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Composing the landscape

A Winter Scene with a Fair on the Ice©

This display brings together A Winter Scene with Figures, painted by Jan Wouwermans, with drawings by seventeenth-century landscape artists.

Artists made rapid sketches to capture a scene, a detail or an idea, and often collected large numbers of such studies over the course of their careers. They would use motifs from these sketches when composing larger works – drawings or paintings – in the studio. For instance, the study of A standing girl can be found with only minor alterations in several paintings by Hendrik Avercamp.

Looking closely at these works on paper reveals clues about artists’ methods. The curving lines of red chalk in Avercamp’s A sleigh accident on the ice are the first, rapid attempt to capture the scene. They were very probably made in the open air, as the event unfolded or as an immediate recollection of the scene. Strokes of brown ink over and around these lines were added by the artist later (perhaps back in his studio) to clarify and refine the image.

In the top left-hand corner of Two studies of a knife-grinder, the figure is sketched with similarly loose curving lines beside a larger, more complete version made in pen, ink and watercolour.

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