February 06, 2014

Getty Museum Presents Hatched! Creating Form With Line

New Drawings Exhibition Explores Techniques Used by Amateurs and Masters Alike

March 11–June 1, 2014
J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center   


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LOS ANGELES - Hatching is one of the most basic and timeless techniques in art. Closely drawn parallel lines that suggest relief or shadow can magically create the illusion of three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface. By varying the thickness, strength, taper, curvature, spacing, and length of the lines, artists can convey form, shadow, distance, texture, and movement. Hatched! Creating Form with Line, on view March 11–June 1, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, features 22 highlights from the Museum’s permanent collection that demonstrate how hatched lines can be used to produce astonishing results.

“When viewing drawings, basic techniques can sometimes be overlooked, even though they are an essential building block of some of the finest work ever created,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This exhibition, drawn from exceptional examples in our permanent collection, including a number of new acquisitions, demonstrates how a few simple lines, when expertly executed, can seem almost magically to congeal into solid, three-dimensional form.” 

Magnified details of works in the exhibition reveal different types of hatching, including parallel hatching, cross-hatching, contour-hatching, and stippling (the use of dots). Variations in hatching style were common. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, shaded his drawings with lines from upper left to lower right rather than upper right to lower left. In Caricature of a Man with Bushy Hair (about 1495), his technique yields a humorous but delicately drawn figure – the bushy hair is softened with da Vinci’s tapering strokes. His pupils and copyists, though right-handed themselves, would often turn the paper so they could mimic the great master’s left-handed hatched lines.

Comparing the hatching techniques of artists also provides insight into the differences in approaches over time. In Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1888), Vincent van Gogh uses a fat-nibbed reed pen to delineate the coat, hat, and features of his friend, postal worker Joseph Roulin. The roundness of the hat is rendered by a series of short straight lines within a single strong contour, while the topography of the face comprises numerous hatched and cross-hatched lines as well as stippling. Van Gogh energized the background of the composition with a patchwork of zigzagging lines drawn with a quill pen, which could produce longer, scratchier strokes.

In contrast, Tobias Stimmer’s Portrait of a Bearded Man (1576) uses a quill pen to render fine circular lines of a beard and a dense network of hatching and cross hatching on a hat. When looked at with a magnifying glass, the hatched lines in this drawing seem to dance in abstract patterns. Yet it is a testament to the artist’s skill how effectively the lines illustrate not just the features of the sitter but also the fall and folds of his tunic. The 300-year difference between the drawings is apparent—Stimmer’s precise and elegant hatching versus Van Gogh’s free and forceful approach to unruly beards are reflections of the predominant artistic practices of the time, as well as the distinctive hand of each artist. When looking at their respective paintings, each artist’s drawing style is often suggestive of their completed, painted work.

Hatching can be employed in subtle and not so subtle ways to yield equally striking results. Two self-portraits from different time periods demonstrate both approaches. In the Museum’s recently-acquired Portrait of a Young Man, Head and Shoulders, Wearing a Cap (about 1470), attributed to Piero del Pollaiuolo, the artist uses extremely fine parallel-hatched pen lines in a very spare and specific way. The pressure of each stroke is modulated carefully to produce the required effects, including the rounding of the cheek and hat and the short dark strokes in the eyes.

“From a distance you can hardly see the hatched lines, but when you get close it becomes clear that they really make up the whole portrait. It’s a wonderful tour-de-force,” explains Julian Brooks, associate curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition.

In contrast, in an extraordinary self-portrait by Charles Samuel Keene from about 1845, the artist uses hatching to create a dramatic shadow that encompasses half of his face. Keene uses countless hatched and cross-hatched lines that intersect so densely that it is almost impossible to differentiate them. The lack of surrounding detail and the close-up nature of the view forces the viewer into proximity, resulting in a powerful and intense image, even more remarkable given that the artist was only 22 years old at the time of the drawing.

Hatched! Creating Form with Line is on view March 11–June 1, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. The exhibition will be on view through a special presentation of Jackson Pollock’s “Mural,” offering a counterpoint to Pollock’s modern drip technique.

Image Left: Portrait of Joseph Roulin, 1888. Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853 - 1890). Reed and quill pens and brown ink and black chalk. 32.1 x 24.4 cm (12 5/8 x 9 5/8 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Image Right: Portrait of a Young Man, Head and Shoulders, Wearing a Cap, about 1470. Attributed to Piero del Pollaiuolo (Italian, about 1443 - 1496). Pen and brown ink over black chalk. Dimensions: 36.2 x 22.9 cm (14 1/4 x 9 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations:  the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and decorative arts, and photographs gathered internationally. The Museum’s mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.

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