Structure of the Human Body

Every week at my life drawing session I am observing the human body and attempting to capture it on paper so, at this point, I have spent many hours looking at the naked form. Each and every time it can be challenging, some drawings are more successful than others.  It does make me question if I am actually improving my skills in life drawing, but I think I am, perhaps subtly noticing small improvements.

This week I tried to work larger as sometimes the poses affect my drawing size, e.g. when the model is sitting in a ball I drew her smaller. As a result of the classes I am definitely spending more time just looking at bodies and their individual parts and how they relate to each other. One thing I am struggling with is muscles, and fat, there are some quirky parts of our bodies that are particularly difficult to capture, for example, when the one calf is pressed against the other leg, the muscle is pushed to one side but looks really odd when you try to draw it like that.

Anyway, enough waffle! I have spent some time drawing parts of the body especially hands and feet as I find those pretty difficult. As I find it almost impossible to pose and draw myself I have used online videos and photographs.

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Energy

Here are some quick one minute sketches to represent energy. I suppose the emphasis here is to try to capture the gestural line of the body. A minute is not long enough for details but I like the line of the body in all three images here.

Two more one minute sketches:

The first one seems a little elongated but I think it gives a sense of movement. The second one I like, even though the arm over the head looks a bit odd, the model had put a sheet over her head so the pose was a little odd but I like the shape of the body leaning over.

Two minute sketches:

Again, there are a few proportion issues but I like the energy here in both figures, the seated twist works quite well as does the leaning pose.

I decided to work on more abstract drawings and here are a selection:

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I really like some of these, reducing the body to just a few lines can work well in some cases.

 

Stance

This is one of my very first life drawings and goes some way to capturing a standing pose. The details are not great.

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2 minute charcoal

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3 minute left handed in crayon

 

The following sketch was done holding two crayons at the same time in my left hand, my brain was fighting me all of the way:

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3 minute left handed sketch with 2 crayon simultaneously

I think it makes quite an interesting sketch.

Today I did a couple of sessions on the You Tube Croquis Cafe which has been recommended by other people on this course. It’s not the same as having the life model right in front of you but it is nevertheless good practice.

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1 minute sketches

I don’t think these are too bad considering the time constraints. The right hand one is probably better, the figure is more solid, the weight is on the right hip.

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2 minute sketch

Here, she is leaning her weight onto her left knee, resting on a cushion. Clearly some issues here but I think I caught the pose.

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2 minute sketch

I struggled with this one, it was meant to be a one minute sketch but I paused it for a little longer as it looked so incomplete. A few errors here in details but I thnk it just about works.

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2 minute sketch

There are some problems here with the upper part of the body but the lower part doesn’t look too bad! Although I didn’t have time to add whatever it was she is leaning on so that may look a bit bizarre. I am quite happy with the overall stance though.

Even though this is a challenging exercise, especially if you are using photographs or online video, it is a really helpful one and I think regular practice will lead to an improvement.

Essential Elements

It’s quite challenging to capture proportion and the three-dimensional feel but these two sketches go some way to attempting both. I like the first pose, perhaps because I was able to get the face in a loose way although she is floating a little. I like the twisted posture, I can feel the position quite well and the proportions aren’t too far off.

The second image I also like, I think I captured the volume of the body well and the proportions look good to my eye. The head is possibly too small as she had that turned so I need to look at the head closer going further.

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10 minute sketch in charcoal

This was quite a closed posture so was tricky to draw, there was a lot of crossing of limbs which was pretty challenging to know where to start! It was a tight pose and I have drawn it too small. I should have drawn her bigger, somehow in trying to capture it I have drawn smaller without realising. I’ve made her look a bit cross too but that’s because I am not good on the details yet but I am quite happy with the overall drawing. There are a few elements of error but overall I think it works because the pose is an interesting one.

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10 minute sketch

Normally I start the drawing from the head and shoulders but this time I decided to draw the legs first. As a consequence I have made them too long in length so I had to compensate by giving her a longer torso. However, I like the stance, and the turn of her head, in spite of the proportional errors I think I have captured her leaning posture, maybe the arms are not long enough but I think she looks quite elegant in my version!

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1o minute sketch in charcoal

I really like this sketch, I think I have captured a good pose, complete with foreshortened legs, which are always tricky! This model did a few yoga poses for us, she really was sitting this upright. There’s a little bit of confusion around her tummy and right arm but this paper does not erase well so there is a bit of smudging, but I don’t mind that. is her neck too long? I notice sometimes I don’t allude to the neck much so not sure if I am overcompensating or not looking properly, it’s hard to reflect on something that happened a couple of weeks ago but I should take the neck into consideration also.

I think this may give the best sense of the pose as it is quite straightforward, fairly simple but captures the essence of the pose perfectly. I didn’t overwork it either which can be a problem for me sometimes.

I missed my class this week so decided to try one of the online videos from the Croquis Cafe for a sixth pose. I was able to find a model posing for ten minutes. The first problem I found was that I needed to use a smaller pad (A4) to sketch from so I could see the screen well enough. I actually found this harder than drawing from life. I usually draw on A2 in class and I like the freedom to move, the smaller size does make me feel a little confined. I think it’s good practice though to try and draw on different sized paper from time to time.

I also chose to do a male model as I have only drawn females so far.

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10 minute pencil sketch

It takes a few quick sketches before you get the sense of the body so it took me a while to get the shape of the body here. Typically I don’t use an eraser as I am focused on finding the line, an eraser slows me down and distracts me.

The arms look different lengths, and I’ve lost his neck (this is obviously an area to think about in future, I’m only noticing it now as I’m writing up this exercise). This drawing is the one I’m least happy about it, I did find it harder than drawing from life. Before I launched into the ten minute sketch I should have done some two minute ones to get familiar with the body first.

It takes a little while to become accustomed to the models’ bodies so I think the model I have drawn most has been better represented here. I will get the opportunity to draw the male model in a few weeks’ time so I am looking forward to improving on my male figures!

Generally speaking I am happy with all of the poses, I think I have captured the movement and posture fairly well. I am enjoying this part of the course so far.

 

 

Basic Shapes

Starting with a two minute sketch of the model seating in a chair. As always with a fast sketch like this, I’m just trying to capture the basic shapes, attempting to get the proportions right. When there is a complex pose, i.e. anything with crossed limbs, it throws me off a little to begin with, and there is no time to capture detail.

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2 minute charcoal

The legs aren’t too bad, the arms not so good but I feel like I got the positioning of the legs almost right.

This next one is a seated twist posture.

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3 minute pencil sketch

The proportions are off here but the twisted posture seems ok but doesn’t flow that well. Something about the shoulder seems wrong but not too bad an attempt, I actually managed to get the head facing in a different direction which helps give the appearance of the twisted body. At a quick glance, I feel the essence of the pose is there but when you look more closely there are a lot of errors here.

Another model, another twisted position, in a four minute sketch:

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4 minute sketch

This feels more realistic to me than many of the other drawings, I feel like I got the solidity of the figure with a nice twist to the side.

I got to do this again in a slightly longer, 15 minute sketch:

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15 minute charcoal sketch

I encountered some issue with the foreshortening of the legs but I am happy with the body’s posture. I feel this is a good representation of the model and the pose. I am happy with the solidity and volume here, overall I think it is a good representation of the moment.

This is an earlier sketch from my first class, a 10 minute pose:

 

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10 minute charcoal sketch

It is a difficult pose to capture, this is not too bad an attempt, I think maybe the proportion of the limbs is a little bit off but I like the twist in the pose.

Finally, a longer pose of 25 minutes allowed me to capture the model leaning over, whilst seated:

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25 minute sketch

In spite of all the little problem areas here, I like this pose. The legs caught me out majorly, I think I have the right knee in the wrong place and it is too straight, even though it was very straight, it does look wrong. The left thigh also looks a little odd, again the foreshortening really messed with my brain even though I was really trying to think in shapes that I could see it’s a challenging position to capture. I think you can feel the weight coming towards you as the model leans in, which I like.

There are a few areas that need working on, still need to keep an eye on proportions but foreshortening is one to work on for sure.

 

RESEARCH Foreshortening

The Tate Gallery defines foreshortening as “the technique of depicting an object or human body in a picture so as to produce an illusion of projection or extension in space.” Essentially it is a technique to create the illusion of depth.

We were asked to lounge on a couch with a mirror at the foot end and then attempt to draw the body. This was not an easy exercise. I don’t actually own too many mirrors and none of them were really suitable for the job at hand, being too small to see much. Anyway, I endeavoured and here is a quick sketch:

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foreshortening sketch

The mirror wasn’t big enough to get much more than the feet in so I struggled to get some context in here. The feet are obviously larger than the rest of the body, my left foot in particular seems larger then the other one, that’s because I had to bend my right foot to see into the mirror! It was a bit of a disaster but it illustrates the foreshortening effect created by looking at your feet from a distance so that they are closer and therefore larger than the rest of the body.

Afterwards I watched this short video from the Croquis Cafe website which is quite useful, see this link. This website is also useful to practice drawing models and has tips on foreshortening.

Perhaps the most useful advice I received was to focus on the negative space when drawing the difficult parts, i.e. foreshortened limbs and hands and feet. I am still working on these as they are notoriously difficult. I think these areas are especially challenging because we know what they look like but when looking at them front on they don’t look how we think they should.

Probably a better way to look at foreshortening is to look at well known examples from art history.

The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Andrea Mantegna, 1490

Believed to be painted around 1490, the is a brilliant use of perspective to create the sensation that we are standing at the foot of the bed, with an incredible view of Christ’s body, so that one of the first things we see is the holes in his feet. It creates a very dramatic effect which serves to emphasise the tragedy. It was an unusual perspective for the time, but a very effective one, it makes us feel cramped as if we are in the tomb with him. Foreshortening creates depth and we can feel the physicality of the body from the feet to the face, we see the suffering and pain and are reminded of Christ’s humanity.

Luca Signorelli, Man on a Ladder, (1504-5)

This is a fragment of a much larger work of the Lamentation of Christ, this is the man who took the nails out of the body. Signorelli was clearly a master of foreshortening and the human body as he perfectly captures the man on a ladder, in a fairly complex pose.

A Supine Male Nude, Turner, The Tate, (c.1799-1805)

Turner made a few studies of foreshortening, probably as pre-sketches for paintings.

Pere Borrell del Caso, Escaping Criticism (1874)

This painter used the device of trome l’oeil to look as if the boy is climbing out of the frame. He tricks the eye to create an optical illusion that blurs the boundary between make believe and reality.

John William Waterhouse, Saint Eulalia , 1885

Eualalia was martyred for refusing to honour the Roman Gods, and her young body lies half-naked in the snow. The foreshortening technique is again used for dramatic effect, the body of Eualalia points directly towards the centre of the painting which is empty, an effect that leads the eye straight back to the stricken Eulalia. She looks pure and serene, surrounded by doves despite a rather cruel death in reality that Waterhouse did not depict.

Andre Dunoyer, Nude with a Newspaper, 1921

It gives us an intimate view of this nude with real focus given to the body, the face is covered with the newspaper. This also seems to have been a preparatory painting for another work.

Even now it is a technique used to great effect, and Jenny Saville uses it for distortion, a statement on bodies and how we see them. In Plan, the viewer looks up, the body looks large and it’s a comment how how women are made to feel enormous in today’s society. It’s interesting because she uses her own body to work from, she’s a regular sized person, she is the artist and she is the viewer. She’s purposefully moving away from the idealised nude that has dominated western art for centuries, painting women in a realistic but exaggerated way. There is no background, the emphasis is on the body, discussing beauty in a man-made world.

RESOURCES

Andrew Wilton, ‘A Supine Male Nude, Seen Foreshortened c.1799–1805 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, April 2016, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-supine-male-nude-seen-foreshortened-r1178136, accessed 09 October 2017

Davies, Hunter, This is Jenny, Independent, 1st March 1994,

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/interview-this-is-jenny-and-this-is-her-plan-men-paint-female-beauty-in-stereotypes-jenny-saville-1426296.html

 

A Longer Study

In my life drawing class the longest pose available is thirty minutes so I am going to post a few that I have done.

This is a fifteen minute study, using charcoal, no erasing:

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15 minute charcoal sketch

I like this pose and I think I captured its characteristics quite well, it has the volume and presence that makes it a believable study. The proportions look good to my eye. I find that in class it takes a few attempts to get anywhere near the proportions and this was done after several quick studies.

A longer study of the same model, this time 25 minutes, also in charcoal:

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25 minute charcoal sketch

Whilst I am quite satisfied with the body, I encountered a few problems, the legs don’t look right, the model’s right knee looks too low and the left upper thigh doesn’t look right, the dreaded foreshortening has caught me out here. I did have a problem getting the chin right as she was looking down so the angle was difficult to recreate accurately, but I am happy that I managed to get some facial features in at all as I have been having problems with this area too. Feet are also challenging and her left foot looks a bit awkward here so plenty of things to work on but overall I think I have given a good sense of the pose of the body.

This is my longest study so far, which was for thirty minutes. My main aim here was to focus on proportions and line. I did not use an eraser but instead used a white compressed charcoal stick to ‘erase’ errors and highlight some areas.

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30 minute sketch in compressed charcoal

This shows improvement, I couldn’t see her right foot so well so that seems a little incorrect and I’m not sure I got the size of her head in proportion but I’m not far off so am pleased with my progress so far. It is a very challenging exercise as is there a lot to think about. I have a tendency to just launch into the drawing but I am trying to take time to look first, especially in the longer studies, and also pretend to draw the figure on the paper before committing with the charcoal. I think it is helping. I also found it quite helpful to place the shoulders first for some reason, and draw the torso before I do the legs. In another drawing I did the legs first and she ended up with super long legs, where I then had to lengthen the torso to make it look realistic! I need to do a bit more reading. I got a great book from the library called Anatomy Made Simple for Artists by Jonathan Freemantle which looks ideal for this topic.

 

Quick Studies

I was absolutely delighted to finally find a life drawing workshop after looking all summer. I had a two hour introductory workshop and afterwards was so happy to discover the tutor organised a regular life drawing session, so I can only hope to get some great experience from this.

We didn’t quite cover exactly what was prescribed in the instructions but more or less followed a brief of quick studies followed by longer studies.

This is a one minute sketch:

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1 minute sketch in charcoal

These sketches were all done in 2 minutes each:

 

Sorry for the bad quality images, I have such bad lighting for photography. The first one is in pink crayon so it very pale.

The two standing poses were a little more successful in representing proportions, the seated one is a mixture of sizes.

These were also two minute sketches from a different class:

 

 

Then two longer studies, both for ten minutes each:

 

It’s funny how changing the position leads you to making errors, the torso is too long in the lying down sketch and I didn’t have time to draw the blanket she was resting on.

The second sketch isn’t too bad considering the differing angles. The proportions are slightly better.

Two more from a later session:

 

There were obvious difficulties in getting the proportion right as this is new to me I tried not worry too much about the details but rather focused on getting the volume and general body shape right. I really tried to observe well before drawing and also look at the model a lot whilst drawing. I haven’t really considered planes before but I did encounter a few problems with the different body shapes. Am so grateful though that the models are so different, they have different bodies but are both so great to draw. The models have blown me away with their posing skills, it has been such a great experience.

Life drawing clearly requires lots of practice so I am trying to attend this informal class weekly, going forward I will need to learn how to do hands, feet and faces and also foreshortening is going to be an issue!

 

How the Depiction of Nudes has Changed

The depiction of nudes has changed somewhat over the centuries, an important factor seems to be the context in which they were created. They are a visual product of their time.

One of the earliest depictions of a female nude was the Willendorf Venus (30-25,000 B.C.), which has been assumed to be a fertility figure. It soon becomes clear that the male nude, although popular in Ancient Greece and Rome, is not as evident as the female. It will also become evident that the way the nude is depicted is different for both sexes.

In ancient Egypt women were considered to be equal to men and held positions of power, yet in the artwork from that time they were more frequently pictured nude whilst the men were clothed. Females were idealised, shown as youthful and attractive, how they aimed to be in the afterlife. Later on they became linked to their fathers and husbands, surrounded by family to underline the role of motherhood and their procreative purpose in life.

Even in Indian Temple Art of the 1st Century B.C., females were represented by voluptuous nudes as a religious representation of fertility deities. The woman’s role is very clear.

For the Greeks the female form was not as important as the male, who epitomised the best in humanity. Men were muscular and attractive, showing off their strength and youth, setting ideals physically and morally. The male nude was a champion, triumphant and glorious, so admired that he came to represent the Gods of their religious beliefs. Women were baby-makers and homemakers so the same ideals did not apply to them so they did not feature much.

It wasn’t until 4th Century B.C. that the sculptor Praxiteles created the first life-size female statue in the form of Aphrodite (of Knidos), based on mathematical ratios and idealised proportions. The pose suggests she is observed whilst bathing which suggests a possible erotic element.

By the Middle Ages, when Christianity became the dominant religion concerns of morality made the nude fall out of favour, chastity and celibacy became a theme. Nudity was used to show weakness and shame, especially in the case of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where the woman is allocated the role of the temptress.

It was during the Renaissance that the nude became acceptable again as interest grew in Greek and Roman culture. The nude became symbolic of this antiquity and its rebirth.

Donatello was able to use this Classical view in the biblical figure of David (c.a. 1140, Bargello, Florence), which was the first free-standing nude male for centuries, and also seen in Michelangelo’s statue of David (1501-4, Accademia, Florence). Certainly the male nude was deemed worthy of artistic pursuit. Nudes then started to be added to religious paintings, as in the Sistine Chapel’s frescoes.

In thirteenth century Italy nudity became a respectable art theme but it wasn’t until the fifteenth century that drawing from life became a regular part of art school practice. It was only men that were allowed to be models, artists used them for female representations also by modifying them slightly.

By the sixteenth century Leonard da Vinci became very interested in anatomy. His Vitruvian Man demonstrates his understanding of proportion, combining maths and art. It was suggested that the workings of the human body were representative of the workings of the universe.

Thus the idealised nude became the norm to represent great historical, mythological and religious scenes in order to extol heroism and virtue.

By the sixteenth century Titian used nudes to recall the lost Golden Age and introduced them to landscape settings. His work was also idealised but increasingly sensual.

Females nudes saw a comeback too in the form of Venus, mythology was a way to incorporate the female nude into art. See Titian’s Venus of Urbino (c. 1534, Galleria deglia Uffizi, Florence). Interestingly, the Goddess is shown reclining in a domestic interior, we see no signs or symbols to represent Venus, but mainly this is a sensual rendering, she is  lying, waiting,  appealing to the (male) viewer.

Hereafter there were numerous nudes in various poses but the majority were designed to seduce the male viewer, notably in the work of Lucas Cranach. In the Judgement of Paris,  his three nudes show us different poses, still not naturalistic but reflective of the times.

By the seventeenth century nudes became a little more naturalistic in the work of Gentileschi’s Susanna and the Elder, perhaps it took a woman to observe more closely the realities of a woman’s body.

In the eighteenth century nudes were treated in more frivolous surroundings, and more provocative poses. Manet’s Olympia was intended to shock rather than idealise, the model looks defiantly at the viewer, it is suggested she is a prostitute, perhaps the realism of the situation is the shocking part.

By the nineteenth century Impressionism, often regarded as feminine in style with its diffuse romantic light, Renoir’s sensuous Nude Seated on a Sofa was depicted in a modern setting.

Modigliani’s nudes saw a changing representation where the body became simplified into a set of shapes, lines and colours. Yet they were not realistic with their swan necks and blank expressions, set in angular faces. Their lack of expression means they are still inactive objects.

By 1907 Picasso with his Demoiselles d’Avignon, deliberately subverts the Classical idealisation of the nude with the depiction of four prostitutes in provocative poses, wearing masks and allusion so classical drapes. He also starts to study form in his Cubist works, representing reality in a new and different manner.

Egon Schiele’s figurative and distortive style fully embraced nudes, male and female, his sexual works  edged towards pornography with his graphic depictions of nudes and self-portraits. His Kneeling Nude With Raised Hands is considered one of the most important nudes of the century. His works also contained a psychological element, the viewer is almost challenged to really look at the subject and look beyond the superficial.

Schiele was hugely influenced by Klimt, who was one of the few artists to depict women at different stages, not just the young and beautiful, but showed pregnancy, aging and loss of beauty to express the normal, more realistic cycle of life. Klimt’s works were considered more peaceful than Schiele’s, see The Three Ages of Women.

The twenty-first century saw artists looking for different ways to represent the nude. Lucien Freud with his complete lack of idealisation, his almost stark, realistic style suggesting contemplation and vulnerability in his subjects. See his Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.

Jenny Saville, a contemporary artist taking on a new realism with her figurative representations of the female body. Her works are large scale and seem to specialise in texture. In Branded, we see an obese women holding her skin, showing it off. Saville has painted her own face onto the body, its features exaggerated. See also Plan, the body has pre-surgery lines drawn all over it as if seen before plastic surgery.  The very physicality of her work suggests the difference between how we look and what we really think about our bodies.

There are so many great paintings of nudes it is hard to include them all. The way the female nude has been depicted has changed more than that of the male, from representing fertility and motherhood, to being synonymous with sin, guilt and shame, and later sexuality. Nearly all of the women were depicted for men to look at them, to be available to men. The male were simply lauded for physical strength and moral rectitude.

It’s funny to think that initially women were hidden away, behind clothing and then always with their families or husbands, attached to the family in a possessive way, as in the patriarchal family.

Yet women were also seen as caretakers and mothers, before they seem to have landed on the most popular one that is hardest to shake, that of the sexual object, the object of desire whilst men were warriors and leaders, women were objectified and sexualised.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, going back in history women did not have the same rights as men, they couldn’t even study art in the same way and not seriously, that was not appropriate. Women had a lot of different barriers to climb over.

It surprising how many female bodies are displayed in galleries but not that many female artists are represented, even now. Museums and galleries are still set up to be looked upon by the male eye, suggesting that creating art has been, and remains a mostly male pursuit.

 

References

Berger, John, London, BBC and Penguin Books, Ways of Seeing

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nuan/hd_nuan.htm

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/numr/hd_numr.htm

https://www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/exhibitions/djcad/lifestudy/graves/

http://www.belmont.edu/burs/pdf/Art%20History-Samuelsen.pdf

http://www.widewalls.ch/artist/egon-schiele/