It took careful consideration to select the most appropriate artists to illustrate the comparative point between tight, restrained drawing and bold, expressive work. After debating whether to include artists such as Kath Kollwitz, Franz Marc, Van Gogh and Goya, I chose to set the work of George Stubbs alongside that of Edvard Munch.
The reasoning behind this choice is that Stubbs and Munch both have a strong foundation in drawing, and their work carries a predominant style that prevails throughout their oeuvre. It was taxing to find artists that did not diversify into both styles of drawing at one point or another during their careers: Kollwitz’ work, for example, continually evolved so that one piece might be almost photorealistic, while the majority were indeed highly expressive. Munch and Stubbs are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their mark-making techniques, and possibly approach to drawing, as emphasised by the work below:
The Anatomy of The Horse
Skeleton of a Horse (from The Anatomy of A Horse)
Biography from http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/animals_in_art/george_stubbs/george_stubbs.htm
Born the son of a Liverpool currier, as a child Stubbs helped his father to prepare horse hides for the local tannery. In 1756 he moved with Mary Spencer, his lifelong partner and assistant, to a remote farmhouse in Lincolnshire to begin work on ‘The Anatomy of The Horse’. This was a book of engravings that illustrated the horse in layers from its skin down to its skeleton. With a ready supply of cadavers from a nearby tannery, he suspended horses on hooks from the roof, positioning the animals in the poses he required. He then carefully ‘peeled’ the creatures, removing their layers of skin, then muscles until only their skeletons remained. At each stage he meticulously recorded his dissections from a range of different angles. It took Stubbs eighteen months to finish his drawings and notes but, on completion he could not find a publisher. With typical determination he took on the task of engraving the illustrations himself, and after eight years work ‘The Anatomy of The Horse’ was finally published in 1766 – and it is still in print today.
George Stubbs.The anatomy of the horse. London, .
Stubbs captures every aspect of his subject in minute detail, from his anatomical drawings that form the foundation of his paintings (and therefore necessarily suggest a scientific or photorealistic approach) to images that stand alone as stunningly intricate works with delicate shading, a mix of delineated and softer marks and a tight focus on both anatomical detail and organic texture:
George Stubbs’ 1788 drawing “A Sleeping Cheetah (A Tyger)”
The marks and overall impression of the work are delicate and precise, with a close focus on every minute aspect of the drawing. Stubbs’ work captures the mystique and beauty of his subject matter while retaining an objective and pragmatic eye, one perhaps less attuned to wild flights of expression due to the tight, restrained marks and rigorous attention to detail.
Stubbs’ work seems almost antithetical to that of Munch:
Without veering into abstraction, Munch’s drawings are sketchy, expressive and capture movement through mark-making in addition to the positioning and pose of the subject matter. His marks seem more fluid, more spontaneous and less contrived as a result. The images are not realistic in a photographic sense, yet capture an essence of emotion that may somehow be just as ‘true:’
The Dance of Life, 1899, indian ink (pen, wash), crayon
Drawing is clearly influential in Munch’s painting, just as it is Stubbs’, yet Munch does not appear to have exerted any kind of selfcensorship. His emotions filter through his loose, flowing marks, capturing epic sweeps of both movement and feeling. Though diverse in technique and execution, most of the drawings have one thing in common, they are informal, impulsive, relaxed.
Christiania Bohemians II, 1895, watercolour, pencil, indian ink (brush)
Here, the swirling miasma of marks around the figure mimics the emotional energy invested, a contrast to Stubbs’ realistic or absent backgrounds. Munch’s drawings utilise mark-making to capture the recognisable elements of a figure but also to channel the expressive impulses driving the urge to draw, or to create, from the outset.
In addition, his drawings function as preliminary work for his paintings and more famous pieces:
Preliminary study for The Kiss
Whether working in fine detail, in the manner of Stubbs, or with bold, expressive strokes after Munch, drawings can capture the essence of their subject matter efficiently and provide a strong foundation for later work. Both Munch and Stubbs display a mastery of drawing, which has clearly influenced the mark making and style of their painted pieces.