ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

History of Drawing

Updated on May 26, 2010

The earliest drawings were pictures of animals made by prehistoric man on the cave walls. The cave artist recorded only the essential outlines and forms of animals and did not bother with details. Later, drawing became useful as a means of communication. A particular series of images could be used to tell a story. Gradually, writing developed as a kind of abstract drawing. Pictures were simplified into pictographs (pictorial signs) and later into letter shapes. In the Orient, drawing and writing developed together within the general art of calligraphy. The same techniques of penmanship were employed in drawing as in writing. In the West, however, the arts of drawing and writing became separated.

The rebirth of Western drawing in the 15th century came with the widespread production of paper. At the same time the artist became interested in representing in great detail the physical world around him. Renaissance artists made innumerable exploratory sketches and studies of objects, figures, and nature. They formulated laws of perspective, foreshortening, shading, anatomical proportion, motion and direction, and other principles and techniques of drawing. The primary aim of many Renaissance draftsmen was to create the illusion of visual reality in their works.

One of the earliest Renaissance masters of drawing was Leonardo da Vinci, whose sketchbooks contain hundreds of experimental drawings made with pen and ink, chalk, and metalpoint. Typical of his subjects were animals in motion, the forms of flowers and plant life, human anatomy, and real or imaginary machines. Leonardo's drawings were often minutely exact studies compiled for the purpose of documenting visual details. Albrecht Diirer, a contemporary of Leonardo, was also among the first great graphic artists. Diirer is famous for his detailed studies of anatomy, plants, and animals, as well as for his religious subjects, which include the Holy Trinity (Boston Museum of Fine Arts) and St. Catherine (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City).

In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Hans Holbein the Younger, made preliminary studies and sketches before beginning a painting. A full-sized drawing, called a cartoon, was often used as the basis for the final work. Michelangelo's red chalk Study for the Libyan Sibyl (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) closely resembles his finished fresco painting in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome.

The Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel was one of the first to make detailed and finished landscape drawings. His Italian contemporary Tintoretto used red chalk for outstanding anatomical studies and was also a master of wash drawing. Other notable draftsmen of the 16th and 17th centuries include Peter Paul Rubens, who is known for his pen, brush, and chalk figures, and Rembrandt, whose pen-and-wash drawings, such as Esther and Mordecai (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City), are remarkable for their spontaneity and conciseness of detail. Rembrandt's drawings have sometimes been compared to Oriental scroll paintings.

During the 18th century, drawing was often used to make a comment on the artist's period and society. In France, Antoine Watteau, Jean Honore Fragonard, and Francois Boucher made hundreds of chalk and wash drawings that reflected the tastes, fashions, and customs of the age. The Italian artists Canaletto and Francesco Guardi recorded their impressions of 18th-century Venice in pen-and-ink drawings that later provided the basis for their paintings. In England, William Hogarth and Thomas Rowlandson developed the type of drawing known as caricature for satirizing the foibles of the growing middle class. Exaggeration was the favorite device of the caricaturist and led to the modern cartoon. The Spanish artist Francisco Goya extended the art of caricature into powerful social criticism, both in his brush drawings and his brilliant etchings.

In the 19th century, masterpieces of caricature were produced by the French artists Honore Daumier and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The English artist William Blake drew in an imaginative and romantic style. Blake's pen-and-watercolor drawings, as his illustrations for the Book of Job, including Job's Despair (Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City), reflect his interest in the world of the imagination rather than in the external world. In contrast, the French artist J.A.D. Ingres achieved a precise descriptive exactness of line, as in his famous pencil drawing The Guillon-Lethiere Family (Boston Museum of Fine Arts).

One of the most remarkable of the 19th-century draftsmen was Edgar Degas. Despite almost total blindness in his old age, Degas produced charcoal and pastel masterpieces. At the end of the century, Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Odilon Redon, and other Postimpressionists used black crayon, charcoal, reed pen, and a variety of other materials and created brilliant new effects. These artists were greatly influenced by the Japanese tradition, in which the pen or brush stroke itself was as important as the subject being represented.

In the 20th century many outstanding painters have also produced brilliant drawings using a great variety of graphic techniques. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Amedeo Modigliani, George Grosz, and Ben Shahn are only a few of the artists who have contributed to the rich array of contemporary drawings.


Submit a Comment

No comments yet.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)