Jane Pack on Robert Beverly Hale

26, January 2009 § 9 Comments


I have long appreciated and recommended for students the books of Robert Beverly Hale on drawing and anatomy. Robert Beverly Hale (1901 – 1985) was an artist, curator of American paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and instructor of artistic anatomy at the Art Students League of New York. I found his books many years ago and they transformed my teaching of life drawing. I don’t think students ever saw me coming to class without one of them tucked under my arm. The best of his books is “Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters”, but all the books are clearly written and packed with information.  Mr. Hale’s droll sense of humor and his passion for his subject are evident in the quotations in the side bars and the illustrations of master works are excellent as well as annotated. I believe they are the best books available about drawing technique on the market. This was obviously a man who knew his subject.

Last winter I purchased the DVD set of Lectures on Artistic Anatomy which were taped during the classes at the Art Students League with Robert Beverly Hale. There are ten discs and each contains one lecture with focus on one area of the figure such as the rib cage or the shoulder girdle.  The quality of the black and white video image is not very good as it is an amateur tape from over 30 years ago. Even so the lectures are well worth watching. It is a joy to see this man effortlessly create large scale drawings in charcoal while wearing a suit jacket and tie. He simplifies the vast subject of anatomy into manageable and  comprehensible segments while keeping things lively with the occasional joke.  Hale teaches a system which harks back to the Renaissance masters and emphasizes that drawing is a rational, decision making process.  He simplifies masses into geometric shapes and stresses how line is a magical tool to reveal those shapes in the drawing.

The DVDs are available for the students to view and many took advantage of this last term, showing up with their sketch books in hand  to view them.  In combination with the life drawing classes there was a great deal of progress in draughtsmanship over the semester. I learned an incredible amount from him and have adapted his methods by putting up an extra large drawing board for demonstrations. Students are asked to draw on top of projected master works to help clarify the knowledge of anatomy that we study with the live model. And we often share our favorite Bob Hale anecdotes in class.

I like the following quotation from Hale which is still appropriate though it refers to art education in the late 60’s.

Good drawing has declined tremendously in recent years, because if anyone draws well he is attacked as being sentimental or anecdotal. The result is that many teachers cannot draw well and neither can their pupils. Therefore they are doomed to create what I call geometrical or biological abstractions—Scotch plaid or turkey-dinner paintings.

Robert Beverly Hale interviews, 1968 Oct. 4 – Nov. 1, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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§ 9 Responses to Jane Pack on Robert Beverly Hale

  • Martha Wanca says:

    I have an oil painting by an artist named Robert Hale, dated 1930, (Florence). I tried to do a search to find out any information on Robert Beverly Hale’s art work and could not find anything much. I bought the painting about 40 years ago in Florida. I am trying to see if it could be the work of Robert Beverly Hale. Do you know where I can get any information about his personal art work? It is a portrait of a nude woman with a spear, shield, and drape. Thanks for any help you can give me.

    • Birdman says:

      The Robert Hale painter you are referring to is not the same man but possibly an ancestor.

    • Dwayne Paul Carlin says:

      The painting you have is probably one by Robert George Hale. An American Impressionist. He was commissioned by King Emanuel to create a “great work in three parts”. His medium was water color. Most of his paintings are in private collections, I believe the Cass Gilbert family has many of his works.

  • ed fischer says:

    My wife is a student at the NY Arts Student League and I’m seeking to purchase the lecture series DVD’s that you mentioned, however I’ve been unable to find them. I’d appreciate it if you could advise me where they are for sale;
    signed, Desparate

  • Birdman says:

    Wait until you can check them out at a library or Art School first!!! I was one on Hales students when he was on his game. In these Videos he is way beyond his prime as he struggles to stay on tract. His presentation is very confusing at times. There are many instances where he gets confused and loses his train of thought pointing to one thing while confusing it with another. I hate seeing him so diminished. The camera man often loses track of the lecture and wont move the camera enough and you lose a lot of what Mr Hale draws. If you want to get the best of Hale get all of his great books. If you want great instruction there are better videos to learn from. Perhaps one of his students sells their own anatomy lectures. If these were filmed before he slid off his mark then I would say money is no object compared to how good it would be.
    It is possible to glean a little here and there but his drawing prowess pales in comparison to what it once was. You see him making all kinds of errors you would have never seen If you’d had a chance to see him before his decline. If these lectures seem good enough to you then I’m afraid it’s just a sign of how far Art instruction has eroded in the last 40 years.

  • Birdman says:

    Typo, I was one of Hales students, not one on Hales students.

  • Birdman says:

    Who is the owner of Jo-an.com? The one marketing the R B Hale DVD’s.

  • I’ve seen the lectures multiple times and can recommend them highly. I agree with the criticisms made by Birdman concerning the camera man sometimes losing track of the lecture. But even if it is true that Mr. Hale is not captured at the peak of his powers, these lectures are still miles above anything else I have seen. Current art instruction has devolved to the level of “Be bold” and never advances beyond that. These lectures provide the anatomical foundations for figure drawing. This is the real meat of drawing. Dismissing the lectures because they are not as good as they could have been is a big mistake. These lectures are must-see for any serious draftsman. With that said, the DVDs are currently institutionally priced around $800, so unless you are wealthy (or an institution), it’s better to find a library with them or pool resources with seven other people and rip copies for everybody in the group.

  • David Pakter says:

    Remembering Robert Beverly Hale

    The photo of Robert Beverly Hale brings back many bitter-sweet memories. I was poor as a church mouse when I sat daily on the empty chair to be observed near the window in the background of this beautiful photo of Hale as he lectured- and always hanging on to Hale’s every word.

    The room he always used was on the second floor of the Art Students League on West 57th Street in New York. Many great painters, over the decades had taught in that very same room. I studied with them all and served as a class monitor assistant for many of those great artists.

    Hale always kept two skeletons available as he lectured, one male and one female as there are observable anatomical differences in each.

    He was the last of the true giants who understood how to master anatomy via studying and endlessly copying Old Master Drawings whilst endlessly studying the great work on Anatomy written and illustrated in Paris in 1889, by the great French Doctor, Dr. Paul Richer. It was Hale, who was fluent in many languages, who translated “Anatomie Artistique” into English for the benefit of millions of artists not fluent in the French language.

    I would often sit in the lobby of the Art Students League at the end of the day with Hale as he made comments on my anatomical studies drawn from live models.

    There have been hundreds of of books and lecturers dealing with the subject of Anatomy since Hale’s passing but no one ever came close to attaining the heights that Hale reached in understanding the field of Artistic Anatomy and being able to convey those understandings and his bottomless wells of Anatomical knowledge to others.

    It was once said that the towering French sculptor, Auguste Rodin, always kept a copy of Dr. Paul Richer’s great work, on his night table, along with a candle, just next to his bed. Some believed that as he grew older, it became the only book Rodin ever read- and over and over.

    As Hale lectured, he drew constantly, using a three or four foot long stick with a piece of charcoal attached to its end. We all marveled at his skill and deep love of his subject which became for many of his students, a passionate life long love, as well. For many of us, Artistic Anatomy became almost a religion of sorts.

    Though most tragically, Hale has moved on to the next world, he continues to live on in this world, through his many priceless books.

    Those books are all a young student requires if he or she wishes to attempt to master the field of Artistic Anatomy as it relates to figure drawing and painting. Countless authors have imitated Hale’s books but never equaled them. How does one equal or rival, sheer perfection.

    I would gladly return to my early days as a pennyless, starving artist in New York, half a century ago, just to be able to sit in that empty chair in the photo of Hale, holding his drawing stick, and hear his deep, melodious voice once again.

    I miss this great man, more than I can ever express in words.

    David Pakter, M.A., M.F.A.


    New York City

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