Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman
The Dutch Golden Age
Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem
Winter Scene on a Frozen Canal, c. 1647
Pen and brown ink with brown and grey wash
7 5/16 x 9 3/4 in, 18.57 x 24.77 cm (sheet)
Watermark: Partial Strasbourg Lily; resembles Churchill 401: 16251
Provenance: Acquired from Somerville and Simpson Ltd., London, 1982 (as Seventeenth-Century Dutch School)
Inscribed: (recto) lower left: Monogram "B" in a later hand; (verso) "L. Backhuysen?"
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.6
This drawing is an important addition to the graphic work of Nicolaes Berchem. Acquired by Frederick Herman as an anonymous work of the Dutch school, he attributed it to the cityscape painter Gerrit Berckheyde based on its resemblance to a signed drawing entitled Pleasure on the Ice near a City in the Albertina.2 More recently, Katelyn Crawford demonstrated that this work is in fact a preparatory drawing for the central figures in Berchem’s painting entitled View on the Ice by a City, a work signed and dated 1647 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).3
Berchem’s preparatory drawing for the painting is close to the final composition. It has, however, been trimmed along the right margin, resulting in the loss of the horse’s head. Allowing for this alteration, only slight changes have been made from drawing to painting, including the addition of a second dog to the right of the background figures and minimal changes to their poses and arrangement in relation to the limekiln in the background. The prominent inclusion of a limekiln suggests just how strongly the youthful Berchem was influenced by the Bamboccianti, a group of northern painters active in Italy. Such limekilns figured prominently in the works of these artists, beginning with Pieter van Laer’s The Large Limekiln of 1637.4
Stylistically, this drawing is comparable to a number of graphic works by the Bamboccianti, where wash—often of a different color—was applied liberally to a pen drawing. The Herman Collection drawing is executed with vigorous linework where form is built by networks of rapid hatching and cross-hatching supplemented by the application of both brown and grey wash to modulate tone. While Berchem’s later drawings became increasingly reliant on the application of subtly modulated wash for his classicizing depictions of the Roman Campagna, his manner of drawing in this work can best be understood through his contemporaneous interest in etching. Berchem produced nearly sixty autograph etchings, most of which were executed between 1644 and 1654.
1. Carlo James, Old Master Prints and Drawings: a Guide to Preservation and Conservation, Amsterdam, 1997, 54, Fig. 19.
2. Walther Bernt, Die niederländischen Maler und Zeichner des 17. Jahrhunderts, Vol. 4, Munich, 1979, 58.
3. Katelyn Crawford, unpublished seminar paper, University of Virginia, 2009.
4. David Levine, "The Roman Limekilns of the Bamboccianti," Art Bulletin, 70, 1988, 575–6.