Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591-1666, nicknamed Guercino (‘the squinter’), is regarded as one of the greatest Italian draughtsman of the seventeenth century. This exhibition, the second Courtauld Gallery collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, is focussed on an important group of 26 Guercino drawings from the collection of Sir Robert Witt, bequeathed to the Courtauld in 1952. A few still retain the elegant patterned ‘Casa Gennari’ mounts that originate from the studio of Benedetto and Cesare Gennari, Guercino’s nephews, to whom he left his entire stock of drawings. Additional works in the exhibition have been loaned by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and various private collections.

Guercino spent most of his life close to his birthplace of Cento, near Ferrara, and in Bologna. His reputation was cemented in Rome while he was working for the court of Pope Gregory XV between 1621 and 1623 and his works were subsequently sought out internationally. He was a prolific and fluent draughtsman, known in his day as ‘the Rembrandt of the South’. His works were especially prized for their deft touch, psychological insight, and original approach to subject matter, as demonstrated in the exhibition’s themes: Inventiveness; Energy and Movement; Texture, Shadow, Light and Space; Humour and Humanity.

Much of Guercino’s experience came from life drawing, and the works displayed are largely figural – both caricatures and informal studies based on observation – specifically chosen to demonstrate his wide-ranging skills and his use of different media. Many of the drawings, such as the beautiful red chalk study of Aurora (Dawn) in her chariot, are preparatory to painted works, allowing an insight into his creative process. Guercino’s distinctive use of pen and ink – often a wild flurry of scratchy lines – enabled him to record fleeting ideas on paper quickly and easily, as evident in Cupid Restraining Mars. Texture, light and shade play a significant role in his expressive draughtsmanship, most obviously in his portrayal of two women drying their hair in which loosely applied brown wash sensitively describes their cascading wet tresses.

The exhibition, which follows from the Getty Museum, will be accompanied by a fully illustrated, scholarly catalogue written by Julian Brooks, the Getty’s curator of Italian drawings and organizer of the exhibition.

DR JOANNA SELBORNE – Curator of Prints

Lead supporter of Guercino: Mind to Paper: Friends of the Courtauld Institute of Art Guercino Supporters Circle: Agnew’s; Jean-Luc Baroni; Katrin Bellinger; Day and Faber; Kate de Rothschild; Dickinson; Hazlitt Gooden & Fox; Italian Cultural Institute; Flavia Ormond Fine Arts; Thomas Williams Fine Art Ltd.

Guercino, Cupid Restraining Mars, c.1640, Pen and brown ink. Witt Collection, detail