Saturday, January 9, 2016

J.C. Leyendecker's Report from the Académie Julian

The 50th issue of Illustration Magazine is completely dedicated to Leyendecker, with a staggering collection of 162 illustrations of the life and work of both Leyendecker brothers, J.C. and Frank.

About 100 of those are of J.C.'s art, taken from high-rez scans of the original art and reproduced full page, making this one of the best collections of his work in print.

The biography by David Saunders is well-researched and well-balanced. One of the things that fascinated me most were the insights into the Leyendeckers' French training, and I'll focus on that aspect in this post.

J.C. wrote home to Chicago describing the work he was doing in the Académie Julian under Benjamin-Constant, Lefebvre, Bouguereau, and Laurens:

"Thoroughness is the principle upon which the French Art Schools have won their success. It doesn't take long to discover that style and dash will not make a drawing or painting go here as it will an illustration back home." 

"Serious work —getting right down to the foundation principles—is the demand which is laid upon every student over here. If I learned anything it was that a picture is really only valuable for the thought behind it. There is little talk of 'handling' and of the catch tricks of the trade, and much emphasis upon a deep and serious significance in everything attempted."

Students are accepted into the program without an entrance portfolio, but instead they are evaluated after attempting a study from life:

"Three models pose at the same time in each room, and the new pupil takes his materials and begins work upon the subject which attracts him. But some time in the first week the professor comes around and takes a first look at the beginner's study. That is an important moment, for if the teacher does not approve of it the nouveau is assigned to work from casts instead of from life."

"The mornings are devoted to class study from models and casts, and the afternoons to composition work. The subject of the composition is announced in the class, and it is briefly explained by the teacher. The students are not allowed to consult with any authorities bearing upon the subject, but must make their composition wholly from the meager data given them by the professor." 

"The pupil is at liberty to do his composition in his own atelier or combination lodging-room and studio. Saturday afternoon is looked forward to as the great occasion of the week. Then the compositions are brought to the classroom and the teacher passes from one easel to another giving his criticism to the pupils, who crowd around him, clambering upon chairs and stools to secure points of vantage from which to view the pictures."
In the future, I'll share a couple other excerpts from this special issue. If you like this kind of stuff, pick up a copy before it sells out.

Illustration Magazine issue 50, which contains 112 pages and costs $15.00.


MrCachet said...

J. C. is one of my favorites, next to Wyeth.

Susan Krzywicki said...

This sentence struck me: "There is little talk of 'handling' and of the catch tricks of the trade, and much emphasis upon a deep and serious significance in everything attempted."

If you compare this to what an Abstract Expressionist, for example, might say about a work, it does still ring true, right?

If you took a conceptual artist, a similar thought might describe their driving impetus.

But how different are the results!

Michael Dooney said...

I was holding off on picking up this issue since I thought it might just be a re-hash of the stuff in the great book on JC that came out a year or two ago, but now I am thinking I should grab a copy ;)

Bobby La said...

Thankyou James. Fascinating glimpse into the life of the atelier. Extraordinary rigor which was the polar opposite to my art school training. Tom Wolfe described the period I endured as "dropping from the ceiling into pots of paint" At this time I would take refuge in a pub in the heart of Melbourne where I would sit at a table over a beer under the painting "Chloe" by Jules Julian Lefebrve. It is an extraordinarily beautiful work that none of my lecturers would dare to mention. I pined for the skill set in that painting that I knew I would never possess.

Susan - I would humbly suggest that the "deep and serious significance" of a conceptualist or an Ab Ex painter doesn't much in common. One gives succour, the other denies it.

James Gurney said...

Bobby, nice Lefebvre. The one that I've seen by him is in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, showing Ophelia heading into the water with her flowers.

Bobby La said...

Oops...I left a bit out there Susan...I meant the works of a 19th century French academy compared to a conceptualist/ab ex. I find no succour in the latter.

Bobby La said...

Hi James. The handling of his materials in the Chloe is just superb and is what really rang my bells. It is a magnificent thing. I note the higher key in Ophelia and the near same oleander tree used in both. I see too the background has that flatness thing going on that was so admired in his older contemporary Puvis De Chavannes. I can all too easily be seduced by that period. Inordinate skill can be a reward unto itself sometimes.

Tello said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tello said...

Thanks for sharing Mr Gurney.
I thank all the work you do.
My best wishes from Málaga.Spain

Tom Hart said...

What a treat it is this snowy Sunday Michigan morning to see the two LeFebvres mentioned by you, James and Bobby.

More to the point of this article, I have again been (willingly and successfully) tempted to order the cited copy of Illustration. I can't afford to subscribe to the periodical, so it's really helpful to be see your recommendations, James.

Pa Kalsha said...

I'm a sucker for anything about Leyendecker and I've heard nothing but good things about the quality of Illustration magazine; does anyone know if they will ship single issues internationally?

James Gurney said...

Pa Kalsha, the publisher says: "If someone adds the issue to the shopping cart and moves through the ordering process, they can select any country in the world as the destination and the website will give them a price based upon the weight of their order (the quantity of magazines or books they selected and placed in their cart). Airmail shipping is expensive, though! I can do nothing about that, unfortunately."