Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Leibl Way

Study by Wilhelm Leibl
When he was an art student, Hermann Ebers remembered learning to practice the "Leibl Way" of painting, based on the method of the German realist Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900).

"Take a grateful model," his teacher told him, "for instance an old bearded head. Start off with a small spot and bring it forward until you think that you have got it."

"From there on, set tone next to tone with the utmost precision until everything is together as a whole."

Wilhelm Leibl
Such a method, when carried carefully to finish, can result in very accurate and sensitive studies.
From "Heinrich von Zügel as a Teacher" by Hermann Ebers
Thanks to Christoph Heuer for the translation.
Previous post on Carolus-Duran's Mosaic Method


Jim Douglas said...

Even after developing admirable drawing skill and reasonable painting ability, I confess deep frustration when reading an artist's description of his or her "method" when it is as vague as the one above.

I'd like to ask Wilhelm Leibl:
How do you decide the appropriate "small spot" to begin?
How exactly do you "bring it forward"?
I'm already trying to "set tone next to tone with the utmost precision," it's just not working well. Any ideas on how to practice building that ability?

I feel his hazy description offers little help to developing artists. If these words were offered by a painter without Leibl's masterful portfolio, no one would assign them value.

My facetious side thinks he might as well say, "I find a scene worth painting, take a brush of the proper size, mix the paint until it is the precise color I need, then apply it exactly where it needs to go while remembering to be expressive with my brushstrokes. I do this until I am satisfied with the result." This may all be true, but it is not helpful.

A Colonel of Truth said...

Akin to working a jigsaw puzzle - but the painter "finds" (mixes vice selects) the pieces pulling the puzzle together. How I was "taught." A quite good post.

Warren JB said...

Jim beat me to it! At this point I can only think 'what's the definition of a small spot?'

Karl Kanner said...

my impression of his idea of bringing a small spot forward is to pick a spot on the face, put down a mark of paint, then bring it forward by modulating the tone (maybe making it lighter in this case aka forward) until you think the value is EXACTLY right. The rest of the values in the painting are perhaps keyed off this "correct" spot. it's certainly a method I haven't thought to use for portrait painting, although I know many artists use it in landscape painting when they paint the sky first then key the rest of the painting to their sky value. just my thoughts..

James Gurney said...

Jim, I sympathize with your frustration. It reminds me of J. S. Bach telling a music student who inquired about his mastery of the keyboard: "It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself."

However, please keep in mind that any detailed procedural instruction about painting is rather scarce from 19th century academic masters, and the German methods are even harder to come by. This fragment is all there is from this document. Luckily we had the help of a German friend to translate this piece for us. I would work from these from primary-source fragments, scarce as they are, than trust methods that have been passed down 4 or 5 generations away from their origin.

There are several contemporary painter/teachers who use a somewhat similar method of "build out from a spot" but I don't want to speak for them.

Keith Patton said...

Jim, this is all my educated guess, bit I think the approach described seems to be very similar to what Jeff Watts calls the "tiling method." I believe watts lineage goes back to 19th century france through Reilly. I've seen other Dumond/Reilly lineage folks do something similar as the tiling method.

Rather than lay in a whole painting roughly and then rework areas, you take a certain area and lay it in as a "mosaic" of patches of color. You lay in a series of tones to represent the form, but don't blend them together. After the form is laid in you can step back and see if the form is keyed right (darks arent too dark or too light, lights aren't too light or dark, etc) and then you can either brush the patches together or put intermediate patches inbetween them to turn the form.

I've read Rubens did this (lay it in as a mosaic of color, if the effect is right you can brush it together). I also know I read a 19th century painting manual a long time ago that described this-- though it said to work from lights to darks-- but I can't remember the author/artist.

If you look at an unfinished Sargent you can usually see the roughed in approach, whereas an unfinished Jacques Louis David shows the tiling section by section approach.

I think the only difference here may be that Leibl doesn't do an accurate preliminary drawing before tiling. Morgan Weistling sometimes does this according to his site/DVD.

Again, these are just my guesses.

James Gurney said...

Keith, yes, thank for that. As you say, all those contemporary artists (and some others) use similar systems where you lay down patches of color next to each other.

Sargent's teacher Carolus Duran also reportedly taught his students to use a method where they laid down a mosaic of colors, not blending them at first. I did a post about Carolus Duran's method here: http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2009/03/carolus-durans-method.html

David King said...

If I am understanding this correctly I believe this is what Richard Schmid calls "Selective Start".

Keith Patton said...

Thanks for the input James... always love what you have to say.

I was searching for this particular quote earlier, but didn't find it until now. I think it's similar to the technique described by Leibl:

"...in regard to the lights: in them the colors may be loaded as much as may be thought requisite. They have substance: it is necessary, however, to keep them pure. This is effected by laying each tint in its place, and the various tints next to each other, so that, by a slight blending with the brush, they may be softened by passing one into the other without stirring them much. Afterwards you may return to this preparation, and give to it those decided touches which are always the distinctive marks of great masters." --Rubens

Unknown said...

This is a wonderful post, great banter here... These distinctions are very helpful. My question to you guys is on another technical matter, brush choices:

Re: Oil painting, How would brush choice figure into this way of painting? (starting from one spot)

It would seem that this method is less dependent on brush choice, as brush quality and choices would have been much more limited back then? Often we see artists sketch in with a stiff hog hair and then move to finishing strokes using a flexible long hair brush (series 279 Masters Choice or Langnickle 5590) etc

Sorry if I'm off topic here but to me the next question for the idea being discussed is; what kind of brush is the artist holding?