Before and After

March 3rd, 2013 § Comments Off on Before and After § permalink

The Contadinella [Little Farm Girl] by Francesco Paolo Michetti (1851 – 1929) was sold at Il Ponte, a Milan auction house on 21 June 2007 (lot 927) for 2,100 euros. The drawing then reappeared, vandalized, at Bloomsbury Rome on 5 June 2008 (lot 213C) as the Contadina Abruzzese [Abruzzo Farmer], and sold for 9,500 euros. This happened five years ago, although I only learned of it from some alert art dealers recently. With everything photographed, and then posted on the internet, it’s incredible that they should have had the temerity to do this.


Michetti - before

Francesco Paolo Michetti – Contadinella – Pastel on paper – 440 x 280 mm

Michetti - after

Francesco Paolo Michetti and Anonymous – Abruzzo Farmer – Pastel on Paper – 450 x 285 mm


The pastel study by Michetti may have been left unfinished. Or maybe he had brought it to the state he wanted it to be. The unfinished nature of drawings is central to their appeal, at least to me. I’ve wondered whether the lack of finish allows the looker to complete it in their own mind, making them all the more satisfying.

Clearly, the someone who had the Michetti drawing, was not satisfied. The girl’s head was worked up, her hair was given highlights, she grew a bust, and the blue background was softened and lengthened. The raggedy little farm girl was even given a necklace. The paper measurements were ever so slightly changed. And, the someone was rewarded by a 7,400 euro gain.

One of my critics said that I should speak about Rubens’ retouching of drawings. However, I feel that’s for another post.

Recording Images

January 31st, 2011 § Comments Off on Recording Images § permalink

With digital photography so easy (and essentially without cost once you have the machines), I sometimes think that I’m spending too much time snapping pictures, and not enough time looking at drawings, paintings, architecture etc. There’s a strong desire to take the picture and then have a record forever.

While invention is what most people appreciate about drawings, a very large number of drawings have to do with copying or recording other works of art. Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780) and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle (1820-1897) were two of the worlds great recorders. Saint-Aubin was an artist; and Cavalcaselle, an art historian.

“Un priapisme de  dessin” is what Greuze, a contemporary, is supposed to have said of Saint-Aubin. I guess this means he was constantly aroused to draw. (Greuze also produced a prodigious number of drawings.) Saint-Aubin filled catalogues with margin drawings illustrating the offerings he saw coming up at Paris auctions, and what was being shown at the Salons. At his death, there were some 100 catalogues filled with margin drawings, and about a third remain. The pages below are from a Salon booklet and an auction catalogue, both in the collection of France’s Bibliothèque Nationale.

Gabriel de Saint-Aubin | 1761 Salon du Louvre Booklet, p.7 | Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Photography was in its infancy when Cavalcaselle was going about recording the pictures he was seeing. One of the striking things about the drawings, now housed in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, is the huge number of notes. Cavalcaselle collaborated with Joseph A. Crowe in producing a survey of Italian art, and other more narrowly focused books.  The drawings must have been invaluable in keeping track of so much material. Just below is Cavalcaselle’s drawing of Raphael’s Galatea fresco at the Farnesina in Rome.

Cavalcaselle's Drawing of Raphael's Galatea fresco at the Farnesina | Biblioteca Marciana | Venice

One wonders if Saint-Aubin and Cavalcaselle ever worried that they were spending too much time committing the works to paper and not looking.