Featuring European and American master drawings, First Impressions showcases seldom seen treasures from the Lyman Allyn’s permanent collection. The digital exhibit includes drawings and watercolors from the 15th through the early 20thcentury by German, Dutch, Italian, French, British, and American masters. Many were acquired in the 1930’s by the museum’s first director Winslow Ames, who was a venerable drawings scholar. While some of these are finished works of art, others are preliminary sketches for paintings, revealing the detailed working methods of artists such as Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Edgar Degas.
Illustrating a scene from Ludovico Ariosto’s 1532 epic poem Orlando furioso, this drawing shows the sorceress Alcina at right welcoming Roger (Ruggerio) on horseback to her enchanted island. A tale of war, love, and chivalry set against a war between the Christian emperor Charlemagne and the African Saracen King Agramante, the story is filled with fantastical beasts and otherworldly events.
The Italian mannerist artist Niccolò dell’Abbate painted this scene in fresco for the Palazzo Torfanini in Bologna. This is either a preparatory drawing for the fresco or perhaps a study made by a follower of Abbate's shortly after the fresco was painted. Abbate worked in Modena and Bologna and was one of several artists who decorated the French royal Palace of Fontainebleau, bringing the ideals of the Italian Renaissance to France.
In Greek mythology, Prince Paris of Troy was asked to award a golden apple to the most beautiful of three goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Each tried to bribe him with a gift of either power, knowledge or love. Here, Alessandro Turchi renders the moment when Paris, seated at center, chooses Aphrodite, who had offered him Queen Helen of Sparta, the most desired woman in the world. The subsequent abduction of Helen initiated the Trojan War, making this a favorite scene for artists since antiquity.
The early Baroque artist Alessandro Turchi, known as l’Orbetto was born and trained in Verona. By 1616 he moved to Rome, where he painted a number of church altarpieces and cabinet pictures. This sketch is closely related to Turchi’s oil-on-slate painting of The Judgment of Paris from a private collection in Austria that was sold at Sotheby’s in 2007.
The Apostle Peter, seated at center, denies being associated with Christ. A servant woman gestures towards him while Christ is taken away at left. This episode, part of the events leading up to Christ's crucifixion, is described in all four Gospels of the New Testament. A powerful story of betrayal followed by repentance, Peter's denial is a subject taken up by numerous artists, many of whom depicted the nighttime scene with dramatic lighting, as Maganza does here. This is a study for a painting by Maganza, with the finished painting given a horizontal orientation, rather than the vertical emphasis here.
Early in the age of exploration and discovery, scholars and artists divided the world into four continents—America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. This 18th century sketch by Italian artist Francesco DeMura draws on 16th century imagery in its depiction of four regal female allegorical figures with symbols of their continents. With a parrot in hand, the partially nude figure at left is America, a Native American woman representing the exoticism of the new world. Next, Asia, with a square hat, holds a censer of burning incense to indicate religion. To her right is Europe, with a crown suggesting royalty and a sword (extending beyond the frame) to suggest war. Furthest to the right is Africa, holding a cornucopia representing abundance.
An Enlightenment exploration of art, science, and spirituality, the four-volume Physica Sacra, published in 1735, was an attempt to explain the Bible in natural and scientific terms. Following Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, Eve explained that the serpent had deceived her. This page illustrates Genesis 3:14: “So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”
Expansive in its size and scope, the published Physica Sacra contains 760 illustrations and took over 10 years to produce. It was written by the Swiss doctor and natural scientist Johannes Jacob Scheuchzer, illustrated by Johann Melchior Fussli with the assistance of other artists, and then engraved by I.A. Corvinus.
This drawing shows Abraham Bloemaert’s interest in pastoral life. It depicts a dovecote, a house for doves set off the ground to protect the birds from fox and other predators. Rustic subjects such as this were a favorite of Bloemaert’s, particularly later in his career when he drew ruined cottages and barns with increasing detail and naturalism.
The son of a sculptor and architect, Abraham Bloemaert was a Dutch painter, draftsman, and printmaker. He was initially part of a group of artists known as the “Haarlem Mannerists,” but shifted his emphasis around 1600 in response to Baroque influences. Bloemaert taught many of the artists working in Utrecht who were influenced by the Italian artist Caravaggio. Among his many students were his four sons, Hendrick, Frederick, Cornelis, and Adriaan.
This scene illustrates the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, told by Jesus in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew. Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who hires men throughout the day to work harvesting his vineyard. At day’s end, all the workers are paid a coin, even those who began late in the day. The parable emphasizes god’s grace and reward to all the faithful, regardless of the timing of their conversion or their worthiness. “So the last shall be first and the first last.”
Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn was an excellent teacher with numerous students and their work is difficult to differentiate. In the late 1630s and 1640s, several Dutch artists painted the parable of the laborers in the Vineyard, notably Rembrandt himself (1637, Hermitage Museum).
Since the Middle Ages, the Dutch city of Amsterdam has been protected by stone walls, canals, and gates. By the 18th century five primary gates served as lookout towers, administrative centers, and sites for controlling entry into the city. This drawing documents the Muider Gate (the large edifice at center), which partially collapsed on February 1, 1769. Shortly afterward, Jan Schouten carefully documented the disaster, showing a view of the building being disassembled by hand. Choosing a distant view of the demolition, Schouten emphasizes the crowd of spectators gathered to watch the project.
This drawing shows the cycle of life, represented by an infant at left, an old woman at center, and a beckoning skeleton representing death at right. This drawing was made for engraving, so it was cut and then pieced together as changes were made to the composition. At right is the engraving published from the drawing, which shows a mirror image of the scene, with the position of the infant and skeleton reversed. Close looking reveals other small changes as the engraver modified the design. Engraver Theodoor Galle recreated the drawing by cutting fine lines into a metal plate. Ink is then applied to the plate, which stays in the engraved grooves and is transferred to paper when run through a press, enabling the image to be printed many times.
This full-length figure of St. Andrew shows a magisterial figure gesturing downward. Known as Andrew the Apostle, he and Saint Peter (Simon Peter) were brothers and fishermen. Christ called them to be his disciples, saying he would make them “fishers of men.” Dreer labeled the figure and signed and dated the drawing, depicting Andrew holding his saltire (the x-shaped cross on which he was crucified, his identifying attribute. The British Museum in London, has a group of related Dreer drawings of apostles from the same year.
The German painter and draftsman Gabriel Dreer (or Dreyer, Dreher), trained in Munich in the circle of Peter Candid and Friedrich Sustris. He created a number of altar paintings, including those for churches and monasteries in Ravensburg, Dillengen, Kronburg, and Admont.
Although Ingres accepted the commission to paint Madame Moitessier in 1844, the project was not begun for several years and was interrupted by other projects and the tragic death of the artist’s wife in 1849. Ingres began with a seated composition, abandoned it, and then picked it up again after having completed the standing portrait. Despite a long and uneven working period, both resulting portraits are stunningly beautiful. The standing figure of Moitessier was described by a critic as resembling “Juno with her proud gaze,” a portrait that has “the calm and majesty of antique art.”
This drawing for the standing portrait shows Ingres’s focus on the sitter’s arms. While the artist had initially posed her with both arms hanging at her side, here he settles on Madame Moitessier’s final pose, with her right arm crossed over her waist. Ingres’s preoccupation with the arms and hands in this drawing can be seen not only in his detail and shading, but also in the duplicate, disembodied arm at left, showing an earlier pose abandoned for a more pleasing arrangement.
Eugène Delacroix’s intimate sketch details part of a scene from Lord Byron’s historical tragedy Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice, published in 1821. This watercolor illustrates a key detail from a much larger composition, Execution of the Doge Marino Faliero, 1825-26, in the Wallace Collection in London.
In 1354, Marino Faliero (1274-1355) was elected Doge, or chief magistrate, of Venice, but he became involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the Venetian Republic and was dramatically executed the following year. Delacroix’s painting loosely recreates the aftermath of the Doge’s execution on the grand staircase of the Ducal Palace in Venice, the same place where he had been inaugurated. A lean executioner turns to the side, looking away from the crumpled figure of the Doge Marino Faliero, who lies on the ground at left. Delacroix focuses on the moments after the execution, emphasizing the executioner’s psychological remove from the action of which he was an agent. The finished painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1827, where it caused a considerable stir. Critics commented on its unusual composition and violent subject matter, disturbed by the painting’s failure to convey a moral. Evidence suggests that critics interpreted the painting as politically subversive, a veiled critique of the recent coronation of Bourbon King Charles X.
Delacroix did not generally sign the watercolors he created for his own use, only adding identification for works painted to give or sell to others. The fact that this sketch is signed and dated suggests that it was created for a patron, although for whom is unknown.
In this Babylonian episode, the defeated King of Judah, Zedekiah, looks away in horror as his young sons are killed before his eyes. This large, highly finished drawing reflects the academic training of the French Royal Academy, which emphasized neoclassicism in style and subject matter.
This drawing was submitted to the 1787 competition for the French Prix de Rome, a prestigious annual scholarship awarded to artists and architects. The winners were sent to study classical art and architecture in Rome for 3 to 5 years at the government's expense. In 1786, the previous year, the judges had refused to choose a winner in the painting category, asserting that the entries—many by students of Jacques Louis David (1748–1825) were too similar in style. This made the 1787 competition more heated. The 1787 winner of the Prix des Rome was François-Xavier Fabre, one of David's top students, who rendered the same subject in a different manner.
Standing in a chariot at the lower right, the muscle-bound Hercules ascends skyward to become a god, rewarded for his valor, strength, and labors. Hercules, the son of Jupiter and a mortal woman, was a demi-god who possessed tremendous strength and undertook many adventures, making him a famed hero of antiquity.
This drawing for an unidentified project shows Hercules guided by Mercury with Fame blowing a trumpet above. In the clouds at left sit Neptune (with his trident), Jupiter (with his eagle), and Juno beside him. Jupiter holds out his hand, beckoning his son upward. An ideal subject for a ceiling painting, the Apotheosis of Hercules decorated a number of villas and palaces in the 17th and 18th centuries. Hercules was a favorite subject of kings and nobles, who associated themselves with the hero’s strength and triumphs and anticipated their own potential deification. French royals believed they could trace their lineage back to Hercules himself.
Having trained as an artist at the Académie Julian in Paris, Paul Sérusier first visited the seaside village of Pont-Aven in Brittany in the summer of 1888. There he worked with Paul Gauguin and the two founded the Post-Impressionist group Les Nabis, which included Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Édouard Vuillard. A relatively short-lived movement, the avant-garde Nabis explored spirituality (Nabi means prophet in Arabic and Hebrew), as well as symbolism and abstraction, with Sérusier painting the group's emblematic piece, the Talisman, in 1888. This pastel, drawn in an impressionistic style, conveys the beauty of the countryside and the rustic peasant life that attracted artists to Brittany.
Fascinated by modern leisure, Edgar Degas drew and painted numerous scenes of horse racing. This sketch shows a horse being led by a jockey, a figure only faintly visible. Smeared areas of charcoal and multiple lines—around the horse's head, for example—show Degas' adjustments mid-sketch. Degas rendered this horse from the side, but he often captured the graceful animals from more unusual perspectives, using cropping and unbalanced spacing to give his racing scenes a sense of motion and dynamism.
Degas exhibited with the Impressionists, but considered himself a realistic artist. Interested in movement and modern life, Degas focused on dancers, with over half of the art he produced devoted to dancers.
Five overlapping figures struggle atop a small boat in the midst of battle. Several men climb out of the water while others gesture in fear and terror. In this drawing, John Singleton Copley focuses on a slice of a large and complex composition, showing defeated Spanish soldiers poised for rescue.
In 1782, the Spanish and French mounted an attack on British Gibraltar, trying and failing to acquire control of the strategically important territory at the southern tip of Spain on the Mediterranean. For the British, the defense of Gibraltar was an important military victory, coming near the end of the American War of Independence and the loss of the American colonies.
In 1783, the City of London commissioned artist John Singleton Copley to paint a huge canvas celebrating the victory at Gibraltar. The American Copley, whose wife’s family was loyal to the crown, had left Boston for Britain in 1775, driven by political as well as artistic concerns. The artist thrived in London, soon becoming an important history painter, as this commission reveals. For the large and complex Siege of Gibraltar, completed in 1791, Copley made close to a hundred drawings, three of which are in the Lyman Allyn’s collection. This drawing, which is “squared,” or overlaid with a grid for transfer and enlargement, shows a segment that was modified in the final painting, now in the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.
In 1881 and 1882, Willard Metcalf participated in an ethnographic expedition to study the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. Metcalf sketched and painted the Zuni, becoming involved in the tribe and their affairs. Metcalf's art was published in several articles, including this landscape, reproduced in Century Magazine alongside “My Adventures in Zuñi," an article by Frank Hamilton Cushing. This study illustrates the Cushing’s description of the approach to the pueblo: "Below and beyond me was suddenly revealed a great...sand-plain. It merged into long stretches of gray...to the foot-hills of the gray-and-white southern mesas...Down behind this hill the sun was sinking, transforming it into a jagged pyramid of silhouettes, crowned with a brilliant halo, whence a seeming midnight aurora burst forth through broken clouds...blazing upward in widening lines of light."
A woman’s delicate and beautiful features seem evanescent in this subtle silverpoint drawing. The fleeting image is almost photographic in its precision, revealing Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s skill as a draftsman. Dewing embraced the art of silverpoint, an exacting drawing technique popular in the Renaissance but less common in subsequent centuries. Drawing with a stylus and a sharpened sterling silver wire on prepared paper produces thin lines of silver that oxidize with time, retaining a slight metallic shimmer. Lines made in silverpoint cannot be erased, so an artist’s technique must be decisive and flawless.
Dewing is thought to have made about fifty silverpoint drawings, although only about a dozen have been located. The American artist first trained as a lithographer, studying in Boston with William Rimmer and then training at the Academie Julian in Paris. The model for this work was Ingri Olsen, who sat for a number of other works by Dewing.
In this sketch, Dante Gabriel Rossetti seems to be working out something in the sitter's expression and gaze, which is direct yet enigmatic. In contrast with the detailed treatment of the figure's head, her body and drapery are only very loosely drawn. The sitter, Fanny Cornforth, played an important role in the life and work of Rossetti. She was the artist's model, muse, friend, and lover, the second such woman in Rossetti's life, following his first model and love, Elizabeth Siddal.
Rossetti was a painter, but also a poet and translator who was fascinated by literature. He was a co-founder of the British Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, along with artists John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. They reacted against the academic art of the mid-nineteenth century and sought inspiration from the aesthetics of medieval and early Renaissance art.
The American artist Benjamin West spent most of his career in London, where he reached a position of considerable prominence. He became president of the Royal Academy, History Painter to King George III, and his London studio was an important training ground for a generation of American artists.
This small but expressive sketch is likely a design for stained glass windows, showing St. Michael at center, with the Virgin and child at right and angels at left, perhaps as part of the annunciation. West designed a number of windows for the King. Except for the figure of St. Michael, these fit the description of the side aisle windows for St. George's Chapel. The windows were removed later in the 19th century and are now lost.
Here gather a group of winged fairies, while some below ride white mice into a hole. An inscription on the back reads: "One slice more of the puddin' and after see the circus.”
Largely self-taught, Fitzgerald first exhibited with the Royal Academy in London in 1845, and continued to exhibit there, at the British Institution, and the Royal Watercolour Society. While his fifty-year career produced landscapes, portraits and historical scenes, his most successful and best-known works are the series of fairy pictures he produced during the 1850s and 1860s.
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream inspired English Victorian artistic depictions of fairies. Fairy paintings were extremely popular, revealing a fascination with the subconscious and a secret world beyond human reach. Fitzgerald’s fairy scenes were not drawn solely from literature, and at times take on a darker tone than his contemporaries, referencing the surreal nightmare-scapes of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. Often featuring small animals, such as mice and birds, as well as fantastically attired members of the fairy kingdom, they have a hallucinatory quality.