These Sketches Reveal the Processes of 8 Iconic Artists, from Pablo Picasso to Judy Chicago
In his journal, French painter
While many aspects of the Mona Lisa—arguably the most famous artwork in art history—remains shrouded in mystery, a chalk drawing made four years earlier provides a possible entry point into this iconic portrait. When traveling from Milan to Venice in 1499, d’Este—a political figure and patron of the
Peter Paul Rubens, Lion (ca. 1612-13) and Daniel in the Lions’ Den (ca. 1614-16)
While Daniel in the lion’s den, his version stands apart for its highly accurate rendering of North African lions, a species now extinct in the wild. As a court painter, Rubens had the rare opportunity to sketch these creatures, which were kept at the Royal Menagerie in Brussels. If a later anecdote is to be believed, Rubens went even further, having a lion brought to his studio in Antwerp.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Sketch for Madame Moitessier and Madame Moitessier (1851)
“Cursed portraits!” wrote Madame Moitessier. “[Portraits] always prevent me from undertaking important things I cannot do any faster, for a portrait is such a difficult thing.” Though Ingres initially refused to paint Madame Moitessier, hoping to focus his energies on history painting, the artist changed his mind when he saw her in person, and spent the next 12 years working on two portraits of the young mother. In dozens of preparatory sketches, the artist agonized over the sitter’s dress, jewelry, and pose in his attempt to do justice to her natural beauty.
Georges Seurat, Study for “La Grande Jatte” (1884-85) and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884 (1884-86)
en plein air at different times of the day, when it was both empty and full of people. This tiny study, which examines the central section of the final painting, displays the artist’s experiments with horizontal and diagonal brushstrokes, which he would later reject in favor of his now-signature
Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d’Alger (1955) and Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) (1955)
In May 2015, reclining women had also been influenced by Delacroix. Version “E,” housed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is one of Picasso’s most abstract takes on the image, featuring three women—instead of the four in the final version—lounging in a tiled room.
Judy Chicago, Virginia Woolf (1976) and The Dinner Party (1979)
Frank Gehry, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, design sketch of the riverfront elevation, Bilbao, Spain (1991) and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1997)
the most important work of architecture built since 1980, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. An outlier among architects today, Gehry relies on hand drawing—rather than sophisticated software—to render his ideas. In Gehry’s free-form drawing of the Bilbao museum, we can see how he first imagined the structure. The inspiration for its radical titanium double curves and jutting triangles? Fish. “I realized that [fish] were architectural,” Gehry noted, “conveying motion even when they were not moving.”
Kara Walker, Sphinx Study (2014), Untitled (2013-14), and “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” (2014)
This monumental sphinx, coated in over 30 tons of crystalline sugar, was the centerpiece of Walker remarked, “[My sketch] came to embody something I would never want to see, something that was about slavery and industry and sugar and fat and wastelessness.”
—Sarah Gottesman and Olivia-Jené Fagon
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