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Underdrawings Revealed: Dutch Painters and Their Artistic Process

When executing their paintings, Dutch artists might rely on two basic types of underdrawings: those that are transferred from a drawing on paper to the wood or canvas support, and those that are drawn directly on that support. Infrared reflectography (IRR) can reveal the presence of an underdrawing made with black chalk on a white ground layer. (This examination technique does not work on underdrawings made with white or red chalk, so its application is limited.) Seven paintings are presented here with a tool that allows you to scroll back and forth between the layers of paint and the underdrawing made visible by IRR. The black outlines in these reflectograms represent the chalk underdrawing.

The exhibition Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt is on view from October 4, 2016, to January 2, 2017.


Ambrosius Bosschaert
Dutch, 1573–1621
Bouquet of Flowers in a Glass Vase1621
oil on copper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons' Permanent Fund and New Century Fund, 1996


Pieter Lastman
Dutch, 1583–1633
David Gives Uriah a Letter for Joab, 1619
oil on panel
The Leiden Collection, New York


Pieter Molijn
Dutch, 1595–1661
Landscape with Open Gate, c. 1630–1635
oil on panel
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund and Gift of Arthur K. and Susan H. Wheelock, 1986


Pieter Jansz Saenredam
Dutch, 1597–1665
The Choir of the Saint Bavo in Haarlem, 1636
oil on panel
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris


Pieter Jansz Saenredam
Dutch, 1597–1665
Cathedral of Saint John at 's-Hertogenbosch, 1646
oil on panel
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1961


Gerrit Berckheyde
Dutch, 1638–1698
The Grote or Saint Bavokerk in Haarlem, 1666
oil on panel
Otto Naumann Ltd., New York


Jan van der Heyden
Dutch, 1637–1712
View Down a Dutch Canal, c. 1670
oil on panel
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of George M. and Linda H. Kaufman, 2012