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Sketchbooks Research Guide

Project-specific Sketchbooks

Artists often devoted sketchbooks to a specific project, be that an independent work, a series, or a theme. Sketchbooks like these can illustrate the ideation of a project, helping to situate a work in time and place and providing insight into an artist’s creative method.

Italian architect Mario Asprucci (1764-1804) worked alongside his father Antonio on the renewal of the Villa Borghese in Rome. Their decorative program for the Villa’s main building, the Casino Nobile, unified architecture and ornament with the display of the renowned Borghese art collection. This sketchbook, attributed to Mario and dated around 1785—still loosely bound together with a simple string—contains designs and notations that may relate to the Casino’s decorative program. (880431) For related drawings of the Villa Borghese renovation and other Borghese commissions by Antonio and Mario Asprucci, see 880400*, 860224*, and 2021.M.12**.

The fashionable English portraitist George Romney (1734-1802) made “the Milton sketchbook” in 1791 while planning a series of paintings based on Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” This sketchbook focuses on scenes of the Expulsion from Eden and the Fall of the Angels. It also holds drawings of John Howard (1726-1790), a philanthropist and prison reformer, visiting prisoners. (860577)



Hubert Robert (1733-1808) was a French painter and the curator of the Musée Central des Arts, the future Musée du Louvre. This sketchbook, made between 1790 and 1800, includes preparatory studies for three of Robert’s paintings, including his 1796 Projet d’aménagement pour la Grande Galerie du Louvre, which shows his idea for a renovated Grand Gallery at the Louvre. (930069)







William Gell (1777-1836), trained both as an archeologist and illustrator, traveled to Pompeii around 1830 to conduct research for the 1832 revised edition of his monumental survey Pompeiana (1832). Drawings in this sketchbook relate to mosaics and wall frescoes discovered during the 1826-1829 excavations. (2002.M.16, Box 425) 




A leading proponent of Mexican Muralism, painter Diego Rivera (1886-1957) used this sketchbook while working on murals for the San Francisco Stock Exchange and the San Francisco Art Institute in 1931. Dozens of drawings depict miners or machinery related to the mining process, all done from life. (960078)

A key figure in the development of modern art in Los Angeles, Frederick Hammersley (1919-2009) was one of the founding members of hard-edge abstraction, widely considered to be Southern California's first home-grown postwar artistic movement. This set of sketchbooks, together with notebooks and paint sample charts, provide technical details of the materials and processes Hammersley used for nearly every painting he produced over his career. (2013.M.33)

Born in Buenos Aires, David Lamelas (1946-) is a pioneer of Conceptual art and experimental film. He created this unique, accordion-style “sketchbook” in 1988 for an unrealized project in the Hollywood Hills. The object can be folded and unfolded to reveal different abstract, colorful shapes. (2005.M.12, Box 2, folder 14)