Saturday, February 28, 2015

Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 3 of 4)




Earl Shinn, writing in The Nation magazine in 1869, described the terms of criticism that students heard most commonly from teachers in the École des Beaux-Arts, especially from Jean-Leon Gérôme. These terms, and the concepts they represent, provide an insight into the aesthetics that were valued in an academic figure study. Quoting Shinn: 

"Too insipid, too weak and soft.
This is said of the flesh, or, as the French say, the skin."

"Inlaid. 
This condemns our anatomy, when it has the look of being patched on the surface rather than woven under from the bone."

"False sentiment.
This stricture is not necessarily applied to a Della Cruscan* elegance, but has been heard over a drawing of the Laocoön expressing too much passion and motion instead of the wonderfully caught rigidity of the original."

“You have not seized the movement.
 This is one of the commonest of our difficulties; the word may apply to the most inert things, as the sweep of a lock of hair ; the lay of a fold of drapery, or of patterns on the fold; the expression of a supine hand, etc."
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*Note: These criticisms have nothing to do with the painting above. "Della Cruscan" refers to members of a late 18th-century school of English writers of pretentious, affected, rhetorically ornate poetry.
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BOOK SIGNING TOMORROW
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The Nation, Volume 9, July 22, 1869, Page 68. "ART-STUDY IN THE IMPERIAL SCHOOL AT PARIS." by Earl Shinn
Previously in "Beaux-Arts Instruction" Series: Part 1, Part 2

Friday, February 27, 2015

Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 2 of 4)

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This is part two of a four-part series examining practices and principles taught the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century. (Part 1 here). This post is excerpted from an article by Earl Shinn, an American student in Jean-Léon Gérôme's atelier. Shinn wrote about his experience in an 1869 issue of The Nation.


Students painting from life at the École 
A Week-Long Academy
Students in the École who had graduated from cast drawing and drawing from the nude model were finally allowed to paint in oil from life. The resulting study was called an "academy." The model would typically be standing in a classical pose, lit from high north windows. Students would spend a full week on each study. Here, Shinn outlines how that week was spent.

Figure study or "academy" in oil
by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin (1808-1864)
"What is really the week’s affair to the Beaux-Arts man is his 'academy.'

"On Monday he hits the pose, which is always vigorously pronounced and spirited, on the model's part, when first assumed; the dash that may be thrown into the attitude while the figure is perfectly fresh can never be caught up again if missed at the beginning.

"By Tuesday the artist has become absorbed in the complications of light and shade.

"On Wednesday the master comes, and perhaps rejects nearly everything that has been done, disfiguring and blotting the sketch from one margin to the other. The model, drooping upon his dais may bear little resemblance to the elastic attitude of the drawing, and the student is accused of attempting to idealize. 'You have been trying to modify nature from your reminiscences of the antique; you have ennobled the head, braced the shoulders,' etc. The study is altered, in the spirit of realism, until all the stark and pitiful ugliness of the model's lassitude is expressed.

"One of the difficulties of a life 'academy' is that, although the example before you is a moving, changing object, now braced, now drooping, now turned a little to the right and now a little to the left, your copy of it is expected to show all the purism of the photograph.

"If you were putting the same model into a historical picture, you would be expected to elevate the attitude and expression; and you would then begin to hear from your critics a great deal about the difficulty and responsibility of borrowing from nature, what to take and what to leave.

"'Only Phidias and Da Vinci,' I have heard declared,  'and perhaps Michelangelo, deserved to have received the revelations of anatomy.' If, on the other hand, you were copying the antique, you would have the full luxury of refining your line and your form, with no limitation of time and with
a rigid model. The life 'academy,' then, is expected to avoid the imaginative qualities of [a] picture, and to win, from a constantly deteriorating example, the accuracy which is so fascinating a quest in copying from statuary. A felicitous study is therefore a very desirable treasure, and old forgotten ones by [Thomas] Couture or [Hippolyte] Flandrin are preserved in the ateliers where those painters have studied, used as paradigms by teachers, or sold as something of unique value in the color-stores.

Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905)

"Another trouble is the variation in the color of the air on different days. 'The patron has accused me,' an energetically protesting youth will cry, 'of seeking the silver tint of Terborg; it was as far from my thoughts as silver from my pocket. But I established my key of color on Thursday, when there was a solid gray rain like slate-pencils; and the Italian turned blue and chattered; and how will you expect the tones of Titian in such a climate, my brothers?'

"On the closing day of the week I have known an incorrigibly gay lad to exhibit a canvas almost completely expunged by the blottings of the professor. 'This was to have been my masterpiece. I meant it for the altar of the church where I was baptized, whether as a St. Michael or a John in the Wilderness. The outline was good until Auguste changed it into a caricature of the Prince Imperial.'"

According to Albert Boime, "An experienced pupil could capture a head in a single session, but the others would often require several days. During the first session, the beginner sketched the head or figure, and then traced the drawing to canvas. When confronted with the live model, the pupil proceeded in much the same way as in rendering the head, only now he drew his pencil or charcoal sketch directly on the canvas. In the second session he traced the painted outline and established the principle masses of shadows in a diluted mixture of turpentine and red ochre. On the third day he prepared his palette carefully and rendered the flesh tones, as well as the hair and accessories. Finally the last session was devoted to completing the ébauche with respect to the tout ensemble." 
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Excerpts from The Nation, July 22, 1869, Page 68. "ART-STUDY IN THE IMPERIAL SCHOOL AT PARIS" by Earl Shinn
Final quote from The Academy and French Painting in the 19th Century by Albert Boime
More examples of academies at LARA (London Atelier of Representational Art)
Three excellent book sources:
The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers
The Studios of Paris: The Capital of Art in the Late Nineteenth Century

Previously on GurneyJourney:
Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 1)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 1 of 4)

What kind of instruction did the students receive at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century? This begins a four-part series about the concepts and criticism in the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), based on a rare first-hand account of an American student who reported his experience in 1869.


A Visit from the Master
A visit from Jean-Léon Gérôme was a special occasion for students in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, occurring only once a week. When the master was not in attendance, the students harassed each other, dueled with mahl sticks, and joked around.

On a typical morning, they went about their normal routines, making coffee, and, according to a student who was part of the class, "arranging themselves in the tobacco-smoke, setting palettes, filling pipes, trimming crayons, moistening bits of bread, and wringing them into erasing-balls in the corners of handkerchiefs."

Gérôme arrived exactly on schedule, removed his hat, and placed it on a peg reserved just for him. The students came to attention and the Italian model perked up.

He started in one corner of the room and went systematically from student to student, standing or sitting in their place, and regarding their drawing or painting with full attention and unsparing criticism.

Gérôme, Pygmalion and Galatea
"Observe," he said, looking at a very neat drawing by a student, "Your muscles are inlaid against one another. They are carpentered. There is a something—that is not the vivacity of flesh. Go next Sunday to the Louvre and observe some of the drawings of Raphael. He does not use so much work as you, yet one feels the elasticity of his flesh, packed together of contractile fibers, based upon bone, and sheathed in satin. You tell me you will express that texture afterward. I tell you Raphael expressed it from the first stroke!"

Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520)
Study of David after Michelangelo
"Your color rages," he said to another student. "That of the model is lambent. Besides, your figure is tumbling, it is not on its legs. I will save you labor by telling you the simplest way of correcting this. Turn the canvas upside down and draw it over. The error is radical."

To another, he said: "You do not yet understand the continuity of forms in nature. You accent too highly. That is vulgarity. For instance: it appears to you that the internal and external vastus, when gathered in at the knee, cause a break in the outline, like the cap of a pillar. Similarly under the calf. You are deceived, and should use your eyes; the accent is not in the line, it is in the shading beside the line, and even there far more slightly than you think. Here again, the vein crosses the forearm. You make a hideous saliency. Nature never, absolutely never, breaks a line."
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The excerpts are from The Nation, May 6, 1869, Page 352. "ART-STUDY IN THE IMPERIAL SCHOOL AT PARIS" by Earl Shinn
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Thesis about Earl Shinn by Daniel Timothy Lenehan
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Three excellent book sources:
The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers
The Studios of Paris: The Capital of Art in the Late Nineteenth Century
The Academy and French Painting in the 19th Century

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Foreground Miniatures



Michael Paul Smith takes photos of his favorite town, called Elgin Park. The pictures look like snapshots from some midcentury utopian town.


Most of his photos involve some cars parked on the street and buildings and trees in the background. There are no people. 
The photos are actually taken in the present day. There's no digital trickery involved. Everything is shot in-camera. The cars and street are miniatures, propped up at tabletop height. 

Mr. Smith doesn't use a fancy camera, just a cheap point-and-shoot. These cameras work well, though, because the small apertures don't give away the trick with shallow depth of field. The great thing about this method is that you get all the lighting, reflections, and occlusion shadows for free, because the models are in the same light as the background. 

Mr. Smith is an excellent modelmaker, and he has made hundreds of cars and dozens of buildings.

This video takes you behind the scenes, where he generously shares his process—and his backstory.

Use of foreground miniatures in "The Aviator"
The use of foreground miniatures is an old visual effects technique from early days of moviemaking. It's still used by low-budget filmmakers and the occasional big budget film. (here's more info on that from Vashi Visuals).


In this shot for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the ship was only 20 feet long, and the people were standing way back in the shot.

Photos of Elgin Park via Studio 360
Film by Animal Media Group
Vashi Visuals
Book: Elgin Park: An Ideal American Town (8.5"x11" landscape hardcover book

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dinotopia: World Beneath Episode 4

It's Podcast Tuesday! Here's the newest episode of the serialized audio dramatization of Dinotopia: The World Beneath.



You can listen to the episode with the play button above or by following this link to Soundcloud.


"Trust old Crabb," says Lee as they approach Black Fish Tavern by the light of the moon. 

Oriana proves herself to be a valuable member of the expedition. Producer Tom Lopez had fun elaborating the colorful characters.

The Podcast Series
This acoustic adventure was produced by Tom Lopez, mastermind of the ZBS Foundation, with an original music track by composer Tim Clark.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

Episode 5 arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition is now on view
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25. I'll be in attendance at events on Feb. 28 and March 1. Gentleman-cartoonist Jared Cullum is organizing a gathering of GurneyJourneyers for sketching and coffee before or after the events on Sunday.

Read more about the events here on this blog.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Phil May (1863-1904)


"Shave, or hair cut, sir?" "Corns, you fool!
Phil May (1863-1904) was an English cartoonist known for his deft and economical pen-and-ink caricatures. He grew up around the theater, so he was familiar with music hall actors and types. 

Benevolent Lady (distributing tract to inebriate, who has refused to accept one), "Do take one. If you read it, it will do you good."
Drunk (pulling himself together), —"Madam, I writes 'em."

He went to London and was so poor for a while that he slept on park benches, and he got to know all the varieties of gutter snipes. He portrayed them with a kindly wit and a sympathetic eye.

"Mos' 'stronary thing! a' most shertain th'was shome coffee in it."

He was so prolific that a publication came out using just his pictures, "Phil May's Illustrated." His cartoons of drunks and street characters made him wealthy and famous. 

Portrait of Phil May by J. J. Shannon
He liked to wear colorful outfits. According to John Lavery, "The last time we met he came to his studio door wearing the loudest suit I had ever seen. Seeing my look of surprise, he smiled and said, 'Come in and listen to it, dear boy.'"

ARTIST: 'My good man, may I have the honour of sketching your likeness? I am Mr. Phil May."
RUSTIC:  'Oh! are yer? Then, this time you'll be Mr. Phil Mayn't."