Sunday, February 1, 2009

Premiere Pensee

The premiere pensee is a small, rapidly executed sketch, which captures the first thought of a composition. It is usually painted in oil, or the same medium as the finished work.

Here’s an example, the first idea for “Lion Hunt” by Eugene Delacroix. The swirl of strokes conjures the intertwined bodies of lions and horses.

The painted sketch was a crucial step in the French academic tradition. The goal was originality, spontaneity and sincerity. The painter Arsenne said that the painted sketch should be “the embryo of what the artist has in his mind.”

Diderot said that the premiere pensee should be “a work of fire and genius,” while the finished picture should be the result of patient study, long toil, and consummate experience.

Art historian Albert Boime argued in his landmark book “The Academy and French Painting in the 19th Century” that the aesthetics of the sketch as practiced by artists of the Ecole des Beaux Arts played a role in giving birth to the later independent painting movements, which put such a large emphasis on freedom and spontaneity.

6 comments:

donna said...

I actually like that sketch way better than the painting itself!

Andrew R. Wright said...

I love studies, thumbnails, sketchbooks, and all the like. It is like you are looking into someones brain.

This is beautiful!

Daroo said...

This is the core struggle of painting for me (or drawing or sculpture).

I see painting as a battle fought along a continuum that spans between expressiveness at one end and a high level of refinement at the other.

Good, solid, drawing and accurate color shapes that relate in perspective is always the goal but sometimes once the measuring is complete you are left with something technically accurate but stiff, weightless, dull and lifeless. Conversely,you might have bold, au premiere coup, brushstrokes and sparkling broken color but if the color temperature is all over the place, the proportions are off and the perspective is wonky then all those clever brushstrokes don't relate to one another in a meaningful way and the painting falls apart.

Finding the way to balance these two extremes is the real struggle -- but what a fun and interesting struggle!

Daroo said...

While the premiere pensee is a valuable tool for remembering your initial inspiration and emotion. If you are in love with this first sketch your finished painting may be doomed.

Part of the inherent power of a quick sketch or thumbnail, aside from its bold, expressive statement is the implication that it will be a good finished painting. Your mind fills in all the unresolved areas with future possibilities -- a kind of emotional impression of things to come. When it comes to repainting the finished version (often much larger) and adding believable anatomy and sub dividing your bold color shapes into smaller and smaller areas of detail you suddenly run into one of these areas of unexamined "emotional impression" and wonder aloud, "What was I even thinking?!!"and "Why doesn't this look like my sketch?!!" and "who am I trying to kid?"

So I guess my advice is to do your premiere pensee but don't fall in love with it -- you'll only get hurt.

Erik Bongers said...

I agree with Daroo.
There is practically always a big difference between the thumbnail and the finished work.

I know that if I'm too excited about a thumbnail, the finished work will most likely be a bit of a disappointment.

James Gurney said...

Well said, Daroo. And I think your point is also an argument for doing two or three color sketches, putting away each one as you do the next one. Each restatement of the idea will have a little glimmer to build on, and when you're slogging through the finish, you won't get too attached to any single early statement.