Part Four – Research Point: Figure drawing


This research will take some time, so I will look over a couple of days or weeks at artists to whom I feel emotionally connected to. Knowing of course that there are different approaches and mark makings. I will focus on drawings, only will include paintings were I think that they might have an influence on my own works and thinking.

Figure drawing is the classical method of representational art as part of academic education. The depiction of the human figure goes far back to prehistoric cave paintings.

The drawing of the human figure was long time considered as pure preparatory work for paintings or sculptures. With the Italian renaissance sketches become more respected and three artists represented the whole era: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) with his universal approach to the human figure (the ‘Vitruvian’ man), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) with his strong muscular depiction of the male nude, and Raffaelo Santi (1483-1520) developed drawing of the human figure to new dimensions. Human anatomy studies were integral part of human figure drawing. The drawings and sketches were mainly done in silver/metal point, red and black chalk, or with ink and pen and brown washes. Over the centuries figurative art became more and more a matter of self-expression, conveying moods and atmospheres, and as a reflection of the world around.

=> fine and broader hatch marks with strong outline, detailed rendering of muscle masses. Till today these well rendered depiction of the human body are fascinating.


=> Rubens is well known for his paintings and full flesh depiction of the human body especially the nude (although according to Berger the depiction of the female nude is rather of being observed for a male viewer)


  • Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890):

He was a very skilled, part self-taught, partly academic educated draftsman. He uses bold markings in different media, mostly pencils, and working with strong outlines (at that times quite contemporary)

‘Man Sitting, reading a book
Pencil on paper ()
[Online image] Available from:,-Sitting,-Reading-a-Book.html   [accessed 24 July 2015]

=> Strong black hatch marks, interplay of dark and light, mid tone values through lighter hatching.


=> Seurat’s drawings are works of strong tonal contrast, mostly in black chalk, were he used a support with strong tooth and at times a color that support the atmosphere of his depiction of the human figure (often heads). This makes his drawings an intimate act of viewing.


Schiele did quite some self portraits in different and sometimes awkward poses. Besides that he depicted clothed and half-clothed women. Online images available from:  [accessed 23 July 2015]

  • Girl with crosses Legs’, 1911
    Pencil and gouache on paper (53.5 x 36cm)
    Vienna: Leopold Museum (Wick, O., 2014 – p.124)

=> A line drawing with applying gouache to color forms in an ambiguous way

  • Reclining Woman with raised skirts‘, 1914
    Gouache, watercolour and pencil on paper (31.7 x 48.2 cm)
    Basel: Collection of Esther Grether (Wick, O., 2014 – p.147)

=> Expressive line drawing of clothed figure in marks that resembles me of cubism. I like the way Schiele used edge control to force form and depth.


  • Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)

Moore is well know for his massive sculptures of the human figure condensed to main shapes and movements. His drawings are often idea sketches for his sculptures but some are works by themselves with quite interesting mark makings in mixed media

=> hatching in the negative space, shading on the figure with contour lines that help understanding the form, quite a combination of different mark

=> Dark background, bold colors and marks following the contour of the figures. Overall Moore applied quite a sculptural approach to his drawings. But by that his figures do not seem vivid, rather statue like

=> What fascinates me here is to see his development of depicting the human figure with over times disintegration of the form with bold and expressive marks.

  • Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966):

see my previous contextual research

=> Although the two works (portraits) below are oil paintings, Giacometti approached his theme in quite a graphic way with strong mark makings. He explored the space around the figure, often seated, between the positive and the negative space. He applied strong vertical and horizontal markings that could be a room, or a frame, a confined space for the figure.

  • Willem De Kooning (1904-1997):

De Kooning had a strong graphic approach to his paintings, especially to his favourite theme ‘Woman’. They are rather a portrait of a woman, the figure covering the space of the support nearly completely. He did drawings not only for pre studies but also for understanding of his mark makings that went across in his paintings.

=> Bold charcoal marks making the figure to be in a confined space, a few colors (white, orange) to emphasize.

  • ‘Woman’, 1965
    Charcoal on transparentized paper (203.2 x 90.8 cm)
    New York: MoMA (Elderfield, 2011 – p.364)
    [Online image] Available from:  [accessed 23 July 2015]

=> With foreshortening and  viewpoint from above, merely contour lines used of a half clothed figure.

What de Kooning says about his drawing approach:  ‘He .. used drawing in experiments, …, unorthodox techniques such as drawing with eyes closed, or white watching television, or with his left hand, … or with both hand simultaneously’, ‘I draw while painting, and I don’t know the difference between painting and drawing. The drawings that interest me most are made with eyes closed’, ‘the pad I used was always horizontally. The drawings often started by the feet … but more often by the center of the body, in the middle of the page’ (Elderfield, 2011). Those closed-eye drawing in the year 1966 were later published in a book as ‘Untitled’

=> In these quick sketches Bacon impresses through hyper simplification, only a few marks setting the stage and the movement of the figure. He applied bold and pure colors making the figures quite un-real.

  • Maria Lassnig (1919 – 2014):

Lassnig’s works are often self portraits in awkward and challenging poses. The negative space is rather empty, at times a line indicating an environment, the figures done with bold outlines (reminds me of Van Gogh) and in light yellowish color. The works show rather flat visual depth.

=> Lassnig’s work are quite special, asking questions, making me uneasy. I think it is the way she applied white space in contrast to bright colors with strong outlines. It is hard to understand the environment or scene.

  • Lucian Freud (1922 – 2011):

Freud’s main subject is the human body, usually a nude in contrived positions.

=> Freud’s works are forcing the viewer into a voyeurism role. He uses oil paint as a full body media and conveys literally a sense of the human flesh.

  • Frank Auerbach (b. 1931): exhibition visit to come

See also my contextual visual research

Auerbach works quite intense on the human head and face, he works into the surface and uses tremendously an erase (rubber) to work out the form.

Online images available from:  [accessed 25 July 2015]

  • Head of E.O.W‘, 1957
    Chalk and chalk on paper (80 x 55.9 cm)
    Private collection (Arnold, 2014 – cat. 32)
  • ‘Head of Julia II.’, 1960
    Chalk, charcoal and collage on paper (76.2 x 55.9 cm)
    Private collection (Arnold, 2014 – cat. 31)

=> Auerbach is exploring the space in a multi layer approach of black and white. His charcoal drawing are a constant search for the form with positive and negative (erasing, smudging) marks. I really like his quite intimate approach, with the result that I can feel life within his works.

  • Marlene Dumas (b. 1953):
    Online images available from:

    • ‘ Pregnant Image‘, 1988-90
      Oil paint on canvas (180 x 90 cm)
      ? (Coelewij, 2014 – p. 55)
    • Various ink drawings, 1996-99
      Ink and acrylic paint on paper (around 124 x 70 cm each)
      Various collections (Coelewij, 2014 – p. 97)

=> Dumas’s works of the human figure, quite often of a close up portrait and at times only a face, are quite intense for the viewer. They are rather whitish in color like a wash over the body. I really the visual effect of works. Surfaces and planes get an eerie appeal. By using bold contrasts between negative and positive space she conveys a strong message to the viewer. Her ink and acrylic drawings depict the human form with a few washes in. I think she used the acrylic paint to to color and modulate the black ink in a very wet way.


=> I find his method of using chalk quite impressive, a combination of lines and tonal areas. He explores emotions and conveys through simplification and elimination quite expressive works. Quite a different visual effect compared to Auerbach or Saville.

=> Quite contrasting in the visual effect to the other mentioned artists in my research. Not only due to its realistic rendering but also as it shows more of the environment and shows more visual depth. This depiction of the reclined figure under a window with a landscape is done quite in the context of the classical paintings of the 15th century (Jan van Eyck etc.). Hyper realistic rendering of all details with a relaxing and nearly meditative mood.

=> An artist who combines dry drawing media in a fuzzy, ambiguous way. These drawings looks a bit out of balance with the white at the bottom. However, I feel quite attracted to the combination with white in a fuzzy way

  • Michaël Borremans (b. 1963)

see my contextual visual research

Online images available from:   [accessed 25 July 2015]

Online images available from:  [accessed 23 July 2015]

  • ‘Compass’, 2013
    Charcoal and pastel on paper on board (151 x x210 cm)
    Private collection (Wick, O., 2014 – p.82-3)
  • ‘Oxyrhnychus’, 2012-14
    Pastel and charcoal on canvas (170 x 250cm)
    Private Collection (Wick, O., 2014 – p.84-5)

=> Saville works mostly at very large scale. She works on paper, canvas and at times on vellum. I like the way she is making multi layer drawings/paintings with a combination of lines and tonal gradation. The color white (and with some grey variations) is quite present in her works, not only in the background but also in some dedicated areas. She uses quite selectively color, mainly for some (not all) flesh body parts.


  • I found out that some works fascinate me and I would like to learn more the mark makings and poses from some of the artists: Frank Auerbach, Jenny Saville, Guy Denning, Marlene Dumas ..
  • Figure drawings and painting (not considering all other fine art approaches to the human figure) is an expansive area where it seems all skills and concepts are coming together. The human body can be even seen as a landscape, as a still life, or as a combination of all.
  • What fascinates me most are the unusual viewpoints, the multi-layer approach in different media or colors, the depiction of different views of a human figure in one picture.
  • I learned how bold strokes and simplification and elimination can convey a even more expressive mood than a fine rendered drawing.
  • I am quite enthusiastic now to dig deeper into dry drawing media: chalk, charcoal, graphite, its combinations, and combination with gouache, especially white. There is just so much to discover!



  • Arnhold, H & LWL (2014) ‘Bare Life – Bacon, Freud, Hockney and others – London artists working from life 1950 – 80‘, Munich: Hirmer
  • Coelewij, L., Sainsbury, H., Vischer, T. ‘Marlene Dumas – The image as burden‘, London: tate Publishing
  • Elderfield, John (2011) ‘ De Kooning – a retrospective‘ New York: The Museum of Modern Art
  • MaCann Margaret (2014)’The Figure: Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture – Contemporary Perspectives‘ . New York: Skira Rizzoli
  • Wick, Oliver (2014) ‘Egon Schiele – Jenny Saville‘, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz

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