Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Sleeping Footman

A footman—or uniformed servant—must keep up appearances in a wealthy household.
A Footman Sleeping by Charles Bargue (French, Paris 1825/26–1883 Paris)
1871, Oil on wood, 13 3/4 x 10 1/4 in. (34.9 x 26 cm), Metropolitan Museum (not on view)
This fellow evidently opens the front doors and escorts important guests out to the coach, unfolding the big umbrella when it's raining. But he also has long periods of down time, so he reads his well-thumbed books and occasionally succumbs to an undignified catnap, not even noticing the fallen glove.

The artist is Charles Bargue, the author of the Drawing Course used in many contemporary ateliers.
The painting is reminiscent of the tiny but exquisitely observed paintings by Ernest Meissonier.
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Books
Charles Bargue Drawing Course
Meissonier is well represented in this French exhibition catalog.

9 comments:

Susan Krzywicki said...

Well, there goes another half-hour idling down byways with you. I had never heard of the Bargue course, so thanks for the info and a sweet spot of time to learn something new.

Jim Douglas said...

Classical realistic paintings like this blow me away! The overall effect is so sophisticated and resolved. The artist captures so much, and in such a small painting! The artist becomes a magician. Oddly, it makes me want to pick up a paint brush immediately ("I want to be that good!") AND give up painting forever at the same time ("I'll never be that good!").

I have the utmost respect for contemporary figurative/classical painters, especially those associated with the Grand Central Atelier, Studio Incamminati, The Florence Academy of Art, etc. These institutions teach the demanding and painstaking processes necessary to produce artists capable of painting a beautiful head, a stunning nude figure, or an exquisite still life. But in "The Chess Game" Charles Bargue painted a grouping of men dressed in wigs and silk coats, playing chess next to a classical balustrade, accompanied by a puppy and cockatoo, against a backdrop of autumnal trees on an overcast day. That's a quantum leap! It's the difference between a beautiful melody and a full orchestra.

In my humble opinion the impressive accomplishments of today's best painters still fall noticeably short of the grand, sweeping visions of Bargue, Menzel & Meissonier. Jim, do you believe there are any living painters that could truly rival the old masters? Maybe it's impossible. Perhaps the masters of old invented their game for their time, perfected it, and finished it, and we should just move on. Who plays chess in a wig and silk coat anymore anyway??

Jim Serrett said...

Just stunning the level these artists were painting at.

James Gurney said...

Jim and Jim, you may have something there. R. Ives Gammell, the conduit for much of the academic training that modern ateliers use, said this of a similar painting by Bargue:
“For sheer skill of workmanship on a tiny scale, this picture by a pupil of Gérôme [Charles Bargue (c1827-1883) has never been surpassed. The notable thing is that, in spite of its small dimensions and the amount of detail involved, neither unity nor atmospheric effect is lost. The painting of the pleated skirt is a sheer miracle which defies analysis. We today do not even know what type of brush or what kind of medium was used in the making of such a passage.

More here: http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2011/11/sheer-miracle-which-defies-analysis.html
And as you say, it's not just the rendering of surfaces, but the whole ensemble, the mise en scène that is so convincing.

Susan, I'm glad to headed down the Bargue rabbit hole. Thank goodness Bargue and Gerome developed that course, and thank goodness Graydon Parrish and Gerald Ackerman brought it back.

sfox said...

Need to find room in the art book budget for Bargue's book. But, in the meantime, I found two volumes, containing many pages of the plates, for free on Archive.org. There's some of the instructional material included also. It looks like more or less two digitizations of the same material, but I didn't do a page by page comparison. Probably worth downloading both. Nice thing about having them on a tablet is that one can zoom in on the images for close inspection.
https://archive.org/details/C.BargueDrawingCourse

Wonderful painting! Was a little taken aback when I saw the size, or lack thereof. Thank you so much for posting it.

Tobias Gembalski said...

This is really amazing. I can see some resemblance in your paintings James. Bargue´s work is inspiring and depressing at same time, but it triggers my interest to paint again (last year I didn´t get any painting done, hopefully this year).

Rich said...

"We today do not even know what type of brush or what kind of medium was used in the making of such a passage".

I'm wondering about that too, James.
Whas a loupe used in the making as well?

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Susan. I forgot those were out there on Archive.org. That's a great resource. For those who can afford it, it's also good to buy the book to support the scholarship of Ackerman and Parrish.

Rich, it's possible he used a loupe, but he probably just sat close. There are pictures of Meissonier painting, and that's what he's doing: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adolph_von_Menzel_-_Meissonier_im_Atelier_in_Poissy.jpg

James Gurney said...

Tobias, I hope the effect of Bargue is more toward inspiring than depressing. Remember he struggled too, and I don't think he was terribly prolific as a painter.