Drawing, My Favorite Names

Who steals what?

In school we learn that copying is cheating, and it is probably true in many areas of our life, but when it comes to art the rules are different. Copying from masters always has been a normal practice in every artist’s workshop where young apprentices would learn their teacher’s technique while copying their drawings and paintings. Edgar Degas even said, “You have to copy and recopy the masters and it’s only after having proved oneself as a good copyist that you can reasonably try to do a still life of a radish.”

Inspired by this idea, I started drawing from great masters, and one of my copies looked like that: 

I sent it to a friend of mine to get feedback and he said, “Cool, I immediately recognized the Duchess from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

“What are you talking about?” I was stupefied. “I copied the drawing of Leonardo da Vinci, and he lived looong before Lewis Carroll…”

He sent me this picture to prove his point. The Duches truly looked somewhat similar to da Vinci’s caricature.

John Tenniel’s illustration to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I went googling and discovered that John Tenniel, the first illustrator of the Lewis Carroll’s famous story created the image of the Duchess using as reference the painting of Quentin Matsys called The Ugly Duchess (also known as A Grotesque Old Woman).  It was created in 1513 when Leonardo da Vinci was still alive.

The Ugly Duchess by Quentins Matsys

So, did Quentin Matsys copy from da Vinci? Nope, as it turned out, on the contrary. Leonardo da Vinci who was always interested in all kinds of anomalies and was obviously impressed with this quite disproportional face (which by the way belonged to a real woman) made a couple of drawings after Quentin Matsys’s work.

Quite a confusing story, isn’t it? I felt like Sherlock Holmes while searching the information. And now, only Pablo Picasso’s phrase comes to mind, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” No doubts anymore, it’s true.