Friday, February 27, 2015

Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 2 of 4)


This is part two of a four-part series examining practices and principles taught the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century. (Part 1 here). This post is excerpted from an article by Earl Shinn, an American student in Jean-Léon Gérôme's atelier. Shinn wrote about his experience in an 1869 issue of The Nation.

Students painting from life at the École 
A Week-Long Academy
Students in the École who had graduated from cast drawing and drawing from the nude model were finally allowed to paint in oil from life. The resulting study was called an "academy." The model would typically be standing in a classical pose, lit from high north windows. Students would spend a full week on each study. Here, Shinn outlines how that week was spent.

Figure study or "academy" in oil
by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin (1808-1864)
"What is really the week’s affair to the Beaux-Arts man is his 'academy.'

"On Monday he hits the pose, which is always vigorously pronounced and spirited, on the model's part, when first assumed; the dash that may be thrown into the attitude while the figure is perfectly fresh can never be caught up again if missed at the beginning.

"By Tuesday the artist has become absorbed in the complications of light and shade.

"On Wednesday the master comes, and perhaps rejects nearly everything that has been done, disfiguring and blotting the sketch from one margin to the other. The model, drooping upon his dais may bear little resemblance to the elastic attitude of the drawing, and the student is accused of attempting to idealize. 'You have been trying to modify nature from your reminiscences of the antique; you have ennobled the head, braced the shoulders,' etc. The study is altered, in the spirit of realism, until all the stark and pitiful ugliness of the model's lassitude is expressed.

"One of the difficulties of a life 'academy' is that, although the example before you is a moving, changing object, now braced, now drooping, now turned a little to the right and now a little to the left, your copy of it is expected to show all the purism of the photograph.

"If you were putting the same model into a historical picture, you would be expected to elevate the attitude and expression; and you would then begin to hear from your critics a great deal about the difficulty and responsibility of borrowing from nature, what to take and what to leave.

"'Only Phidias and Da Vinci,' I have heard declared,  'and perhaps Michelangelo, deserved to have received the revelations of anatomy.' If, on the other hand, you were copying the antique, you would have the full luxury of refining your line and your form, with no limitation of time and with
a rigid model. The life 'academy,' then, is expected to avoid the imaginative qualities of [a] picture, and to win, from a constantly deteriorating example, the accuracy which is so fascinating a quest in copying from statuary. A felicitous study is therefore a very desirable treasure, and old forgotten ones by [Thomas] Couture or [Hippolyte] Flandrin are preserved in the ateliers where those painters have studied, used as paradigms by teachers, or sold as something of unique value in the color-stores.

Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905)

"Another trouble is the variation in the color of the air on different days. 'The patron has accused me,' an energetically protesting youth will cry, 'of seeking the silver tint of Terborg; it was as far from my thoughts as silver from my pocket. But I established my key of color on Thursday, when there was a solid gray rain like slate-pencils; and the Italian turned blue and chattered; and how will you expect the tones of Titian in such a climate, my brothers?'

"On the closing day of the week I have known an incorrigibly gay lad to exhibit a canvas almost completely expunged by the blottings of the professor. 'This was to have been my masterpiece. I meant it for the altar of the church where I was baptized, whether as a St. Michael or a John in the Wilderness. The outline was good until Auguste changed it into a caricature of the Prince Imperial.'"

According to Albert Boime, "An experienced pupil could capture a head in a single session, but the others would often require several days. During the first session, the beginner sketched the head or figure, and then traced the drawing to canvas. When confronted with the live model, the pupil proceeded in much the same way as in rendering the head, only now he drew his pencil or charcoal sketch directly on the canvas. In the second session he traced the painted outline and established the principle masses of shadows in a diluted mixture of turpentine and red ochre. On the third day he prepared his palette carefully and rendered the flesh tones, as well as the hair and accessories. Finally the last session was devoted to completing the ébauche with respect to the tout ensemble." 
Excerpts from The Nation, July 22, 1869, Page 68. "ART-STUDY IN THE IMPERIAL SCHOOL AT PARIS" by Earl Shinn
Final quote from The Academy and French Painting in the 19th Century by Albert Boime
More examples of academies at LARA (London Atelier of Representational Art)
Three excellent book sources:
The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers
The Studios of Paris: The Capital of Art in the Late Nineteenth Century

Previously on GurneyJourney:
Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 1)


Tom Hart said...

These posts are a wonderful glimpse into the life in an (or at least Gerome's) atelier. Thanks for them!

I can't help but think that Shinn isn't giving Gerome enough credit for realizing that the model's pose alters and slumps over time. Surely that is something that Gerome would have been well familiar with. I'm guessing (perhaps unfairly) that the cited critique has less to do with Gerome's failure to take the gradual "drooping" of the model into account, and more to do with a valid critique than Shinn wanted to believe.

Also, I love Boime's description of the process, but sadly I'm not quite following it as well as I'd like.

James Gurney said...

Tom, Shinn was an interesting character who studied at the Ecole, but developed more into a writer than an artist. Eakins in his letters home from Paris, suggests that he didn't get along well all the time with Gerome, so there may be a personal edge to his description.

Boime's quote is taken out of the context of his excellent book, where he explains the ebauche or block-in, and the importance of the tout ensemble or overall effect of all the parts working together for a single impression.

I should also emphasize that I'm mainly focusing on Gerome's teaching here, not Cabanel's, which was next door, much less the outside ateliers such as Carolus Duran, where Sargent studied. Sargent had a certain disdain for Gerome's artwork or painting methods.

Karl Kanner said...

This is really insightful as well as the most HILARIOUS thing I have read all week. Thanks James!

Marian B said...

In what way is the article 'hilarious', Karl? Please do explain.

Karl Kanner said...

The way that the former student articulates his experiences and those of his fellow students just cracks me up. It's sort of a dry humor that he uses, but it's painfully hilarious the way he talks about the students trying vainly to paint the model in less-than-optimal conditions, then being sort of ridiculously criticized for their efforts. Here are some examples of what I am laughing at:
'The patron has accused me,' an energetically protesting youth will cry, 'of seeking the silver tint of Terborg; it was as far from my thoughts as silver from my pocket. But I established my key of color on Thursday, when there was a solid gray rain like slate-pencils; and the Italian turned blue and chattered; and how will you expect the tones of Titian in such a climate, my brothers?'

'This was to have been my masterpiece. I meant it for the altar of the church where I was baptized, whether as a St. Michael or a John in the Wilderness. The outline was good until Auguste changed it into a caricature of the Prince Imperial.'"

How cna you NOT chuckle at this? :)

Karen Robinson said...

I agree, Karl, it made me laugh too. But I did feel sorry for these poor students. At least it would toughen you up, I suppose. If someone peers at my painting, remains silent for just a tad too long and then says "Umm. Interesting. Is it actually finished?" - it's often all I can do to stop the old bottom lip quivering. I would be rubbish at coping with this.. I hope they did have some times of joy. The process as described seems very joyless.

Karl Kanner said...

I agree. I am so glad I've never had a teacher like this. My teachers always gave me feedback and pointers on how to improve MY style of painting, not theirs. ...and as for spectators...I usually preface any conversation I have with them by saying "I just started so sure you can look but it's not going to look like anything for another hour or so". That usually staves off some of the annoying questions. I still get the "oh, my son/friend/aunt/grandmother/etc is a painter too! They're really good!" or "Are you a REAL artist?!". Gotta love it!

S. Stipick said...

Interesting that the word photograph was used and is clearly indicated to be a benchmark, while the ideals of the disegni were considered off limits or perhaps esoteric. And while I understand the authors statements may have been a tad hyperbolic, no wonder modernism (to my dismay) was so quick to come about.

S. Stipick said...

Having read Eakins, Delacroix's, etc letters and spent time with some of the training manuals (including but not limited to the now famous Bargue manual, which may be a staple in most libraries), finding writings like this that I am unfamiliar with is an absolute blast and very welcome. I have sincerely enjoyed this series so far! With much gratitude, keep 'em coming please!

Michael Pianta said...

I just read the whole series today, and this was my favorite post I think. I'm currently attending one of the modern ateliers, and I can really relate to this. The model moves, perhaps, and then your instructors may take it to be an error in your drawing. Or the sun goes behind a cloud and then all the colors in your still life look different. Just in time for a critique of course. It's tempting to get defensive and argumentative, but one must resist that urge, accept the critique and move on. I don't always succeed at that, naturally. :)

To the people saying it sounds joyless, well I don't know. I can't speak to Gerome's atelier of course, but at the atelier I attend, I would say it's very serious but not necessarily joyless. There's a pleasure to the work itself, and it's very nice to see progress. Completing a project feels great, and so there's a joy in that. And of course the atmosphere with the other students is generally positive. But it's not like my college art career - which was very free form and self directed. It's more like how I imagine Julliard or some other traditional music conservatory would be. The emphasis is on learning to do things "properly" with questions of style or self expression very much in the back ground, at least until late in the program.

About this post in particular, I do have a question. They say the academies took a week, but does anyone know what that means in terms of hours? Was it a 5 day week? How was the day divided with the model? At my school, we spend about 30-40 hours on the longer poses, but the models are not there five days a week, and they are only there for three hours per session. You could see how 30-40 hours could be fit into a week, but I imagine that would be grueling for the model. I'm just wondering if Gerome's students worked much faster than us, or (more probably) they simply expected more of their models?