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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