Saturday 14 April 2012

The Drawings of Guercino

Currently on exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford are drawings from the superb Mahon collection of drawings by the Baroque artist, Guercino (1591 - 1666). A prolific painter, he was also from the outset an outstanding draughtsman and we are very lucky that so many of his drawings have survived and are in British Collections.

I first saw his drawings in 1991 in an exhibition of Guercino's Drawings at the British Museum and was immediately captivated, not just by their superb quality, but by the insight they offered into his working process which, as a practising artist, I can certainly relate to. His method and materials were varied but seemed to reflect the stage of development a work was at. I have chosen some drawings from the Ashmolean's excellent exhibition to illustrate this.

When trying out the options for a compositions he would essay variations in pen and ink, quickly sketching in the less important details but focusing on the attitudes of the heads, and sometimes the limbs. His confidence in simple line is apparent. I particularly enjoyed coming across the second drawing below including a rectangle of paper at the top to reveal another compositional option underneath. The next stage of his process appears to be the addition of a wash to suggest volume and how the subject would be lit, a particular strength of Guercino in his paintings.

His drawings in red chalk seem to reflect another stage in the evolution of a work. Much more resolved and drawn from life I suspect, they have a real vitality which I can only envy. The detail of "Two Women Conversing" below is a beautfiul rendering of light on the the forms. Sometimes he mixes materials and methods as with the "Woman painting a Coat of Arms on a canvas" which has pen, wash, chalk and even some oiled charcoal. Charcoal was a material he used less frequently but he was equally a master of, as is obvious below. The forms in the male figure are so well observed and beautifully captured, providing sufficent detail for me to even begin to sculpt!

I offer below some of my own personal highlights from the Ashmolean collection which I hope illustrate Guercino's use and mastery which, us lesser mortals can but aspire to.

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