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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman

Figure Study

Artists and scholars across the centuries have been fascinated by the human form and how to represent it. The wider availability and affordability of paper from the fifteenth century onward, coupled with the importance of the study of human poses and proportions in both a Renaissance artist’s education and shop practices, led to the production of figure studies in steadily greater numbers. Such studies served various purposes, as these selections from the Herman Collection demonstrate. Many were preparatory sketches for future works, allowing artists to explore and develop both overall compositions and specific details prior to applying paint to canvas. In Millet’s double-sided drawing, for instance, the artist depicted on the recto two figures and a hand holding a spoon, studies closely translated into the large-scale painting, Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz); on the verso, a sketch of two women was adapted for use in the finished painting The Potato Harvest. Other figure studies most likely went directly to market, especially those by popular artists with an audience hungry for their work. Meissonier’s charmingly rendered Standing Girl Wearing a Bonnet, similar to a fashion plate in its treatment of stylish garb, is probably of this sort.

A third category consists of studies not meant for sale and unrelated to any known work of art. Despite the private nature of such works, they undoubtedly played a vital role in some artists’ creative imaginations. Among them was Cambiaso, who frequently explored subjects in drawings that he never used in a painting. The experimental nature of his drawing in this section even extends to its still unidentified subject. Another prime example is Fromentin’s A Group of Bedouins, in which he transforms initial sketches from a visit to North Africa into a tight composition suitable for insertion into a Salon-worthy painting. Delacroix’s Study of a Young Girl is typical of the swiftly drawn studies of poses that he produced by the hundred, the deep incisions of his pen in the paper suggesting the forcefulness of his creative fervor.

Artists, Titles, and Accession Numbers

Luca Cambiaso, Two Figures, 2007.15.25 >

Eugène Delacroix, Study of a Young Girl, 2007.15.30 >

Eugène Fromentin, A Group of Bedouins, 2007.15.36 >

Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) or a Follower, Madonna and Child, 2007.15.42 >

Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier, Standing Girl Wearing a Bonnet, 2007.15.57 >

Jean-François Millet, Studies of a Man and Hands for "Harvesters Resting (Ruth and Boaz)" (recto); Study of Two Women for "The Potato Harvest" (verso), 2006.11.41 >

Camille Pissarro, Two Figures, 2006.11.45 >

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