Sketches of Heads (verso, left); Two Women (verso, right)

Sketches of Heads (verso, left); Two Women (verso, right)

c. 1770-1775

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John Brown

(British, 1752-1787)

Left: graphite; right: gray and black wash with point of brush and graphite

Sheet: 25.7 x 18.6 cm (10 1/8 x 7 5/16 in.)

Dudley P. Allen Fund 1969.28.b


Did you know?

John Brown meant for the dark background of this drawing to evoke the potential danger of Italian nights; the writer Johann Joachim Winckelmann had been murdered in Trieste in 1768, in the most conspicuous example of the period's widespread violence.


John Brown is known for a small group of monochromatic drawings imbued with sinister overtones. At the age of 20, the Scottish artist traveled to Italy where he spent the next 12 years. This drawing exemplifies his Roman street scenes which often depict women dressed in spectacular, billowing costumes. Here, a figure with bare ankles and plunging décolletage is surrounded by a crowd of men who leer at her. The reverse of the sketchbook sheet includes two independent drawings: a study of faces in fierce and intense expressions, and a pair of women wearing swirling gowns. One figure raises her hand in a mysterious gesture, either beckoning or forewarning the viewer.

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