British academic painter Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896) made the case for drawing them about one third that size.
“In drawing a whole figure from nature we should be three times its length from it, to oversee it properly. If we draw normally, we must draw on the scale on which we should trace, if our sheet of paper were a sheet of glass held up, and if, instead of pencil, we traced with a diamond on this interposed pane you will find that a five-foot figure then comes about seven inches high on your glass, or its substitute, your paper.
On this scale the comparison is direct and not proportional. On this scale, and, largely, in accordance with this law, are drawn all studies from nature by masters of all periods. Of course, I am not speaking of cartoons. The studies I speak of could be squared up and enlarged to cartoons on any scale required for decoration in fresco, or on canvases.
Now, if Rubens and Longhi and Watteau and Fragonard and Ingres and Millet and Puvis and Keene, and all the company of the blessed drew on that scale, they probably knew what they were about.”
---As recalled by Walter Sickert, quoted from The Study of Drawing, 1910, reprinted in Apollo Magazine, 1996, page 47
More on Leighton at Art Renewal Center, link.
In reference to the distance to sit from the model, see previous GJ post: "Pyramid of Vision."
Note: "Cartoons" is used by Leighton in the sense of full size preliminary line drawings, not in the sense we use the word to describe small humorous drawings.
Addendum: Blog reader Godo, who doesn't have an account for comments, sent an email with the sketch above, as well as the following interesting discussion:
Since several weeks I am reading your blog, a real interesting publication.
Maybe you are interested in what I wanted to say, so here is my contribution:
This is a problem of elementary geometry. The intercept theorem explains the relationship between the size of the figure (A), the distance of the painter from the figure (B) and the distance of the drawing paper or canvas from the painter’s eye (D) (see picture).
Sometimes I heard my students say: I cannot draw something different from what I see. What does it mean I wondered? In fact it was the case what Erik stated above: it is natural and the easiest way to draw. Sometimes you cannot approach a subject as you want. When I asked to “zoom” the picture they felt uncomfortable as they had to draw bigger than they “saw”.
“In drawing a whole figure from nature we should be three times its length from it, to oversee it properly. …..you will find that a five-foot figure then comes about seven inches high on your glass, or its substitute, your paper.
From this statement we can easily calculate, that the painter held his drawing paper at a distance (D) of about 21 inches (54 cm); this is approximately the length of the stretched arm.