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New attitudes toward works on paper changed the impact of portrait drawings. The graphic arts underwent dramatic changes in presentation, patronage, and status, moving from a private to a public sphere. Late-nineteenth-century painters, rebelling against strict academic rules of draftsmanship, prized sketching and watercolor for their spontaneity and flexibility. Artists thereafter began to make serious, finished drawings that were now suitable for publication, public exhibition, and the marketplace. Works on paper thus began to play an important role in the dissemination of visual ideas.


No longer "secondary" media, relegated to the artist's sketchbook, drawings became independent works of art with a new status and marketability. Images such as Mary Cassatt's watercolor self-portrait and Cecilia Beaux's charcoal of Henry James were finished, ambitious pictures, not sketches for paintings. In exhibitions at his 291 galleries, Alfred Stieglitz introduced European and American modernists largely through graphic works on paper. Figural drawings often undermined traditional notions of how a subject might be posed and drawn. Informality, for example, could now seem just as revealing as the formal, self-composure of a portrait sitting. Alden Weir posed John Twachtman sitting in a rocking chair, suggesting the intimacy of sitter and subject and their shared view of art. In a later generation, Jamie Wyeth posed Lincoln Kirstein from the back, a tellingly quiescent stance for an impresario who spent much of his time watching others in the creative process.
Mary CassattHenry JamesJohn Twachtman
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The emergence of drawing as an indispensable part of modern publishing affected the nature of patronage and established a new, critically important visibility. Handsome compensation lured many artists into the publishing industry. High-quality drawings were now in the public sphere. Charles Dana Gibson published his interpretation of Theodore Roosevelt as the hero of San Juan Hill in Century magazine to accompany his memoirs of The Rough Riders. William Zorach's Edna St. Vincent Millay appeared in Scribner's just after she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The pop art imagery of Roy Lichtenstein's Robert Kennedy was available to all on the cover of Time magazine.
Theodore RooseveltRobert Kennedy
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Twentieth-century artists sensed the new, modernist relationship between the image and the paper upon which it is drawn. Rejecting the rules of illusionistic draftsmanship, they rendered volume and mass while consciously maintaining the two-dimensionality of the sheet. The austere pencil profile of Stuart Davis's image, for instance, conveys the physicality of the head and hat but also the modernist's consciousness of line and placement on a flattened plane. Milton Avery's self-portrait links image to surface with a dazzling pattern of hooked and hatched lines that crisscross the contours of face, modeling the features, delineating the shadows behind the head, and integrating the whole. Thirty years later, Leonard Baskin created a similar flattening of space in his portrait of Rico Lebrun with thin lines of ink that cross over and subvert the profile contour, simultaneously defining the volume of the head, linking it to the two-dimensional surface, and evoking breath or speech.
Milton AveryRico Lebrun
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Twentieth-century artists exploited their freedom from academic realism by extracting from graphic media a variety of decorative, abstract or expressive effects. Elaine de Kooning's portrait of saxophonist Ornette Coleman evokes rhythm and sound, with scribbled lines, blurred erasure marks, and rubbed pencil. Much of the impact of Ben Shahn's J. Robert Oppenheimer, comes from the unsettling, barbed-wire sharpness of the spiky line. Color could have a similar emotional impact. Joseph Stella outlines the sagging profile of his self-portrait with a bilious yellow gouache, heightening the sense of psychological enclosure and anxiety. Harsh hues of yellow mixed with green and orange add a similar sense of emotional turmoil to this image of James Baldwin by Beauford Delaney.
Ornette ColemanJoseph Stella
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