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ChalkA Paleolithic material still in use

Chalk is a humble material with a remarkable past. Though chalk today is thought of as a stubby tool for teachers to scratch out equations on a blackboard, chalk began as a type of limestone, created from the crushed shells of billions of phytoplankton called Coccoliths, whose corpses built up over millions of years into stone strata that now underlays much of Europe. Chalk has been used as a mark-making tool for nearly as long as there have been homosapiens, with early chalkwork appearing in Paleolithic cave drawings. And chalk has had legs, with Renaissance and Rococo artists like Peter Paul Rubens and François Boucher turning to chalk as a tool for sketching before creating a final painting, and in the 20th century avant-garde painters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso used chalk's speed and gestural fluidity to bring their drawings to life.

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A map of the Arno valley and surrounding areas

Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1504

A bird's-eye map of western Tuscany

Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1504

Head of an African

Albrecht Dürer, 1508

The veins and muscles of the arm

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511

The foetus in the womb

Leonardo da Vinci, 1511

Notes on reproduction

Leonardo da Vinci, 1511

The superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511

The muscles of the shoulder

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511

The bones of the foot, and the shoulder

Leonardo da Vinci, 1510-1511

A map of the Pontine marshes

Leonardo da Vinci, 1515

A Fisherman Pulling a Net

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1774

A Young Woman of Frascati

Jacques-Louis David, 1775

Sailboat on a Raging Sea

Théodore Géricault, 1818-1819

Self Portrait

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1847

View of Lausanne II

Matthijs Maris, 1861-1862

Guinevere and Iseult: Cartoon for Stained Glass

William Morris, 1862

Cavalry Soldier on Horseback

Winslow Homer, 1863


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1868

Spring (Women and Men at Well)

Winslow Homer, 1875

The Day Dream (Study)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1878

Figures in the Woods

Matthijs Maris, 1880


Vincent Van Gogh, 1882

Orchard with Arles in the Background

Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

Sun over Walled Wheat Field

Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

The Shepherdess (Monumental Conception of Humanity)

Matthijs Maris, 1887-1892


Ferdinand Hodler, 1893

Girl looking up

Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1900

Woman looking away

Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1900

The King's Children

Matthijs Maris, 1899-1900

Studies of Self Portrait

Ferdinand Hodler, 1911

Red Balloon

Paul Klee, 1922

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