1 March 2013: dear London, on working in the studio … day 44

The British Museum Prints and Drawing Study Room beckoned and, fresh from Julian Bell’s lavishly illustrated Rembrandt talk, I asked for Rembrandt’s drawings of Saskia ill in bed and then the famous ‘girl sleeping’ in vigorous sepia brushstrokes, then a male life class one. After that, Rodin’s 5 nudes, each in pencil with coloured ink washes. The first Saskia drawing in ink is spare enough to need checking that it isn’t an etching. His form comes from an almost casual use of shadow. He is so quick, relying on the accuracy of his looking and his hours of practice translating that looking into markmaking. The second Saskia picture is actually an etching, annotated, again seemingly so casually, with a small brush and sepia ink. The ‘girl sleeping’ is cut to size and presented in a mount that lets you see the back too, so the ink seeping through shows that the paper is very thin. Once again, the form is completely implied, not described. The outlines are so bold that the forearm and hand are hard to decipher. The most definite piece of drawing is the arm of the daybed, leading into a calligraphic/Twomblyesque/Chinese script. He seems to have slightly lightened the sepia with white chalk or ink on the eyes and in the centre of the body, so those bravura strokes, just three for the facial features, are in fact altered. He also adjusts the background so that the dark head is set against a medium tone, for pictorial space. The 4-5 mm around the crown of the head is left lighter. I managed to make three studies of Rodin nudes, the first (in fact No.2) of which must have informed Matisse and probably Modigliani. Such simple curves in pencil, filled in flatly with yellowed pink and mid brown hair. No. 1 has the body cut in half by a piece of cloth, so delicately painted with a pale pink wash, virtually the tone of the paper. No. 5 has an expressive face, hastily described (very Matisse) by 6 lines or so.

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