12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (2024)

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (1)

Drawing is one of the oldest forms of visual art with a long and diverse history. It is widely considered the foundation of all art and the first medium students must master. And while its widespread accessibility means it continues to be a popular pursuit for creatives around the world, drawings are often overshadowed by painting and sculpture.

However, many artists who are famous for their work in color were also exemplary draftspeople. In fact, masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rubens made countless preparatory drawings before each painting to study their subjects and develop compositions. Similarly, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres created refined graphite portraits, which are some of his most celebrated works today.

Here, we will explore 12 famous artists who utilized the power of lines in their artwork.

Who are the most famous drawing artists? Learn about some of the greatest masters of the line.

Table of Contents hide

1 Leonardo da Vinci

2 Albrecht Dürer

3 Michelangelo Buonarroti

4 Rembrandt

5 Peter Paul Rubens

6 J.M.W. Turner

7 Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

8 Edgar Degas

9 Gustav Klimt

10 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

11 Henri Matisse

Leonardo da Vinci

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (2)

Leonardo da Vinci, “Vitruvian Man,” c. 1492 (Photo: Luc Viatour via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Full Name

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci

Born

April 15, 1452 (Vinci, Italy)

Died

May 2, 1519 (Amboise, France)

Notable Artwork

Mona Lisa, Vitruvian Man

Movement

Italian Renaissance

Leonardo da Vinci is the quintessential Renaissance man. While many associate him solely with his famous painting theMona Lisa, his unending curiosity inspired him to study art, engineering, and nature. And all of his interests can be found in his legacy of notebooks.

In these notebooks are hundreds of detailed sketches exploring human anatomy, animals, plant life, inventions, and more. They show how Da Vinci used drawings to think critically as well as solve problems.

Albrecht Dürer

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (3)

“Praying hands,” pen and ink drawing, 1508 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC0 1.0)

Full Name

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci

Born

April 15, 1452 (Vinci, Italy)

Died

May 2, 1519 (Amboise, France)

Notable Artwork

Mona Lisa, Vitruvian Man

Movement

Italian Renaissance

Northern Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer was the first artist to elevate printmaking to a form of fine art. He produced engravings, woodcuts, and etchings based on his meticulously detailed drawings. It was the first time someone attempted to duplicate such realistic illustrations, and its overwhelming success subsequently inspired other artists to make and distribute prints.

Michelangelo Buonarroti

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (4)

Michelangelo, “The Dream of Human Life,” c. 1500s (Photo: The Courtauldvia Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Full Name

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

Born

March 6, 1475 (Caprese, Italy)

Died

February 18, 1564 (Rome, Italy)

Notable Artwork

Sistine Chapel ceiling, David

Movement

Italian Renaissance

For many, Michelangelo is still the greatest artist of all time. His mastery over different disciplines—painting, sculpture, architecture—is unparalleled. At the core of his creative practice, however, was drawing.

Before each painting and sculpture, the Italian artist created numerous sketches of the human figure. These expressive drawings reveal a deep understanding of anatomy and physiology and provide insight into how Michelangelo approached his elaborate compositions.

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (5)

Michelangelo, “Pietà,” c. 1546 (Photo: Isabella Stewardt Gardner Museumvia Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Rembrandt

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (6)

Rembrandt, “The Windmill,” 1641 (Photo: Art Gallery of South Australia via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Full Name

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Born

July 15, 1606 (Leiden, Netherlands)

Died

October 4, 1669 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Notable Artwork

The Night Watch

Movement

Baroque

Celebrated for his successes spanning multiple media and types of subject matter, Rembrandt was called a “colossus of art” by prolific sculptor Auguste Rodin. In his drawing, he was known for his ability to render both landscapes and subjects quickly and confidently.

British artist David Hockney praised Rembrandt's gestural drawing A child being taught to walk, saying: “I think it's the greatest drawing ever done… It's magnificent drawing, magnificent.”

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (7)

Rembrandt, “A Child Being Taught to Walk,” 1660 (Photo: The British Museum via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Peter Paul Rubens

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (8)

Peter Paul Rubens, “Young Woman with Folded Hands,” c. 1629–30 (Photo: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Full Name

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Born

June 28, 1577 (Siegen, Germany)

Died

May 30, 1640 (Antwerp, Belgium)

Notable Artwork

Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus

Movement

Baroque

Known for his voluptuous women, opulent colors, and dynamic compositions, Peter Paul Rubens is considered to be one of the most influential painters of the Baroque period. Before he embarked on a commissioned painting, he created several preliminary studies of his subjects.

These surviving sketches display the Flemish artist's confident drafting ability. With just a few confident lines, he could convey gestures and emotion.

J.M.W. Turner

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (9)

J.M.W. Turner, “Shipwreck,” circa 1805 (Photo: David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication)

Full Name

Josph Mallord William Turner

Born

April 23, 1775 (London, England)

Died

December 19, 1851 (Chelsea, England)

Notable Artwork

Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway

Movement

Romanticism

Known for his Romantic landscape and seascape paintings, J.M.W. Turner also produced 30,000 works on paper over the course of his life. Turner began exhibiting and selling his drawings at a young age. He later produced everything from topographical drawings to dynamic sketches that were used as studies for larger paintings.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (10)

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, “Portrait of Victor Baltard's Wife (born Adeline Lequeu) and their Daughter Paule,” c. 1800s (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Full Name

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Born

August 29, 1780 (Montauban, France)

Died

January 14, 1867 (Paris, France)

Notable Artwork

La Grande Odalisque, The Turkish Bath

Movement

Neoclassicism

Neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was known for his larger-than-life paintings, which celebrated traditional painting techniques. And while his work in oil was sometimes scrutinized by contemporary critics for its gothic undertones, his numerous drawings and graphite portraits were highly revered for their precision in capturing a subject's physical appearance and personality.

Edgar Degas

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (11)

Edgar Degas, “Two Studies of a Singer,” c. 1870-1900s (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Full Name

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas

Born

July 19, 1834 (Paris, France)

Died

September 27, 1917 (Paris, France)

Notable Artwork

The Dance Class

Movement

Impressionism

While most Impressionists found inspiration in picturesque landscapes, French artist Edgar Degas preferred capturing human subjects, especially those in movement. In addition to his many well-known paintings, he also made countless pastel and pencil studies of ballerinas, singers, and bathing women—each of which displays his finesse at rendering the human form in action.

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (12)

Edgar Degas, “Woman Drying Her Left Leg,” 1903 (Photo: São Paulo Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Gustav Klimt

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (13)

Gustav Klimt, “Half Figure of a Young Woman,” 1918 (Photo: The Met Museum via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

Full Name

Gustav Klimt

Born

July 14, 1862 (Baumgarten, Austria)

Died

February 6, 1918 (Vienna, Austria)

Notable Artwork

The Kiss

Movement

Vienna Secession, Art Nouveau

Most associate Gustav Klimt‘s glittering paintings with their golden touches. But the Austrian artist was also a master draftsman who utilized strong lines in his compositions. His striking renderings of the female figure utilize foreshortening and perspective.

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (14)

Gustav Klimt, “Two Studies of a Seated Nude with Long Hair,” 1901-1902 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (15)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “The Jockey,” 1899 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Full Name

Henry Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa

Born

November 24, 1864 ( Albi, Tarn, France)

Died

September 9, 1901 (Saint-André-du-Bois, France)

Notable Artwork

At the Moulin Rouge

Movement

Post-Impressionism

A contemporary of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec spent most of his life in the theatrical underbelly of Paris.

In his posters, Toulouse-Lautrec employs masterful use of the line to characterize well-known performers of the time, including Yvette Guilbert, Louise Weber, and Jane Avril. His draftsmanship captured the movement of dance and the energy of Parisian nightlife during the Belle Époque.

Henri Matisse

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Full Name

Henri Émile Benoît Matisse

Born

December 31, 1869 (Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France)

Died

November 3, 1954 (Nice, France)

Notable Artwork

The Dance

Movement

Post-Impressionism, Fauvism

As a masterful draughtsman, Henri Matisse is known for his incredible use of lines. His curvy, flowing lines were a signature of his work, and he clearly understood the importance of drawing to his artistic practice. In fact, he once said, “My line drawing is the purest and most direct translation of my emotion.”

Pablo Picasso

Full Name

Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso

Born

October 25, 1881 (Málaga, Spain)

Died

April 8, 1973 (Mougins, France)

Notable Artwork

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,Guernica

Movement

Cubism

With a career that spanned 79 years, Pablo Picasso is known for changing his painting style several times. Throughout his many creative shifts, however, the artist retained a uniquely decisive way of capturing the world around him in drawings. In particular, these sketches show how the Spanish artist needed only a few bold lines to evoke the form of his subjects.

This article has been edited and updated.

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12 Artists Who Were Masters of Drawing, From Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso (2024)

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