Saturday, August 22, 2015

Russian Books on Academic Drawing and Painting

The revival of academic drawing and painting in America and Europe has largely been guided by the republication of the book by Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme.

But there are other ways of approaching the teaching of academic drawing, most notably the Russian tradition, which has more of a focus on spirit and construction, rather than the outward appearance of the form. I discussed some of the differences between the two approaches in an earlier post when I interviewed Professor Sergey Chubirko who teaches at the Russian Academy in Florence.

For those interested in Russian academic methods, there are two recent books by a living Russian master named Vladimir Mogilevtsev. He is the head of the Drawing Department of the Russian Academy of Arts (also known as the Repin Institute) in St. Petersburg.

Mr. Mogilevtsev's primary books are Fundamentals of Drawing (first published in 2007) and Fundamentals of Painting (2012). They were published in Russian, but they have been translated into English, and I've had a chance to read through a PDF version of the English edition, alongside the Russian print editions.

I was interested in the drawings, of course, but even more interested in the thinking behind the drawings, and these books provide an excellent window into the mind of the Russian academy.

The way the book is organized is that there's a step by step sequence that plays out on the right hand page. On the left hand page is a commentary, along with examples by masters of the past, often including Russian artists such as Repin, Serov and Fechin. 

In both the drawing and painting books, Mr. Mogilevtsev places great emphasis on beginning with a strong concept of the subject, analyzing what feeling the subject evokes in the artist, and thinking how best that can be expressed.

He also analyzes the form into its blocky forms, the skeletal foundation, and the individual muscles beneath the skin. The examples from old master drawings, sculptures, and paintings clarify his observations, and deepen the appreciation of the way our predecessors solved similar problems.

Fundamentals of Painting follows a similar structure, with extended step-by-step demos, beginning with a head portrait, a half-figure portrait with hands, a standing nude and a copy of a Rembrandt.

The quotes from the text are refreshing:
"Sometimes students complain that they don't like a scene. This is a sign of laziness and limitation of an artist's imagination. There is a person, and a person is the whole world. Revealing this world is a huge task for any artist."

Sketches and finished portrait by Valentin Serov

There's a lot of emphasis on planning with sketches to capture the quality of the subject that attracted the artist, and in maintaining that perception throughout the arduous process. The text emphasizes seeing the whole, contrasting warm and cool, and establishing a hierarchy of details, with not all details being equal.

In their print form, Fundamentals of Drawing and Fundamentals of Painting  are available from Amazon, but the print copies are currently only in Russian. You can also buy them directly from the publisher 4-Art in Russia, or from Gallery Nucleus, a U.S. source for imported art books. 

They're big books (13 3/4" x 9 3/4"), and the quality of the reproductions is outstandingly good. Currently, if you buy them in this form, they will send you the PDF of the English translation. The English translation is also excellent. I'm told the English print editions are soon to come, and I'll update this post when they become available. 

I have also been told by the publisher that the drawing book is in the process of being translated into French, Italian, Spanish and Turkish languages. They also already have a Chinese translation a Finnish version.

I also highly recommend Academic Drawings and Sketches (Fundamentals Teaching Aids) (shown at left). Instead of showing a couple of drawings taken through a long series of stages, this is a large collection of finished examples of Russian academic figure drawings. They're mostly nudes, drawn by the instructors and students over the last 25 years.

It also includes some more informal sketchbook drawings of fellow students and landscapes. This book is mostly pictures, with high quality reproductions. It has minimal text at the beginning, an introduction by Vladimir Mogilevtsev in both Russian and English. The captions in this book are in both Russian and English. Academic Drawings and Sketches  is 168 pages, softcover, 9.5" x 13.5".


Shane White said...

Hey James,

Did you order these through Amazon? Did you order direct from the Art-4 Org? If so, did you end up paying more than the $3.99 suggested shipping?


Doug B said...

Hi James,

Is there any way to get only the pdf of Mogilevtsev's book?



James Gurney said...

Shane and Doug, the publisher provided the books as review copies, along with the PDFs, so I'm not sure what the shipping charges would be. I don't think they sell the PDFs by themselves. It's really nice to have the print editions, because the detail and quality is much better than you can see on the PDF.

They said that about 50% of their print run goes outside of Russia, and 85% of that export goes to the USA, mostly through Amazon.

Vladimir Venkov said...

Shane I have "Fundamentals of drawing" but in Russian. I live in the UK and I ordered it from It arrived as expected and I didnt have any problems. It was while ago so I dont remember the cost of the delivery. Hope this helps.

Draw Paint Learn Grow said...

You can buy the pdf download versions of both the drawing and painting books only, or the printed versions (which come with the pdf) from 4-art at the following pages: -

The links to buy only the pdf versions are in the Description section.

The prices seem quite reasonable too, although the postage costs as much as the books (92 Euros total for both books with pdf versions and including postage to the UK).

Doug B said...

I just found out that the PDF ***IS*** available:

If the page is in Russian, just click on the English Union Jack flag at the top centre of the web page.

Unknown said...

Hi James,

Thank you so much for these book reviews. I enjoy your perspective on them.

Is there a way that we too might be notified as these english translations are released? If not I will just have to wait on baited breath until you post on your blog!

Best Wishes

James Gurney said...

Brian, yes, I'm in touch with the publisher, and I'll do a new post (and FB and Twitter) to let you know when the English print editions become available.

Thanks, Adrian, Vladimir, and Doug for the additional info.

Unknown said...

Much appreciated. I'll commence to holding my breath then. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Hi. Thank you for this great blog. one other author is Николай Ли.,_%D0%9D%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B9_%D0%93%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%B4%D1%8C%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%87

I had the chance to read his book on academic portrait drawing (the Persian translation) and it is the best book I've ever read about portraits. I couldn't find his book about portraits on amazon but I've found this :

Thank you again Mr. Gurney. This blog is like a University to me :)

Andra said...

Hi - This looks like a great resource - the Russian school has always fascinated me, as they seem to come from a very different perspective on art. Thank you again, James; you provide such a lot of information on your site.

Unknown said...

Hi James,

Just wondering if you had any idea when the english print versions will become available.

Thank you,

4ART Publisher said...

David, the book is already at the printing house. We hope to see the copies in our warehouse by the end of June, may be earlier. We'll make a special announcement on our website and on our Amazon info page. You can also subscribe to the news on our site to receive important announcements. Regards,
Liana, 4art

Unknown said...

Just received an English copy of "Fundamentals of Drawing". Bought through, it took 22 days to arrive (in Canada) and copy only $4 CAD in shipping. They've also said I can have a PDF version. A very handsome book, I am very pleased and will likely also buy the Painting book by this author.

Unknown said...

Thank you Kevin! This is going on the wish list for the holidays!

Unknown said...

Hi, I’m from Iran,.. I really like art, like Russian paintings and drawings... but... cause I’m from Iran I can’t bye any pdf, any books from amazon or any website.. Can you give me a suggestion, I really love to have this book :( and any other Art book :(