The Erotic Frigidaire

23 Oct 2012

Did you just read that and think, "Wha-wha-what?" Well, when I first saw the phrase--which was originally applied to the sculptures of Antonio Canova--applied to the work of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, I had the same reaction. But it is true--there is something inherently contradictory about his drawings. They are simultaneously sensual and academic, powerfully physical but cerebral and still as well. But most contradictory of all is that this 18th-century master's drawing techniques still have many things to teach us hundreds of years later.

Académie of a Seated Man, Seen From Behind by Prud'hon, black chalk heightened with white on blue paper, 17 3/16 x 11 3/16.
Académie of a Seated Man, Seen From Behind by Prud'hon,
black chalk heightened with white on blue paper, 17 3/16 x 11 3/16.

There are few better draftsmen to learn how to draw from than Prud'hon. His output is legendary and the drawing program that he embarked upon during his career was based on the belief that learning to draw was absolutely essential for any artist who hoped to rise in skill and public estimation.

Prud'hon's working method was a systematic one. He usually worked on blue paper, giving him a cool middle-tone to start with, and--now, this is unusual--he would use both black and white chalk from the start. Many artists wait until the end of the drawing process to add smatterings of highlights, but Prud'hon built up a full range of tones from the outset.

He would start with a rough contour to establish proportions and gesture, but then went right in with loose and free hatching. After this, he would often stump down the drawing, rubbing it so that lines became broad "washes" of light and dark. He would then go in with more tightly controlled hatching to reintroduce structure to the forms. It went this way, back and forth, but always the last layer was hatching, not stumping, so that on the surface the forms--made with tandem strokes of black and white--appeared delicately modeled and luminous.

Seated Nude Woman by Prud'hon, black and white chalk on blue paper, 22 x 15.
Seated Nude Woman by Prud'hon, black and white chalk on
blue paper, 22 x 15.
Adapted from an article by Ephraim Rubenstein

Studying Prud'hon's work, you realize that many of his best drawings were made when he was a student--still learning but thrilled with the course he'd set himself upon. As his career progressed, his output of drawings increased, and they often served as the source of his creative inspiration. This all seems to indicate that Prud'hon never stopped learning to draw, and never stopped believing in his ability to learn something new from the figure.

That is inspirational to me because I know that my art can change and improve with time and effort, too. And I've got a new trick up my sleeve: Artist's Network University. It's essentially an online art atelier where we can get all the fine art education we are looking for, at any skill level. These online art classes have one-on-one instruction and weekly assessments of your work from instructors who work in a variety of mediums. No other art resource I know of is quite like this! And from now until November 15, Artist's Network University is offering 15% off any course you want to take. See what classes are available, register, and enjoy!


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