will have a rare chance to compare a painting’s final composition with to-scale IR photography of the underdrawing.
Accompanying the exhibition will be a richly illustrated, Polish-English catalogue. Meanwhile the educational program, featuring lectures, seminars and workshops in the gallery, will cover a variety of fascinating topics connected to Netherlandish artists and their work, as well as the modern methods used by scholars in their research.