One of the first drawings of yourself you will probably do is of your own hand. I suspect this is true of most artists, your 'other hand' is always available as a model and all drawers are acutely aware of the importance of the eye hand relationship. That relationship is a deep one and in many ways artist's drawings of hands exemplifies their world view. The hand becomes a microcosm through which the world itself is touched by meaning. There is a drawing by Seurat of the hand of Poussin, after Ingres. It is Poussin's right hand holding the edge of what looks like a small drawing board. In the Ingres' painting that Poussin did the drawing from, Poussin is directing us to look at the main event, 'The Apotheosis of Homer', but in Seurat's eyes the main event is Poussin's hand. This was the hand that made those tightly composed compositions that gave classical weight to the French tradition of painting. You get the feeling from Seurat's closely observed drawing that it was this strong drawing hand, the hand that felt for the clarity of expression that could be achieved by disegno, that was the real mind behind Poussin's work. Seurat would in his own time develop a series of drawings and paintings that would become a new classicism for a post impressionist world, this hand perhaps being for him a loadstone that indicated what was to become his life's ambition.
Georges Seurat, The Hand of Poussin, after Ingres
Ingres: 'The Apotheosis of Homer'
Ingres: 'The Apotheosis of Homer' detail, portrait of Poussin
Seurat's drawings are often presented as painter's drawings and Rodin's as sculptor's drawings. I think you could if you wanted to reverse this and think of Seurat as a sculptor and Rodin as a painter. Seurat was looking for a new way of giving classical weight to his images, his drawings simplify form and in doing this give a certain weight and monumentality to the world.
The two drawings above by Seurat are details, both images are seen with an eye for solid form and could easily have been done by a sculptor. If we look at Rodin's drawing of a hand in comparison it is more about energy and movement. Both the pencil and wash elements of the drawing reinforce this, the wash pulsing with liquid energy, whilst the linear pencil drawing establishes direction and position. Both artists were seeking to link their work back through a classical tradition, but both had to find a fresh approach to old problems. The energy in the mass as understood by late Michelangelo had to be rethought by Rodin, just as Raphael's constructed solidity had to be re-invented by Seurat.
Rodin's drawing of a hand is a summation of a gesture, and when he comes to draw the body as a whole he again sums up the body as a vehicle for the containment of energy, something that would be vital to his sculptural work.
In contrast Henry Moore is about a more geological solidity, his hand drawings are closer in conception to Seurat's drawings. However Moore feels his way over the forms, cross contour lines travel over the wrist following the touch of the fingers of the right hand.
Henry Moore studied at the Leeds College of Art as did Barbara Hepworth, but their drawings are very different. If you look at Hepworth's drawings of surgeons' hands below you can almost compare them to the drawings of Watteau. The delicate, sensitive touch needed by surgeons to operate with being almost wistful in its softness.
The more completed drawing above still has that delicate sensitive hand holding a scalpel, this time framed by the more sculptural presence of the surgeon and accompanying nurses. The drawing of hands below by Watteau is a similar study of small differences in gesture. However these hands are framed by their elaborate cuffs. Watteau's hands are more 'boney' than Hepworth's, or at least have more of a grasp of 'inner' structure, whilst still having a certain delicacy of touch; Watteau's chalk drawings using the subtle play of dark/light contrast to give weight to these small gestures.
Egon Schiele's drawings revel and reveal in the fact that the skeleton is always close to the surface of the hand. His skin covering is muscle-less, the pink watercolour masking out the bones that remind us of death. In Watteau we are reminded of the fragility and yet strong delicacy of life, but in Schiele we are confronted with the end of life. If you then compare a hand drawn by Picasso made as a study for Guernica, there is a fascinating difference. Both hands in their different ways confront death, but Picasso's is a hand in revolt, a hand energised in its confrontation with pain, one that for all its distortion still possesses an inner strength, but Schiele's is too brittle to fight back, too thin to resist the coming end.
Of all the many hands I have looked at perhaps the most intriguing are the ones drawn and painted by Philip Guston. Guston sees the hand drawing as almost God like. It emerges from a celestial cloud, holds what looks like a stick of charcoal between two fingers, (a very ungainly way to hold any drawing tool) and veins stand out around the wrist suggesting a high venous pressure, possibly as a result of a poor life style. The low horizon line giganticises the hand, its rough form authentic as much as comic, awkward as much as kitsch. It is drawing a line in the sand, a line that could also be a shadow, a shadow that if it is a shadow has forgotten to cast the hand of its maker. Nothing is right about this image and because of this it sticks. Sticky images are hard to come by and when they happen they stick.