Discover the Sketches Behind These Masterpieces

Reveal the process behind the painting

By Google Arts & Culture

recto: Study for the Head of a Soldier in the Battle of Anghiari (ca. 1504–1505) by Leonardo da VinciMuseum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Once a famous piece of art has cemented itself in history, it can be hard to imagine that the work started as nothing but an idea. Artists often prepare sketches, models, or drafts before the ultimate work. Scroll to compare conceptual drawings with the final product.

Standing Pair of Lovers, Seen from the Side (1907-1908) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The Kiss - Gustav Klimt

Far from the ornately gilded finished piece, this pencil drawing of The Kiss shows the remarkable simplicity behind one of Klimt's most acclaimed works.

The Kiss (1908-1909) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

The finished painting, appearing courtesy of the Belvedere in Vienna, was created at the peak of Klimt's 'Golden Period' around 1908. Scroll back and forth to compare the early draft with this one!

Autograph letter, dated 17 October 1888, to Paul Gauguin (1888) by Vincent van GoghThe Morgan Library & Museum

Bedroom in Arles - Vincent van Gogh

This sketch, which appears in a letter to Paul Gauguin, is one of the earliest iterations of van Gogh's portrayal of his bedroom at The Yellow House in Arles, France. The artist produced multiple versions of the piece between 1888 and 1889.

Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles (1889) by Vincent van GoghMusée d’Orsay, Paris

This version, the third and final painting of his bedroom, is currently on display at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. In addition to subtle differences in color, this version is somewhat smaller than the others, and features updated artwork on the walls.

Gogh's Bedroom in Arles (2007) by Nam, Kyung MinKorean Art Museum Association

In 2007, Korean artist Nam Kyung-min created this gargantuan oil painting inspired by The Bedroom. In a nod to van Gogh's decorations, she's recreated several of his other artworks around the room. See if you can identify them all!

Cupid and Psyche (1800/1807) by Bertel ThorvaldsenThorvaldsens Museum

Cupid and Psyche - Bertel Thorvaldsen

Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen produced this series of sketches to prepare to sculpt the mythical lovers. All the poses tell the story of the intimacy, but only one became set in stone. See if you can guess which drawing turned into the completed piece!

Cupid and Psyche (1807) by Bertel ThorvaldsenThorvaldsens Museum

The lovers are on display now in Thorvaldsens Museum in Denmark. Thorvaldsen completed the piece in the first decade of the 1800s. Contrast this lifelike masterpiece with the unembellished drawings which preceded it. 

Cupid and Psyche (1800/1807) by Bertel ThorvaldsenThorvaldsens Museum

This illustration of Cupid and Psyche intertwined and facing forward went on to be the model for the ultimate sculpture. Is this the sketch you guessed?


For a change of pace, first look at this unrestrained sketch by Frank Gehry, then try to guess what the final product is. Hint: It is much larger in scale than the other works.


Did you guess that it became the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California? The venue was conceptualized in 1987, but wasn't open until 2003! Below, you can click to examine the building in 360º using Street View.

Study for A Subtlety (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

Kara Walker's 2014 installation A Subtlety was powerful, poingant, and remarkable in its scope. But even it began as a series of simple sketches.

A Subtlety (2014) by Kara WalkerCreative Time

The installation took place in a disused sugar factory in Brooklyn, New York. The enormous sphinx at the center was encircled by smaller but equally powerful pieces. Watch the video below to see the artist discuss the exhibit and learn how it was created.

Creative Time Presents Kara Walker's “A Subtlety” (2014) by Creative TimeCreative Time

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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