Sketching (indoor) sculpture, two sessions at AGNSW Sydney

March 14, 2013

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ABC TV is currently showing documentaries about Pre-Raphaelite art, so I found myself drawn to Victorian period sculpture on permanent display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.

This is part of an ongoing series of “free” figure drawing, complementing “paid” life drawing sessions. Recently I’ve drawn similar marble sculpture outdoors – the Canova statues in the Royal Botanic Gardens – and classical statuary in the Nicholson Museum at Sydney University, where the ambient light is extremely low.

Here’s a rough first sketch (A5 sketchbook) of John Gibson’s Hunter and dog. It involved standing up, leaning against a roped-off staircase. Unfortunately, this was a busy Saturday afternoon and I rapidly began to feel like one of the museum exhibits. The undesired attention notwithstanding, the beauty of sketching marble sculpture like this is the constancy of the light source and the fact that the model is perfectly still at all times. The only thing missing was the ability to be seated. While able to seat myself at exactly the preferred angle sketching the Canova statues outdoors, those were both whitewashed and patinaed with green mould in places, with a changing light source.

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I took the opportunity of sheltering from the elements some weeks later and returned to this particular Gibson sculpture with the aim of seeing it from a variety of angles, trying to simplify both line and tone and trying to get the proportion correct. I returned with an A4 sketchbook. This was on a Monday afternoon when the pedestrian traffic was less frequent. I was under the stern gaze of a museum attendant whose job it was to move back and forth between the three linked rooms of marble Victorian sculpture; it shouldn’t have bugged me, but it did somewhat. Pencil sketching is okay inside the museum, but I had to be careful not to lean against walls or other fixtures. This inadvertently was an opportunity to draw a dog, yet another weakness in my repertoire.

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This is the second of the two pages. I was spending roughly 40 minutes on each page, with a five-minute sit-down elsewhere between bouts. Even this basic level of sketching was concentrated and tiring for me. The actual sculpture is a lot “smaller” than it looks; the subject a lot younger. There are issues with some of the edges becoming lost as they blend in with the white walls behind, but there is enough shadow to work with. I am consciously trying to provide a context for the pieces of sculpture.

Some of the other, larger pieces in the collection are in black marble and the Lord Leighton sculpture poses difficulties in terms of exaggerated foreshortening because of the small space in which it finds itself. These are from the first session and are largely “exploratory”.

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I guess my abiding memory of the Gibson Hunter and Dog sculpture is a young tourist asking me if it was made out of jade. “No,” I replied, trying not to sound like a museum attendant, “it’s marble.”

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