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Study sheet with figures. Brush drawing in brown, white heightening, on brown-ground paper. 29.1 x 20.8 cm.
The painter Simon Dubois lived from 1638 to 1646 in Rotterdam, where he was apprenticed at a young age to Adriaen Lucasz. Fonteyn. He then studied under Claes Pietersz. Berchem in Haarlem, becoming a pupil of Pieter Wouwerman in 1652/53. In 1681 he moved with his brother, who was also a painter, to London, being granted British citizenship in 1697. Dubois spent eight years in Italy, a stay that was to have a lasting and visible influence on his art. In 1657 Simon was joined by his brother in Venice; he also visited Genoa and is known to have been in Rome in 1667. In England, where he enjoyed the patronage of the Lord Chancellor John Somers, Dubois began by painting small battle scenes, landscapes and game scenes. He excelled as a portrait painter and was apparently also a talented copier of small paintings by Italian masters, which he is alleged to have sold as originals. From 1698 Dubois collaborated with Willem van de Velde the Younger. A series of figurative study sheets has survived, all of which are executed in an identical technique and may have come from the same sketchbook. They have been attributed to both Simon Dubois and his elder brother Eduard, it obviously being very difficult to draw a clear dividing line between the two. A drawing in the Metropolitan Museum in New York exhibits a comparable method of composition and bears the inscription: Dubois. Other drawings closely related in style are in London (British Museum) and Oxford (Christ Church).
The present sheet has been executed with great skill and accuracy and is remarkable for the effective mise-en-page. The motifs have undoubtedly been taken from paintings by 17th century Italian masters, although it has proved impossible to identify the original works on which these citations are based. Dubois has combined individual figures and groups of people – including Orientals and men in ancient costume – in an apparently random manner and without any internal correlation. Nonetheless, the study sheet has a considerable visual and atmospheric impact.