The history of drawing may be as old as the human race itself. Cave paintings have been discovered dating back as far as 10,000 years bc, so it seems that man has always been interested in making images. However it was during the Italian Renaissance that artists developed profound drawing skills and the art of drawing underpinned all other artistic disciplines.
One reason why drawing was at such a high standard during this period was that it related directly to the great profession of painting; a sculptor or a painter had a distinguished position within society and good artists were constantly in work. Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo (1475-1564) employed numerous assistants and ran a large workshop to cope with the many commissions. Unfortunately most of the preparatory drawings these artists made for paintings -which today we would regard as important in their own right - were destroyed once the project had been completed.
More importantly, finished drawings were presented to clients as proposals for commissioned portrait work. Holbein (1497/8-1543) once had the precarious task of making a suitable drawing of a potential wife for Henry VIII in order that she be approved by the English king.
Study for the Angel of the Annunciation, C. 1525-30, 391 x215 cm (154x84 in) Pontormo is generally acknowledged to be one of the greatest Renaissance draughtsmen and was highly regarded for his portraits. This study, with its subtle blend of chalk and wash, has a beautifully sensitive quality despite the solid form of the figure and the flowing drapery that tumbles about him.
Away from the high, classical art of Italy, the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel (1525-69) used drawing to depict the everyday world around him, and his realistic peasant scenes brought him great admiration. Bruegel was one of many artists in Holland and Flanders during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who cultivated a genre that was based upon the lives of ordinary people. Although this "Golden Age"
of Dutch panting owed little to Italy,
an artist's training was based around figure drawing, which ultimately meant a pilgrimage to Italy.
One Dutch artist who never journeyed to Italy was Rembrandt (1606-69), who today is known particularly for his graphic work on
Hans Holbein, Charles de Solier, Sieur de Morette, c. 1534-35,
33 x 25 cm (13x10 in) Holbein was often commissioned to do lifelike portraits. His fine quality of line both flatters the features of this figure and lends him a heavy sense of authority.
paper. As a portrait artist he avidly drew anyone who interested him, from old beggars to noblemen, with astonishing perception - often in his favourite medium of quill, brush, and bistre wash (a transparent brown pigment made from soot).
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Summer, 1568, 22x29 cm (8%x 11'Ain) This beautifully drawn study of peasant life in 16th-century Flanders is actually rather formal in its design, with the scythes of the two main figures creating diagonals that lead the eye into the middle and far distance of the composition. Bruegel was also keen to convey a strong social message in his humorous depiction of life.
Rembrandt's great artistic contemporary in neighbouring Flanders was Rubens (1577-1640). As a draughtsman, he was virtually unparalleled and was one of the few artists who appeared to make the process of drawing look easy. He drew copiously, working not only on preparatory studies for the vast amount of commissions he fulfilled, but also on a much more intimate
Canaletto, A View from Somerset Gardens Looking towards London Bridge, c. 1750 , 60x 185cm(23'/2x73in) Canaletto was renowned for his detailed paintings and drawings of architectural scenes. The wonderful clarity of this work has been achieved by drawing the panoramic composition in pencil and then overlaying it with brown ink and grey wash.
Rembrandt, Saskia at her Toilet, c. 1632-34, 24x18cm (9'Ax 7in) Rembrandt was often at his best when he recorded a fleeting moment in time. This drawing reflects the precision of his observant eye as he worked adeptly with first pen and ink, and then a loaded brush. The result is a drawing that is both lucid and evocative in its depiction of a domestic scene.
scale, depicting his family and servants with the freshness and immediacy that drawing promoted.
Curiously, some of the greatest figures of the seventeenth century such as Vermeer (1632-75), Caravaggio (1571-1610), and Velazquez (1599-1660), left little or no drawings. Although it is improbable that these artists never drew at all, it is more likely that they preferred to solve their problems directly on the canvas in a painterly fashion.
Whilst not producing the giants of the previous century, the eighteenth century kept alive the commissioned portrait. In France, Watteau (1684-1721) produced fine studies of figures, heads, and drapery in his preferred medium of red, black, and white chalks, while in Italy Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), arguably the greatest artist of his time, used pen and wash for his drawings that remain unrivalled to this day.
The nineteenth century saw a great surge in artistic development, which in England began with Turner (1775-1851) and Constable (1776-1837) and in France with Delacroix (1798-1863) and Ingres (1780-1867). Lead pencil was in use by this time and Constable used the medium to draw many small images of rural Suffolk in his sketchbooks with great subtlety and expression. Turner began to develop almost unbelievable powers of observation and skill in his youth as he drew cathedrals and buildings with a lead pencil.
Portrait drawings were still fashionable and studies drawn by the French Neo-Classicist Ingres were so real and lifelike that there was never any doubt as to their likeness to the sitter. Ingres' contemporary and great rival was Delacroix, who by contrast was a Romantic free spirit. He not only made studies in the traditional manner for grand historical pictures but also drew everything that caught his eye. In an age that preceded the advent of photography, drawing was the only way that Delacroix could record the trip he made to Morocco in 1832. Contemporary reports stated that he drew night and day, desperate not to forget the rich aspects of Arabian life.
Of the great draughtsmen of the nineteenth century, one innovative artist assimilated everything that went before him. This was Edgar Degas (1834-1917), whose life's work was based on drawing. Even as a middle-aged and well-established artist he copied works by other artists to stretch his understanding of art and practise his techniques. Degas' enormous output of drawings, pastels, monoprints, and etchings represents an incredible achievement, but by the time he di°d in 1917, the modern art
John Constable, Elm Trees in Old Hall Park, East Bergholt, 1817,
59 x 50 cm (23% x lffiin) Unlike Turner, who used a wide variety of media in his drawings, Constable preferred to use his materials separately to describe the countryside around him. He used a pencil expertly to capture the organic growth of these elm trees with incredible detail so that they are easily recognizable.
movement was well underway and moving rapidly towards a language that he would not have recognized.
The history of drawing from this point is a chequered one and it developed quite differently on either side of the English Channel. Whilst France pursued modernism, spurred on by artists such as Henri Matisse (1869-1954), England retained a basic
Eugène Delacroix, Seated Arab, c. 1832, 38 x 46 cm (15x 18 in)
This study is typical of the sketches Delacroix made during his Moroccan tour. He probably drew the figure hastily from life and added washes of watercolour later.
attachment to drawing. The turn of the century in England saw the birth of several major art schools, all of which placed a great emphasis on drawing, and although various modern
movements came and went, drawing continued to underpin students' training. The work of artists such as Augustus John (1878-1961) and later Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) bear witness to the significance of drawing in England through the turbulent years of the early twentieth century.
One artist who has brought drawing to the forefront of the contemporary imagination is David Hockney (b.1937). Inspired by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), who had an extraordinary breadth of style and "was not limited by 'form'", Hockney takes pleasure in the lyricism and strength of pure line. Preferring the expressive beauty of drawings over more painterly approaches, Hockney has taken his art form to a far wider audience than ever before.
Edgar Degas, Woman in a Tub, C. 1885, 70x 70 cm (27'6x27'/> in) Classically trained, Degas devised his own method of working with pastels. He built them up in layers, using strokes of colour that blended optically to give an extraordinary richness.
Vincent van Gogh, Sand Boats, 1888, 49x60 cm (19x23'/, in) Van Gogh exploited the potential of pen and ink to its full in this drawing to produce an image alive with spontaneous line. A variety of marks aid stippled effects together create a shimmering surface of movement that is heightened by the dynamic composition. The strong diagonal of the quayside and the horizon line that cuts into the top of the drawing create an arena for this scene of constant activity and motion.
Stanley Spencer, Self Portrait,
The strong contours and subtle tones of this pencil study lend it an impressive sculpted quality. The solidity of line and sensitive tones belie the apparent simplicity of the medium
Pencils m Coloured Pencils
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