Traces of the Hand

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

Drawing Media

Standard drawing materials in use today would have been familiar to most of the artists shown here, though there have been some changes in the availability of specific materials.

All the drawings in this exhibition are on paper. Prior to about 1800, papers were almost always "laid," or made by hand in a paper mold and showed the characteristic lined structure caused by the mold’s wires. The use of a woven mesh for paper molds became common in the nineteenth century; such "wove" paper does not usually reveal a linear structure when held up to the light. Wove papers are frequently machine-made and are sometimes, though not always, associated with cheap papers, particularly those made from wood pulp, which oxidize and turn brown and brittle with time. Often the current color of the paper is the result of exposure to sunlight (what is called "light-struck"). Some papers were also tinted, and the use of blue papers is especially associated with Venetian drawing from the sixteenth century onwards. In a number of cases, notably the Kollwitz in this group, the blue has faded as a result of light.

Among the oldest and most familiar of drawing media is pen and ink, often supplemented with brush-applied wash. Traditionally pens were made of goose quill or reed; metal pens only came into use in the early nineteenth century. Brown inks included bistre, made from wood soot, and widely used iron-gall ink, which was initially black but browned with time. Strongly acidic iron-gall ink causes a characteristic oxidation of the paper, spreading into and in some cases even destroying it. True sepia was made from cuttlefish ink and was originally a purplish black. Carbon-black or India inks, which are derived from oily soots finely ground, remain a deep black.

Red, black, and white chalks—natural earths—were also traditional drawing media. Red chalk was especially capable of highly varied effects, and is associated with Leonardo da Vinci, who seems to have initially popularized its use in the Italian Renaissance. By the later eighteenth century, the veins of red chalk were exhausted; conté crayon was developed as a substitute. Today, crayons and pastels, pigment mixed with a fatty material and a gum or glue binder, respectively, have largely replaced the use of natural chalks in artistic practice.

Artists, Titles, and Accession Numbers

Anonymous (after Salvator Rosa), Head of a Warrior, 2007.15.66 >

Giovanni Battista Beinaschi, Study for Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 2007.15.84 >

Edward Burne-Jones, Study of an Actor, 2006.11.9 >

Thomas Ender, Study of Trees with Three Figures in a Landscape, 2007.15.32 >

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Crouching Lion, 2006.11.19 >

Käthe Kollwitz, Sorrowing Woman, 2006.11.31 >

John Singer Sargent, Woman Seated in a Wicker Chair, 2006.11.52 >

Emil Volkers, Carriage with Four Horses, 2006.11.64 >

Andreas Paul Weber, Owl Drinking Tea in an Armchair (recto); Deer in a Jacket from Behind (verso), 2007.15.81 >


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