The Portland Vase, £5.00
Height: 276.000 mm
Width: 247.000 mm
Bequeathed by C.M. Cracherode
Prints and Drawings
Guercino, Caricature of Four Children, Standing, pen and ink wash
Italy, around AD 1635
Four children stand in descending order of size. All except one turn their backs, the third figure turns round to scowl at us. The middle two boys hold sticks or perhaps fishing rods, and the tallest figure, a girl, holds a flask of wine. The sketch was executed rapidly in pen and brown ink with a light brown wash. The contrived regularity of the line of street urchins is broken up by the subtle play of the differing shadows. The brown wash provides the short shadows for each figure, as strong light hits the scene from the upper right.
Guercino (1591-1666) drew many amusing caricatures. He mocks these figures as much for their clothes as well as for their physical defects, though somewhat exaggerated. The girl, for example, has a thin, scrawny neck and large cheeks, visible even from behind. The scowling boy has thick, heavy features while the smallest figure at far right appears to have no neck at all.
Such drawings were not made for large scale paintings but for the personal amusement of the artist and his friends. The artist gently pokes fun at his subjects' expense, but paradoxically there is an underlying sympathy for the oddities of human life around him. The tradition of caricature can be traced back to Leonardo, but Guercino's gently humorous studies of peasants have little in common with Leonardo's grotesquely distorted figures.
N. Turner and C. Plazzotta, Drawings by Guercino from Brit (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)