Yesterday was the last free day at the Art Institute of Chicago for the month, so Emily and I went after work. It's always a pleasant place to be, though since they remodeled it, everything kind of throws me off.
Whenever I go there, I really enjoy sketching sculptures. It's a great chance to play with light and shadow and to be able to understand how a figure's different protuberances change as you walk around it. In the past, I've enjoyed the Lincoln in thought by Daniel Chester French and Nathan Hale by Frederick Macmonnies. This time around, there were two that I had either never seen or never noticed, which is disappointing, since they are both amazing. They are called "Saïd Abdullah of the Mayac, Kingdom of the Darfur" and "African Venus," both by Charles Cordier.
I really enjoy sculpture in which a character is brought out. It's a very subtle art--the tilt of the head, the slight variations of the mouth, or the angle of the eyebrows are just a few of the hundreds of tiny tweaks that carry a figure's attitude. Too often, sculptures become boring classical relics:
The work itself is impressive, but there is no feeling to it. The figure is certainly figure, but it isn't alive. Now, the Romans advanced over the Greeks by making people actually look like people instead of idealized versions of people.
Greek (boring, idealized):
Roman (interesting, realistic):
But the Romans still weren't big on giving an attitude to a sculpture (the po'ed old guy above notwithstanding). That's why I like the two in the Art Institute so much. The bust of Saïd Abdullah is so proud, do dignified. He looks like he's staring into you, ready to speak. The African Venus is proud, too, but she doesn't look like she's going to speak. She just seems to be looking down on you. It's awesome.
So, I drew Saïd Abullah. I really like how both pictures came out, even though the front view doesn't look very much like the sculpture. The expression I got in my drawing is more inquisitive than challenging, mostly because of his eyebrows looking less furrowed and his head being tilted to the side, unlike the original.