written by Sophie | Exhibitions

May 23, 2017


At the Royal West of England Academy of Art (RWA) in Bristol there is a drawing fest going on. The curators have cleverly brought together 3 exhibitions: a contemporary exhibition of drawings selected from open submissions (Drawn), a collection of drawings from the RWA’s own collection (Beyond the Sketchbook)  and a selection of drawings on loan from the Royal Collection (Lines in a Landscape). The three exhibitions (each in their own connecting rooms) provide a fabulous whole, wandering as it does from contemporary, back in time to the 60s and 70s, and further more to the 17th century. It all works together wonderfully.


The contemporary exhibition Drawn is selected from open submissions and held at the RWA every other year. This year there is a lot of landscape, and a lot of portraiture, both of which I love. There is, of course, the odd weird conceptual piece that seems more like a little joke than a piece of art, or stuff that is too hard for me to understand, there are the obligatory harmonica sketch books, but a large part of the show is beautiful and inspirational. Expect to be impressed and get inspired by the works of Sarah Gillespie RWA, Norman Ackroyd RA (invited artist), and Janette Kerr PRWA, to name just some of my favourites. Other stand-outs for me were by Toby Wiggins, Malcolm Ashman, Anna Pinkster, Abigail Reed, Susie Nott-Bower and my friends and wonderful artists Shirley Sharp, Claire Russell, Belinda Durrant, and Rosalind Robinson.

Drawings from the Royal Collection

The Old Master room is delightful. It makes a stark contrast with the Drawn exhibition, not only because of the low lighting, but also in the much smaller size and more detailed style of drawings on display. No photography was allowed but I walked past works by Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Canaletto, Ruisdael and Avercamp. Who ever said you have to go to London to see old masterpieces? It is fantastic that the RWA is able to show such a large collection of treasures. I especially love the Hendrick Avercamp drawings, often quickly sketched from life (a sleigh that went through the ice with all the chaos that surrounds it for example). The Ruisdaels are sweet and delicate, and there are some gorgeous roman scenes by Claude Lorrain.


One in particular took my fancy, a wonderful drawing by Guercino from the 1630s. The picture is drawn in pen and ink and about A4 in size and belongs in the Royal Collection.

The drawing shows a mountainous scene with figures walking up a path, trees on either side.  Guercino used parallel lines to create the shading in the drawing. The effect is graphical and effective. The artist lets the lines follow the form it is trying to describe. And so when the hills go up, the lines go vertical and when the hills flatten, the lines go horizontal. The lines that are creating the trees follow both the direction of growth and the wind, slightly bending to our right. There is a wonderful sense of gentle movement there. The slightly higher mountain in the background is drawn in a lighter shade of brown ink, but the lines again follow the direction of the planes of the rocks.  The lines are considerately placed, giving the drawing a delicate flavour.

The tiny little figures enhance this flavour; they are so simple, yet so detailed. Their small scale makes the mountains look monumental, a clever trick used well by Guercino. A large part of the drawing is sky and clouds, but I think a lot here has faded over time. You can just about make out some outlines of large clouds but they are too faint to have an impact on the drawing as a whole. The remnants of tiny little birds again make the mountains seem gigantuous. It is a fantastic drawing.

Guercino (Cento 1591-Bologna 1666), Mountainous landscape with five figures on a winding road c.1630-35, Pen and ink. Royal Collection.

The drawing exhibitions are until 4 June 2017 at the RWA in Bristol

Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 6pm, Sunday: 11pm – 5pm, Monday Closed. Open Bank Holiday Mondays.
Adults: £6.95 (includes a 70p donation)
Concessions: £4.95 (includes a 50p donation)
Under 16s/SGS, UoB & UWE students: FREE
National Art Pass holders: 50% discount on ticket price

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  1. Sophie, I just came across this blog post, and wanted to say thank you for naming my work as one of your favourites – particularly as we recently met on the Costume Drawing course at the RWA! (I was the one who had seen your lovely work in London and, I think, at Lime Tree Gallery?) What a strange coincidence.
    All the very best,

    1. Nooo! What a fabulous coincidence! You are ‘that’ Susie! I loved your drawing at the RWA and it really stood out for me. I suppose I should have added some more pics to this blog post. I am so glad you found my post. Really lovely to meet you and I hope we’ll bump into each other again some time. Perhaps the next RWA Open. Best wishes, Sophie

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