Hands of Yore

I started preparing for today’s blog by looking up the history of still lifes (which is where I learned that the plural of still life is not still lives). I was going to take a break from hands for a while, but as I was looking through some of my old art bulletins. I came across an issue devoted to the sculpture of August Rodin.  I couldn’t resist his plaster cast studies of hands for such works as The Burghers of Calais.

Hands! I want out and they keep pulling me back in, to coin a phrase.

Today’s studies

Burghers of Calais study

I found photographs of some of Rodin’s plaster cast studies of hands in The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, Spring 1981. The first study, immediately below is a pen and ink, watercolor wash rendition of a plaster cast “modeled about 1855 for one of the figures of the monument to the Burghers of Calais, but it was not used in the final version of any of the Burghers.” (from The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, Spring 1981  Volume XXXVIII, Number 4, pg 35)

Plaster Cast on Rodin's Study for the Burghers of Calais

Rodin, Plaster Cast Study for Burghers of Calais
5″x7″ 140# Hot Pressed Watercolor Block

I sketched this in pencil originally, then used pen and ink to emphasize the areas in shadow. I then washed the figure with flesh-shade watercolor and enhanced some of the shadows with a darker watercolor.

Other plaster studies

I started the watercolor below as a gray-scale study of two plaster casts from Rodin’s original clay or plaster studies.

Plaster Cast Hand Studies by Rodin

Rodin Plaster Cast Hand Studies
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I started this study as a pencil sketch.  I paid careful attention to relative sizes of fingers, the angles between them and other spatial relationships. That in itself is a difficult task, however the relative sizes of each hand is also an issue. I had several false starts before I was happy with the basic sketch.

After the pencil sketch I used black watercolor for the shadow areas, trying to get the shape of the shadow in correct proportion. I mixed the black with white to get the appropriate shade of the lighter shadows.  This is a bit more difficult than using pen and ink. With pen and ink, one can darken an area depending upon the spacing of parallel ink lines. Wider spacing indicates a lighter shadow area.

For the final wash, I used an off-white watercolor. As the final image was not strong enough, I used pen and ink to enhance the outline.

Rilke on Rodin’s Work

The following, from poet Rainer Maria Rilke, was quoted from The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, Spring 1981 (Volume XXXVIII, Number 4, pg 37).

“There are among the works of Rodin hands, single, small hands which, without belonging to a body, are alive. Hands that rise, irritated and in wrath; hands whose five bristling fingers seem to bark like the five jaws of a dog of Hell.”

Gestures, that’s what I’m talking about!

2 thoughts on “Hands of Yore

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