From sketch to painting, there’s no single clear path By Philip Kennicott

There are fewer then 10 surviving sketchbooks from Dutch artists working in the 17th century, which might seem surprising, given how many artists were active during this golden age, how much of what they produced strikes us as naturalistic, and how essential sketching was to the artistic process.

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, “Drawing for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt,” includes two of those books — and a host of other drawings that relate directly to paintings — that have survived. In the process, it dismantles many of our assumptions about how drawings were used during one of the most brilliant epochs of image-making.

The standard view of drawings and paintings, influenced by pop culture and ideas borrowed from other historical eras, goes like this: The artist transcribes vivid impressions directly from the real world into his or her sketchbook, and then in the studio transforms these into something more polished, ambitious and inspired. But the evidence — scattered, incomplete and sometimes frustrating — gathered in this fascinating show suggests that artists used a lot of different methods, which were both more complex and workmanlike than the combination of photographic capture and inspired transfiguration suggested by romantic ideals of making art.

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