Oct 14, 2011

Drawings of the Masters

Flemish and Dutch Drawings from the 15th to the 18th Century
by Colin Eisler

Another art book I got from a library sale recently. I picked it up because in thumbing through saw a wonderful drawing of an elephant by Rembrandt, also several awesome lions, and figured there'd be more. I was right- there was much more. Just a few are of animals: a boar's head, a scruffy-looking bull, a donkey, a beautiful little monkey with a chain on his neck, several cows in a group and quite a few horses (mostly with figures). There's also a wonderful page full of little studies of garden vegetables which made me wish I could draw plants better, and two that quite made me laugh. One is a drawing called Men Shoveling Chairs. Seriously. I was glancing at the plate titles in the front of the book and my eye wandered down the usual kind of names: Portrait of a Young Man, Virgin and Child, Landscape with a Bridge, etc. then I saw Men Shoveling Chairs. What!? I turned to that page and it was exactly that: four men with long-handled paddle-like shovels thrusting them under piles of three-and-four-legged stools and chairs. I still puzzle over what it means or why the artist drew it, but it makes me laugh nonetheless. The other amusing one is a drawing by Hieronymous Bosch called Tree-Man in a Landscape which reminds me how even centuries ago people would idly sketch fantastic things they just dreamed up: a "man" with an egg-shaped body (cut away to show figures around a table inside), his legs are trees and his feet boats, his hat has a jug on top out of which tiny figures climb on a ladder, an owl sits on a branch growing from his back. It's entirely fanciful and curiously delightful to peer at.

Of course there are lots of the types of drawings you'd expect to find: the portraits and madonnas, landscapes and buildings. They all show me something to aspire to, but I was really glad that I found something to smile about, too.

The style of the drawings ranges from very rough, simple line sketches to highly detailed meticulous wash studies and finely hatched pen-and-ink works. Some you can imagine the artist having spent hours working on, others just a few moments. There are lots of amazing studies of folds from the clothing people wore, and a wide variety of faces. The introductory text describing the artwork and its changing styles through the centuries and via different artists wasn't nearly as incomprehensible as I feared, actually pretty interesting. But of course, I mostly enjoyed just looking and looking at the pictures.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 140 pages, 1963

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