Assignment 4: Line and Shape – Resurch – Jenny Saville

So previously I have done a few surches to find a collection of art woks on the subject in hand I quite like for one reason or another. For the research element for assignment 4 , Line and Shape, I thought I would take the opportunity to look at an artist I have huge admiration for, Jenny Saville. She is a current artist who specialises in large scale figurative paintings. In the past subjects of interest have been a series of large self portraits that she produced for her degree show whilst at the Royal Academy London. These life size (or maybe a bit larger) nudes capture fleshiness with paint that have seen her compared to Rubens and Freud. They focus on the pressures felt by modern women to go under the knife to correct our physiques. This is shown though a sires of lines and wording upon the forms. These lines are marked up like a butchers caucus would be with prime cuts out lined. Making a connection between our own bodies being lumps of meet and being treated as just that in surgeries. She also produced some paints of animal carcasses to show a fleshy similarity.

Another sires of hers shows young faces with glazed eyes as they come round after a brutal facial surgeries such as  rhinoplasty. She has also done a series of transgender nude portraits. Again larger than life. But what I’d like to look at here is a series of drawings/paintings (focussing on the drawing) that where exhibited as part of the exhibition Continuum which also include some of her paintings.

(Flesh) is all things. Ugly, beautiful, repulsive, compelling, anxious, neurotic, dead, alive.
–Jenny Seville

It seems my timing is just right to take a closer look at the work of one of my favourite artists. For years now I have eagerly awaited an exhibition from this modern day figurative master in London. The Gagosian gallery, a long time support of Saville has now made my wish come true. So in the next few weeks I will be heading to Oxyrhynchus at the Gagosian Gallery London. What makes Jenny Saville even better from my point of view is her gender. So many of the artist I admire are male. We all know history has a knack of air brushing Women out of art history. This is a subject that interest me some what as I am Female. I have been meaning to write a post on the subject and one day I may get round to it.. But for now back to Saville.


Captivated by the endless aesthetic and formal possibilities of the materiality of the human body, Seville makes a highly sensuous and tactile impression of surface and mass in her monumental oil paintings. Subjects are imbued with a sculptural yet elusive dimensionally that verges on the abstract. In recent paintings, she renews her enduring figurative investigations by depicting bodies embracing and intertwined.

Press Release, Gagosian Gallery.
The line ‘ Subjects are imbued with a sculptural yet elusive dimensionally that verges on the abstract.’ In the above quotation from the press release from the Gagosian Gallery sums up for me why I admire Saville’s work so much. For me she really gets the balance of believable, structural form and abstract, seeming unfinished elements that gives her work a sort of terminal velocity that looks to me as if her figures are so dame good they are starting to shake them self’s apart.
A less ranting way of saying it might be that the energetic lines that interplay with the beautiful believably solid figures, that cleverly are less finished in places, again betraying the elusion of life the old masters strove for. Reminding us this is a 2D image your looking at. The lines juxtaposed with the solidity bring and elusion of movement that fills these works with the energy of life.
Ok, you can probably guess I’m a fan! Don’t believe the hype? Have a look at these images below. They are a selection of drawings taken from here last exhibition with the Gagosian group. This one was in New York in Madison Square so I could not attend.

Study for Pentimenti II (2011) Jenny Saville, Charcoal on paper


Saville has produced several Drawing on the them of motherhood. She uses herself and her children as the main models again giving her work an autobiographical subtext as her early paintings had. The artist shows fainter out lines of the babies in different positions. this tells us the babies are wriggling about. To me it shows the life of the models more effectively that a still figurative drawing which shows form and weightiness.

All of the Pentimenti drawing have an obvious triangle to there composition that works well. The figures occupy the entire plane and the back ground is deemed unimportant and mostly left out interlay, some times vaguely hinted at.



Reproduction drawing IV (after Leonardo cartoon), 2010 , Jenny Saville, Charcoal on paper 194 x 145 cm

This last drawing here shows Saville taking her imagery from different sources on the theme of motherhood. The faces and composition are studies from Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘ The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne the Infant Saint John tne Baptist’  also known as  ‘The Burlington House Cartoon’. whilst the hands are unmistakably that of the artists and I’m sure the children are also hers.

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne the Infant Saint John tne Baptist (The Burlington House Cartoon). About 1499-50, Leonardo da Vinci. Charcoal (and wash?) heightened with white chalk on paper, mounted on canvas 141.5 x 104.6 cm


The Burlington House cartoon is owned by the British National gallery. (In room 51, must visit next time I’m there). This Cartoon shows the first meeting of a young Jesus and Saint John with Mary and Saint Anne. It is also a sympathetic drawing depicting the relationship between mother and child. Saville obviously delighted in element as her subject for this series of drawings is the same.


Picture 1

Leonardo da Vicci – Preparatory drawings for ‘The Burlington House Cartoon’ National Gallery London

This image showing Leonardo Da Vinci preliminary studies for the Burlington Hose cartoon are really interesting. Here all the expressive pentimento marks around the quatro of figures seems to leek directly into Saville stunning drawings.



‘Study for Isis and Horus’ (2011) Jenny Saville, charcoal and pastel on paper


In the ‘Study of Isis and Horus’ Saville starts to add some colour. I love the way she uses pastels in the same way she uses paint. Sweeping lines and unfinished areas contrast with a real sense of solidarity in the more finished areas. the artist has layered up the media with a charcoal under drawing then the coloured pastel to take the image even further. I’d love to have a crack at this method myself. it would work really nicely for what I’d like to achieve moving on to part 5. Jenny Saville works on a very large scale. I have seen a picture of the artists stood next to one of these drawings and that one was taller than here. Around 6 foot at a guess. I enjoy working big myself, It frees up the arm so you can move the shoulder. This makes for more pleasing swoops. Pastels also work well on a bigger scale so the side can be used to create fat lines as you see here on the edges.

These incredible drawings do really some what on tone. However there is also enough line at play that if the tonal elements where removed the drawing would still be just as effective in my opinion. I’m going to try something like this for the assignment drawing for line and shape.




About Emma Perring

Artist, oil painter

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