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Jan Both

(Circa 1618–1652, Utrecht)

Tree Study in a Southern Landscape. Pen and brown ink over graphite, grey wash, framing line in pen and brown ink. 38 x 24.5 cm.

This accurately and masterfully executed study sheet constitutes a valuable supplement to Jan Both’s corpus of drawings. Worthy of especial note is that the branches and foliage in the upper part of the drawing have been executed solely in graphite with a grey wash and that no use has been made here of the customary reworking in pen and brown ink, which is readily apparent in the lower half of the picture. It is not possible to establish beyond all doubt whether this is an unfinished study sheet or whether the artist deliberately wished to achieve this effect. We know much more about the life and work of Jan’s brother, Andries Both (circa 1612–1642), than about Jan himself, although there is no doubt that both brothers travelled to France and Italy. Jan probably arrived in Rome around 1637/38, some three years before Andries appeared on the scene. Interestingly enough, the drawings by Andries that have survived from this stage in his career reveal the strong influence exerted on him by his younger brother. Both joined the group of Bamboccianti in Rome, Andries specialising mostly in genre themes and Jan concentrating on landscape paintings. Around 1642 Jan returned to his native Utrecht where he worked for the most part until his death in 1652.

Although numerous drawings in public and private collections bear the name Both, only relatively few works can be ascribed with any degree of certainty to Jan. During his stay in Italy the artist undoubtedly drew extensively from life with several sheets now being recognised beyond any doubt as autograph works, for example the signed drawing Rider in a Landscape with Tall Trees of 1643 (Szépmüvészeti Muzéum, Budapest). See exhibition catalogue Tekenen van Warmte, edited by P. Schatborn, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 2001, p. 93, fig. H). Our sheet shows striking stylistic similarities with that drawing, as can be seen from the shape of the bushes and reeds, for example, which are treated in Both’s idiosyncratic pen-and-ink technique. More obvious still is the stylistic kinship with the splendid large-format drawing Landscape with a Waterfall in the British Museum in London (op. cit., p. 97, fig. N). As with our impression, Both began the picture in graphite with a grey wash and then completed the drawing with pen and brown ink, the branches and leaves being rendered with accurate and very characteristic abbreviations which never appear unrealistic or schematic. The landscape in the background has deliberately not been shown in detail so as to achieve a greater sense of depth and atmospheric intensity, where­as the dark foreground has been rendered transparently and is full of vibrating light. In view of these stylistic analogies it must be assumed that, like the London drawing, the present study sheet was made in Jan’s studio shortly after his return to Utrecht.

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