Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait drawing of a young woman 1690s

Michael Dahl (1659-1743)

Portrait drawing of a young woman, Michael Dahl
Black and red chalk on paper
17th Century
241 x 190 mm; 9 1/2 x 7 3/5 in
John Thane, his initials (Lugt 1544) Sale, London, Sotheby''s, 6 July 1967, lot 13 Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd. Evelyn Joll, London; thence by descent
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It is only in the last decades that Michael Dahl has begun to emerge as a draughtsman. The lack of authenticated drawings by him had given rise to beliefs such as the absurd suggestion that Dahl did not draw. Although drawings by Dahl remain extremely rare, the reattribution of a number of drawings to Dahl, previously – as with this example – attributed to Sir Godfrey Kneller, has enabled a body of work to emerge.

These drawings – such as the Earl of Oxford (British Museum) and Mr Reid (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library) – are characterised by a light, powdery tone, and the use of short strokes to build up the modelling. These are all qualities in evidence in the present drawing. The distinction in this example is that it is even more finished than those drawings which are preliminary to an oil portrait. It would appear to have been executed as a presentation drawing, as a completed work in its own right, either as a gift for the sitter or a friend, or as a commissioned work. Too little is known of the various functions of drawings by the oil portraitists in this period, unless the piece be an obvious preparation for a painting, but it seems apparent that the production of finished drawings – rare now due to their perishability – may have been an important aspect of their commercial work. The characteristics of Dahl’s style in painted portraits – the distinctive cresting to the hair, for example, or the level set of the eyebrows – are apparent also in this drawing, though modified by the more delicate treatment.
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