DECODE:

STUDY FOR . . .

The practice has been critical to the development of art.

ESSENTIALLY: A preparatory sketch or drawing used as practice for a finished, more detailed work.

EXAMPLE: Study for "Paris Street; Rainy Day", Gustave Caillebotte, 1877

When an artist wants to make a new work, where do they begin? It's common to make a study for their chosen subject as a first step. A study can be a one-off or one in a series of sketches (usually done in pencil, chalk or charcoal) that allows the artist to test the composition and execution that they'll use to create the finished work of art.

How detailed a given study is depends on the artist. Masters of the Italian Renaissance – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael – are now recognized nearly as much for their meticulously drawn studies as they are for the final paintings and sculptures those studies enabled. A great number of these sketches featured voluminous drapery or the nuances of human anatomy, some of the most challenging subjects to render. Getting things exactly right in advance was essential, particularly when executing frescoes that dry quickly.

Centuries later, in 19th-century France, Parisian artist Gustave Caillebotte prepared for his now-famous painting, Paris Street; Rainy Day, by producing a loose sketch scholars believe was created on the actual street corner captured in the painting. The study was then taken back to Caillebotte's studio where he used a straightedge and compass to further refine the perspective. More recently, artists like Christo and Jeanne-Claude used studies to envision the duo's massive environmental installations before any physical construction began.

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