Artwork Description / Detail
“What started my wish to become a figure draughtsman? All my life I have believed it was the sight of a young housemaid on her knees scrubbing the front steps of a neighbour’s house in Portobello as I passed by on my way to school. Some movement of grace must have caught my eye and unconsciously instilled an ambition.”
Although Russell Flint established his reputation primarily as a watercolourist, he was an equally remarkable draughtsman. It was in figure drawing that Flint derived much enjoyment, commenting, “watercolour is a very difficult medium…(while) drawing is an infernal sort of fun.” Yet his drawings are far from frivolous; rather, most are refined accomplishments of a well-practised hand.
From his early twenties onwards, Russell Flint regularly drew from the life model, developing a style that he described as “not too scribbly, not too precise, but accurate and sound.” As Richard Green writes, his succinct yet expressive facility of line “enabled him to describe everything with almost nothing”, the finished products exuding both exceptional skill and unlaboured elegance. At an exhibition devoted to Flint held at the Fine Art Society in 1950, one critic commented that it was in his drawings that the viewer could “revel in the female form at its most impeccable, its peak of grace”. Undeniably, it has been his picturesque gypsies, flamenco dancers, and languorous nude and half-draped beauties arranged amidst sumptuous displays of brocade and silk that Russell Flint has acquired worldwide acclaim and renown.
Most of his drawings were executed on 18th and 19th century French and Italian hand-made papers made from linen and cotton rags, as opposed to 20th century commercially produced papers made from wood pulp. Some of the papers are tinted; others have been treated with a coloured wash. His precise choice of paper was of paramount importance for Flint. As he wrote in the prologue to his book, Drawings, “Colour, texture, feel are subtler, more attractive, more simpatico, than in modern papers.” Despite the difficulties incurred using old paper, “it cockles and cannot be flattened or drummed; it cannot be stuck down because the adhesive may spoil its look”, he maintained that “the unassertive beauty of the tone makes amends for these merely physical difficulties”.
He was also fascinated by the watermark, which he considered an important but much neglected feature of old hand-made paper. Flint was intrigued by the many inventive and fanciful designs of these watermarks, which included: “delightful coats of arms, simple and elaborate…the many variations of the fleur de lys and a fierce and emphatic arrangement of the emblems of the French Revolution”.
Whilst some of his drawings are restricted to the monochrome use of colour, in particular sanguine, others display a combination of varied coloured chalks and crayons. Inspired by Old Master drawings, many of his figure studies using sanguine chalk emulate the effects of the older drawings he so admired.
Russell Flint’s technical mastery led many people to assume that his methods were ‘full of tricks’. Yet Flint maintained, “ten thousand tricks will never make an artist” and that his works were the fruit of “refined knowledge distilled from a lifetime of serious effort in the pursuit of an ideal.” (The Connoisseur Year Book, 1961.)