This brilliant study of a boy, thoughtfully gazing upwards, demonstrates Giovanni Battista's superb and confident draughtsmanship. With wetted red chalk and delicately applied touches of white chalk on blue paper, the artist creates a striking and individual image of this young boy. The characteristic technique is close to that of Head of a man looking up which was sold at Christie's, New York, 23 January 2002, lot 43 and is now at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. 2002.31) and to Head of a boy wearing a cap in three-quarter view now at the Metropolitan Museum, New York (inv. 2005.330.7). It can also be compared to A foreshortened head, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Inv. WA1941I.15; G. Knox, op. cit., no. M662), which is a study for a soldier in The Continence of Scipio, part of a fresco decoration of 1743-44 at the Villa Cordellina, Montecchio Maggiore. The immediacy of these studies suggests that they were made from life. They were often used by Tiepolo's students as examples for study and as part of a repertoire of motifs.
It is possible that the present drawing represents one of the artist’s sons, Giovanni Domenico born in 1727, or more likely Lorenzo, born in 1736. He accompanied his father and brother to Würzburg in 1750 and in Madrid in 1762. Although he sometimes copied his father's work he developed his own style and created some of the greatest pastels of the eighteenth century. He died in Madrid in 1776, six years after his father. He appears in some paintings by his father or his brother, for example in Giovanni Domenico's Christ falling under the Cross for the third time painted in 1747 for the church of San Polo in Venice. A drawing of him by Giovanni Battista is in the Fondation Custodia, Paris (J. Byam Shaw, The Italian Drawings of the Frits Lugt Collection, Paris, 1983, I, no. 275).
The present drawing was part of a very large group of drawings – it totalled more than 800 sheets, including 600 studies in chalk - by the Tiepolos which was sold at auction in 1882 in Stuttgart by the heirs of Karl Christian Friedrich Beyerlen (1826-1881) and his wife Maria Theresa Karoline Bossi. The latter had inherited them from her father Giovanni Domenico Bossi (1765-1853), professor and court painter at Munich. He seems to have bought them directly from Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo who might also have been his teacher. The auction catalogue is not precise enough to identify in which lot the present drawing was included (on the Bossi Beyerlen group, see G. Knox, in Tiepolo. Drawings by Giambattista, Domenico and Lorenzo Tiepolo from the Graphische Sammlung Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, from Private Collections in Wurttemberg and from the Martin von Wagner Museum of the University of Würzburg, exh. cat., Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, 1971, pp. 7-10). The drawing was probably bought soon after the sale by the painter and art historian Eduard Sack (1857-1913) who mentions it in his pioneering monograph on the Tiepolos published in 1910. Sack owned at least two other head studies of young men in chalk by Giovanni Battista (see anonymous sale; Bonhams, New York, 29 October 2010, lots 1 and 2).