Description & Technical information

Almost always executed in pen and ink, but without wash, Guercino’s landscape drawings display little of the reworking and experimentation so typical of his figure studies. Carefully composed and incorporating such stock elements as solitary windblown trees, many of these drawings were probably not drawn on the spot, although they often contain motifs reminiscent of the landscape and river of the artist’s native town of Cento. Indeed, while a number of Guercino’s landscape drawings appear to depict actual sites in and around Cento, most are imaginary views, combining different topographical and figural motifs in a fanciful manner to create a pleasing scene. Mahon and Turner note that, ‘As statements, many of [these landscape drawings] have a completeness not found in his more experimental and hastily drawn figure studies, and they contain something of the force and concentration of a painting rather than a drawing. In them the artist demonstrates the fecundity and power of his imagination by inventing a scene, shaping the space within it, giving the whole a unity by the suggestion of light and, finally, evoking a mood – all within the confines of a relatively small piece of paper.’

As early as about 1674 a series of fourteen landscape drawings by Guercino, all of which were until recently in the collection of the Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth, were sent by the artist’s nephew and pupil Cesare Gennari to Paris, to be engraved by the printmaker Jean Pesne. These were published a few years later in Italy, accompanied by a frontispiece designed by Gennari. Guercino’s landscapes continued to be greatly admired well into the 18th century, and the largest surviving group of them, numbering some thirty sheets, is today in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. These drawings were acquired from the artist’s heirs, in the late 1750s and 1760s, by King George III’s Librarian, Richard Dalton. 

The present sheet is a very fine and characteristic example of Guercino’s landscape drawings. A sense of spatial recession is achieved by the artist’s use of the pen, with darker and thicker strokes of ink in such prominent foreground elements as the trees at the left becoming progressively lighter and more delicate as the eye moves through the landscape towards the mountains in the far distance. Also typical of the artist is the figure of the hunter, which adds a vital human element to the finished composition.

This drawing was almost certainly part of the large and important group of drawings by Guercino that belonged to the artist’s nephews and heirs in Bologna, the painters Benedetto and Cesare Gennari. The Gennari owned nearly 5,300 drawings by Guercino, divided between their home in Bologna and the family villa at Bel Poggio, outside the city. While some of these drawings were displayed in frames (though usually not behind glass), the vast majority were either pasted into a series of large albums or kept as loose sheets in folios. According to the Bolognese biographer Carlo Cesare Malvasia, the Gennari collection included ‘Ten volumes of drawings, some in pen, some in red and black chalk, with a variety of exquisitely drawn landscapes’. In the inventory of the Casa Gennari, drawn up in October 1719, several albums of drawings by Guercino are listed, one of which contained ninety-two landscapes (‘Dissegni à Penna ed’ Acquarella rapresentanti vedute di Paesi diversi’). Of the two hundred landscape drawings by Guercino listed in the 1719 Gennari inventory, five were valued very highly, at twenty-five lire each, while some thirty landscapes were framed and displayed on the walls of the Casa Gennari in Bologna or the country villa at Bel Poggio.

More recently, the present sheet was one of a number of very fine Guercino drawings in the collection of the Italian scholar and art historian Prisco Bagni (1921-1995), a native of Cento who published several important studies on Guercino and his studio, as well as on the Gandolfi family of artists. Bagni lent this drawing to the important exhibition of Guercino drawings held in Bologna in 1991, on the four hundredth anniversary of the artist’s birth.

Medium: Pen and brown ink
Signature: Inscribed (in a modern hand) Guercino / da Cento and numbered 1.8 on the verso.
Further inscribed (with mountmaker’s notes?) in German on the verso.

Dimensions: 24 x 37.1 cm (9¹/₂ x 14⁵/₈ inches)
Provenance: Probably the artist’s nephews, Benedetto and Cesare Gennari (the Casa Gennari), Bologna and Bel Poggio, and thence by descent to Carlo Gennari, Bologna, until the middle of the 18th century
Possibly Francesco Forni, Bologna
Private collection, Austria
Prisco Bagni, Milan
Thence by descent.

Literature: Prisco Bagni, Guercino a Cento: Le decorazioni di Casa Pannini, Bologna, 1984, p.133, pl.103; Prisco Bagni, Il Guercino el il suo falsario: I disegni di paesaggio, Bologna, 1985, p.20, no.2.

Exhibitions: Bologna, Museo Civico Archeologico, Il Guercino: disegni, 1991, no.170.

Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints