History

SINCE the beginning of time men have been interested in drawing but the ability to make drawings of the human figure came long after bison, mammoths, antelopes, etc. I don't know why this was so, but if you look at early prehistoric cave paintings the humans are usually just little matchstick-like objects over which the wild horses and bison tower like skyscrapers. Not until long after primitive draughtsmen mastered the drawing of animals did their studies of humans begin.

Early Egyptian drawings were completely stylised (except for brief excursions into reality during the reign of Akhraton) — a kind of artistic shorthand in which conventional symbols represented human beings. It is not until the Greek influence percolated into Egypt during the period of the Ptolemys that naturalism began to appear.

Greek and Roman figure drawings that exist to-day are mostly on walls or vases and, in some cases, on floors in mosaic patterns. Here we find much more naturalistic movement but not any figure drawing comparable to the sculpture of the period. It was mostly the pot-boiling kind of drawing, typical of lesser commercial art to-day. One thing to notice about the figure drawing we have discovered so far is that nearly all of it is based on line, with very little modelling, a very conventional, unsympathetic sort of line at that. There may of course be some drawings, as yet undiscovered, that will rank with the Venus de Milo and the Parthenon freize as masterpieces. They must have existed at one time ; Phidias surely made studies for his sculpture and probably artists drew their wives and mistresses. . . .

We're now approaching comparatively civilized times, but still no figure drawing as far as we know. ... In Europe the darkness of the Middle Ages and the iron rule of the Church spread a blight over any hope of drawing the human figure without its clothing. Here and there an Adam and Eve timidly depicted, or scenes in Hell by Bosch or Bruegel showed some attempts in this direction. During this period Art was flourishing in China, India and Persia, but again, in a conventionalized form — charming, observant, often drawn with wonderful accuracy, but the masterpieces of figure drawing are yet to come.

It was the Renaissance that produced them. Suddenly, almost overnight it seems, the heavy hand of symbolism was lifted and the eye of the artist was free to record what he saw. It wasn't really quite so quickly as that, and between the paintings of Bellini and those of Titian lies a generation's difference. All over Europe the New Spirit, in which man became interested in man again, began to produce masterpieces of figure drawing. The first essays in this new medium were too detailed, too hard and slightly grotesque, such as Durer's studies and etchings. Some others, too, by Grunewald and Bellini, still have a primitive look. In Italy the progress was faster than in Northern Europe — compare, for instance, Raphael and Durer, who were contemporaries.

After Raphael and Botticelli came the flood: Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Georgione, Titian, Veronese, etc.: from Italy the movement spread to Spain where Velasquez picked up the Spirit, and to Flanders where Rubens and Vandyck carried it on. So we come to the Baroque period, notable always for its primary interest in the human form. Gradually all Europe had its artists studying the figure. In England, Gainsborough, Hogarth and others were at work; France had a most magnificent group, headed by Watteau and Boucher; Tiepolo was creating ~ masterpieces with pen and sepia washes in Italy — one might

■ fl f almost call this the Golden Age of figure drawing.

All this activity was not wholly confined to Europe. In Japan popular artists of the Ukiyoye School were making drawings with a brush. These drawings, while still subject to a certain conventionality — which suggest that they weren't actually drawn from life — are far in advance of the more stylized work which Eastern countries had up to then produced. In Hokusai a really great master emerged whose work, later on, had a great influence on European artists. Degas and Toulouse Lautrec were to feel this influence.

Sketches Female Ballet Figure

We thus come to the nineteenth century, beginning with a revered worship of all things Greek and consequently an even greater interest in the human figure. This produced at least one master draughtsman — Ingres. His influence was great and was passed on, especially to Degas, who, developing from this point, carried draughtsmanship of the figure into the bedroom, the bathroom and the ballet and right out of the studio into the modern world.

A Tiepolo-type Venetian nude of the iSth Century, drawn in pen and wash, and a French nude (opposite) of the same period, in chalk on toned papet.

Tiepolo Figure Drawing

A Tiepolo-type Venetian nude of the iSth Century, drawn in pen and wash, and a French nude (opposite) of the same period, in chalk on toned papet.

Progress in draughtsmanship had gone so far, from the carefully executed metallic-looking drawings of Durer to the freedom of Degas or Augustus John, that there seemed no further to go. Consequently, many artists took a different path. Picasso, Dufy, Matisse, deliberately turned away from representational drawing, and the Paris School of painting developed.

The trend recently seems to go back to more truthful renderings of the figure. Each in his own way, artists are subject to such diverse influences as Degas, Van Gogh, William Blake and, in fact, almost everybody you can think of.

In this rather broad sweep I've missed out some interesting sideshows. There is,

Star Wars Female Drawings

And here is the mid-twentieth century in the author's undisguised style.

for instance, the mystery of Bougereau. He worked at the same time as the French Impressionists and though his fame completely eclipsed theirs during his lifetime, now he and his work are completely ignored — he's a forgotten man. The fame of the French Impressionists has so obliterated the work of Borgereau and others of his School that many people don't know that this group of artists ever existed. In England their equivalent, Lord Leighton and his followers, has suffered a similar fate — overshadowed by artists whose work they despised. In the sphere of figure drawing there is also the problem of Burne Jones. He could make superb studies of the figure. In his lifetime he became the much revered Sir Edward Coley Burne Jones, Bart., but because most of his work was harnessed to obscure Arthurian legends — quests for the Holy Grail and so on, which are now unfashionable — it has also gone into cold storage. Some day his paintings may come back into fashion but, meanwhile, I feel his drawings are unfairly neglected.

I have made no mention of an artist who made his first appearance in the nineteenth century and who, it was thought at the time, might put all other artists out of business — I mean the camera. Camera studies of the figure began to appear nearly as soon as the camera was invented but so far it has not put artists out of work.

The progress in figure drawing that human beings have made from the prehistoric draughtsmen to our own time resembles somewhat the process of development which every student goes through : the preliminary gropings, effects often obtained more by luck than technique ; the hard, dry, over-detailed studies (Durer, etc.) ; the gradual appreciation of the human form and how to depict it ; finally such mastery that exact realism can be forgotten and only the essentials put down (Degas, etc.). These are very much the stages every successful artist must follow, though only a few reach the level of a Degas or a Rembrandt.

Figure Drawing Models Female Drawing Matchstick People

. The Model

A WORD about that indispensable part of the programme — the model.

So much nonsense has been written about models, ever since Du Maurier wrote Trilby, that it's sometimes difficult to think of it as a hard-working prosaic occupation like any other. There are a few models who blaze a brief and lurid trail across Bohemia but generally models are business-like people who are booked by the hour, do their job and go on to the next one. They are usually obtained through model agencies. Often one model recommends others, so that if you are using models frequently you find you accumulate a list of different addresses and telephone numbers and could almost run an agency yourself !

There are all kinds of models. Some are really small part actresses or dancers who model between engagements ; others are permanently models and always have been. Sometimes they come from a family who have been models for three generations. I remember one Italian family in which the old grandfather posed for apostles ; the father was anything from Samson to heavy industrial types (dignity of labour, etc.) ; the female side of this family had a cast which included everything from Macbeth's witches to Salome or Greek maidens at play. They probably made their debut as cherubs

Drawing Female Figure

for a ceiling decoration or innocents in the Murder of the Innocents !

You will help your work by being considerate to the model. Don't try impossible poses, or, if for some reason you must, draw as quickly as you reasonably can. Get the model's help by explaining your problem clearly; if necessary make a little diagram, it's surprising how quickly you get results this way. Some models are artists themselves, who are paying their way during difficult times. They usually pose the best because they understand what you want.

The worst models are those who have a repertoire of very dramatic and contorted poses, which they try to give you regardless of what you really require. This type is as bad to the artist, as an artist who doesn't know what he wants is to the model.

An important necessity for a model is that the room should be warm. Artists usually manage this in the beginning but, becoming engrossed in their problems, are

Sculpture Botticelli

apt to let the temperature drop. Do you remember a famous picture of Ophelia at the National Gallery by Sir John Millais ? It shows her half submerged as she floats down the stream. To get this effect Millais arranged for his model — the beautiful Elizabeth Siddel — to lie in a long bath of water which was kept heated by oil stoves. Absorbed in his work, the artist forgot to keep the wicks turned up ; the lamps went out and the water got colder and colder. Poor Elizabeth caught a severe chill which contributed to her

Story Victorian Poor

early death. It's a typical Victorian story and the moral is — have some consideration for your model.

The true artist's model is, I'm afraid, a gradually disappearing type. What is now called a model is really a fashion model who poses in glamorous clothes, often in glamorous places, at fees far higher than those obtained by her less publicized sister. Art Schools and Sketch Clubs sometimes have difficulty in getting good models regularly, but, so far, it is still just possible. So there's even better reason now, than in Millais' day, not to let your model die of pneumonia !

Lady Figure Drawing
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