Arti­cle: Is that Drawing Right?

Notes on Authen­tic­i­ty and Connoisseurship

By: Shel­don Peck

Enlarged detail, Cat. no. 10, Abra­ham Furnerius

DUTCH ARTISTS of the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry were uncan­ni­ly skilled at cre­at­ing sim­ple depic­tions of the truths of nature. It is this pen­e­trat­ing fideli­ty that first attract­ed my devo­tion to their draw­ings. The land­scapes fea­tured in this exhi­bi­tion pre­serve time­less images of nat­ur­al beau­ty from the labyrinthine ground cover of Lievens (Cat. no. 18) to the grassy pold­er of Rem­brandt (Cat. no. 22), from the wind-swept home­stead of Pieter Molyn (Cat. no. 20) to the wind­less sea of Willem van de Velde the Younger (Cat. no. 35), and from the sum­mer idyll of Michiel Car­rée (Cat. no. 4) to the win­ter frol­ic of Allart van Everdin­gen (Cat. no. 8). They record first­hand some quaint images the artists of the day found high­ly appeal­ing, such as the avian roof-trap­pings of Cor­nelis Saftleven (Cat. no. 28) and the care­ful­ly rigged don­key-trap­pings of Willem Romeyn (Cat. no. 25). After years of receiv­ing my most stu­dious gazes, the forty mas­ter­works pre­sent­ed here con­tin­ue to elic­it plea­sure, learn­ing, and awe - the ulti­mate pay­backs from art. Yet, at anoth­er level, these 300- to 400-year-old sketch­es from the vision and imag­i­na­tion of gift­ed artists often have become the objects of my sci­en­tif­ic curios­i­ty and scrutiny.

The doc­tor’s per­spec­tive may have some­thing to do with this ana­lyt­i­cal focus. My wife Leena and I are pro­fes­sion­al­ly and aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly involved as ortho­don­tic spe­cial­ists. In clin­i­cal med­i­cine, patient prob­lems are best iden­ti­fied and addressed by ask­ing ques­tions, the right ques­tions. In 1902, Rud­yard Kipling suc­cinct­ly framed the salient queries in a verse accom­pa­ny­ing his story The Ele­phan­t’s Child” (with my respects for Dr. Richard Asher, whose bril­liant essay1 on this sub­ject was pub­lished thir­ty years ago):

I keep six hon­est serv­ing men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

Rud­yard Kipling

What fol­lows is a mul­ti­fac­eted explo­ration of old Euro­pean draw­ings. First is a rather basic intro­duc­tion to some eso­ter­i­ca about the nature of old mas­ter draw­ings, the attri­bu­tion prob­lems they present, and the experts who are skilled at resolv­ing these prob­lems. Then, the draw­ing style” of artists is dis­cussed, empha­siz­ing, as con­nois­seurs do, the thought-out strokes and pas­sages of a com­po­si­tion. Final­ly, I attempt to intro­duce and illus­trate some aspects of a con­cept of graph­ic stroke analy­sis that has informed my eye” over years of pur­pose­ful study. It is based on sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies not­ing sub­tle, remark­able con­sis­ten­cies in the way indi­vid­u­als exe­cute writ­ing and draw­ing strokes. These find­ings, com­ing from out­side the com­mu­ni­ty of art schol­ars, will be fresh­ly applied to pro­vide some new graph­ic clues to the drafts­man­’s non­vo­li­tion­al style and to his iden­ti­ty. Thus, in this essay, I shall be exer­cis­ing sev­er­al of Kipling’s serv­ing men. In the process, I hope the bound­aries of see­ing may be extend­ed for many other enthu­si­asts of the drawn image.

The Spe­cial Prob­lems of Old Drawings

Until the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, draw­ings made by Euro­pean artists were sel­dom signed, anno­tat­ed, or dated. Draw­ing with ink or chalk on paper was a method artists used to devel­op or test out their ideas, to prac­tice their sketch­ing skills, or sim­ply to daw­dle plea­sur­ably, despite the high cost of paper. Draw­ings were con­sid­ered periph­er­al to the artist’s prin­ci­pal task of paint­ing endur­ing, and usu­al­ly signed, color pic­tures on can­vas or wood pan­els. For the most part, then, sig­na­tures or inscribed iden­ti­fi­ca­tion was con­sid­ered unnec­es­sary for these per­son­al exper­i­ments on paper - an inno­cent omis­sion often con­tribut­ing to uncer­tain­ties in attri­bu­tion a few cen­turies later.

Com­pound­ing this ques­tion of artist’s iden­ti­ty is the scarci­ty of old mas­ter draw­ings, even in ear­li­er times. At least two influ­ences, one psy­cho­log­i­cal and the other method­olog­i­cal, may be respon­si­ble for the rareness of draw­ings from many Euro­pean mas­ters. Artis­tic inse­cu­ri­ty prob­a­bly pro­voked many of the old mas­ters to sup­press or destroy their draw­ings, so as not to detract from their more con­se­quen­tial oeu­vre of paint­ings and sculp­ture. Michelan­ge­lo near death is said to have ordered the burn­ing of his draw­ings and clay mod­els.2 The size of the sur­viv­ing cor­pus of his draw­ings, albeit an issue of cur­rent con­tro­ver­sy,3 4 appears to be unusu­al­ly small. The other influ­ence is the com­mon use of erasable tablets (tafeleten, in Dutch) as an afford­able alter­na­tive to expen­sive paper.5 The tafelet was a stiff lam­i­nate of paper sheets, spe­cial­ly coat­ed to facil­i­tate met­al­point sketch­es and to make them eas­i­ly erasable. The tafelet method, pro­mot­ing effi­cient reuse of draw­ing and writ­ing paper, sure­ly helps account for the dearth of exist­ing pre­lim­i­nary stud­ies and exper­i­men­tal sketch­es by some well-known artists of the time. The com­plete absence today of authen­ti­cat­ed draw­ings by great Dutch mas­ters such as Johannes Ver­meer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen could be the result of will­ful destruc­tion and eco­nom­i­cal era­sures dur­ing their lifetimes.

Anonymi­ty and scarce­ness make the study of most old Euro­pean draw­ings at once inter­est­ing and com­pli­cat­ed. How­ev­er, what com­pels us to want to attach a drafts­man­’s name firm­ly to a draw­ing? Why care about the attri­bu­tion of old mas­ter draw­ings? Why study authenticity?

To admire a sketch for its esthet­ic charm or visu­al strength is quite sat­is­fy­ing, even when its artist is unknown. Nev­er­the­less, most con­sci­en­tious cura­tors, seri­ous stu­dents, and col­lec­tors of old mas­ter draw­ings would study an anony­mous work with the hope of attach­ing, at least pro­vi­sion­al­ly, a nation­al­i­ty or school or an artist’s name to it. Later on, some­one may ask, Is that draw­ing right?” Right” in this sense means: Is the way in which the draw­ing was han­dled com­posed and exe­cut­ed - con­sis­tent with the known styles of the peri­od and the artist believed to have cre­at­ed it? In other words, Is that draw­ing authen­tic?” Estab­lish­ing a sound basis for the authen­tic­i­ty of old art­work is sig­nif­i­cant at sev­er­al lev­els. The most com­pelling motives dri­ving this pur­suit, I believe, are schol­ar­ly curios­i­ty and the search for his­tor­i­cal truth. Also impor­tant are the finan­cial inter­ests of deal­ers, muse­ums, art donors and tax col­lec­tors; a work of art usu­al­ly has greater mar­ket value if it is incon­tro­vert­ibly right.

The Con­nois­seur’s Knack

Analy­sis of an artist’s style has been a cor­ner­stone in the tra­di­tion­al schol­ar­ly approach to find the right attri­bu­tions for old draw­ings and to deter­mine intrin­sic val­ues of qual­i­ty. To eval­u­ate a drafts­man­’s indi­vid­ual style, the con­nois­seur may study close­ly the artist’s choice of mate­ri­als and sub­ject mat­ter, the com­po­si­tion­al struc­ture, the mod­el­ing of fig­ures and faces, and the treat­ment of space and light, for exam­ple. The cere­bral pro­cess­ing of this visu­al infor­ma­tion coin­cides with what con­nois­seurs call their good eye” or visu­al intu­ition, a sense enhanced (or biased) by cer­tain apti­tudes, edu­ca­tion, expe­ri­ences, and mem­o­ries. Great con­nois­seurs (and great artists) expectably abound with visu­al intu­ition. They cul­ti­vate their skills through years of detailed obser­va­tion of orig­i­nal works of art. Their good eye” might be called their knack, which with years and title often earned ear­li­er con­nois­seurs con­sid­er­able priv­i­lege, wealth, respect and fear.6 Today, most art experts are either pro­fes­sion­al schol­ars (uni­ver­si­ty-based, muse­um-based, or inde­pen­dent), in the trade (deal­ers and auc­tion-house spe­cial­ists), or ama­teurs (an ear­li­er des­ig­na­tion for col­lec­tors, many of whom were accom­plished artists them­selves, who embraced par­tic­u­lar­ly the col­lect­ing of draw­ings and prints as an intel­lec­tu­al avo­ca­tion and an ante-photo graph­ic resource for images).

These days, only a few pow­er­ful deal­er-con­nois­seurs remain, their num­bers hav­ing been great­ly dimin­ished by a democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the art sales process over the last half-cen­tu­ry. Pierre Mari­ette, Cor­nelis Ploos van Ams­tel, Samuel Wood­burn, or Joseph Duveen - arche­typ­al wheel­er-deal­ers from the sev­en­teenth through early twen­ti­eth cen­turies - would like­ly not thrive so well in today’s informed, open-mar­ket fine-arts auc­tion sys­tem. Over the years, art schol­ar­ship, too, has become egal­i­tar­dic­ta­to­r­i­al direc­tor of the Berlin Muse­um, pub­licly exco­ri­at­ing those of less­er rank for their con­trary opin­ions on his pro­nounce­ments of attri­bu­tion and qual­i­ty rep­re­sents an era closed.7 8

The oppor­tu­ni­ties for non­pro­fes­sion­als (for exam­ple, col­lec­tor-ama­teurs and stu­dents) to devel­op sound con­nois­seur­ship skills have under­gone a quan­tum increase in recent years. The mobil­i­ty of great art by way of the trav­el­ing exhi­bi­tion and the accel­er­at­ed enrich­ment of the col­lec­tions at pub­lic muse­ums have had ben­e­fi­cial con­se­quences in broad­en­ing the num­bers of art devo­tees, and in increas­ing the depth of their knowl­edge. Pub­lic access to schol­ar­ly and visu­al mate­ri­als has pro­lif­er­at­ed with the avail­abil­i­ty of excel­lent photo repro­duc­tions. A new and excit­ing rev­o­lu­tion leaps at us now with the glob­al prop­a­ga­tion of dig­i­tal images and infor­ma­tion through the elec­tron­ic Internet.

From my years of admi­ra­tion and obser­va­tion of old mas­ter art con­nois­seurs at work in insti­tu­tions and in com­merce, I have noted the fol­low­ing per­son­al traits that seem to be essen­tial ingre­di­ents for their knack:

  1. They are rich­ly expe­ri­enced visu­al­ly. Con­nois­seur­ship usu­al­ly gets bet­ter with age.
  2. They demon­strate excel­lent pow­ers of visu­al mem­o­ry and image recognition.
  3. They pos­sess keen spa­tial sense and spa­tial mem­o­ry. (Spa­tial per­cep­tion, like map-read­ing abil­i­ty, is a high­ly vari­able trait among individuals.)
  4. They pos­sess color mem­o­ry, which for draw­ings would be more use­ful with water­col­ors than with the more cus­tom­ary mono­chro­mat­ic works.

It should be said that aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess today in art his­to­ry does not absolute­ly demand a good eye.” Some art schol­ars are not nec­es­sar­i­ly inter­est­ed in con­nois­seur­ship. They may spe­cial­ize in the social or his­tor­i­cal con­text of art, eschew­ing tech­ni­cal or ana­lyt­i­cal aspects such as eval­u­a­tions of qual­i­ty and attri­bu­tion of indi­vid­ual works. For exam­ple, Guil­lam Du Bois’ draw­ing of the Dutch vil­lage of Noord­wijk­er­hout (Cat. no. 6) may be more impor­tant to some his­to­ri­ans for its archi­tec­tur­al details of the town church, the Witte Kerk, circa late 1640s, than for its unusu­al blend of red chalk with gray wash or for the evi­dence sup­port­ing its attribution.

On the other hand, most acknowl­edged con­nois­seurs do come from the ranks of suc­cess­ful schol­ars, those who can com­bine their train­ing and expe­ri­ence with the visu­al skills nec­es­sary to ren­der rea­soned judg­ments on qual­i­ty and right­ness. Given the explo­sion of avail­able infor­ma­tion and images, only a rare few today can man­age the enor­mous visu­al con­tent defin­ing exper­tise across many schools, cul­tures, peri­ods, and media. There­fore, the art expert often devel­ops a rep­u­ta­tion as a spe­cial­ist in the works of a par­tic­u­lar group of artists relat­ed in some way, such as the Rem­brandt school, or the French eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, or the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Styl­is­tic Analy­sis of Drawings

Although the analy­sis of an artist’s style pro­vides a frame­work for objec­tiv­i­ty in iden­ti­fy­ing the artist’s hand, it is sure­ly not a flaw­less method. Tra­di­tion­al con­nois­seurs say that an artist’s style is shaped by his per­son­al­i­ty. To a great extent this is true, if per­son­al­i­ty is defined broad­ly as the sum of the innate and acquired men­tal, phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and social char­ac­ter­is­tics of an indi­vid­ual. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the actu­al study of artis­tic style falls short of the embrac­ing scope this def­i­n­i­tion sug­gests. In fact, styl­is­tic analy­sis of mas­ter draw­ings has been large­ly restrict­ed to the study of voli­tion­al out­put-strokes, forms and shapes know­ing­ly and car­ing­ly com­posed by the artist. The non­vo­li­tion­al strokes - inci­den­tal, repet­i­tive fills and back­grounds - are usu­al­ly ignored. Let’s take Rem­brandt stud­ies as an exam­ple. Three schol­ars par­tic­u­lar­ly are at the van­guard of the ana­lyt­i­cal study of Rem­brandt’s draw­ings: Peter Schat­born at the Rijksmu­se­um, Mar­tin Roy­al­ton-Kisch at the British Muse­um, and Wern­er Sumows­ki in Stuttgart. Peter Schat­born’s recent essay on Aspects of Rem­brandt’s Draughts­man­ship” is an exam­ple of styl­is­tic analy­sis at its best. He advances an evi­dence-based approach to rec­og­nize the mas­ter’s hand by study­ing details in draw­ings, build­ing voli­tion­al Rem­brandt behind almost every sig­nif­i­cant graph­ic fea­ture he interprets.

For exam­ple, Schat­born empha­sizes that Rem­brandt con­scious­ly con­veyed the inten­si­ty and direc­tion of a scene’s light by his rapid, con­trolled accents and mod­u­la­tion of lines, clear­ly out­shin­ing his teacher Pieter Last­man. We also learn that Rem­brandt was not reluc­tant to add cor­rec­tions to his draw­ings, using bold­er strokes or apply­ing a white opaque wash. As Schat­born fur­ther notes, Rem­brandt usu­al­ly left his skies empty (see Cat. no. 22), unlike most of the cloud-lov­ing Dutch land­scapists of his time. Also, he fol­lowed a delib­er­ate process of start­ing his land­scape draw­ings at the hori­zon with very thin lines, then pro­gress­ing to the fore­ground with much dark­er strokes and washes.

Despite fas­ci­nat­ing and use­ful insights such as these about the inten­tion­al work­ing meth­ods of Rem­brandt and other stud­ied artists, lit­tle men­tion is made by schol­ars today of an artist’s non­vo­li­tion­al per­son­al­i­ty, of the pos­si­ble ana­lyt­i­cal value of his seem­ing­ly insignif­i­cant, repet­i­tive strokes. What can be said about the almost auto­mat­ic, inci­den­tal lines in a draw­ing, those exe­cut­ed below the artist’s level of aware­ness? What may we learn from the quick zigza­gs or hatch­ing rep­re­sent­ing shad­ows and shad­ing, the hum­drum fills, the inno­cent scrib­bles, the curlicue leaves on a tree, or hairs on a head? Would­n’t the artist espe­cial­ly reveal him­self in these infor­mal, mechan­i­cal pas­sages of a composition?

One ama­teur in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, Gio­van­ni Morel­li (1816-1891), seems to have had an incred­i­ble eye for this kind of artis­tic con­tent. Morel­li was a physi­cian by train­ing and an art lover by nature. He par­tic­u­lar­ly took issue with the gen­er­ous attri­bu­tions given to many Renais­sance pic­tures hang­ing in his native Italy. Morel­li’s aware­ness of human anato­my and his diag­nos­tic eye led him to chal­lenge many tra­di­tion­al attri­bu­tions that were ground­ed in grandiose assump­tions. He based his objec­tive analy­ses on the habit­u­al and idio­syn­crat­ic ways dif­fer ent artists seemed to form basic mor­pho­log­i­cal details, like the ears, eyes, nose, and hands. He felt that exact­ing study of these small fea­tures could often reveal the artist’s high­ly per­son­al- and iden­ti­fi­able - artis­tic hand­writ­ing. Morel­li received severe crit­i­cism for his pio­neer­ing semi quan­ti­ta­tive approach to help sort out mas­ters from their imi­ta­tors among Euro­pean old mas­ter painters. He was forced to pub­lish his life’s work under a Russ­ian pseu­do­nym; only posthu­mous edi­tions car­ried his name.7

Now, over a cen­tu­ry later, Gio­van­ni Morel­li may be vin­di­cat­ed. The pre­sci­en­tif­ic obser­va­tions he pro­mul­gat­ed as an aid to styl­is­tic analy­sis of art have, I believe, some new bio­log­i­cal under­pin­nings. Sim­ple pic­to­r­i­al or graph­ic solu­tions, we learn, may be nat­u­ral­ly embed­ded in an indi­vid­u­al’s brain and at the mercy of his upper-limb anato­my. This under­stand­ing points us to some new pos­si­bil­i­ties in advanc­ing the state-of-the-art of draw­ings analysis.

Fig. 1

Jan van Kessel, Cat. no. 17 with framed detail, enlarged at right. Zigzag tree-fill strokes in black chalk are eas­i­ly observed at the right of periph­ery of foliage.

Fig. 2

Pieter Molyn, Cat. no. 20, with framed detail, enlarged at right. The artist delin­eates almost all of the periph­er­al and frontal foliage with tree-fill strokes of con­nect­ed, invert­ed U’s in black chalk.

Objec­tive Analy­sis of Graph­ic Stroke Formation

The art of draw­ing has recent­ly attract­ed close scruti­ny from neu­ro­sci­en­tists and psy­chol­o­gists. These researchers have shown con­vinc­ing­ly that hand­writ­ing and draw­ing strokes and the style” with which they are applied are under cer­tain invari­ant bio­log­ic con­trols. (A selec­tion of sci­en­tif­ic reports in this field is ref­er­enced.10 - 19) Part of the bio­log­ic con­trol for these man­u­al activ­i­ties derives from limb-mus­cle lim­its pecu­liar to the indi­vid­u­al’s hand, wrist, and arm, and part comes from pro­grammed path ways innate­ly wired” into the cen­tral ner­vous system.

New research instru­men­ta­tion has trig­gered a boom in the num­ber of pub­lished stud­ies exam­in­ing fac­tors involved in the pro­duc­tion of human graph­ic tasks. Spe­cial­ized com­put­er soft­ware and dig­i­tized writ­ing tablets are now avail­able to record elec­tron­i­cal­ly every stroke, curve, and pat­tern in the dynam­ic process­es of writ­ing and draw­ing. At present, this appa­ra­tus can rec­og­nize and process strokes less than 0.02 mil­lime­ters in width, 25-times nar­row­er than a fine-point pen­cil lead.

Cur­sive hand­writ­ing is par­tic­u­lar­ly tar­get­ed in inves­ti­ga­tions, since there is great com­mer­cial promise for a tech­nol­o­gy that may be able to claim a break­through such as sig­na­ture recog­ni­tion.20 Writ­ing famil­iar words like one’s name is almost iden­ti­cal to prac­ticed, repet­i­tive draw­ing move­ments. There­fore, the results of these hand writ­ing exper­i­ments are also applic­a­ble in the devel­op­ment of a sci­en­tif­ic basis to help iden­ti­fy the sub­tly encod­ed graph­ic sig­na­tures” of artists.

We are liv­ing in a dig­i­tal age that encour­ages the eye to wel­come novel ways of see­ing images. In this con­text, we should sus­pend, for the moment, the usual focus on aes­thet­ics and style to con­cen­trate on a draw­ing’s less obvi­ous char­ac­ter. Draw­ing exper­i­ments indi­cate that the hand of an indi­vid­ual fol­lows char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly repeat­able path ways in cre­at­ing cur­sive­ly drawn lines. For exam­ple, a sur­pris­ing­ly lim­it­ed num­ber of graph­ic short­cuts exist for a land­scape artist to ful­fill the task of rapid­ly draw­ing in the foliage for trees and forests with pen or pen­cil. Leaves on trees - or tree-fill, as I call it - are most fre­quent­ly rep­re­sent­ed in old mas­ter draw­ings by zigzag pat­terns resem­bling con­nect­ed U’s or V’s Fig. 1 Fig. 2.

The often incon­spic­u­ous, rapid zigza­gs of tree-fill can offer tell­tale clues about the spe­cif­ic anato­my and motions of the artist’s draw­ing hand. In other words, these strokes may carry the unique imprint of the drafts­man­’s arm wrist-hand char­ac­ter­is­tics, ele­ments of his iden­ti­ty. In kine­si­ol­o­gy (the study of body move­ments), the prin­ci­ple of least effort” estab­lish­es the way we phys­i­cal­ly carry out tasks, includ­ing man­u­al work. Thus, from their stu­dent days onward, most artists exe­cute their draw­ing strokes, espe­cial­ly the rapid­ly repeat­ed forms and hatch­ing, in the most effi­cient man­ner for max­i­mum con­ser­va­tion of mus­cu­lar, artic­u­lar, and cere­bral ener­gies. By study­ing the slants of the angu­lar loops or ver­tices of the con­nect­ed U” strokes and V” strokes, a use­ful diag­nos­tic fac­tor becomes avail­able to help deter­mine if a draw­ing is right. The most read­able tree-fill strokes are found usu­al­ly around the bor­ders of foli­ate trees with the closed side of the US and V’s fac­ing out. I describe the direc­tion of these graph­ic forms using clock-face nomen­cla­ture. For exam­ple, tree-fill posi­tioned at 8 o’clock indi­cates strokes inclined down­ward around 30 degrees from the hor­i­zon­tal with the U-shaped and V-shaped ele­ments fac­ing out­ward towards the lower left bor­der of the tree. Usu­al­ly, an artist’s tree-fill is set down in two prin­ci­pal, and oppo­site, direc­tions along close­ly relat­ed, if not iden­ti­cal, axes; this bidi­rec­tion­al­i­ty is made pos­si­ble by elas­tic­i­ty in fin­ger maneu­vers in the pres­ence of rel­a­tive­ly inelas­tic arm-hand move­ments. Some cir­cum­stances are respon­si­ble for excep­tions and atyp­i­cal vari­a­tions: right left hand­ed­ness dif­fer­ences; vari­ables involv­ing the artist’s angu­lar place­ment of the paper; whether the artist was seat­ed or stand­ing; and dif­fer­ences that may be asso­ci­at­ed with age-relat­ed phys­i­cal or men­tal infirmities.

Nonethe­less, exper­i­men­tal stud­ies and my own obser­va­tions indi­cate that the favored form, slant and direc­tion of such tree-fill strokes are large­ly invari­ant for the individual.

Exam­ples of this bio­log­i­cal­ly based graph­ic con­stan­cy are seen in the land­scape draw­ings of Roe­lant Rogh­man, a tal­ent­ed mem­ber of Rem­brandt’s Ams­ter­dam cir­cle. Rogh­man demon­strates sev­er­al graph­ic styles in his 149 known, signed draw­ings (see Sumows­ki21 and van der Wyck22). Close analy­sis of his tree-fill, the short­hand artis­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tions for leaves, boughs, and leaf clus­ters, pro­vides remark­able evi­dence of a qual­i­ta­tive unity through­out his styl­is­ti­cal­ly assort­ed range of draw­ings. In this exhi­bi­tion, the two signed land­scape draw­ings by Rogh­man show obvi­ous styl­is­tic dif­fer­ences. Yet, the form and ori­en­ta­tion of his tree-fill strokes are iden­ti­cal in both ( Fig. 3 Fig. 4). His Broad river view with wood­ed shores” (Cat. no. 23) shows a del­i­cate style with tree-fill exe­cut­ed by thin­ly penned out­lines under brush­work. Con­trast this with his majes­tic High trees by a river with a town in the dis­tance” (Cat no. 24), exhibit­ing sweep­ing pen strokes and wash as tree-fill. In both draw­ings, the ori­en­ta­tion of the tree-fill pen strokes is the same: Rogh­man char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly drew his tree-fill favor­ing 8 to 9 o’clock and 2 to 3 o’clock. Rogh­man’s draw­ings oeu­vre as cat­a­logued and illus­trat­ed by Sumows­ki” and van der Wyck” gen­er­al­ly con­forms to this pat­tern. Two notable excep­tions (Sumows­ki nos. 2282 and 2283XX) are weight­ed with ver­ti­cal (12 and 6 o’clock) tree-fill, rather than his cus­tom­ary hor­i­zon­tal strokes. This anom­aly, cou­pled with other prob­lems, leads me to con­clude that these two unsigned draw­ings are not by Roghman.

Apply­ing this cri­te­ri­on to left-hand­ed artist Jan van Goyen, we find that the slope of his tree-fill belies his hand pref­er­ence. It is not unusu­al for a left-han­der to learn early how to cam­ou­flage his sinis­tral­i­ty by jock­ey­ing his hand and arm posi­tions. Van Goyen’s tree-fill (see Cat. nos. 11-13) is angled like that of a typ­i­cal right-han­der, with a slight change seen in his last decade: before 1650s, 7 to 8 o’clock, 1 to 2 o’clock; 1650s, 8 to 9 o’clock, 1 to 2 o’clock. Pieter Molyn, a right-hand­ed artist whose unsigned draw­ings have some­times been con­fused with van Goyen’s work, seems to have a some­what dis­tinc­tive tree-fill sig­na­ture.” He artic­u­lates tree-fill with ver­ti­cal strokes, most­ly fac­ing 10 to 2 o’clock, doc­u­ment­ed in this exhi­bi­tion with two signed and dated draw­ings (Cat. nos. 19 and 20, and see Fig. 2), made at ages 39 and 64, two years before his death.

The truly pro­found artists seem to be more ver­sa­tile in over­rid­ing the graph­ic short­cuts of tree-fill, and in devel­op­ing orig­i­nal and utter­ly amaz­ing ways to depict foliage. Jacob van Ruis­dael is one such giant. Styl­is­ti­cal­ly, both i Ruis­dael draw­ings in this exhi­bi­tion (Cat. nos. 26 and 27) appear to be from the early 1650s, one of his most pro­duc­tive peri­ods as a young artist. His pri­ma­ry tree-fill device at this time was mul­ti­di­rec­tion­al zigza­gs com­posed of three to six con­nect­ed V” or U” units. Sey­mour Slive was among the first spe­cial­ists to rec­og­nize that Ruis­dael favored oak trees in his land­scapes. Both of the Ruis­dael draw­ings here promi­nent­ly fea­ture oaks. Quite remark­ably, Ruis­dael delib­er­ate­ly dis­torts his rapid tree-fill hatch­ing along some of the bough tops to repli­cate the stel­late lobes of oak leaves. This bril­liant, nat­u­ral­is­tic device is par­tic­u­lar­ly clear high on the won­der­ful­ly artic­u­lat­ed oak in the left fore­ground of Cat. no. 27 (Fig. 5).

With these exam­ples, I have attempt­ed to demon­strate some of the strik­ing­ly indi­vid­ual con­stan­cy in exe­cu­tion and artic­u­la­tion of basic draw­ing tasks, even by artists of the high­est skill and orig­i­nal­i­ty. Invari­ant graph­ic stroke traits, such as those evi­dent in tree-fill, may indeed give con­nois­seurs anoth­er modus operan­di. Bold, inno­v­a­tive artists, like Jacob van Ruis­dael, may often con­scious­ly over­pow­er some of the bio­log­i­cal­ly deter­mined stroke pat­terns and will sure­ly stand out; con­tro­ver­sial works at the bor­der of their oeu­vres may now be reassessed in light of this new criterion.

For the eager spe­cial­ist, a sam­pling of other nat­ur­al, draw­ing-relat­ed artic­u­la­to­ry con­straints and bias­es are:

  1. In the for­ma­tion of con­nect­ed ver­ti­cal strokes, the down-strokes are always stronger than the up-strokes and a down-stroke is usu­al­ly the ini­tial ver­ti­cal stroke in a series.
  2. In the for­ma­tion of con­nect­ed hor­i­zon­tal strokes, stroke order is from top to bot­tom of the series.
  3. Right-han­ders start hor­i­zon­tal strokes from the left, and left-han­ders start them from the right.
  4. Copy­ing is char­ac­ter­ized by strokes of short­er length than in the orig­i­nal, more paus­es (“pen-up” moments), and angles drawn more acute­ly than in the original.

What works for draw­ings may not be so use­ful for paint­ings. Max Friedlän­der aptly con­trast­ed the nature of draw­ings to paint­ings as the dif­fer­ence between wit and humor. The spon­tane­ity of sketch­ing is a pre­req­ui­site for the suc­cess of an ana­lyt­i­cal method based on the artist’s innate psy­chomo­tor lim­its. Detect­ing and sort­ing the invol­un­tary ele­ments from the will­ful ele­ments in the less spon­ta­neous, more elas­tic paint­ing process, there­fore, may well be beyond this type of method. Unlike the solid stroke deliv­ery of the drafts­man­’s sty­lus, the tip of the painter’s brush is high­ly elas­tic and thus less reli­able for stroke analysis.

These and other aspects of neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy and human limb kine­mat­ics should have trans­fer­able value for con­nois­seurs, schol­ars, and stu­dents of draw­ings. I hope this intro­duc­tion may serve to open artis­ti­cal­ly inclined eyes to new ana­lyt­i­cal direc­tions, and to fuel efforts at this inter­face from oth­ers. Stroke analy­sis is sim­ply anoth­er tool to add to the seri­ous stu­den­t’s arma­men­tar­i­um for an under­stand­ing of authen­tic­i­ty. Goethe, who drew copi­ous­ly and col­lect­ed draw­ings, noted that we hear and see only what we under­stand. The study of old mas­ter draw­ings with their stim­u­lat­ing chal­lenges in con­nois­seur­ship sure­ly must have extend­ed his grand sen­so­ry range. I believe the field remains just as excit­ing and promis­ing for us today.


Fig. 3

Roe­lant Rogh­man, Cat. no. 23, with framed detail, enlarged at right. Tree-fill strokes are vis­i­ble as thin­ly penned out­lines under washes.

Fig. 4

Roe­lant Rogh­man, Cat. no. 24, with framed detail, enlarged at right. Com­par­isons with the detail from the pre­vi­ous draw­ing by Rogh­man (Fig. 3) reveal con­gru­ence in the form and direc­tion of the artist’s penned tree-fill strokes, despite obvi­ous styl­is­tic differences.

Fig. 5

Jacob van Ruis­dael, Cat. no. 27, with framed detail, enlarged at right, show­ing Ruis­dael’s excep­tion­al con­trol of tree-fill hatch­ing to rep­re­sent the stel­late lobes of oak leaves at the tree’s upper periphery.


  1. Asher, Richard. Six hon­est serv­ing men for med­ical writ­ers. Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion 1969, vol. 208, pp. 83-87.

  2. Frey, Karl. Der lit­er­arische Nach­lass Gior­gio Vasaris, vol. 2, Munich, 1930, PP. 901-902.

  3. Hirst, Michael. Michelan­ge­lo and his Draw­ings. New Haven, Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1988, pp. 16-21.

  4. Per­rig, Alexan­der. Michelangelo’s Draw­ings. The Sci­ence of Attri­bu­tion. (M.Joyce, transl.) New Haven, Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1991, pp. 1-34

  5. Van de Weter­ing, Ernst. Rem­brandt, The Painter at Work. Ams­ter­dam, Ams­ter­dam Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1997, pp. 47-73.

  6. Brown, Jonathan. King and Con­nois­seurs. Col­lect­ing Art in Sev­en­teenth-Cen­tu­ty Europe. Prince­ton, Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1995.

  7. Morel­li, Gio­van­ni. Ital­ian Painters. Crit­i­cal Stud­ies of Their Works. (C.J. Ffoulkes, transl.), 2 vols., Lon­don, John Mur­ray, 1893-1900

  8. Tiet­ze, Hans. Gen­uine and False. Copies, Imi­ta­tions, Forg­eries. New York, Chan­ti­cleer Press, 1948, pp, 46-47.

    1. Schat­born, Peter. Aspects of Rem­brandt’s draughts­man­ship. In: Holm Bev­ers, Peter Schat­born, Bar­bara Wet­zel. Rem­brandt: The Mas­ter & his Work­shop, Draw­ings & Etch­ings. New Haven, Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press,1991, pp. 15-34.

  9. Van Som­mers, Peter. Draw­ing and Cog­ni­tion: Descrip­tive and Exper­i­men­tal Stud­ies of Graph­ic Pro­duc­tion Process­es. New York, Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1984.

  10. Van Som­mers, Peter. A sys­tem for draw­ing and draw­ing-relat­ed neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy. Cog­ni­tive Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy 1989, vol. 6, pp. 117-164.

  11. Thomassen, Arnold J. W. M.; Teul­ings, Hans-Leo, Con­stan­cy in sta­tion­ary and pro­gres­sive hand­writ­ing. Acta Psy­cho­log­i­ca 1983, vol. 54, pp. 179-196.

  12. Teul­ings, Hans-Leo; Schomak­er, Lam­bert R. B. Invari­ant prop­er­ties between stroke fea­tures in hand­writ­ing. Acta Psy­cho­log­i­ca 1993, vol. 82, pp. 69-88.

  13. Meu­len­brock, Ruud G. J.; Thomassen, Arnold J. W M. Exploita­tion of elas­tic­i­ty as a bio­chem­i­cal prop­er­ty in the pro­duc­tion of graph­ic stroke sequences. Acta Psy­cholig­i­ca 1993, vol. 82, pp. 313-327.

  14. Lac­quani­ti, F.; Fer­rig­no, G.; Pedot­ti, A.; Soecht­ing, J. F.; Terzuo­lo, C. Changes in spa­tial scale in draw­ing and hand­writ­ing; Kine­mat­ic con­tri­bu­tions by prox­i­mal and dis­tal joints. Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science 1987, vol. 7, pp. 819-828.

  15. Maarse, Frans J.; Thomassen, Arnold J. W. M. Pro­duced and per­ceived writ­ing slant: Dif­fer­ence between up strokes and down strokes. Acta Psy­cholig­i­ca 1983, vol. 54, pp. 131-147.

  16. Wing, Alan M.; Nimmo-Smith, M. Ian; Eldridge, Margery A. The con­sis­ten­cy of cur­sive let­ter for­ma­tion as a func­tion of posi­tion in the word. Acta Psy­cho­log­i­ca 1983, vol. 54, pp. 197-204.

  17. Meu­len­broek, Ruud G. J.; Rosen­baum, David A.; Thomassen, Arnold J. W M.; Schomak­er, Lam­bert R. B. Limb-seg­ment selec­tion in draw­ing behav­iour. Quar­ter­ly Jour­nal of Exper­i­men­tal Psy­chol­o­gy 1993, vol. 46(A), pp. 273-299.

  18. Des­biez, Dominique; Vin­ter, Annie; Meu­len­broek, Ruud G, J. Bio­me­chan­i­cal and per­cep­tu­al deter­mi­nants of draw­ing angles. Acta Psy­cho­log­i­ca 1996, vol. 94, pp. 253-271.

  19. Pla­m­on­dan, Rejean; Suen, Ching Y.; Sim­n­er, Mar­vin L., edi­tors. Com­put­er Recog­ni­tion and Human Pro­duc­tion of Hand­writ­ing. Sin­ga­pore, World Sci­en­tif­ic, 1989.

  20. Sumows­ki, Wern­er. Draw­ings of the Rem­brandt School. vol. 10, New York, Abaris., 1992, pp. 4992-5173.

  21. Van der Wyck, H. W. M. Dr kas­teel­tekenin­gen van Roe­lant Roghman.vol. 1, Alphen aan den Rijn, Canalet­to, 1989, pp, 21-242.

Related artworks