The Museum contains too many incredible works spanning enumerable schools and media to truly have a favorite piece. That being said, I really enjoy Abraham Bloemaert’s Studies of Running Figures. The drawing likely dates from 1590–1650, and was given to the College by James Bowdoin III upon his death in 1811. It shows several studies of running figures and two red chalk studies of muscled arms. Bloemaert no doubt used this drawing to help hone his skills in rendering an individual in motion. The figures drawn are likely Niobids, a family slain by the Greek gods for their hubris. The figures in this drawing strongly resemble running figures in Death of the Niobids, a Bloemaert painting that is currently in the collection of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.
I’m drawn to this work for a number of reasons. As an art history major who can’t draw something to save his life, I love how Bloemaert uses this drawing to experiment and practice. Visually, I like the effect created by the contrast of the two arm studies, done in red chalk, and the figure studies in black ink. The arms are almost the same size as the figures, which looks surreal and makes the drawing all that more interesting. I wrote about this drawing for the catalogue of the upcoming exhibition Why Draw? 500 Years of Drawings and Watercolors at Bowdoin College. Lastly, this particular drawing, and all the drawings from the James Bowdoin III bequest, fascinate me because of their provenance. Last semester I undertook an independent study in which I researched the provenance of several paintings given to the College by Bowdoin. His bequest is the foundation upon which the Museum’s collection is built, and I think it is awesome to imagine that these works have been a part of the College’s history for most of its lifespan.
Will Schweller, class of 2017
Student Curatorial Assistant