Category Archives: Drawings


Antoine Coypel (1661-1722) was the son of the painter, Noël Coypel, and the father of a painter, Charles-Antoine Coypel. Trianed by his father, with whom he spent four years in Rome studying art, Antoine was elected to the Académie Royale at the age of 18.

Like his hero, Peter Paul Rubens, Coypel was the artist-courtier par excellence. He was appointed director of the academy in 1714, was named Premier Peintre du Roi in 1716 and elevated to the minor nobility in 1717. He received high-profile commissions from the king (the ceiling painting of for the chapel at Versailles); his brother, the Grand Dauphin (the Cupid and Psyche series of 1700); and the Duc d’Orléans ( the Aeneid mural cycle for the at the Palais Royal). While director of the academy, Coypel edited and published the Discours prononcés dans les conferences de 1’Academie royale de Peinture, a collection of lectures on single pictures in the royal collection presented by academy artists to their colleagues.

Carefully educated in both art and the classics, Coypel was an exemplary history painter, as erudite as he was technically skilled. His real talent, however, was for drawing. With Rubens and Annibale Carracci as his models, Coypel combined Flemish freshness and immediacy with Roman monumentality to create presentation drawings the are intimate and grand at the same time. His blue-ground and trois-crayons chalk drawings were highly-prized by collectors in his lifetime.

In recognition of his virtuosity, Coypel served as the first keeper of the royal drawing collection from 1711-19. An passionate collector himself, Coypel owned over 100 drawings by the Carracci in addition to works by many other Renissance and 17th-century draughtsmen. He bequeathed his collection to his son, Charles-Antoine, who, after an equally successful academic career, willed the drawings to the monarchy in 1752, 280 of which entered the Louvre collections after the revolution.


DISEGNO V: Parmigianino

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In order to get out from under the shadow of Antonio di Correggio, Francesco Mazzola, called Il Parmigianino, left Parma and moved with his cousin, also a painter, to Rome in 1524. Francesco, being the younger of the duo from Parma, was referred to as il parmigianino. They worked profitably until the Sack of Rome (1527), when German soldiers broke into Parmigianino’s studio intent on stealing pictures, thus causing the two to return to Parma.

For Vasari, Parmigianino was a paragon of disegno, in this case the term meaning something like inventive drawing:

Among the many natives of Lombardy who have been endowed with the gracious gift of design, with a lively spirit of invention, and with a particular manner of making beautiful landscapes in their pictures, we should rate as second to none, and even place before all the rest, Francesco Mazzuoli of Parma … his manner has therefore been studied and imitated by innumerable painters, because he shed on art a light of grace so pleasing, that his works will always be held in great price, and himself honored by all students of design.

Vasari was less impressed by his painting technique and outright deplored his unreliability, which he attributed to Parmigianino’s deepening obsession with alchemy, which he practiced in an attempt to of getting rich quickly. Parmigianino died impoverished at the age of 37.

1982: Keith Haring

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On the opening night of Keith Haring’s 1982 solo show, Tony Shafrazi’s gallery looked like a graffiti-covered subway car or a freshly-tagged wall in an East Village empty lot, which was exactly what the artist had intended. Like the kid who cannot color within the lines, Haring could not be restrained by orderly rows of minimalist frames set against pure white walls. Instead, he covered those walls with rhythmic patterns,  densely-populated with outline figures engaged in frenetic activity. All of this was drawing, rapidly-executed with markers and felt tip pens (Haring didn’t start painting until the mid-1980s). Mounted and framed works were incorporated into this setting as well.

The overall effect was electrifying, and unsettling as it was truly unclear where the boundary between art object and display space had been redrawn. The artwork’s feral energy made the tidy commercial gallery and the patronage system it represented seem puny and dull. They were definitely chasing the tiger, whose disregard for their rituals and conventions made him all the more desirable. A popular and critical success, Haring’s show drew in 4,000 visitors in the month it was on view.*

After this success, Haring could have stepped into a new identity as critically-approved artist with SoHo gallery representation. Instead, he went underground again, and in 1982 he began drawing on the unrented, blank spaces on advertising billboards in subway stations all over Manhattan— each an authentic act of graffiti, motivated by genuine, populist impulses.

The subway drawings generated more interest in Haring and his personal, yet universally-legible, iconography quickly begat imitators. By 1984, the subway drawings were being removed from the wall and sold and their uncopyrighted imagery started appearing on cheap clothing, posters and other commercial junk. Haring could not exactly complain about unauthorized use and maintain his status as a street artist, but he did cease the subway drawing raids and began to consider ways to control the use of his imagery and market those aspects of his work which were rapidly becoming popular with the general public

In 1986, following the unclearly-motivated advice of Andy Warhol, Haring opened a chain of retail “Pop Shops,” where he sold mass-produced versions of his non-threatening work directly to the public.

Haring’s work is darker, more varied and provocative than the brightly-colored, dancing dogs and hugging stick people of the Pop Shops. Throughout the reactionary and atavistic 1980s, he consistently addressed religious bigotry, intolerance, war-mongering, and the accumulation of power over many possessed by the few. He produced work with gay sexual subject matter as explicit and unapologetic as anything Robert Mapplethorpe produced, and used his branded imagery to great effect in support of Act Up’s heroic battle to force governments to take action against the AIDS epidemic.

His death from AIDS-related complications in 1990 at the age of 31 coincided with the collapse of the 1980s art market. Haring’s work, already over-hyped and over-exposed, looked to many less like subversive subway graffiti and more like Hello Kitty or The Simpsons—great as graphic design, but vacuous and trivial. 

Those abruptly-shifting perceptions of Haring’s work are now over 20 years ago and no longer exert any influence on his reputation as artist and never did on the quality of his work. The Pop Shops are closed and the radiant child and hugging stick people are no longer ubiquitous. The clearing away of the hype and side-shows has allowed a new generation of viewers and collectors to see the freshness and originality of Haring’s imagery and style. Two recent exhibitions of Haring’s early work, Keith Haring: 1978-82, mounted in 2012 at the Brooklyn Museum, and Keith Haring: The Political Line, a major retrospective organized by the Musée de l’Art Moderne in Paris in 2013, gave Haring’s work the comprehensive, scholarly and curatorial treatment it clearly merits. On 13-14 May 2014, two monumental Haring paintings from 1981 and 1986, sold at auction for $4.59 and $4.87 million respectively, establishing new sales benchmarks for the artist.

(*) Haring’s Tony Shafrazi show was not his first solo exhibition, nor was it the first time he had applied graffiti-like imagery to gallery walls. In February, 1981, artist Michael Keane, curator of the Des Réfusés gallery at the Westbeth Painters Space, gave Haring the run of the space, which he covered with graffiti-like drawings. The flyer for that show features the radiant child and barking dog outline figures that would become, for better of for worse, his trademarks.

ART OF THE 1980s

1980 – Cindy Sherman

1981 – Robert Longo

1982 – Keith Haring

1985 – Peter Halley

1987 – The Starn Twins

1981: Robert Longo

Frozen in ice … buffeted by the forces of modern urban entropy … brawling … or just dancing? (The answer is all of the above.) Robert Longo’s Men in the Cities drawings, which were first shown at Metro Pictures in 1981, are a productive mixture of directness and inscrutability. “Iconic” is an overused and often misused word these days; nevertheless, Longo’s stark, large-scale, charcoal and graphite drawings of well-dressed men and women, their bodies contorted by (or creating) an unseen, anarchic energy, are as close to iconic images of the early 1980s (from the vantage point of New York City, at least) as one could ask for.

Like all highly-memorable images, the success of the Men in the Çities series became something of an impediment for Longo but, like Roy Lichtenstein before him, he got through it by continuing to work in black and white, graphic media and in series but varying the content.

Robert Longo is also a member of the X-PATSYS.

ART OF THE 1980s

1980 – Cindy Sherman

1981 – Robert Longo

DISEGNO IV: Annibale Carracci

In 1582, Bolognese cousins and painters Agostino, Annibale and Ludovico Carracci founded an artist’s studio called the Accademia degli Incamminati (roughly, the Progressive Academy). As the seat of the oldest university in Europe, Bologna was an academic town, and the ambitious Carracci school, which included history, anatomy, natural science and classical art, taught by Agostino, with practical painting and drawing lessons provided by Annibale, fit right in. The liberal arts curriculum offered aspiring painters with an alternative to a purely artisanal apprenticeship in a established painter’s workshop.

The Carracci disapproval of the artificiality and stylization of Mannerism and support for the Council of Trent’s reform of religious images informed every aspect of the academy’s pedagogy. Those concerns were addressed by an emphasis on the direct study and initiation of nature, the human body and classical sculpture, all of which was achieved through drawing. Annibale, one of the greatest draughtsman of the long Italian Renaissance, encouraged students to work outside the studio, drawing landscapes and nature studies directly, and to draw the human body from live models.

Within a very short period of time, the highly-successful Incamminati attracted promising young artists from Bologna, including Guido Reni, Domenichino and Lanfranco. When Annibale and Agostino were called to Rome to fresco the palace, designed by Michelangelo, of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese in 1595, they brought their students with them to work as assistant, leaving Ludovico behind to supervise family business. The academy ceased operations at this point, its personnel and principles having been transferred from Bologna to Rome.

The spectacular reception of the Palazzo Farnese frescoes in 1600, for which Annibale composed hundreds of preparatory drawings, catapulted the Bolognese artists to highest levels of artistic renown and patronage. Their success was such that the straightforward, naturalistic, Counter-Reformation values of a quirky, provincial art school effectively became the universally-admired and imitated Roman Baroque.


“The divine” Raphael Sanzio of Urbino (1483 – 1520), is the greatest draughtsman of the Western tradition. In his lifetime, his drawings were prized by collectors. The same remains true today: on 6 December 2012, a Raphael black-chalk drawing of a head of an apostle, from the collection of the 6th Duke of Devonshire, was sold at auction by Sotheby’s for £ 29.7 million ($ 50.7 million), a record for a work on paper. Before that sale, the record price for a drawing had been set by Raphael’s “Head of a Muse,” which was sold by Christie’s for £ 29.1 million on 8 November 2009. And in July 1984, Christie’s had sold a drawing by Raphael, also from the Chatsworth collection, for £ 3.3 million, a record for a drawing at that time. The British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the Chatsworth Collection are the repositories of the finest Raphael drawings, attesting to the long-standing taste for the Renaissance master in England.

Over the whole, in truth, there seems to breathe a spirit of divinity, so beautiful are the figures, and such the nobility of the picture, which makes whoever studies it with attention marvel how a human brain, by the imperfect means of mere colors, and by excellence of draughtsmanship, could make painted things appear alive.

This work is in every part so stupendous, that even the cartoons are held in the greatest veneration; wherefore Messer Francesco Masini, a gentleman of Cesena who, without the help of any master, but giving his attention by himself from his earliest childhood, guided by an extraordinary instinct of nature, to drawing and painting, has painted pictures that have been much extolled by good judges of art, possesses, among his many drawings and some ancient reliefs in marble, certain pieces of the cartoon which Raffaello made for this story of Heliodorus, and he holds them in the estimation that they truly deserve.

Albrecht Dürer, a most marvelous German painter, and an engraver of very beautiful copperplates, rendered tribute to Raffaello out of his own works, and sent to him a portrait of himself, a head, executed by him in gouache on a cloth of fine linen, which showed the same on either side, the lights being transparent and obtained without lead white, while the only grounding and coloring was done with watercolors, the white of the cloth serving for the ground of the bright parts. This work seemed to Raffaello to be marvelous, and he sent him, therefore, many drawings executed by his own hand, which were received very gladly by Albrecht.

O happy and blessed spirit, in that every man is glad to speak of thee, to celebrate thy actions, and to admire every drawing that thou didst leave to us! When this noble craftsman died, the art of painting might well have died also, seeing that when he closed his eyes, she was left as it were blind. And now for us who have survived him, it remains to imitate the good, nay, the supremely excellent method bequeathed to us by him as a pattern, and, as is called for by his merit and our obligations, to hold a most grateful remembrance of this in our minds, and to pay the highest honor to his memory with our lips. For in truth we have from him art, coloring, and invention harmonized and brought to such a pitch of perfection as could scarcely be hoped for; nor may any intellect ever think to surpass him.

— Giorgio Vasari, ”The Life of Raphael of Urbino,” Lives of the Artists (1550/1568).

DISEGNO II: Pisanello

At the 15th century courts of Mantua, Cesena, Ferrara, Rimini, and Naples, Antonio di Puccio Pisano, better known as il Pisanello, was primarily known for his cast-bronze portrait medals, a Roman genre he revived to make honorific images for his patrons. As an artist in the employ of the courts, he was also expected to fresco the walls of palazzi, paint portraits and design costumes and festivals, and make religious images, which also augmented his artistic reputation. Pisanello’s official duties did not include the meticulous drawing of carefully-observed natural subjects, the part of the artist’s œuvre most admired today, nor did drawings enhance his stature.

Most of Pisanello’s peers and patrons would have not have had the opportunity to see, let alone revere, his drawings, because they constituted the bulk of his studio’s model book, which only circulated within his workshop, providing models, guides, and templates for his assistants. Model books were jealously-guarded secrets in medieval and Renaissance workshops, and they were heavily used; as a result, very few survive. In the case of Pisanello, however, his extensive, nearly-complete model book, the so-called Codex Vallardi, miraculously survives, largely due to an error.

In 1856, the Louvre purchased an album of 317 drawings, from the Milanese antiquarian Giuseppe Vallardi for the hefty sum of 35,000 francs. At the time, the drawings were thought to be by Leonardo da Vinci, which explains both the high price and why they were carefully preserved over the centuries. It was later determined that several of the drawings were from Leonardo’s workshop, one was by Hans Holbein the Younger, while the majority were attributed to Pisanello.

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