25 Annotated Demonstration Drawings and Study of a Girl’s Head

Title: Annotated Demonstration Drawings and Study of a Girl’s Head

Artist/Source: Henry Tonks (1862 – 1937)

Date: circa 1908

Medium/Technique: pencil and red chalk with annotations in black ink on paper

UCL Art Museum #2793

The dual concerns of art and anatomy resonate throughout Henry Tonks’ work. An early training as a surgeon had given him a detailed knowledge of anatomy, and at the Slade School of Fine Art, where he taught drawing between 1892 and 1930, he believed that only through an understanding of the underlying structure of the body could students convey its surface form through life drawing. Tonks also encouraged students to study old master drawings, not only to copy their style, but to appreciate their aesthetic value and functional purposes.

This fusion of art and anatomy is perfectly illustrated in this demonstration made by Tonks which dissects and recombines elements from his own drawings, copies after Michelangelo, and anatomical illustration. The purpose of the drawing is to explain the way that changes in the direction of lines on the sheet used to describe the contours of the body indicated form, and how these changes of contour were governed by the bones, thus demonstrating to students how their figure studies should be informed both by anatomy and aesthetics.

In 1914 Tonks wrote ‘The human figure whose constant study only makes me find it more beautiful seems for its beauty to depend upon the constant departure and return to the main directional line.’ This principle is illustrated in the drawings of an arm and a leg in the upper right of the demonstration drawing which are copied from Michelangelo’sStudies of a Flying Angel (British Museum) and are annotated ‘notice the constant change of line which forms the contour’. The rest of the sheet contains drawings by Tonks from a series of studies of male and female models on the theme of Adam and Eve. The head of the girl is copied from one of these, and the drawings of two legs in the upper left corner one annotated ‘line in right place’ and the other ‘line in wrong place’ are derived from the male figure in the series of Adam and Eve drawings and also relate to anatomical illustrations of the leg muscles (see Eugene WolffAnatomy for Artists, Being an Explanation of Surface Form). The numbering and labelling of the drawing also draws on the conventions of anatomical illustration; indeed the male nude in the Adam and Eve series seems almost posed to illustrate these anatomical principles. In this sheet Tonks is at his most explicit in showing how drawing should synthesises art and anatomy.


Emma Chambers, Henry Tonks: Art and Surgery, UCL Art Museum, London 2002.

Related works:

Please consult UCL Art Museum’s on-line collections catalogue for the many drawings by Henry Tonks at UCL.


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