Color Notes

December 11th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

I wanted to read about drawings in India, and found this drawing through a search involving the words India preparatory drawing. It had been in a Christie’s sale a few years ago, and it reminded me more of an underdrawing than a drawing made in preparation of another work. The catalogue didn’t go into detail (relatively low value work with a $2-3,000 estimate), but it looked to me like an early stage of a collaborative effort. The overall design had been roughed out in brush and gray color (looking like graphite) and wonderful color touches were applied in paint. (The cataloguer wrote “transparent and opaque pigments” which seems like a more sensible way of putting it – better than worrying about whether to write watercolor or watercolour and choosing between gouache or bodycolor or tempera.) The touches of color look like they are meant as a guide for the next artist in an assembly line.

India, Kotah, 18th century | Preparatory Drawing of a Seated King | Opaque and transparent pigments on paper | 330 x 277 mm | Christie's NY 20 March 2008, lot 206

After this I was thinking of written notations about color in drawings and there seem to be two main reasons for their inclusion: as memory aids for artists and as guides for collaborators. The drawing below, from an album (now dismantled) at the British Museum, gives both painted indications for color and written indications for color and fabric types for the costume makers who would have to execute the garments.


Stefano della Bella | Ballet Costume Study for a Gardener | Pen and brown ink, with brown wash and watercolour, over graphite | 276 x 202 mm | British Museum


As an example of memory aid color notes, I found this completely atypical drawing of Ingres. Atypical because he usually draws in the most controlled way. Instead, here it is all about registering the colors in a cloud formation quickly.  Gris, bleu tendre, clair and the other words are dashed off as rapidly as the cloud outlines. M. Ingres was in such a rush that rather than write clair again, he used id.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres | Cloud Study | Graphite | 202 x 182 mm | Musée Ingres, Montauban

Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli Exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale

October 18th, 2011 § Comments Off on Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli Exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale § permalink

Italy’s 150th anniversary year is being celebrated, and many exhibitions have been devoted to the founding of the Republic. Birthdays for people last just one day, but for countries with centenaries and sesquicentenaries they last a year–way too long. The current government makes it all feel like a cruel joke. The Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli show at the Scuderie del Quirinale is something to celebrate. It opened on 5 October and runs through 15 January 2012.

Filippino Lippi | Head of a Young Woman | Metalpoint with white heightening on unevenly grounded rose paper | 245 x 184 mm | Uffizi

Although the exhibition is called Filippino Lippi e Sandro Botticelli, it is much more of a Filippino Lippi show. There are documents in display cases throughout the exhibition that cover his earliest childhood, his early work with his father at Spoleto, his apprenticeship in Sandro Botticelli’s shop (Filippino’s early work was mistaken for Botticelli’s, then ascribed to the “Amico di Sandro” an invention of Berenson, before being correctly attributed to the young Filippino), letters of recommendation, detailed contracts, and at the end an inventory of the contents of house after his death. In the exhibition there are also works by Filippo Lippi, Benedetto da Maiano, Rafaellino del Garbo, Piero di Cosimo and others.

Filippino Lippi | Study for the Figure of St. Bernard | Metalpoint and white heightening on rose-ivory grounded paper | 212 x 131 mm | Uffizi


Filippino Lippi | Appartition of the Virgin to St. Bernard | Oil on panel | 210 x 195 cm | Church of the Badia | Florence


Most of the 20+ drawings in the exhibition are from the Uffizi, although there are some loans from France and the UK. The drawings are interspersed with the paintings in the galleries, and it’s wonderful to see a picture within eye shot of a preparatory drawing.  The drawings are nearly all by Filippino, and are mostly metalpoints with white heightening. The papers are prepared and in shades of rose or gray or “light hazelnut” as it says in the catalogue. In some cases there are  more white lines than stylus lines. What seems most extraordinary is the sense of movement, the animation of the figures. Metalpoints of many other artists are staid and serene. Filippino’s pen and ink drawings also have a wonderful feeling of being rapidly done and that rapidity emphasizes the rush and purposefulness of the figures.

Filippino Lippi | Study of a Catafalque Bearer | Metalpoint with white heightening on rose grounded paper | 180 x 132 mm | Christ Church, Oxford


Alessandro Cecchi, Director of the Pitti Gallery in Florence, curated the exhibition and wrote the biographical essay for the cataglogue. Its title Filippino Lippi, un pittore per tutte le stagioni or in English, Filippino Lippi, a Painter for All Seasons, sums it up.  From a quick reading of what’s online for the press, these were some of the points, Filippino was liked by the different factions in Florence; counted Lorenzo il Magnifico, the Strozzi, the Del Pugliese as patrons; worked on sacred and profane subjects; didn’t fall into Savonarola’s web as Botticelli did; was held in such esteem that he was asked to complete Masaccio’s Brancaccio Chapel fresco cycle; produced designs for decorative arts and temporary funerary works; worked in and out of Florence–importantly at the Carafa chapel in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva here in Rome. The hardcover catalogue costs €49 (€39 if bought at the exhibition) and I’m hoping it will come out in paperback.

Two Leonardo Drawings at Windsor for a Salvator Mundi

July 9th, 2011 § Comments Off on Two Leonardo Drawings at Windsor for a Salvator Mundi § permalink

Being just as curious as the next guy about the recently attributed panel picture to Leonardo, I thought I’d post images from Windsor of two red chalk preparatory drawings by Leonardo for a Salvator Mundi. Links to the Royal Collection allow for enlargement of the images.

LINK to Leonardo’s Studies of Drapery for a Salvator Mundi at Windsor

LINK to Leonardo’s A Study of Drapery for a Salvator Mundi at Windsor

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) | Studies of drapery for a Salvator Mundi | c.1504-8 | Red chalk with pen and ink and white heightening on pale red prepared paper | 164 x 158 mm | Royal Collection | Windsor

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) | A study of drapery for a Salvator Mundi | c.1504-8 | Red chalk with touches of white chalk and pen and ink on pale red prepared paper 22 x 139 mm | Royal Collection | Windsor

The picture below has just popped up on the internet, a good deal changed, and more believable than the pre-conservation photo.

Attr. to Leonardo | Salvator Mundi | Oil on walnut panel | 65.6 X 45.4 cm | Robert Simon et al. | NYC


Gold Heightening

April 13th, 2011 § Comments Off on Gold Heightening § permalink

A friend was talking about the word lumeggiare in a libretto they were working on, and so this post. Lumeggiature and rialzi are both used in Italian for the word heightening. Artists generally use lead white paint or white chalk for heightening. The purpose is to create a greater sense of reality by showing  a light source, and to highlight an area. Gold heightening could also be used to create a hierarchy or as a straightforward sumptuous decoration. Drawings with gold were probably meant to be sold, given away, or used as a temptation to a patron thinking of a panel picture or other project.

Illuminated manuscripts are full of gold backgrounds and decoration, and, in fact, the artist most associated with gold heightening in drawings is Jacopo Ligozzi (1547 -1637), who had his start as a miniaturist.  For over fifty years he worked for the Medici on natural history drawings, alongside panel pictures, decorations ranging from fabrics to pageants, frescoes and more. Just below is one of Ligozzi’s scientific drawings made for the Medici. The fish’s scales are made with liquid gold.

Jacopo Ligozzi | Fish | Black chalk underdrawing, brush and bodycolor, heightened with gold on laid paper | 410 x 285 mm | Uffizi | Florence

When a drawing has gold heightening, Ligozzi’s name springs to mind. Gold is so much associated with Ligozzi that the drawing below by Palma Giovane (1548/50 – 1628) was once attributed to Ligozzi.

Jacopo Negretti (Palma Giovane) | Entombment of Christ Detail | Pen and brown ink, brush and wash, heightened with gold, on blue-green laid paper | 223 x 140 mm | Art Institute of Chicago

A friend was talking about the word lumeggiare in a libretto they were writing, and so this post.  Lumeggaiture and Rialzi are are both used used in Italian for the word heightening.  Artists generally use lead white paint or white chalk for heightening or highlighting. The purpose is to brighten an area. Gold and other metals can also be used. Illuminated manuscripts are full of gold backgrounds and decoration. So, I was trying to think of artists who used gold in their drawings.

Drawings and Olives

October 18th, 2010 § Comments Off on Drawings and Olives § permalink

I’ve been writing about olive oil, and especially the business of olive oil, for an online publication called the Olive Oil Times, and I thought I’d try a post here about olives and drawings. The image just below is of a vase in the British Museum. The olive oil amphora is from around 520 BC and shows men harvesting olives from very stylized trees (the branches look almost like monkey puzzle branches). It is attributed to the Antimenes Painter (fl. 530-510 BC). Since it’s incised, and since it is very linear, it comes close to drawing, even if most people would see it as painted.

Attr. Antimenes Painter | Black Figure Amphora with Heracles Scene and Olive Gathering | 520 BC | 40.6 cm. high | British Museum | London

Images of olives are not as common as you would think. It could be that they were so present, and common, that it wouldn’t have made sense to depict them. At least, for Mediterranean artists. Van Gogh, who grew up in the Netherlands, was fascinated by olives. At the Saint-Rémy asylum, he painted them in oils and drew them in ink. Here is a drawing in reed pen and brown ink, with the lines so fluid, they look as if they could be done with a brush.

Vincent Van Gogh | Saint-Rémy Olives | 1889 | Reed pen and brown ink | Van Gogh Museum | Amsterdam

Olive oil is slow drying, and easily becomes rancid, making it a poor choice for a medium in oil painting. Cennino Cennini in his Libro dell’Arte recipes mentions linseed oil (writing olio di semenza di lino or olio di lin seme) most frequently. In Chapter 25, the only time Cennini uses the word olive (ulivo), he uses olive oil to grease a stone slab in the preparation of tracing paper. In Chapter 187, he calls it edible oil (olio da mangiare) and uses it to grease a wax figure before covering it in gesso, giving the reader the choice of using lampante oil (olio da bruciare). He sometimes tells his readers to use the oil of their choice, and sometimes does not specify what kind of oil should be used.

One thing that olive oil and drawings share, is that they should not be kept in the light. I’ve heard experts in olive oil say that a bottle kept in the light for a week is unfit to eat. So–storage in boxes, drawers, and cupboards for both drawings and olive oil–just miles apart.

Food and Drawings

September 6th, 2010 § Comments Off on Food and Drawings § permalink

I was thinking of artworks figuring food, from ancient mural paintings and mosaics to French pastels, and at the same time wondering why there are so few drawings in pen and ink or chalk of food. I was thinking especially of all the brilliant Spanish still-life paintings with fruits, and so many cardoons and sweetmeats that have passed through the auctions in recent years. And, I haven’t seen any preparatory drawings. Maybe there were losses or maybe the artists skipped drawing or maybe I just don’t know of them. I was thinking the same thing about all the long tables full of every kind of food in Dutch paintings and then the mountains of fish in Neapolitan paintings.

There are magnificent drawings in tempera, watercolor, and pastel of fruits and vegetables. Giovanni da Udine, Jacopo Ligozzi, Giovanna Garzoni,  Joris Hoefnagel, and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin are some of the artists who worked with these materials. Color makes sense–so much of the appeal of food comes from its color. (Modern grocers know this. See their tricky use of tinted plastic wraps around fruits and vegetables.) Fruits themselves, naturally for millions of years, and through cultivation for thousands of years, have become progressively more colorful and captivating. It is through color that they attract the eater, and spread their seeds. From what little I know of biology, this is the point of living.

Below are a few drawings I found that depict food, and that make limited use of color. The blackberries by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) should probably be considered a natural history study. Leonardo wasn’t thinking of the blackberries so much as something to eat, but was interested in how the flowers transformed themselves into fruit. It seems unlikely that a stem of blackberries would have fully ripened fruit and flowers at the same time. However beautiful it is, it is a scientific drawing.

Leonardo | Spray of Blackberry | Red chalk | 180 x 160 mm. | Windsor Castle

Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651) often drew cabbages. There is probably nobody in the history of the world who loved cabbages as much, or drew them as well.

Abraham Bloemaert | Cabbages, Squash, and Dianthus Study | Black chalk, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash | 289 x 377 mm. | Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts | Paris

When food gets to the table, it is often annoyingly hard to tell what it is they’re eating. Color provides so many clues and just what the satyrs in the drawing by Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727-1804) are supping on is a mystery.

Giandomenico Tiepolo | A Family of Satyrs in a Kitchen | Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash on laid paper | 190 x 275 mm. | Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts | Paris

Silhouetted and Silhouettes

August 22nd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Long before Etienne de Silhouette (1709-67), whose name was appropriated for black cut-out images, collectors were snipping the outlines of drawings. The father of all old master drawing collectors, Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), engaged in what nowadays would be called vandalism. The Filippino Lippi (c. 1457-1504) drawing of an angel below was cut out from a drawing and pasted on one of the few intact pages from his Libro de’ Disegni (8+ albums).

Filippino Lippi | An Angel Carrying a Torch | Pen and brown ink, brush and gray wash on laid paper | Silhouetted and Mounted by Vasari | 206 x 130 mm. | National Gallery of Art | United States

Page from Giorgio Vasari's Libro de' Disegni | Drawings by Filippino Lippi, Botticelli, and Rafaellino del Garbo | 567 x 457 mm. | National Gallery of Art | United States

The formatting of the album pages is so architectural, that a better word for their being taken apart might be dismantling or razing. The angel is used, along with a pair of snipped angels at the right, to create a symmetrical confection, framing the central child.  It also has to be said that it is a magnificent sheet, that Vasari mostly left his drawings intact, and he did much more to conserve drawings than not.

Another drawing by Filippino Lippi, said to be from Vasari’s Libro (the ornament looks later to me), shows a male figure, carefully cut along the contour. I’m posting this drawing because the silhouetting makes the reading of the drawing ambiguous.

Filippino Lippi | Man Hanging from His Foot | Pen and brown ink on gray-blue laid paper | Silhouetted and Mounted | 289 x 166 mm. | Musée du Louvre | Paris

Filippino Lippi | Man Hanging from His Foot | Pen and brown ink on gray-blue laid paper | Silhouetted and Mounted | 289 x 166 mm. | Musée du Louvre | Paris

There are those that see it as a man hanged upside by his right foot, as in tortured, and those who see it as a performer. The facial expression could be seen as a grimace of pain or the exaggerated mask of a performer. Its being silhouetted, and taken from its context, makes it difficult to decide for certain.

In Sweden’s National Museum, there are a group of early drawings created in France which have been silhouetted. The Frog Man, probably a study for a performance or spectacle costume, below, is by Niccolò dell’Abbate (c. 1509-71 c.).

Niccolò dell'Abbate | Frog Man | Scan of B/W Image | Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash on laid paper | Silhouetted and Mounted | 355 x 248 mm. | National Museum | Sweden

The silhouetting treatment was also used on drawings by Antoine Caron (c. 1527-99), Jacques Bellange (active c. 1600-16), and Georges Lallemand (1575-1636). The drawings have the same provenance, Prince Victor-Amédée de Carignan (1680-1741) to Carl Gustaf Tessin (1695-1770). I haven’t read an explanation of why this was done, but it probably has to do with wanting to see these drawings as a group, to create a visual link between the works.

Drawings weren’t the only snipped works. Medieval manuscripts have been clipped, even for making lampshades. Starting in the early 18th century prints were trimmed, glued to furniture and decorative objects, then varnished, creating the look of lacquered items. Sometimes the prints were made on purpose to be cut out for decorative projects. The descriptive word decoupage was the name for it and the leisure class took it up as a pass time–crafting for fun. The following is from an entertaining article by D.O. Kisluk-Grosheide of the Metropolitan Museum, where she quotes Charlotte Aïssé (1693-1733), a letter-writer whose letters were edited by Voltaire, on decoupage:

“We are here in the height of a new passion for cutting up coloured engravings…Everyone, great and small, is snipping away. These cuttings are pasted on sheets of cardboard and then varnished.  They are made into wall panels, screens, and fire boards.  There are books and engravings costing up to 200 livres; women are mad enough to cut up engravings worth 100 livres apiece.  If this fashion continues, they will cut up Raphaels!”

Etienne de Silhouette, the budget-minded Controller General of France’s Finances (1759) was known for cost cutting, to the point of calling for pocketless trousers.  His name became associated with frugality and “à la silhouette” meant something that was no-frills. The cut-outs, generally portraits, were first known as “portraits à la silhouette,” then simply as silhouetttes.  The big difference is that blank paper was used. This example just below is by an anonymous cutter and is of Gerard van Swieten (1700-72), the personal doctor of Maria Theresa (1717-80), an important figure in developing the University of Vienna’s Medical School and a debunker of belief in vampires.

Anonymous Cutter | Profile Bust of Gerard Van Sweiten | Black paper silhouette mounted on cream paper | 124 x 114 mm. | Private Collection

It wasn’t just the inexpensiveness that made silhouettes attractive. The raison d’être was that people in the 18th and 19th centuries had a great fascination with profiles, believing that a profile was a window to character. In reading period novels, profiles come right after income prospects in importance when choosing a marriage partner.

While most silhouettes are portrait profiles, if I were to think of two of the most well known artists engaged in silhouetting, they would be Philipp Otto Runge (1777-1810) and the contemporary Kara Walker. Runge, although he did portraits and genre scenes, he is best known for silhouettes of flowers, see below, and Kara Walker (born 1969) for scenes of injustice. Here is a link to Walker’s gallery.

Philipp Otto Runge | Fire Lily | White Paper silhouette mounted on black paper | 650 x 500 mm. | Hamburg Kunsthalle


July 30th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Borrowdale’s Seathwaite Mine is a graphite mine in England’s Lake District. Its commercial run ended in the mid 19th century, after some 300 years, but it continues to be of interest to geologists because of the extraordinary purity of its graphite. From the 13th century to the 16th, the mine belonged to Furness Abbey and an account book lists  graphite as sheep oodde, a substance to mark sheep. A peculiarity of the Borrowdale mine graphite is that it sometimes takes the form of egg shaped lumps–perfect for drawing bold marks on the coats of sheep. Graphite is a bit oily and impervious to rain or water.

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot | Landscape | Page from Louvre's Corot Album No. 12, folio 19 | Graphite on white paper | 115 x 180 mm. | Musée du Louvre | Paris

By the 16th century the mine had passed to the crown and was leased out. Since the graphite was so pure, sticks could be sawn and used as is or used in a holder and this excellent drawing material found favor throughout Europe. It wasn’t known as graphite, but as plumbago, referring to lead. Of all drawing media, graphite’s line most closely resembles that produced with leadpoints. It was not until the 18th century that it was proved that graphite was not a type of lead, but carbon (diamonds are also a carbon form and both have the hottest melting points). The Bankes family, builders and owners of Kingston Lacy, now a National Trust property, owe some of their wealth to the Seathwaite Mine. It is amusing to think that their Sebastiano del Piombo was financed by graphite money.  Graphite was also used as a lubricant in molds for armaments,  producing greater financial rewards than art supplies.

Early on, artists used graphite principally for underdrawing, to faintly mark out forms and space before putting down marks in the central medium. Ferrante Imperato, a Neapolitan scholar of natural history wrote of graphite in his 28 book work Dell’Historia Naturale:

Il grafio piombino si preferisce a tutte le materie que preparino il disegno, alla penna e l’inchiostro, percioche facilmente, usandovi industria, si cancella; e non volendo cancellarlo si conserva. Non da impedimento al maneggio della penna, il che fa il piombo per un modo, et il carbone per un’altro; si tirano con questo sottolissimi lineamenti, ne si puo stimar materia per inventioni da far in carta, que se la possa aggualiare; è untuoso al tutto, et al fuoco sommamente indurisce.

Graphite is to be preferred above all other materials for the underdrawing in pen and ink drawings because it can, with a little industry, be erased and, if you don’t want to erase it, it lasts. It doesn’t interfere with the handling of the pen, the way lead does on the one hand or the way charcoal does on the other. With graphite one can draw the finest of lines and one can’t imagine a finer material for creations on paper. It is also oily and when placed in the fire, it becomes extremely hard.

– Ferrante Imperato, Dell’Historia Naturale, Naples, 1599. Book IV, chapter 43, p. 122.

Drawings referred to as plumbagos are portraits, usually small in scale, and done in graphite on a vellum support. The type originated with printmakers in late 16th century Holland, who made drawings in graphite in preparation of engraved portraits. Plumbagos became popular in England after 1660, when the monarchy was restored and exiled artists returned from Holland. After a time, plumbagos were thought of as finished works of art in themselves, and no prints were made from the drawings. The Victoria & Albert have a nice group of these portraits, visible at this link.

Graphite, albeit of a poorer quality than the Borrowdale graphite, was present throughout Europe. Refinements were necessary to make the continental graphite usable. In 1662 pencils were produced in Nuremberg, the pencils combined graphite, sulphur, and antimony. The sulphur would have created an unpleasant smell.  The big breakthrough in pencil making occurred in 1795 when Frenchman  Nicolas-Jacques Conté (1755 – 1805) received a patent for his pencil. The pencil was made by baking ground graphite with clay and this continues to be the way pencils are produced today. The more clay in the mixture, the softer the pencil.  He was also the inventor of the conté crayon, a waxy pencil. Conté’s pencil improvement was prompted by the war between France and England, when the French were no longer able to import the Borrowdale graphite. Because of Conté’s invention, the early 19th century saw a huge increase in pencil production. As an example, the naturalist Henry David Thoreau’s father was one of 8 pencil makers in Concord, Mass.  By the time the Borrowdale mine ceased producing, the new manner of making pencils meant that Borrowdale’s closing wasn’t felt.

Ingres’ portraits of the early 19th century are considered some of the most brilliant drawings in graphite. Graphite lends itself to works of great detail and precision. This drawing of Corot’s, shown above, is not at all precise. It shows, however,  the possibilities of the shimmery silver of graphite.

A Conversation with Alessandro Kokocinski about Eric Hebborn

June 22nd, 2010 § 9 comments § permalink

Alessandro Kokocinski is a painter, sculptor and draftsman. I visit with him in his studio in Tuscania, in the medieval church of San Biagio. The space is divided into two immense rooms and works that are part polychrome sculpture and part painting fill the studio. For some years he worked in theatre, designing sets, costumes and lighting for the performances of Lina Sastri, an actress and singer with whom he had a long relationship. As a young man he worked in the circus as an acrobat. It is pretty clear that his work in the performing arts has informed his paintings, sculptures, and drawings. Kokocinski’s website contains galleries for each of his art forms. In the fall he’ll go to Argentina for an exhibition of his work and for commissions for public spaces, a monument to the “Desaparecidos” (he himself was briefly imprisoned in the 1970s in Italy at the behest of Argentina’s military dictatorship, who wanted him extradited), and to start work on a monument for the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, commissioned to honor those who died in the 1992 bombing of that embassy. Next year he’ll have exhibitions in Salzburg and Perugia. Kokocinski is a fascinating person and artist, maybe more fascinating than the reason I go over to Tuscania to speak to him: Eric Hebborn.

Alessandro Kokocinski in his Studio | Tuscania | 15 June 2010

For those who don’t know about Eric Hebborn, the following is a brief biography. He was born in the suburbs of London in 1934. After a difficult childhood and youth, he went to the Royal Academy Art Schools, where he was a student between 1954 and 1959. Here is a portrait of Eric Hebborn in the Royal Academy’s collection, painted by his teacher Peter Greenham in about 1960. Hebborn was awarded a scholarship to the British School at Rome. He spent most of his life in Italy and made a living faking old and modern master drawings, and to a lesser extent paintings and sculptures.  He sold his falsifications through Pannini Galleries, a gallery he owned briefly in Rome; to dealers; and through the London auction houses. Hebborn also produced Hebborns in various media. He published two books, Drawn to Trouble : The Forging of An Artist (Edinburgh:Mainstream, 1991 and New York: Random House, 1993) and Il Manuale del Falsario (Vicenza: N. Pozza, 1995). The English version, The Faker’s Handbook (London: Cassell) came out posthumously in 1997. He died, perhaps mysteriously, on 10 January 1996, at the age of 61.

Kokocinski met Hebborn in about 1974  at Anticoli Corrado (province of Rome), where they both lived, and they remained friends until Hebborn’s death in 1996.  Anticoli Corrado is east of Tivoli, and less than an hour from Rome. While Alessandro was born in Italy, his parents soon afterward moved to South America, and that is where he grew up. Almost immediately after coming back to Italy in 1974, he went to Anticoli Corrado because of the Spanish poet and artist Rafael Alberti, who was a summer resident of the town. It is a hill town that has attracted artists for years, even centuries. The town was known for its particularly beautiful people, mostly women, who would work as models. (Not just women though. My Italian grandmother would tell the story of Lord Leighton, who hired a model from Anticoli Corrado and brought him to London, for his looks and stamina, to pose as the martyred St. Peter, upside down on a cross.)

Hebborn, starting in the 60s, rented a villa outside of Anticoli Corrado, a villa where Luigi Pirandello had spent the summer of 1936, visiting with his painter son Fausto, who, like Hebborn, was a long term tenant. Kokocinski says of the Villa San Filippo, “The designer of the garden, in either the early ottocento or late settecento, had also worked on the Vatican gardens and brought many exotic plants there. The garden was very attractive, attractive because the plants were old, at least 150 years old. The garden was more beautiful than the big villa itself.”  Later in the conversation I ask Alessandro if Hebborn had a good library and he says that he did and that he was very cultured, adding that he had a beautiful collection of Roman sculptures. Of Hebborn, he says, “He enjoyed living. “Gozzovigliava.” He spent money freely, everyday was a party, excesses in everything.” The way Kokocinski describes the era, it was a party for everybody, not just Hebborn.

Alessandro tells me that he and Hebborn had a joint show mostly of prints, but also drawings, and a few of Hebborn’s sculptures at the villa and that he has a pamphlet somewhere. “Eric taught me how to make engravings. He had a great knowledge of many techniques: sculpture, painting, drawing, and also engraving and etching. He had a small laboratory for printmaking and I learned how to make engravings. I still have some of the material from the show, not mine, but his.” I’m surprised by the fact that they would have the show in a private venue, wondering about the small number of people who could see it. Alessandro says that they did the show for friends, and that they both had a large circle of friends–an international group of artists, writers, theatre people, and dancers who visited. Alessandro remembers these years as being lived intensely, almost communally, with a lively exchange of ideas. “Much that I have now is in large part because of my great friendship with Eric Hebborn, to my maestro Riccardo Tommasi Ferroni, to Rafael Alberti, to Alberto Sughi and many, may others. Giving and taking. The richness in life comes from the exchange of ideas.”

Alessandro says that Hebborn taught him  “techniche neoclassiche” in painting and drawing. Now, when he says Neoclassic, I’m sure he does not mean the Neoclassicism of Canova, David, and Flaxman, but more old master or classic art. He still has the two studies after Caravaggio that he made with Hebborn’s help. They’re on old canvas and they’re really very good. A dealer friend of Hebborn’s had asked Kokocinski to make Rembrandts. The dealer would have supplied the “croste” or old paintings which could have been recycled, but Kokocinski had no interest, he was doing them to learn technique.

Hebborn showed Alessandro how he made the inks, how he cut quill pens, he taught him about old paper.  Hebborn was a good fourteen years older than Kokocinski and beyond friendship, there must have been something of a teacher/pupil relationship. Kokocinski on Hebborn’s own work “Strangely, when he did his own work as an artist, artist between quotes, the work was not great. It was, let’s say limited. However, when his copies were successful, they were extraordinary.” He goes on to clarify, as Hebborn did, that they weren’t really copies, but works in “the manner of” or inspired by old masters. Hebborn was open about what he was doing and he must of had a certain scorn for dealers and curators. He would say “How expert can these experts be if they can’t tell one of my drawings.” I ask Alessandro whether he remembers ever meeting Anthony Blunt and the name sounds familiar, but he can’t remember for sure.  Kokocinski thinks that Hebborn as Hebborn did his best work in sculpture. He remembers that Hebborn had exhibitions of his sculptural work in England.
Alessandro uses old paper for his drawings. I ask him if he got this from Hebborn, and he says, “Yes, it must have been, even if not consciously.” He says he never makes drawings in preparation for paintings or other art forms. He makes them as finished works.  Just below is a watercolor on antique paper of a circus rider. It is from a book of drawings which was published in 2003. Alessandro says that the circus is the only art form that hasn’t been ruined by money. He worked in the circus in South America and his brother has had a life-long career in the circus. Alessandro explains “The circus is still extraordinary, and it has evolved and gotten better over the years. It’s still a virgin art form: the people are doing what they love, as long as their bodies let them, and they’re not in it to cash in as the rest of the art world is.”

Alessandro Kokocinski | At the Hungarian Circus | Watercolor on Antique Paper | 250 x 175 mm.

Alessandro tells of going to a museum in Buenos Aires a couple of years ago. A museum in a converted cigarette factory, where he pays an entrance of 2 or 3 Argentina dollars, which he explains is quite a bit there. “I enter these very beautiful spaces thinking that I would find things that I could admire and which I myself can’t do, to find doors to a universe that is more beautiful than what I see every day. Instead I find myself in this big gallery with old chairs and stuff heaped up on the floor. Also, a video, let’s say pornographic, but sad. If it were beautiful, it might even have excited, but instead it just turned one’s stomach. I say no. I go down to the ticket office and I say ‘Please, I’d like my money back, I paid to see things that I can’t make myself. I have to learn and  museums have to open doors to my soul/spirit through which I can see marvelous and beautiful things. Instead I see stuff, dirty clothes. I’m not interested in this and I consider this a swindle. It offends my intelligence.'” They give Alessandro his money back and the story, I think at least, tells a lot about his work. It is most certainly beautiful and it leads to a universe that one doesn’t see everyday.

Alessandro left Italy from 1986 to 1995 and lost touch with Hebborn, but when he returned they started seeing one another in Rome, where they were both living. Hebborn would go to Alessandro’s house once or twice a week for supper. Hebborn by this point had moved from Villa San Filippo to a house he built called Santa Maria, again outside of Anticoli Corrado and he had an apartment in Trastevere, where he was spending most of his time. Hebborn and Edgar had left each other and Alessandro sees this as the point where things started to go downhill for Hebborn. Edgar, a dancer from the Philippines who had performed in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, and Hebborn had been together for some 25 years. Hebborn was drinking more and more. There weren’t the outlets that there used to be for his drawings and he complained that the dealers had made much more money on his fabrications than he had. On the plus side, he remembers Hebborn telling him that he had a good contracts for the books, and Alessandro remembers that Japanese television did a documentary on Hebborn. I ask him about Hebborn’s death and he says what a lot of people in Italy say, that you can’t exclude murder.

Probably the most interesting piece I have read about Eric Hebborn’s death was written by Matteo Collura in a highly recommended 4 May 2008 article published in the newspaper Corriere della Sera. In the article he tries to reconstruct what happened to Hebborn before his death in a Rome hospital on 10 January 1996. It is based on his interviews with people in the Trastevere neighborhood where Hebborn lived, from newspaper accounts, and from hospital and police reports. Hebborn had been seen the evening of 8 January by the proprietor of a wine shop, where he was a regular and where he had stopped for a couple of glasses of wine. The proprietor couldn’t remember whether he was alone, but he did remember that he wasn’t drunk and that he was going to dinner. Vague reports of Hebborn being in the company of another person exist, but nobody comes forth to identify or describe the person. Hours elapse and Hebborn is lying in the rain in Piazza Trilussa. Someone covers him with a raincoat that is not his own. Another unknown, calls for an ambulance and at 2 in the morning he arrives by ambulance at Nuova Regina Margherita Hosptial on Viale Trastevere.  Collura writes that Hebborn was taken for a drunken “barbuto” literally “bearded man,” but meaning hobo or homeless. He was wet from rain and left in a corner to sober up, his head wound unnoticed and unattended. His first real care came at about 10 in the morning and Collura points out this was a good 8 hours after he entered the hospital. It’s not clear at which point they find his wallet with ID, money, credit cards. He hadn’t been mugged. It wasn’t until 4 that afternoon, by this time he’d been taken across the river to San Giacomo Hospital, that he had a CAT scan and was operated on. Around midnight his breathing becomes irregular and he dies at 7:40 on 10 January 1996. In general if you talk to people in Rome, they say he was murdered, that the head wound came from the murderer, who must have been a dealer, and not from falling to the pavement.  They say the case was never properly investigated to shield powerful people. Another conspiracy theory for this conspiracy rich world.

Six months after Hebborn’s death, the official looking into the Hebborn case, and relying on the autopsy, dismissed it, saying that his death was only hastened by the head wound he suffered from falling, but he would have died from artereosclerosis (a quick check of the Mayo Clinic site shows that this is treatable) and the onset of cirrhosis of the liver. (There is something hypocritical here, since people who are in comas and can’t possibly recover are the objects of dramatic church vigils, their impossible lives prolonged, and their families and medical providers risk legal actions if treatments are discontinued.) What starts running through my mind is that even if you are a homeless drunk, you deserve prompt medical care; even if you are gay, you deserve a thorough investigation into your death. (Pasolini’s mysterious murder and the ensuing investigation are now being scrutinized, some 35 years later.) I also don’t think this is peculiar to Italy.

A month or two after Hebborn’s death, Kokocinski went to Anticoli Corrado to see what was happening with Santa Maria. He went to the house, found the door open, and the house had been ransacked. There was stuff all over the floor, things had been burnt. To gauge how bad it was, I ask him if it looks like the photos of Francis Bacon’s studio, and he says worse, it looked worse. The pity here is that the papers were not taken in as evidence, when there was thought that Hebborn might have been murdered.  Perhaps there would have been clues about his death. There might have been, or almost surely would have been records, maybe one for each drawing, showing where they’d been sold and a lot of doubts could have been lifted from the world of old master drawings.

Kokocinski picked up some papers, really at random, to remember his friend Eric Hebborn. He shares the folder with me. In it there are notes for his book, a letter to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, a couple of Hebborn as Hebborn drawings and various other papers. I scan some pages, and because it takes too long, I start photographing some of the pages. His handwriting can be good to very good. (In 2004 his treatise on calligraphy Italico per Italiani is published by Colla Editore. Hebborn had translated Michaelangelo’s sonnets into English and written them out.)  I’m struck by how organized he seems to be. Things are bulleted, and 1.2.3. Alessandro says that he was always very methodical and kept his papers well organized, everything in folders.

What surprises me so much about Hebborn is not so much Hebborn himself (I’ve gotten over that), but that so little work is done to try to isolate his fakes. If you look around at museum databases you’ll see that the British Museum is one of the few that list works of Hebborn. Unaccountably, they don’t provide images of their Hebborns. [See 13 Dec. 2012 comment/copyright issue.] Others, in fact, most museums don’t want to admit they have any of his works in their collections. What would really be a service, would be if some university/ies would offer seminars, maybe even Sotheby’s, where they have a training program, and have students assemble and publish online the drawing of Hebborn. It would be excellent for them to develop connoisseurship skills and it would help collectors and others in easing their minds about acquisitions. The business of the Hebborn forgeries have cast such a shadow that one would think that Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Colnaghi’s etc. would share their records to clear this business up.

Below are scans and photographs from the file and brief remarks.

Hebborn Drawing of a Seated Woman and Photograph of Hebborn/John Drawing

Drawing by Hebborn’s of a seated woman on common three-hole punch paper and a photograph of his “Augustus John” drawing, published in Drawn to Trouble.

Hebborn | Inscription Back of John Photo

Back of the photograph of “Augustus John” drawing with interesting inscription. In the book Drawn to Trouble he says that the drawing was given to his English landlord in lieu of rent. Here, it seems that he sold the drawing to Howard McCrindle, although the name is misspelled. Eric Hebborn has at least two of his own drawings, Hebborn as Hebborn,  published in McCrindle’s review, the Transatlantic Review, one in Dec. 1960 (No. 5) issue and another in Spring 1965 (No. 18) issue.

Hebborn | Draft Letter to Sotheby’s and Christie’s

Draft of a letter to the chairmen of Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Nice calligraphic handwriting and the amusing detail of how he cancels out the word “purchased” and writes “sold on my behalf.”

Hebborn | Drawing Media and Supports

Hebborn | Sources for Paper and Parchment

Notes for book, outlining drawing media and drawing supports.

Hebborn | Notes for Talk

Notes for a talk.

Hebborn | From Whom Mr. Hebborn Has Made Acquisitions

“From Whom Mr. Hebborn Has Made Acquisitions” is the heading on this typewritten page. It is written in the third person and has a rather legal tone.

Hebborn | Clipped from Newspaper | Carracci – Boy Drinking

A undated clipping from an English newspaper, about a hopping mad Mrs. King. Alessandro says that Carracci was a favorite of Eric Hebborn’s, although this one doesn’t look like it could have been done by Hebborn. There are no notations on the clipping.

Goose Quill Pens

April 8th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Penna is the Latin word for feather. The ancient Romans used reed pens and brushes in applying ink to papyrus, but probably not feather pens. By the Middle Ages, bird quills, especially goose quills, were the favored writing implement and the word penna in Italian means both a bird’s feather and a pen. The longest feathers of any number of large flight birds work for feather pens, including swans and crow family birds, but the feathers of the goose were most commonly used–they seem the easiest to collect.  The transition from reed to quill pens probably has to do with the movement from writing on papyrus to writing on parchment. Quill pens have more flexibility, more “give” than reed pens and allow for greater detail. By applying pressure, the draftsman can widen and vary a line.  Cennino Cennini, the early 15th century artist,  gives instructions in cutting a goose quill pen in his Libro dell’Arte (chapter xiv, available in Italian as pdf here and in English here) a kind of manual for young artists. He doesn’t make any mention of reed pens.

Jan van Bijlert | Detail – Saint Luke the Evangelist | Oil on Canvas | 93.6 x 77.4 cm. | Christie's Amsterdam 13 April 2010, lot 103

This detail from Jan van Bijlert (Utrecht 1597/8-1671) painting of St. Luke the Evangelist shows the saint using a large knife to make the first cut in making a pen. Penknives, and they are named for cutting quill pens, are now generally known as small folding knives that fit in the pocket, like pocketknives. What’s interesting to me is that the feathers have been cut off, the most decorative part has been removed, for a wholly utilitarian pen. Jacques de Gheyn’s drawing in Berlin, just below, shows both a quill and the knife, crossed on the table. The implication is that one needed the pen to trim the tip on a regular basis.

Jacob de Gheyn II | Woman and Child Looking at a Sketchbook | Pen and brown ink, brush and wash on laid paper| c.1600 | Staatliche Museen | Berlin

Thomas Jefferson, who was carried on a vast correspondence (est. of 20,000 letters) complained of the time involved in readying and repairing his quill pens and was happy when metal pens became available–until he wasn’t because of their rusting. Here is a drawing of Jefferson’s for a machine to make pasta. His handwriting is wonderfully legible, this coming from someone who types everything, even grocery lists since I cannot read my own writing.

Thomas Jefferson | Maccaroni Recipe and Press Design | No date | Library of Congress | Washington, DC