Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt

4 October 2016 - 2 January 2017

Information from NGA’s newsletter, 20 October 2015

Dutch landscapes, still lifes, and scenes of daily life painted in the 17th century possess a remarkable immediacy and authenticity, giving the impression that Dutch artists painted them from life. However, these subjects—as well as biblical and mythological subjects—were actually painted in studios, often using drawings as points of departure. Some 100 drawings and paintings by such renowned golden age artists as Jan van Goyen and Rembrandt van Rijn will reveal the many ways Dutch artists used preliminary drawings in the painting process. The exhibition will include sketchbooks, broad compositional drawings, individual figural motifs, counterproofs, and carefully ruled construction drawings. It will also examine the drawings artists made on their panel and canvas supports before painting their scenes.

Exhibition Highlights

Drawing formed the basis of rigorous studio training for aspiring painters. Young artists started by copying prints and drawings, then paintings and sculptures; before progressing to making studies after live models and from nature. After this training, artists continued to draw throughout their careers and often used these drawings as guides for their painted compositions. Dutch drawings of the 17th century range from careful life studies to images drawn from the imagination, such as those based on stories from the Bible or mythology. For example, Jan van Kessel traveled through the Netherlands to record his impressions of the landscape in a sketchbook; Rembrandt made figure studies to resolve specific poses or groupings in his biblical paintings; and Saenredam made ruled construction drawings that he carefully transferred to panel before painting his soaring church interiors.

The drawings in the exhibition also reflect the range of materials artists used—pen and ink to quickly capture an idea or delineate a detail; chalk to model figures with tone, light, and shade; and watercolor to convey color. Counterproofs, made by pressing a moist paper onto a chalk drawing to obtain its reverse image, provided artists such as Gerrit Berckheyde with a greater variety of pictorial elements for painted compositions.

Several works in the exhibition will be on view in the United States for the first time, including Saenredam’s drawing of the Choir and High Altar of Sint-Janskerk at s-Hertogenbosch (1632) on loan from the British Museum, a preliminary study that the artist later used to create his oil on panel Cathedral of Saint John at s-Hertogenbosch (1646) from the National Gallery of Art. Two of nine surviving sketchbooks by 17th-century Dutch draftsmen are included in this exhibition. Jan van Kessel’s sketchbook will be displayed next to a touch-screen monitor with a digitized selection of its drawings.

Curator and Catalog

The exhibition and catalog are the result of a close collaboration among Peter Schatborn, former head of the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam, who proposed the concept; Ger Luijten, director of the Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris; and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., curator of northern baroque paintings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

A fully illustrated catalog features scholarly essays by the curators as well as entries by a team of international scholars on the artists and works included in the exhibition.

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