Portrait of a Girl

1917 by Egon Schiele
Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada; seen at Drawing Attention Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Drawing Attention exhibition was fascinating in its display of artists’ drawings, ranging from those instantly stylistically recognisable – Degas’ ballet dancers in soft charcoal – to sketches that surprised, abstract artists’ original and realist musings that countered all expectations. There’s something very intriguing about sketches, holding our attention they are frank in their immediacy. Lacking the fussiness of paint and colour, the line seems almost magical in its ability to articulate its subject so truly, often capturing the essence of a subject better than paint in its honest simplicity. Schiele’s drawing is a perfect example of this; barely there, the line clings only to the head and hands, yet completely evokes the figure of the woman. Concentrating on perhaps the most expressive parts of the body we are given a sense of personality through clasped fingers and face, the eyes of which manage to completely fix a stare despite their lack of painterly depth; her look is fierce. The facial features are wonderfully clipped, contrasting beautifully to the free soft line that pencils the hair, giving it the bounce and texture of curls. Particularly probing is the gap between hands and face, giving the image all the playfulness of a quick sketch while almost eerily creating a complete persona out of nothing.


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