Monday, March 16, 2009

Carolus Duran’s Method

Carolus-Duran was the teacher of John Singer Sargent, whose technical approach to painting generated considerable interest on a recent post.

Sargent’s portrait of his teacher (above) is in the collection the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The paintings below are by Carolus-Duran

Here’s a firsthand account of what was taught in Carolus-Duran’s atelier:

“The model was posed on Monday, always in full light, without shadow effect, and against a strongly-coloured backround, which we had to imitate exactly in its relations to the figure. The figure was drawn in in charcoal, then we were allowed to take a sable and strengthen the outline with some dark colour mixed with turpentine, but not to make any preparation, nor put in conventional dark brown shadows.

The palette was set as follows: Black, verte emeraude, raw umber, cobalt, laque ordinaire, brun rouge or light red, yellow ochre, and white (the colors being placed on the palette in this order from left to right).

We were supposed to mix to or three gradations of yellow ochre with white, two of light red with white, two of cobalt with white, and also of black and raw umber to facilitate the choice of tones.

We were not allowed any small brushes, at any rate not for a long time—many months or years.

On Tuesday Duran came to criticize and correct the drawing, or the laying in of painting if it was sufficiently advanced. We blocked in the curtain first, and then put in the figure or face in big touches like a coarse wooden head hewn with a hatchet; in fact, in a big mosaic, not bothering to soften things down, but to get the right amount of light and the proper colour, attending first to the highest light.

The hair was not smoothed into the flesh at first, but just pasted on in the right tone like a coarse wig; then other touches were placed on the junctions of the big mosaic touches, to model them and make the flesh more supple.

Of course these touches were a gradation between the touches they modelled. All was solid, and there were no gradations by brushing the stuff off the lights gently into the darks or vice versa, because Duran wished us to actually make and match each bit of the tone of the surface. He came again on Friday to criticise and on that day we finished off.”

Carolus-Duran’s teaching was considered progressive among academic instructors because of its painterly, direct handling and its emphasis on form and color rather than line. He was an ardent admirer of Velazquez and a friend of Manet.

The essence of Carolus-Duran's method, according to one of his students, is to “seek first of all for absolute truth of tone and colour, and getting this truth in the simplest and most obvious way.”
Sources: John Collier, A Manual of Oil Painting, London 1891, 5th Edition, page 57-59.
Barbara Weinberg: The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth Century American Painters and Their French Teachers. New York, 1991.
More on Carolus-Duran at Art Renewal Center, link.
Lines and Colors on Carolus-Duran, link.
A Manual of Oil Painting by John Collier on Google Books, link.
Ciudad de la Pintura, link.


Erik Bongers said...

I'm trying to interpret the use of the palette in function of the facial values.
I guess that the light yellow ocres are for the forehead and highlights, the reds for the skin - especially the middle part of the face - and the blue perhaps for that subtle touch of blue/grey in the chin area.

Unknown said...

Very interesting!

Saskia said...

>>because Duran wished us to actually make and match each bit of the tone of the surface<<
interesting! I'm sure this adds a lot to the luminosity of a painting.
The woman on the bottom looks very sargent-ly.

Brian Busch said...

Anybody know what laque ordinaire is supposed to be??

Daroo said...

Great Post.

At first read, I am confused about mixing the pure tube colors down in value steps of 2 and 3.

I interpret this as an exercise in conservation of values, A) because that's what Carolus and Sargent were always on about and B) that's where I'm at personally -- trying to get better control of my values.

Is the idea that the separate colors are mixed down in EQUIVALENT value steps? If so, then when Duran's students mixed corresponding piles of lightened red and yellow ochre they would only change in temperature and not in value?

I learned to mix the color first and then adjust for value ( and then re-adjust for temperature if adding white has cooled it too much).

Maybe some one who paints in this way (by first mixing out the value steps of all your palette colors) can better explain the philosophy behind the method. What's the advantage? Accuracy? Speed (that is, once all your values are mixed)?

David Still said...

Thank you! Very informative and interesting!

jeff said...

What is interesting if you click on some of the student work how much they look like Sargent's work.

I understand that Sargent was Duran's best student.

Jason Peck said...

I believe laque ordinaire is similar to Carmine Lake or Permanent Alizarin Crimson. Basically its a cool red.

I use this palette, with the exception of 2 added colors. I added Cadmium Lemon, and Cadmium Red. So it looks like this.

Flake White
Cadmium Lemon
Yellow Ochre
Terra Rosa, or Light Red
Cadmium Red
Alizarin Crimson
Ultramarine Blue instead of Cobalt
Raw Umber
Viridian instead of Emerald Green
Ivory Black

With this palette I can mix nearly any color. I dont feel that its limited in any way. Its an excellent palette for Figures, Portraits, and Landscapes.

Best, Jason

Anonymous said...

Gold post.

Tom said...

What always amazes me was how well these guys could draw, which really makes the tone and color work possible.
It is like leydndecker and Norman Rockwell. I always feel like rockwell is copying while Leydecker concieved the form in the round and thus he could manage the form any way he wanted.

Timothy Tyler Artist said...

Laque is not Lake. Lake in French is spelled Lac yes?


PS. the key to painting like Sargent is to paint everyday and start with what Henry James called;"an insolent degree of talent" a note Duran resented Sargent by the time Sargent was 25 he was eclipsing his teacher. This really crushed Sargent who had studied with Duran for 7 years. Sargent painted El Jaleo and the Oyster Gatherers of Cancall while in Duran's class. Sargent also painted on some of Durans larger works while a student. One of Sargents fellow students got Sargent to paint his brother (twice)Robert Louis Stevenson. He was also buddies with Monet and Manet at the time. Sargent was buying Monets when the French would not. Rodin was one Sargent greatest artist fans.

Jason Peck said...


I did not say that laque translates to lake.


I believe laque ordinaire is similar to Carmine Lake or Permanent Alizarin Crimson. Basically its a cool red.

Best Jason

Making A Mark said...

I've seen that portrait up close and personal in the Americans in Paris exhibition at the National Gallery - it's amazing.

I think I've also read that narrative before but goodness knows where (maybe in an exhibition). It certainly pays rereading. Thanks James.

Jim Smyth said...

I believe Frank Riley's method is an extension of Duran's methodology. I think Jack Faragasso's explanation in his classes at the Art Student's League about the halftones of each plane where pretty much what both Sargent and Duran were saying.

Douglas K said...

Ralph Mayer in his "The Artist's Handbook" identifies Vert Emerqude as Viridian. He doesn't have an entry for Laque Ordinaire, which translates as "Ordinary Lacquer;" however, his description of Lac on page 48 is as follows: "Not a true pigment. A resin with a deep, transparent, Brownish red color. Not permanent. Obsolete, having been replaced by Alizarin Crimson. Used since early medieval times. Described under Shellac."
And under "Shellac", page 226:
The crude material, or stick-lac, is refined into a number of grades...The lesser refined grades (seed-lac, garnet-lac, and button-lac) are a deep blood red; formerly this lac was used to make a red dye..."

Timothy Tyler Artist said...

A couple of things, Douglas, I was with you from the beginning on your translations and terms. My issue is that nowhere have I ever seen any flats spots in Sargents' work. The fleeting (no-permanant)colors have famously left the work of other painters normally made before 1820. When one digs deep you do find interesting things in art. For example WA Bouguereau would copy his "pencil" lines with ink, then seal these ink lines with varnish-then begin to paint over this varnish in oil paint. While it is not considered very wise, his ois have held up very well.

Secondly there is no lineage as robust as Frank Riley-he can be tracted back to any number of artists and has been. This root system needs some careful research. I think one reason is he and his students take pride in the past connections (lineage) and discuss these in the halls and classrooms of some fine art schools where mystique gets mixed with fact.

Francis Ryan said...

I think the laque refers to the beetle, from whose exoskeleton Carmine and Shellac are made