P51 – Research 6B – Masters of Detailed Drawing – Stephen Wiltshire

“Find out about two artists who exemplify mastery of detailed drawing … Choose a modern artist and one working in the nineteenth century.”

While I knew immediately I saw this research task that I wanted to find out more about Ingres as my nineteenth century artist, I wasn’t sure about the modern artist. Two artists whose drawings I particularly like are Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, but I wouldn’t say that their work could be described as “detailed”. In fact it is the simplicity of their drawings that is the appeal.

Nude from the Back – Henri Matisse

Tete Couronnee – Pablo Picasso

Then a friend brought round some books he was clearing out for the charity shop where I work. One of the books was ‘American Dream’ by Stephen Wiltshire, with whom I was familiar but I didn’t know a great deal about him.

Stephen Wiltshire is an autistic young man who gained fame as a child savant for the detailed drawings he made, often from memory after the briefest of study. When he was eight, he received his first commission from late Prime Minister Edward Heath to create a drawing of Salisbury Cathedral.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York

Stephen visited New York in late 1991 when he was seventeen with his friend/mentor/manager Margaret Hewson. In the book, she recalls “The intention is that Stephen will sketch the view [from the top of the Empire State Building] but the wind is icy and, unlike Stephen, I am incapable of spending more than two seconds in the open air at the top of this building. Stephen, ever obliging, says, ‘Well. that’s fine, I’ll just do a memory drawing later.'” This is the resulting drawing, looking towards the Flatiron Building and the Twin Towers – this was a decade before 9/11.

This is my photograph of the same scene which I took in March 2011 – without the Twin Towers.

This drawing of Grand Central Station was also finished from memory, but this time, rather than the cold weather, it was due to the number of people asking Stephen questions, having seen him on television.

My photograph is from the other end (the display boards are on the right).

During 1991, Stephen also visited Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and Arizona. This is the area where the Hopi people live in Arizona.

While this is the White House in Washington.

Since these drawings were produced, Stephen has studied at City and Guilds of London Art School, both at degree and postgraduate level. His original drawings on his website have asking prices of around £10,000.


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
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5 Responses to P51 – Research 6B – Masters of Detailed Drawing – Stephen Wiltshire

  1. I remember reading about Stephen when he was young and seeing his work. Thanks for bringing it forward!

  2. starrybird says:

    What an interesting choice of artist. Somehow (and I don’t know how) he is telling us something about how the brain analyses visual information. What a skill!

    • There is an interesting quote in the introduction to American Dream: “Children normally draw, not what they see but what they know. A classroom of children asked to draw a house will illustrate not an aerial view, not the rear or the side elevation but a simple front view. This is because children draw those symbolic forms which are essentially conceptual. Stephen was different. His inability to draw these symbolic forms might suggest that he draws not what he knows but what he sees.”

  3. Pingback: 23: Starts and Ends with Landscapes. | Almofate's Likes

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