Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Beaux-Arts Architecture

Architecture students at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris studied the proportions and the ornament of Greek and Roman buildings, and they became masters at rendering them in ink and watercolor.

The winners of of the Prix de Rome competition were sent to Rome at government expense to do extensive studies of famous monuments. They periodically sent back drawings showing ornamental details, reconstructed facades, or perspective scenes of famous vistas, like the Forum or the Acropolis.

Artists adhered to particular conventions for representing architectural forms. The light had to come from the left at a 45-degree angle. Values lightened systematically as they went back in space. (Above: Constant Moyaux, Below: Normand, 1852)

Students developed concepts in relatively loose sketches. Then they began the presentation drawings in line, usually in grayed-down India ink, with a series of very light washes of tone to build up the modeling gradually so that the tones seemed to reside in the paper rather than being superimposed over it.
There’s an affordable book from Dover that reprints in black and white a famous set of prints assembled by Hector d’Espouy, link.
Wikipedia on Beaux-Arts Architecture, link.


Erik Bongers said...

The Belgian Comic Book Artist Francois Schuiten often uses these conventions in his architecture dominated stories.

A Newiorkishs view

Italian Baroque (I think).

A very impressive architectural drawing of a museum build by Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta (the colors are actually subtler and the overall impression is bigger on poster format.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I'm interested in the technical execution of this kind of work. It's stunningly complex and precise.

Chalk underdrawing? Were guides/templates/calipers used? Masking? How did they get the washes so flat and precise, especially around minute, complex shapes, without edge buildup? The ink lines so perfectly clean? How many hours went into work like this.

I've always been intimidated by the precise, mechanical repetition found in subjects like buildings and such. I'm more comfortable with organic, irregular forms, where a tremor in the hand is less detrimental. Even sitting down to a mere sketch of a building is something I approach with apprehension. Then again, I have this paranoia before a session that I won't have enough time to do good work, which puts me in a hasty frame of mind. Not good when you need to judge accurately

Anonymous said...

That Dover book is wonderful. I love classical architecture and decoration and it's derivatives; why isn't it more popular with artists, especially those who love traditional painting? Maybe they have heard the pejorative phrase "mere decoration" too often?

colin said...

Not related to the post (which was great, as usual), but: Congratulations on your Spectrum 16 win.

(Read about it over here: http://igallo.blogspot.com/2009/03/spectrum-16-award-winners.html)

Victor said...

The d'Espouy drawings are incredible. The tonal gradations are so smooth that it's hard to believe it was done with a brush. I have a book that explains how to do these types of drawings called "Architectural Rendering in Wash". I really want to try doing one, but I keep putting it off!

Here's a link to some more images (I wish they were larger so you could better appreciate the level of detail and precision):


Unknown said...

nowadays, computers could easily take over this kind of work.

the times change, and artists must change too if they want to keep their living.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I might recommend to you Asher Benjamin who wrote a series of books in the late 18th and early 19th century's. These books became the universal American guide for construction in the Greek revival style. His measured drawings of classical detail allowed builders who usually were there own designers to construct beautiful and well proportioned buildings. Dover has reprinted at least one of these. I don't know if it is still available.

Anonymous said...

Where were the images found in this post? They are great.

Architectural Rendering in Wash by Harold Buren Van Magonigle is a great resource to start learning how to render wash drawings like d'Espouy.