Skip to Main Content
site header image

Sketchbooks Research Guide

Sketchbooks of Everyday Life

Artists through the centuries have captured quotidian details drawn from life. In the 19th century, such depictions of “everyday life” became the foundation of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, and were increasingly the focus of sketchbooks. While some of these sketches served to prepare finished works of art, a new emphasis on drawing purely for the sake of drawing emerged. This practice continued well into the 20th century.

Carle Vernet (1758-1836) was a French artist who won the Prix de Rome in 1782. In his painting and printmaking, Vernet captured scenes of daily life, showing a keen interest in the depiction of horses. This undated sketchbook contains hunting scenes, horses, figure studies, and color notes. (2010.M.64)



Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), the accomplished painter of animals, made this sketchbook in 1847 to record life in rural France. It includes drawings she made in the fields during harvest time, farm tools, and local plants. (850837)






An incredibly prolific German draftsman, Adolph Menzel (1815-1905) recorded his keen observations of people and descriptions of his surroundings in thousands of extant drawings. He made this sketchbook in 1863 filled with studies of infants and small children drawn from life. (910164B)





French painter Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910) was central to the Neo-Impressionist and Fauvist movements. The GRI has two undated sketchbooks by Cross: the first is comprised mostly of studies of horses, boats, women, and children; the second contains studies of seated women, all drawn from life. (2001.M.15)




French painter and printmaker Félix Bracquemond (1833-1914) was a principle figure in the revival of etching in the 1850s and 1860s. This sketchbook (ca. 1868-ca. 1874) shows watercolors of forests and vegetation in Balleroy and drawings that were preliminary for prints; it also contains his eyewitness account of the 1871 Paris Commune, including a drawing of dead bodies in the street. (2009.M.17)





Edgar Degas (1834-1917) made this sketchbook around 1877 to record the weekly soirées at the home of his friend Ludovic Halévy, a writer of opera librettos and popular romances. At these gatherings, Degas drew portraits of his friends and made studies for his own work. Degas presented the completed sketchbook to Halévy, who later added inscriptions to many of the pages. This sketchbook is held at the J. Paul Getty Museum. (95.GD.35)



While living in New York in the late 1930s, Mark Rothko (1903-1970) filled the pages of this sketchbook with pen and ink studies of everyday objects and scenes, from a house plant, to a comfy armchair, to fellow painters at work at the easel. In the years immediately following this sketchbook, Rothko's style would shift from figural depictions of everyday life to the Abstract Expressionist paintings for which he is best known. (2002.M.8)

Turkish artist Burhan Doğançay (1929-2013) is best known for his interest in urban walls and the imagined histories they evoke. He produced 48 sketchbooks between 1965 and 2009 (with the bulk from 1994-2001) that document his studies of urban walls and graffiti in cities across the world, especially his home in New York City. (2017.M.14)