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Art Figures Out Human Form

Art works, including ones by William Merritt Chase, George W. Bellows, Jean Jacques Joseph Tissot, Eastman Johnson and Gaston Lachaise, highlight how artists of different styles, media and eras have conceived the human figure in the Bruce Museum's exhibit, "Human Connections: Figural Art from the Bruce Museum Collection." In it, 40 of the museum's treasures reveal the highly individual ways artists depict the human form and what their art tells us.

The fascination with drawing figures dates back to ancient times and often had a religious motive. According to the Metropolitan Museum, the earliest paintings preserved in India, fifth-century cave paintings, depict Buddha and tell his life story.

The Metropolitan's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History cites the Renaissance's particular obsession with capturing realistic features of the human form. Apparently, this quest sometimes took a macabre turn. "Italian Renaissance artists became anatomists by necessity, as they attempted to refine a more lifelike, sculptural portrayal of the human figure. Indeed, until about 1500–1510, their investigations surpassed much of the knowledge of anatomy that was taught at the universities. Opportunities for direct anatomical dissection were very restricted during the Renaissance. Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists states that the great Florentine sculptor, painter, and printmaker Antonio Pollaiuolo (1431/32–1498) was the 'first master to skin many human bodies in order to investigate the muscles and understand the nude in a more modern way,'"the timeline narrative reports. No word on what kind of research the greatest ever anatomist, Leonardo DaVinci, undertook!

The Bruce Museum's exhibit groups its works in categories, including Portraiture, The Nude, The Figure in Motion, Expressive Body Language, Narrative and Genre and Artistic Innovation. This gives visitors the chance to compare how each artist went about solving the puzzle of how to make their art seem close to human. The exhibit is on view through June 5. For more information, visit the Museum's website.

What kind of art is your favorite and where do you see it? Let us know about your art forays by posting below.

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