Young Draughtsman at a Table
Oil on panel. 40 x 31 cm.
Signed upper centre: G. Schalcken.
This work depicts a boy of perhaps ten or eleven years with curly blonde hair sitting at a table with several drawings in front of him. The drawings are lying on a portfolio leant against a plaster bust. The chalk on the table and the easel in the background identify the boy as an artist. He holds a drawing in his right hand and rests his head in his left. Gazing intently at the sheet of paper in his hand, he appears entirely lost in contemplation of it.
Schalcken finely captures the child-like seriousness with which the young artist observes his work. The intimate character of the painting led Behreman to suggest that it may be a portrait of the artist's nephew Jakob (Behrman 1988, op. cit., no. 62). However, the fact that the work is dated to the 1670s and thus does not correspond to Jakob's biographical details discounts this theory. Guido Jansen groups the piece together with Schalcken's other depictions of artists and studios, such as “The Old Artist” in the Städel Museum in Frankfurt or “Young Man and a Woman studying a Statue of Venus by Lamplight” in the Leiden Collection in New York (Exhib. cat. Cologne 2015, no. 10).
Like these other depictions, the present work also deals with the theoretical aspect of artistic creativity. The boy is obviously an apprentice, he is too young to paint at the easel which we see in the background of the work. He is first meant to learn draughtsmanship, which in the classical tradition formed the foundation of every good artistic education. Through copying the canonical works of antiquity and the most accomplished works of modern times, the young artist was to gain a sense for true art. The red chalk and pastel drawings on the table presumably represent these classic works, among which we see a Virgin and Child, a head in profile, and a figure study.
Schalcke's depiction of a young artist immersed in his work with child-like fascination is based on Netherlandish iconographic tradition. Schalcken also depicted an apprentice in another work, including one in which a young artist copies a female bust by candlelight with open mouth and wide eyes (fig. 1, whereabouts unknown). The present work is almost certainly an addition to that one, and comparing the two images draws attention to the fact a bust is also seen in the present work. However, here it sits unnoticed upon the table, serving as a prop for the drawings.
The bust in question is a replica of the famous depiction of the Roman emperor Vitellius (as was thought at the time) housed in the collection of Domenico Grimani in Venice. It was highly acclaimed by Venetian artists of the 16th century and also frequently cited in the art of the Netherlands. Hendrick Goltzius and Peter Paul Rubens painted works inspired by it, and Rembrandt himself owned two plaster copies of the bust.
It is probably no coincidence that the same bust also appears in a work by Michiel Sweerts painted around 10 years before the present canvas. This piece also depicts an artist's apprentice absorbed in his work (fig. 2, Minneapolis Institute of Art). It depicts the plaster bust almost as a fixed attribute of the young artist recently beginning his studies. Both Schalcken and Sweerts must have chosen the Grimani Vitellius deliberately, not only due to its appreciation by generations of artists, but also due to the charming contrast between the mature, expressive face of the bust and the child-like features of the young draughtsman. We do not know for certain whether Schalcken had seen Sweerts' depiction, but his work certainly follows the Dutch tradition of depicting apprentices using drawing and plaster casts as an introduction to the fascinating world of art.
Abb. 1 / Ill. 2: Jacob Gole nach Godefridus Schalcken, Der Junge Zeichner, Radierung / Jacob Gole after Godefridus Schalcken, The Young Draughtsman © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Abb. 2 / Ill. 2: Michiel Sweerts, Junge, den Kopf eines römischen Kaisers zeichnend/ Boy Drawing before the Bust of an Emperor, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Collection of the artist Joseph Henri Gosschalk (1875-1952), The Hague 1924.- Sold by the art dealer Vitale Bloch, The Hague, in January 1941 to Hoogendijk, Amsterdam. - Sold to Schuuring, Den Haag, in September 1942. – Sold to Hupp for the Museum Düsseldorf in 1942. - Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit, The Hague 1946, merged with the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, Amersfoort. (labelled to the reverse). - On loan to the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed im Noordbrabants Museum, s´Hertogenbosch.
Thierry Beherman: Godfried Schacklen. Paris 1988, no. 62. - R. de Haas et altri (ed.): Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst/The Netherlandish Office for the Fine Arts. Old Master Paintings. An Illustrated Summary Catalogue, Zwolle/The Hague 1992, no. 2331. - Exhib. cat.: Cologne/Dordrecht 2015/2016: Schalcken. Gemalte Verführung. ed. by Anja K. Sevcik. Stuttgart 2015, p. 112 - 114, no. 10.
"Tentoonstelling van Kinderafbeeldingen", Gemeente Museum, The Hague, 1924, no. 91. - "Schaclken. Gemalte Verführung", Cologne/Dordrecht 2015/2016, no. 10.