Susan Schwalb

Strata #295, 1998

24 x 24 inches

Gold-, copper-, brass-, aluminum-, platinum-, and silverpoint on clay coated paper

Private collection

Drawing in Silver and Gold: From Leonardo to Johns

The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The British Museum, London, U.K.

May 3 – December 6, 2015

Susan Schwalb is acknowledged as a leader in the contemporary re-discovery of metalpoint in the exhibition, Drawing in Silver and Gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns. The comprehensive metalpoint survey places Susan's drawings beside work by Leonardo, Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Otto Dix and Jasper Johns.

The exhibition ran May 3 - July 26, 2015 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and September 10 - December 6, 2015 at the British Museum, London.


Overview: Since the Middle Ages, artists have used metalpoint to create some of the most beautiful and technically accomplished drawings ever made. Interest in the medium peaked during the Renaissance when it was embraced by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Albrecht Dürer. Revived in the nineteenth century, metalpoint continues to be practiced today.

An artist working in metalpoint uses a sharp, pointed instrument (a stylus) with a metal tip to draw on paper, parchment, or wood that has been specially coated. As the stylus travels across this slightly abrasive ground, a small amount of metal is scraped off and remains behind, creating a line. Almost any metal can be used, though only lead, which is softer than others, can be used without a ground. When first drawn, all metalpoint lines, including those made by gold, appear gray, an optical effect that stems in part from the breaking down of the metal into tiny particles. Some metals oxidize, or tarnish, to different colors over time: silver, for example, generally turns golden brown. Others, such as gold, never tarnish and remain gray. Goldpoint appeals to some artists for this reason, although it was rarely used before the nineteenth century. Most of the drawings in this exhibition are silverpoints, by far the most common form of metalpoint through history.

Silverpoint is often considered a challenging medium. The lines can be difficult or even impossible to erase depending on such factors as the type of ground. Unlike pen or chalk, which can produce strokes of varying thickness or darkness depending on how hard artists bear down on the instrument, silver leaves a nearly uniform line. Nonetheless, the medium offers practical and aesthetic advantages: Its portability and convenience make it particularly suited for use in sketchbooks, as artists do not have to carry an inkwell or wait for ink to dry. Silverpoint is especially resistant to smearing and therefore has the added benefit of durability. Also, the precision and subtlety of its delicate lines render it ideal for capturing fine detail. Above all, it is the shimmering beauty of silverpoint that has attracted artists across the centuries.


Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with The British Museum, London.


Sponsors: The exhibition was made possible by a generous gift in memory of Melvin R. Seiden.

The Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art is also supporting the exhibition.

The exhibition was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.


Venues: The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., May 3 – July 26, 2015; The British Museum, London, September 10–December 6, 2015