Ink drawings by the masters – 1

Johan Tobias Sergel 1740 – 1814

Sergel was a Swedish sculptor and skilled draughtsman. Many of his drawings are satirical, in others he expresses darker thoughts and feelings.

I am most interested in his ink sketches. In them he uses bold, quick marks to capture a movement or a shape and at the same time conveying a mood.


Passionate Lovers, J.T. Sergel


One of his best known drawings is Passionate Lovers (Hetsigt kärlekspar).  The roughly drawn lines convey energy and movement – passion – while also expertly describing the anatomy of the two bodies. I especially like the cape in mid-air as if in the middle of a sweeping movement.

In this drawing the shadows are light. I think their main purpose is to model the shapes of the two bodies and help balance the picture. The contrast to the light areas is strong which gives the overall impression of bright light.




Road workers J.T. Sergel in: Bjurström (1976)

In Road workers (Gatuarbetare) the movement is slower, heavier. Dark blotches rather than light washes speak of sweat and toil. Overall, this drawing is darker, shadows are predominant and convey a mood and the dust and dirt of the soil rather than describe shapes. Here Sergel uses different kinds of dark marks for the shadow areas.




I found a couple of drawings he did two (or possibly more) versions of. The two below are versions 1 and 2 of Bad Dream (Plågsam dröm). It is very interesting to compare the two as this allows us an insight into what Sergel changed in his drawing to express certain elements.

Plågsam dröm version 1, J. T. Sergel, in Bjurström (1976)

The first is a realistic drawing of someone having a nightmare – the second is a much more expressive rendering. In the first the subject matter is visible in the figure’s pose (head and arms hanging down, hands tense) and the tangled sheets.



Plågsam dröm version 2, J. T. Sergel, in Bjurström (1976)



In the second picture the figure all but disappears in the crowded room – creatures from the nightmare and shadows are much more prominent. Sergel’s marks are loose and expressive. Again the shadows convey a dark mood.



The following pair are two versions of Looking for seclusion (Söker enslighet).

Looking for seclusion, version 1  J.T. Sergel in: Bjurström (1976)

Again the first is a rather realistic drawing where the figure itself tells about the story in the picture. It shows a figure turned in on itself and standing in a wide and empty landscape. The figure is turned towards the light with its shadow falling behind.





In the second picture the marks are looser, the figure less elaborate and there is more

Looking for seclusion, version 2  J.T. Sergel in: Bjurström (1976)

darkness. Sergel changed the direction of the light in his second version, the figure’s face now in deep shadow. Where the figure’s cast shadow in the first version is realistic, in the second version it is shapeless. I think it conveys more than the direction of the light, a darkness in the person’s mind perhaps. The figure has its back turned to the light – literally and metaphorically.




Bjurström, Per: Sergel tecknar. Nationalmuseum/LiberFörlag, 1976