Sunday, March 1, 2015

Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 4 of 4)

Gerome in his atelier, from an 1889 edition of Century Magazine

To conclude our four-part look at the teaching style of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) let's consider the remembrances of some of his students looking back on their time studying with him at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

E. H. Blashfield said that Gérôme "permitted me to bring pictures [for criticism] as often as I wished, and he was always more than kind in giving time and attention to young men, talking by the half-hour with enthusiasm of classical antiquity, saying 'surround yourself with everything that you can,—casts, photographs, terra-cottas, vase paintings,—and look at them constantly with all your might.'

Kenyon Cox recalled, "I once heard him say to a pupil: 'When you draw, form is the important thing; but in painting the first thing to look for is the general impression of color.' Surely Manet could say no more....As a teacher I do not believe he has any superiors, and his criticism is always based on essentials, and seldom touches matters of method."

Wyatt Eaton remembered: "In criticism of compositions and pictures he brought to bear his wide knowledge and large experience of physical laws. With me he generally made suggestions which would add to the picturesqueness of my compositions, his criticisms always coming from the intellect rather than from his heart."

George de Forest Brush, said: "As a teacher he is very dignified and apparently cold, but really most kind and soft-hearted, giving foreign pupils every attention. In his teaching he avoids anything like recipes for painting; he constantly points out truths of nature and teaches that art can be attained only through increased perception and not by processes. But he pleads constantly with his pupils to understand that although absolute fidelity to nature must ever be in mind, yet if they do not at last make imitation serve expression they will end as they began — only children."

Thomas Eakins wrote, "Gérôme comes to each one, and unless there is absolute proof of the scholar's having been idle, he will look carefully and a long time at the model and then at the drawing, and then he will point out every fault. He treats all alike good and bad. What he wants to see is progress. Nothing escapes his attention. Often he draws for us. Last time he made no change in my work, said it was not bad, had some middling good parts in it, but was a little barbarous yet....The biggest compliment he ever paid me, was to say that he saw a feeling for bigness in my modeling, 'There now, you are on the right track, now push.'"

J. Alden Weir described his counsel as "just, severe, and appreciative." Abbott Thayer said "One of my innermost longings will always be to get approval of my work." S. W. Van Schaick wrote that his presence "elevated us, in the moment, beyond our capacity; our errors glared in our work, we saw with his eyes, said to ourselves the unsympathetic 'more simple,' 'it is not that,' judged ourselves, only to return to our weakness on his departure."
The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 1889, Volume 7, page 636.
Eakins quote from The Paris Letters of Thomas Eakins)

Series on GurneyJourney:
"Beaux-Arts Instruction" Series: Part 1Part 2, Part 3

Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme



Beth said...

Thank you for this series.

Vladimir Venkov said...

This is really interesting and helpful series of posts. Thank you James

Lindsay said...

I learned how to paint at the Academy of Realist art Boston. It's interesting to compare the thinking at Georome's atelier to the teaching of modern ateliers, which seem to be descendants of Gerome's school. It seems in those days there was more emphasis on studying the antique, and more emphasis on the methods of the leader of the school.

Berit said...

I adored this fascinating series, reading with avid interest and wishing each entry would never end. Thank you!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, James. Great stuff!

Abigail Platter said...

James, Would you say copying from these painters drawings, or paintings, would give a better impression of how to gain understanding from their work? How are we to glean some of the subtleties gerome spoke of (such as the laying of muscles on the figures)? This was such a wonderful series- thank you for always finding the more hidden information for us!!

Chris James said...

"How are we to glean some of the subtleties gerome spoke of (such as the laying of muscles on the figures)?"

The definitive classical figure is one of lean musculature, where the interplay of bone, tendon, and muscle is visible on the surface shading and in the contour line. This is exemplified in the drawings of Michelangelo, and it comes from direct observation of the human anatomy and recognizing the interplay. The unskilled tend to ignore or underplay the effects of the bones on the surface, and as such their figures look like they are comprised of sausages and cushions, with nothing underneath. The classical contour line is defined by a rhythm of hard and soft, bone and sinew, carefully delineated and, in the case of the old Italians (collectively the best at combining the technical with the expressive in figure drawing, imo), purposefully pronounced.

I think Gerome had something similar in mind:

"This condemns our anatomy, when it has the look of being patched on the surface rather than woven under from the bone."

Look at Michelangelo and Pontormo figures. You'll see this visual effect of weaving of muscle and bone under a layer of tissue.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Chris, for those tips. Abigail, I'd just add that you can learn a lot by just following the methods that Gerome's students followed. Draw and paint from casts of good Greek and Roman statues, draw and paint from the model, study anatomy and figure work from the books of Bridgman, Peck, Loomis, and Vanderpoel, and Bargue, and sketch real people in real settings. Remember that costume, foliage, water, and atmosphere each have "anatomy," too, so it's good to get practice beyond the nude figure alone. Also, check out Solomon Solomon, Harold Speed, and Loomis for their painting books. There's a ton of great information out there, and you can get good stuff in the best art schools, or on your own if you're self motivated.

S. Stipick said...

Kudos Mr Gurney for such a wonderful set of posts amongst a sea of other incredible posts. As always there is much joy to be found on your blog and never an end to new things learned. For this I can not express my gratitude enough.

Abigail Platter said...

Thank you James, I will check all of that out!!