Sketchbooks by West can be found in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Yale University and the Royal Academy of Arts. The present example, however, appears to be particularly broad in the range of subjects represented: figure studies, drawings from classical sculpture, compositional designs and more spontaneous sketches of people going about everyday tasks.
This sketchbook is also unusually thick when compared to the examples at the Royal Academy. Coupled with its breadth of subject, this suggests that, although the pages are all the same size and many sections retain fragments of the spine, it has been formed by collecting together a number of thinner sketchbooks. It has also provided new evidence about the way West worked. He did not use the sketchbook chronologically but left blank pages between his sketches; sometimes he returned to these at a later point in his career and sometimes they remain blank.
These drawings show West at his most focused and concentrated. His earlier works, such as the elegant reclining figure of a river nymph, show a care and precision of line that suggests the influence of contemporary French painting. Later drawings, such as the compositional studies for The Resurrection, are looser and more confident, with an almost Baroque visionary quality, more concerned with emphasising movement than delineating form.