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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » July 18, 2017
Culture
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Netherlandish Paintings in the Making
July 18, 2017   
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A new exhibition at the National Museum in Warsaw gets up close and personal with famous Dutch and Flemish painters, offering audiences a behind-the-scenes look into how the greats made their masterpieces in the 16th to 18th centuries.

Entitled In the Workshop of a Netherlandish Master, the exhibition comprises drawings and sketches that the featured artists made while working on their paintings. Carefully selected from the National Museum’s Drawing and Table Cabinet, the somewhat obscure items provide visitors with an insight into the different techniques that were used in the late Renaissance. Much more vulnerable than paintings, the drawings and sketches need special preservation and as such, they are seldom put on display.


Visitors can learn a lot about traditional painting techniques thanks to infrared photographs of 16th-century Netherlandish paintings. The special images reveal different creative stages that are normally invisible.

The exhibition spans around three centuries, with the oldest drawing dating back to the late 15th century and the newest one originating in the early 19th century. The sketches on show include ones by the likes of 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. While picking items for the exhibition, the organizers sought to demonstrate the diverse purposes the drawings served. Most of them were, in fact, the most personal form of artistic expression, intended only to be seen by the painter, his close collaborators and apprentices.

The featured items include studies of human figures, animals and landscapes, some of them imitating real-life objects and others being just a projection of a painter’s own imagination. Visitors can also see sketches and designs of stained-glass windows, tapestries, paintings and even decorative objects made of gold. Some of the drawings are actually copies of other ones, made by apprentices as well as renowned painters as they sought inspiration in the work of older masters.

A section of the exhibition focuses on images painters sketched directly on primed canvas and boards. Such sketches would vanish under consecutive layers of paint, but using infrared photography on several 16th-century paintings, the Warsaw museum has been able to uncover the buried drawings. The results of the examination are presented in great detail on a selection of three paintings (St. Reinhold Altar by Joos van Cleve and his Workshop, Triptych of the Lamentation of Christ by Jean Bellegambe, and Caritas by an unknown Netherlandish painter).

The research into the underlying drawings brings out the artists’ original ideas and reveals how many people were involved in the making of a painting. Importantly, it also shows the evolution of the overall composition as the paintings changed owners, each requesting alterations to the original picture. The infrared images are reproduced in life size for better comparison with the present-day appearance of the paintings.

Until Aug. 20
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