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European Drawings

European drawing dates back to the caves of Lascaux some 17,000 years ago and continues to flourish today. From cave drawings rendered in charcoal and elemental pigments, humans developed and perfected additional media through which to depict the world around them.

The prototype of the pencil, called a metal stylus, was developed in ancient Greece circa the 8th century B.C. The pastel was produced for the first time during the Renaissance era in the 15th century, offering new possibilities for artistic representation. It was during this latter period that drawing began to emerge as a fully realized art form in Europe, as artists including Leonardo da Vinci adopted this mode of expression as an integral aspect of their practice.

Centuries later, artists including Edouard Vuillard, Gustave Courbet, and Edgar Degas would further this legacy, creating a prolific amount of intimate and compelling works on paper. Contemporary European artists such as David Hockney continue to explore the possibilities of drawing using all media at their disposal, some including digital illustration software.

Quick Facts

  • From the Renaissance to the Impressionist period, artists often made preparatory drawings before embarking on larger scale oil paintings
  • Many examples of European drawings from centuries ago have deteriorated, as they were drafted on non-archival paper using fugitive pigments. Today, fine art drawings are typically committed to acid-free paper and sprayed with a fixative in order to ensure their longevity
  • Under the paint layers of the great frescoes in Italian churches, one can still find the preliminary charcoal drawings that served as their basis

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