Great Artists Who Painted With Their Left Hands

Studies by art historians and scientists reveal that five of history's greatest creative minds were left-handed, though many tried to hide it

Da Vinci's famous left-handed writing
Da Vinci's famous left-handed writing

Scientists have shown that the right hemisphere of the brain–responsible for the movements and activities of the left side of the body–is associated with creativity and artistic thought. Although only 10.6% of humanity is left-handed, according to recent scientific studies, the number of artists who have this natural condition seems to be higher.

Throughout history, left-handed people have been persecuted and forced to hide their condition, either because of popular beliefs–due to a perceived connection to witchcraft or bad luck–or because of biblical and religious stories that linked them to the devil and evil.

Such is the case for some master painters, who lived in environments hostile to left-handers but nevertheless managed to leave their mark. Discover more in the video below:

In the 1990s, art historian and writer Philippe Lanthony analyzed, in detail, the work of 500 painters throughout history. He concluded that some of the most prominent and legendary among them painted, solely or partially, with their left hand.

Paul Klee
Paul Klee

According to Lanthony's findings, there are historical indications–and physical signs found in their brushstrokes–that Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens and Picasso, as well as Leonardo Da Vinci, Diego Velázquez, Paul Klee, Vincent Van Gogh, and Anita Malfatti, were left-handed.

Da Vinci
Da Vinci
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The case of Da Vinci is unusual. His famous specular mirrored script, a hallmark of his scientific studies, was an innovation that meant he could read what he wrote without dirtying the paper while writing. Many of the 'hidden' messages and most innovative scientific theories of the Renaissance master have had to be deciphered from his inverted scrawl.

But a single record, made when he was 17 years old, the drawing "Il paesaggio" (below), which the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence claims to be his first work, shows that, at least 'socially', Da Vinci used to write 'normally' with his right hand.

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To prove Van Gogh's left-handedness, art historian Sven Hendriksen made a forensic examination. His thesis: many self-portraits in which Van Gogh appears to be holding the brush with his right hand were painted in front of a mirror. The clues: a detailed study of 19th century objects and costumes, such as the coat he wears in Self-Portrait in Front of the Easel (below), from 1888.

The buttons, Hendriksen discovered, were always closed on the left side. So the hand holding the brushes would actually be the reflected left.

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The same is true of Velázquez, whose paintings would show the typical anomalies that painting from reflections creates. According to art historians, this was so with Las Meninas, a work that, due to the position of the elements and characters–including the painter himself–would be impossible to create without a complex set of mirrors. If this were the case, the hand holding the brush would indeed be the left one.

Las meninas, Velázquez
Las meninas, Velázquez

Sometimes, the direction of the brushstrokes is the biggest giveaway. Forgotten episodes of the artist's biography can also shed light on an artists preferred hand. This is the case for one of the most biggest names of Brazilian and Latin American modernism: Anita Malfatti. As a child, she suffered an accident that paralyzed her right hand for life. She had to develop her left hand to be able to paint but would always hide it out of shame.

Art scholars analyzed her brushstrokes and, after finding evidence of her accident, concluded that the unique, peculiar line in her portraits is born precisely from the fact that she made them with her left hand.

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