sketch-book / drawing

A garden vase on a pedestal and a sketch of a second pedestal, leaf from the Van Borssom sketchbook; the pedestal, on the right, is apparently drawn with a quill pen and in a dark brown ink, the vase with a reed pen in lighter brown. There are a few trials of the pen near the upper left and lower right edge  Pen (often reed pen) and brown ink, sometimes with wash as indicated for each folio    Watermark: Strasbourg lily in a crowned shield, the letters 'WR' below (cf. Churchill 401 [1625]). This appears in a fragmentary form in the centre of the gutter side of folios 3, 4, 8, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25, 28, 30, 31, 33, 36, 37, 40, 41, 43.


© The Trustees of the British Museum

Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: 1854,0628.111.1

Bibliographic reference
Hind 1915-31 23
Royalton-Kisch 2010 Borssom.19.1 (SB 1r)


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Object types
sketch-book (all objects)
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
Drawn by Anthonie van Borssom (biographical details | all objects)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

A garden vase on a pedestal and a sketch of a second pedestal, leaf from the Van Borssom sketchbook; the pedestal, on the right, is apparently drawn with a quill pen and in a dark brown ink, the vase with a reed pen in lighter brown. There are a few trials of the pen near the upper left and lower right edge
Pen (often reed pen) and brown ink, sometimes with wash as indicated for each folio

Watermark: Strasbourg lily in a crowned shield, the letters 'WR' below (cf. Churchill 401 [1625]). This appears in a fragmentary form in the centre of the gutter side of folios 3, 4, 8, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25, 28, 30, 31, 33, 36, 37, 40, 41, 43.

Inscription Content: Folios are numbered in graphite, top right. See Comment for further information.

Height: 231 millimetres (page)
Width: 175 millimetres (chain lines horizontal, 24/25mm apart)

Generally good; the cover has several brown stains; four folios are cut away before folio 1 - the continuations of the residual stubs, through the spine, form the last four surviving folios. One further sheet, forming two further folios, is also now missing, to judge from paper fragments in the gutter of the binding; this would have formed the first and last folios. Folio 5 is an addition (see further under Comment). The present folio 1 itself is discoloured, dirty and has a small repair, lower right edge; the cover is discoloured and stained, though not unduly for a vellum binding of this age; folio 43 verso is also dirty.

Curator's comments
Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, ‘Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school’, 2010, Anthonie van Borssom, entry no.19 (folios 1 to 43 and folio 1 individually):

The Van Borssom sketchbook consists of 43 leaves and is bound in vellum with two pairs of ties (one broken) in a single gathering (the centre-fold formed by folios 20 verso and 21 recto). A drawn cartouche is on the front within which it is lettered in black ink: 'KORNELI / VAN / BORSSOM / 1624'; below this, a merchant's mark in brown ink and the date 1622. Kept in a nineteenth-century red morocco box lettered 'SKETCH / BOOK / OF / VAN / BORSSOM'. (See below for further information on subject matter).

Each folio is described individually and has been given its own registration number; when two subjects occur on one page they are divided by a horizontal line half way down; when there are four, a central vertical line also divides the sheet. Folios that are not mentioned are blank.

Although the cover suggests that the sketchbook at some point belonged to the artist's father, Cornelis (d.1676), this is the most significant work by Anthonie van Borssom to survive, extending our knowledge of the range of subject-matter that he treated, although not all the subjects that occur in his other works feature here. There are no 'pure' landscapes of the type for which he is best known as a painter in oils and watercolours. There are no topographical views of Amsterdam, the city which features in many of his other drawings - indeed his interest in town views is barely represented. There are no church interiors (cf. cat. nos.17-18 of the present catalogue), and no still-lifes such as he created in his painting in the Rijkmuseum (Sumowski, 'Gemälde', no.211; the drawing on vellum now in Berlin, Sumowski 333, is not by him but by Jacobus Quina – see Royalton-Kisch, 1998[I]). Yet nowhere else do we find significant figurative subjects such as those encountered on folios 11 and 23, nor sets of the 'Seasons', 'Months' and 'Elements'. Interior genre scenes (see ff.17 and 19-20) and roundel compositions - reminiscent of Jacob Cats' emblems - are also unusual in his oeuvre.
The subject-matter of the sketchbook falls into broad groups, although not tidily subdivided within its pages. The most frequent subject is the garden scene with fowl, for which there are some thirty designs (three more feature rabbits rather than fowl), many of them in the first part of the sketchbook (see further under folio 15). Compositions with peasants driving cattle appear some ten times; canal, river estuaries (sometimes with fisheremen and their nets) and seascapes seven times, battle scenes and ruins just twice. A few images contain hints of Vanitas symbolism, although this seems only to be a very minor ingredient (see the many signs of dilapidation and broken vases in the garden scenes, the statue of 'Homo Bulla' on folio 34 and the 'Town on Fire' on folio 35).
In style, too, the folios fall into distinct groups, and again, they do not occur in a neat, consecutive order. There are a few highly-finished compositions done with the reed pen (ff.5 recto, 30 verso and 40 recto), the instrument also employed, at another extreme, on some of the most energetically-sketched folios (e.g. 9 verso, 24 recto, 27 verso, 29 recto, and 30 recto). The garden scenes can also be subdivided into cursory composition sketches (e.g. 16 verso, 25 recto, 26 recto and verso, 27 recto) and more finished designs (e.g. 2, 3 and 4 recto, 15 verso, 25 verso, 33 recto and 34 recto). Other stylistic groups are discernible, which again do not follow clear patterns in the pagination. This leads us to deduce that the drawings in the sketchbook were compiled at different times, and not sequentially; and that the artist's desire to produce variations on a particular type of composition was the chief, though not the only, spur to his campaigns of activity. The stylistic evidence suggests that although many folios that are related in subject-matter fall into groups, at times he might leap from one part of the sketchbook to another, without too much concern for compartmentalising the subject-matter: folios 9 verso and 30 recto, for example, might have been drawn at about the same time, as also folios 15 verso and 25 verso.
These alternating disparities and confluences of style render a precise dating of the sketchbook impossible. It has been suggested that van Borssom worked on it in the 1660s, but he may have used the sketchbook at various times during his career, which spanned the 1650s and much of the 1670s as well as the 1660s. The sketchbook, to judge from the inscriptions on the cover, had apparently existed since 1622, almost a decade before the artist's birth, and had belonged to the artist's father, a frame-maker.[1]
The style, or styles, like some of the subject-matter, has only a limited relationship with that encountered in van Borssom's drawings outside the sketchbook. The 'Mountain Landscape with Cattle and Herdsmen' in the Witt Collection, Courtauld Institute of Art (Sumowski 311) is one of the few published sheets that has clear stylistic links with the most energetic pen studies in the sketchbook; and while numerous studies of wildfowl are known, none that survive outside the sketchbook are as embryonic as, for example, the designs on folio 26 verso, or strictly comparable to the quill-pen compositions such as are seen on folios 33 recto and 34 recto. In the case of folio 26 verso, the sketchbook offers an unusual glimpse of a class of draughtsmanship that has survived only haphazardly in seventeenth-century examples: the compositional primo pensiero. Those in the sketchbook document van Borssom's propensity for this kind of work as fully, perhaps, as that of any artist of the period apart from Jan van Goyen, whose landscape studies of all types survive in large quantities.
Indeed, few comparable Dutch seventeenth-century sketchbooks, apart from those by van Goyen, survive, although they must have been extremely common. Apart from an altered sketchbook by van Goyen, the British Museum contains one by Nicolaes Berchem;[2] the Rijksmuseum recently acquired a set of figure-studies in a vellum-bound sketchbook format by Cornelis Saftleven, and also owns, as do the Leiden printroom, the Huntingdon Library in California and several other collections, both public and private, an album by Leonard Bramer; but the latter's albums are finished sets of drawings rather than sketchbooks in the strict sense of the word.[3]
The present sketchbook contains a degree of internal logic, with its emphasis on particular subjects and on compositions rather than 'snapshots' from life, so that it still retains an echo, however faint, of Renaissance model-books. But it also keeps its distance from 'finished' or specialised albums of the type that seem to have been prevalent in the seventeenth century, or at least to have survived more frequently. One thinks here of those by Rembrandt listed in his possession in his 1656 inventory, which seem to have been devoted either to landscape, or to figures, or to animals, and so forth.[4] Yet at the same time, van Borssom's sketchbook differs from the wholly miscellaneous assemblies of drawings often encountered, for example, in nineteenth-century sketchbooks. Thus, while sketchbooks were certainly a feature of artistic practice in Holland in the seventeenth century, it is impossible to say whether van Borssom's, with its disparity of subject-matter and styles, represents a widespread genre that has now disappeared, either through loss or through being split up into individual sheets, or one that was unusual from the outset.

[1] The date in the 1660s was suggested for the roundels by Sumowski, under no.322, on the basis of the costumes. Broos, 1984 (see Lit.), broadly divided the drawings stylistically into those with 'hatched' and those with 'washed' shading. In the nineteenth century, the sketchbook was attributed to Cornelis van Borssom, following the inscription on the cover.
[2] Hind 40 (1920-2-14-2). The British Museum also owns the Italian Sketchbook by Rembrandt's approximate contemporary, Anthony Van Dyck (1957,1214.207).
[3] See Exh. Delft, 1994, pp.311-19 for a list of the known sets of drawings by Bramer. The Cornelis Saftleven sketchbook in the Rijksmuseum is RP-T-1990-158.
[4] For example, Strauss and van der Meulen, 1979, p.375, nos.249, 251, and 256, and p.377, no.261.

Waagen, IV, 1857, p.42 (the only known work by 'Korneli van Borssum'); Wurzbach, 1906, I, p.143 (as Waagen); Moes, 1910, p.378 (by A. van Borssom); London, 1915, pp.67-70, no.23, repr. recto of folios 11, 23 and 41, pl.XXXIV (with full description); Paris, 1929, p.18, under no.127; Berlin, 1930, p.89, under no.2869; Bernt, 1957, I, sv. Anthonie van Borssom; Hannema, 1967, p.7, under no.19; Sumowski, II, 1979, nos 322 (f.6 recto), 323 (f.22 recto), 324 (f.30 recto), 327 (f.23 recto), 328 (folio 11 recto) and 334 (folio 33 recto); Otterlo, 1981, p.11, under no.0037; Broos, 1984, p.177 (two distinct styles in the book, hatched and washed); Exh. Paris-Haarlem, 1997-8, p.80, under no.33.

time/seasons (scope note | all objects)
herder (all objects)
garden (all objects)
elements (scope note | all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Purchased from Walter Benjamin Tiffin (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Samuel Woodburn (sale Christie's, as 'C. Van Borsum's Sketch-Book - 39 pages, covered small pen and) (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
1854,0628.81 to 117 were purchased from Tiffin and the register records that they were all drawings that he had bought on his own account at the Woodburn sale. The Bill Book gives prices and agrees that all of them came from the Woodburn sale. Neither source gives the lot numbers. The van Borssum sketchbook is one that can be positively identified.

Exhibition History
1992, BM, Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle (folios 16v and 17r, not in catalogue).

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