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Studies for Masterpieces
Selected by John Malyon
I'm a big fan of drawings and oil sketches, and I love the way that preparatory studies for a work of art can shed light on the artist's thought processes. Any great painting requires a variety of problems regarding composition and lighting and perspective to be solved, and yet these elements are usually passed over by casual observers.

This month will select a remarkable study each day, and juxtapose it with the finished version of the work. It's kind of an experiment - I hope you have as much fun viewing them as I am having tracking them down.

As always, I have tried to link only to scans that are of exceptional quality. Infinite thanks to those museums and image archives that strive to do justice to great art.

Note that external links will open in a new window, so that works can be compared side by side. You can expand or zoom in on many of the images.



Link to Finished Version

Jan 31 Seurat: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte Georges Seurat This painting is available at AllPosters Studies for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884.

The Webshots image at left is one of the dozens of studies that the tireless Pointillist Georges Seurat made for his greatest painting. Seventeen studies in total can be found on Webshots. (Don't miss the "View Full Size" link that makes the large versions monster-sized.)

The Art Institute of Chicago (which owns the final version of the painting) has yet another drawing online. And two more studies can be seen at the National Gallery, London.

Sometimes they just say, "Take me to the painting with the dots"
- Studs Terkel, describing how everybody in
Chicago knows and loves La Grande Jatte

Jan 30 Guercino: Aurora Guercino Study of horses for the ceiling fresco Aurora, 1621-23.

Jan 29 Gericault: Raft of the Medusa Théodore Géricault Gericault: Raft of the Medusa Studies for The Raft of the Medusa, 1819.

Géricault made many preparatory sketches for this epic work. This art history course page illustrates a number of studies other than the ones pictured here, including some alternate scenes aboard the raft.

When exhibited, this graphic recreation of a particularly black incident in French naval history created a minor sensation. The darkly-named Medusa was a frigate which hit a reef and sank en route to Senegal. Its officers were packed into lifeboats, while the rest of the crew were towed behind, on a raft. In due course the boats cut the raft loose and left 150 men to perish.

After 12 days, the few who remained alive on the raft were picked up by another ship, returning to France with blood-curdling stories of the abandonment and subsequent incidents of murder and cannibalism.

Géricault sensed the opportunity to create a great work, and threw himself into the project. He studied corpses in the morgue, interviewed the survivors of the shipwreck, built a scale model of the raft in his studio, and even shaved his head so as not to be tempted to waste time at his usual night haunts.

The painting inflamed what was already a major embarrassment to the French government. It came out that the captain was a political appointee who was incompetent, overriding the navigational advice of his crew and hitting a reef in broad daylight. And not only was the cutting loose of the raft an act of inhuman cowardice, it was later learned that the Medusa had never broken up and there had been no immediate need to leave the ship at all.

Jan 27 Waterhouse: Nymphs finding the Head of Orpheus John William Waterhouse This painting is available at AllPosters Oil study for Nymphs finding the Head of Orpheus, 1900.

Jan 25 Leonardo: The Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo: Study for the head of Christ This painting is available at AllPosters Studies for The Last Supper, 1498.

The link above shows the Milanese fresco after its recent cleaning. Here's another link to a second version on which the names of the apostles at the table are listed.

Jan 24 Leonardo da Vinci: Virgin and Child with Saint Anne Leonardo da Vinci Chalk study of the head of the Virgin for The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and a Lamb, C.1508-12.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has also added a zoomable scan of this same drawing as part of its current exhibition, Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman.

This drawing is available at AllPosters For those who may not be aware, Saint Anne is the mother of the Virgin Mary. She is traditionally represented in art as sitting with Mary on her lap.

These works are related to one of the greatest drawings ever laid down on paper - Leonardo's earlier study of a similar subject, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and the Young Saint John the Baptist.

Jan 23 Morisot: The Cherry Tree Berthe Morisot Watercolor study for The Cherry Tree, 1891.

Webshots has its own way of doing things. In order to display these two images full size you will probably have to change the default viewing option from "Fit Window" to "Normal". Below each image is an easily-missed "View Full Size" link that will expand each image even further.

Jan 22 Benjamin West: The Battle of La Hogue Benjamin West Pen and ink study for The Battle of La Hogue, 1778.

The completed painting is another huge canvas - 7 feet by 5 feet. Carol Gerten's image archive has a vivid detail image of the painting.

Jan 20 Bosch: The Ship of Fools Hieronymus Bosch Study for The Ship of Fools, C.1500.

Jan 20 Ingres: Portrait of Louis-Francois Bertin J.A.D. Ingres Study for Portrait of Louis-Francois Bertin, 1833.

A magnificent portrait by one of my favorite painters, and unquestionably one of the most brilliant artists of his time. I have a theory that he would be much better known in North America if the name Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres simply worked better in English. Yes it's ridiculous, but I have no doubt it's correct.

I speak French as a second language, and my opinion is that Ingres is pronounced closest to "Ang", followed by just a hint of a "g-r" at the back of the throat (try to imitate the sound of the spittle vacuum that goes in your mouth while the dentist looks for cavities).

Compare this to the clarity and simplicity and readability of names like Monet, Degas and Cézanne. I suspect that even native French speakers in conversation have to take care to to pronounce Ingres' name carefully and in a clear context.

Jan 19 Leonardo: Adoration of the Magi Leonardo da Vinci Perspective study for Adoration of the Magi, 1481-82.

This painting was commissioned by the monks of a monastery but was never completed (Leonardo was notorious for unfinished projects). The panel, owned by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, exists only as an ink and yellow ochre underpainting.

Jan 18 Raphael: St. Catherine of Alexandria Raphael This painting is available at AllPosters Study for St. Catherine of Alexandria, 1508.

Jan 17 Springer: View of The Hague
Medium size
GIANT size
Cornelis Springer
with Kaspar Karsen
Oil study for 17th Century View of The Hague from the Delftse Vaart, 1852. Medium size. GIANT size. (Internet Explorer users can also follow this link for more information about both paintings, but the Rijksmuseum site basically does not work with Netscape.)

The paintings look basically the same when viewing the medium-size images. But the final version is six times as long (11 feet), and when you look at the superbly scanned giant images, it is clearly much more polished. These days even the sketch could easily pass for a fully finished "Impressionist" painting, but alas Impressionism hadn't been invented in 1852 and Cornelis had to do it the hard way. He even had to bring in a partner in order to get the task completed.

Note: You almost certainly won't be able to see the entire giant-sized images on your screen, even if you maximize your window. Internet Explorer allows me to click-and-drag the image around within the window. Netscape doesn't allow this and also shows the image with NO SCROLL BARS. Doh! But just right-click on the painting and choose "View Image", and the scroll bars show up.

Jan 16 Sargent: Madame X John Singer Sargent Watercolor sketch for Madame X, 1884.

Before beginning the remarkable Madame X, Sargent did a series of studies of Virginie Gautreau in different poses. Five of them are displayed on Natasha Wallace's wonderful site devoted to this Grand Manner portraitist. The watercolor pictured at left appears to be one of the later studies, and in it you can see the beginnings of that famous, glamorous, decadent posture that created such a sensation.

Jan 15 Raphael: The School of Athens Raphael Large (6 foot by 2 foot) cartoon for The School of Athens, 1510-11.

Raphael: The School of Athens This drawing is one of the treasures of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. They don't have a great reproduction online, to be quite honest, and I have been unable to find a better one. They used to show a fair detail image that can still be seen online - courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine, one of the coolest tools in this or any universe.

At the far left is a detail image of the same drawing, found on a page by the artist Aviva Kramer (way at the bottom).

Jan 14 Homer: Hound and Hunter Winslow Homer Watercolor sketch for Hound and Hunter, 1892.

When the painting was first exhibited, some viewers thought the hunter was drowning the deer. But he was merely securing a deer that had already been shot, replied Homer: The critics may think that that deer is alive but he is not - otherwise the boat & man would be knocked high & dry.

Homer later repainted part of the picture to clarify what was happening. Compared to the sketch, the water in the reworked version is stiller and more opaque, the deer is much lower in the water, and the hound is swimming less vigorously.

Jan 13 Millet: Man with a Hoe Jean-François Millet Chalk study for Man with a Hoe, C.1862. There is also a close-up detail of the man's face online.

This is the third day in a row I've selected drawings from the excellent Getty Museum website. Browse around a bit and you will see they have an extremely strong collection of drawings, and they provide lots of what museums call interpretive text.

Jan 12 Gros: Napoleon at the Battlefield of Eylau Antoine-Jean Gros Pen and ink study for Napoleon at the Battlefield of Eylau, 1808.

Gros and Jacques-Louis David were Napoleon's great propagandists. Gros in fact won a state-sponsored competition to paint the official record of this bloody French victory over the Russians. The sketch at left would have been used in preparation for the painting Gros entered in the competition. The vast (17 foot by 26 foot) final version of the painting is owned by the Louvre museum in Paris.

Jan 11 Barocci: Aeneas' Flight from Troy Federico Barocci Chalk studies for Aeneas' Flight from Troy, 1598. The completed sketch is squared off so that the image can be scaled up to the size of the canvas.

Barocci: Aeneas' Flight from Troy

Jan 10 Degas: Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando Edgar Degas Pastel study for Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando, 1879.

Jan 9 Leonardo: Mona Lisa Leonardo da Vinci Study for La Gioconda (the Mona Lisa), C.1503-06.

You've gotta love the enormous leafy branch she's holding, but overall I agree with Leonardo's final decision to leave it out.

Unfortunately the authenticity of this drawing has been questioned, but it does appear to have an excellent provenance (chain of ownership) and to be done in a medium that Leonardo favored: silverpoint.

Jan 8 Guercino: Esther before Ahasuerus Guercino Studies for Esther before Ahasuerus, 1630s

Guercino: Esther before Ahasuerus

Jan 7 Cezanne: Madame Cezanne in a Red Armchair Paul Cézanne Study for Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, C.1877.

Black-grey wash over graphite.

Jan 6 Waterhouse: Boreas John William Waterhouse Chalk study for Boreas, 1903

Boreas is the North Wind in Greek mythology.

The problem of representing continuous or unrepetitive action has never been satisfactorily solved. Usually, the artist siezes a random phase of the action, accompanied by such obvious symbols as wind-blown drapery or trailing hair.
    - Robert Beverly Hale, Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters

Jan 5 Seurat: Invitation to the Sideshow Georges Seurat Study for Invitation to the Sideshow, 1888

Gaslight outdoors is the new light problem, while static repose, based on parallel verticals – with the trombone players as central axis – and horizontals, determines the composition and gives the picture a hieratic relief-like quality.
    - E.G. Buehrle Collection website

Jan 4 Caillebotte: Paris Street: A Rainy Day Gustave Caillebotte Study for Paris Street; a Rainy Day, 1877

Jan 3 Gericault: An Officer of the Imperial Horse Guards Charging Théodore Géricault Study for Officer of the Imperial Horse Guards Charging, 1814

All the main elements of the final painting are present in the study. The main thing I notice is that the horse is stretched out at about a 45 degree diagonal in the study, while the finished version shows more of a rear view.

Jan 2 Munkacsy: Golgotha Mihály Munkácsy Study for Golgotha, 1884