A wide range of buyers are becoming increasingly drawn to Old Master drawings due to their spontaneity, immediacy and decorative appeal, in addition to their academic significance.

Such drawings, often freely executed preparatory works for larger paintings, can sometimes provide a more palpable connection to an artist’s creative processes than the finished painted article.      

Works from the collection of Alan Barlow (1926-2005), offered in Cheffins’ forthcoming Fine Sale on March 20th, acutely demonstrate the varied appeal of Old Master studies on paper.

Alan Barlow was a theatre designer and director, teacher, painter and muralist.  The art he collected was similarly eclectic and often inspired his own designs.  Indeed, the sets for Barlow’s first production for the London Old Vic, She Stoops to Conquer (1949), drew on Thomas Rowlandson’s watercolours and its characterful costumes were likewise influenced by Rowlandson caricatures (see Lot 146).

He was also attracted to architectural subjects due to his passion for set design, subjects which often have a greater feeling of naturalism in drawn form.  A small 18th century ink study of Venice (Lot 138, pictured below), is animated by tiny figures, including a man relieving himself again a wall!  Such details give a strong sense of realism to the scene which was probably sketched on the spot.   

A street scene attributed to Francesco Zucchi (1692-1764)

Barlow was clearly drawn to works on paper for their theatrical sense of immediacy.  Two beautiful 18th century red chalk drawings depicting hands by Pompeo Batoni and Ottaviano Dandini (Lots 134 and 135) were likely executed from life which makes them feel both more direct and expressive.  Studies like these were often used by artists as preparatory models for their paintings. 

Indeed, a series of ink studies on a single sheet by George Romney (Lot 148, from another source), renowned for his dynamic draughtsmanship, is likely an exploration by the artist for a theme for painted composition – in this case possibly the figure of Serena, the heroine of a popular poem The Triumph of Temper by the artist’s biographer William Hayley. 

George Romney (1734-1802), Four studies of a seated and reclining woman

Another drawing by Romney, offered in Cheffins’ previous Fine Sale, soared above its estimate to sell for over £40,000 in December.  This was higher price than is often paid for many large paintings by the artist, highlighting that the sky is often the limit for works on paper in the present market.  Despite their name, Old Master drawings have a tangible freshness that appeals to the here and now.

To view all of the Lots mentioned in this article, please click here