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Please note that this work was included in the following exhibition in Innsbruck, Austria, 75 Drawings by David Hockney, 1977, no. 2 (illustrated, unpaged).
Upon arriving at the Royal College of Art to commence his studies in 1959, David Hockney was eager to make a statement about the seriousness of his artistic ambitions and demonstrate his considerable skill as a draftsman. He accomplished this during his first semester there by creating a number of drawings of a skeleton, highly finished works that declared his virtuosity as a draftsman and succeeded in making a strong impression on the RCA staff and other students, including R. B. Kitaj. Hockney entered the RCA with a strong grounding in traditional academic techniques, which he had developed during his four years studying at the Bradford School of Art, an institution dominated by the influence of the Euston Road School and Stanley Spencer. Drawing had been the foundation of the program there, and Hockney found himself immersed in the rigorous study of perspective, figurative composition, and human anatomy through life drawing. Hockney's choice of the stark form of a skeleton as his initiatory muse at the RCA signalled his independence from the orthodox constraints of his training at Bradford, while the subject was also a perfect vehicle for showing off the fluency with line and form that he had achieved there.
Working on his skeleton drawings, Hockney made an indelible impression on Kitaj, who swiftly became one of his closest friends. Kitaj vividly recalled their first encounter: 'I arrived the same day and you couldn't miss him. He looked extraordinary. We were in the Cast Room and I watched him spend his first week drawing a skeleton. It was the most beautiful drawing I had ever seen in art school. I offered him GBP 5 for it and he accepted. In the second week he did a more elaborate skeleton drawing which I was able to buy many years later from a dealer, but for rather more than GBP 5. We became close friends very quickly, and have been like brothers since (R. J. Kitaj quoted by Peter Webb, Portrait of David Hockney, London 1988, pp. 21-22).
The structure of the skeleton offered a rich range of complex forms for Hockney to practice drawing from life (an irony that the artist perhaps enjoyed). Each drawing displays particular sensitivity to the visual rhythms created by the way the bones connect to one another, rendered with a clear confidence of touch. He further challenged himself by intentionally choosing dramatic perspectives, as in the foreshortened form of Skeleton #2. Going beyond mere life studies, Hockney fully fleshed out each composition, clearly placing these remnants of human life in the context of the artist's studio. Each composition thrives on the contrast between the organic forms of the skeletons and their surrounding geometric structures as captured in the emphatic vertical line of the rail in Skeleton #1 that poignantly contrasts to the imperfect verticality of body that floats next to it, and in the way that the stools hover in the background as rectilinear counterparts of the hollow bodies. The attention to structure that is expressed in these compositions not only demonstrates Hockneys command of perspective, but also points forward to his interest in abstraction. In his second semester, Hockney would leave the skeletons and their lingering associations with academic studies behind, and move in a more modern direction. The drawings of skeletons are frequently acknowledged in literature on Hockney as representing an important turning point in his career, the culmination of the academic training that he would turn away from, but which would nevertheless affect his subsequent career. These works proved Hockney's mastery of the medium of drawing, which would remain a vital foundation of his art.