Back to all journal entries The Charles Bargue drawing plates have been a staple in classical art education since they were created in the nineteenth century. Here at LARA we believe these plates to be one of the most effective introductions to representational drawing available to the beginner student. As such, they form the first two cast room exercises of the LARA Curriculum before students tackle designing from life. The use of these plates became extremely common throughout Europe and its influence touched a huge number of artists of the period. Perhaps one of the most interesting examples of this is Pablo Picasso, whose primary study took place with his father himself a teacher of drawing at Escuela Provincial de Bellas Artes in Spain. Shown above is an example of Picasso tackling a Bargue drawing.

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Source: Gerald M. Ackerman This book is dedicated to Daniel Craves for several good reasons, the most important being that he was the instigator, facilitator, and mentor for the book.

Eventually both Mark Walker, the late and lamented scholar of Bouguereau, and Daniel separately photographed the plates of the Drawing Course, and prints from their negatives were soon circulating among a small group of artists.

I enumerated to Daniel the difficulties in doing a new edition: the course had no text, and although it was self-evident that these were beautiful drawings—inspiring and exemplary models that any figurative artist would prize and want to copy—I as an art historian and not a trained artist found it hard to imagine my writing an explanation of the plates and their use. Right off the bat I was given a plumb line, an easel, a cast of a foot in a shadow box, and was shown the rudiments of the sight-size technique.

I was soon confronted by a model, whom I approached with my plumb line and chalk and the bit of experience I had gained in drawing the foot. Each day they looked at my work, discussed it with me, criticized it, encouraged me, and pushed me along to the next step. It was a type of personal instruction I had never experienced and, sad to say, had never practiced in my teaching career. I was in a room with a dozen other students, and they, too, helped me with technical matters of the most elementary sort—for instance, how to sharpen my chalk, or how to place my easel.

The moments of silence and discussion among the students were equally inspiring. By all accounts a hardened art historian and theoretician, I was suddenly being initiated into how artists worked, thought, and saw.

Following my initiation period, Daniel and Charles spent several evenings going over the plates of the Drawing Course with me. I made notations on one of the first portable computers. The notes I took then became the foundation of the commentaries in this book. So, Dan, here is your book. Charles, I hope you find it useful, too. You may both find it difficult to recognize your own words through the multitudinous revisions of the text, but it is their spirit and your teachings about how to look at the drawings that animate most of the text.

The writing of several books already under way prevented my immediate return to Florence and my resumption of the study of drawing. Nonetheless, I continued to draw in studio classes in the schools where I taught in the United States, and I also drew —most informally—with several groups of professional artists in Los Angeles, who patiently accepted my amateur standing while I learned more about their working habits. My gratitude here to sculptors John Frame and Judy Debrowsky, whose studios served as the sites for these weekly meetings.

In I went back to Florence, and for five years thereafter I spent a winter or spring semester at the Florence Academy. I gave several lectures—usually on great academic masters—and continued as a student, drawing academies in the mornings and working from casts or copying Bargue drawings in the afternoon.

At the academy I was aided by many splendid artists who daily, in turn, criticized my work—Charles Weed, Maureen Hyde, Simona Dolci, Kevin Gorges, Angelo Ramirez Sanchez, Andrea Smith, among others—all of whom were patient, aware of my intentions and abilities, as well as my limitations. The ideas, methods, and sometimes even the very words of these teachers have worked their way into this book.

These ideas, comments, and suggestions were all augmented and revised by me to give the text a consistency of voice and method. Here I was helped by my assistant, Graydon Parrish, an artist of great learning and intelligence, who regularly gave up months of his valuable studio time to sit beside me and go over every paragraph of the book.

He contributed whole passages to the technical sections as well as drawing illustrations for the appendix; he constantly checked or questioned my vocabulary and helped to consolidate my various notes for the plates. We worked very closely, and he criticized and helped with all parts of the book. We often disagreed but, needless to say, our friendship has survived intact.

Many artists among my friends were interested in the project; a small number—Jon Swihart, Kevin Gorges, Peter Bougie, Tom Knechtel, and Wes Christensen—read the manuscript in its penultimate stage and offered intelligent criticism.

Many other artists, eager to see the Drawing Course published and to give it to their students, have encouraged me through the years. I thank them all. My friends in Minneapolis—especially Annette Lesueur and Peter Bougie—sustained and encouraged me during the long travail. I was also aided by my academic colleagues, dealers, and collectors.

My colleague Frances Polil carefully read through the final draft. McIntosh in the United States. The administration and staff of the Goupil Museum in Bordeaux—in particular Helene Lafont-Couturier and Pierrre-Lin Renie—were of crucial importance in terms of the physical production of the book. They supplied illustrations and information I requested at a pestiferous rate and arranged for the photographing of the plates of the Drawing Course from the two complete sets owned by the museum.

Sylvie Aubenas and her staff at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris found photographs of lost paintings by Bargue in obscure locations within the library. To the countless other librarians, registrars, curators, and collectors who in one way or another added to the information, richness, and accuracy of this book I extend my thanks and gratitude for your cheerful assistance.

Curators at museums in England and the United States have done valiant work for me. The staff of the Dahesh Museum of Art—associate director Michael Fahlund, curator Stephen Edidin, associate curator Roger Diederen, and curatorial research assistant Frank Verpoorten—has provided unflagging assistance and advice both as colleagues and good friends.

Last but not least, Monsieur and Madame Ahmed Rafif, my publishers, have given me the wonderful support and leeway that I have enjoyed for twenty years.

Above all, thanks to my partner, Leonard Simon, for his patience throughout the writing and production of another book.

The course was designed to prepare beginning art students copying these plates to draw from nature, that is, from objects, both natural and man-made, in the real world. When the Drawing Course was published in the late s, it was still generally assumed that the imitation of nature was the principal goal of the artist, and that the most important subject for the artist was the human body.

The expression of the subject depicted had not yet been replaced by self-expression. Since this tripartite division of activities was taken for granted in the curricula of the time, the plates were issued without instructions. Relying on the expertise of contemporary teachers and practitioners of academic figure drawing, the present editors have tried to indicate how these plates might be taught in classes and used by individual students today.

Throughout, every attempt has been made to explain nineteenth-century drawing theory and practice. An attempt has been made to clear his life of legend and to write a biography based upon the scant surviving evidence. Of those, only half have been located, most of which are in private collections. His Drawing Course is known to only a few through stray and scattered surviving sheets and from the hitherto only known complete set of the Drawing Course in the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The plates reproduced in this book were selected from these two sets. To make the introduction to Bargue more complete, an illustrated and annotated listing of all his known paintings has been included as well. The first two sections of the Drawing Course were intended for use in the French schools of design, or commercial and decorative art schools.

It was believed that in order to produce articles of commerce and industry that could compete on the international market, designers of utilitarian objects would benefit from knowing the guiding principles of good taste. Good taste, or le grand goul, was based on classical form, which was defined by the rarefied style of antique statuary.

The third section on drawing after live models, by contrast, was issued for use in art academies. Drawing after live models was discouraged or even prohibited in European and American schools of design, that is, in schools of commercial or applied arts, and was only seldom and reluctantly included in their curricula; it was strongly felt in the artistic establishment that commercial artists should not be encouraged to develop aspirations or pretensions beyond their percived abilities.

The Realists did not generalize their figures; personal traits—even ugly ones—are observed and recorded. The course sold well for at least three decades, including several large printings for various institutions in England as well as France. The lithographs were evidently worn out by use; some older art schools still have a few surviving relics of the set, usually framed and hung on the studio walls as examples of nineteenth-century assiduity.

The teaching of traditional academic practices almost died out between and , as the number of academically trained instructors gradually diminished. This decline was concurrent with a shift in emphasis from an objective imitation of nature to a subjective reaction to the world, or even to the abstract qualities of art itself.

This was a major revolution in art theory. Scholars investigating artists trained between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I will find that this book helps them understand the training and early work of their subjects. It is well known, for example, that Vincent van Gogh worked independently through the course more than once, and that Picasso copied Bargue plates at the Barcelona Academy.

Today most art schools have dispensed with teaching drawing after plaster casts as an integral part of learning how to draw; and the modern life class differs greatly from the academic life class.

Whereas the earlier training emphasized accuracy, solidity, and finish, modern instruction emphasizes gesture and self-expression, which often results in a nonacademic exaggeration of forms. Earlier the model held one pose for many hours, even weeks; modern life-drawing poses are very short; an hour is considered in many studios to be a long pose. Many modern teachers and practitioners believe high finish is mechanical and inimical to self-expression.

Furthermore, the modern teaching of anatomy is cursory. Modern drawing classes neglect the organic structure and unity of the model. Students in drawing classes are allowed to draw approximate sections of bodies and to accept multiple test lines and accidents without correcting or erasing them.

A persistent modern view holds that there are no mistakes in a work of art. The only criterion is the artists intention. By contrast, a good academic drawing—today as in the nineteenth century—should be accurate and finished, concerned with organic unity, and devoid of superfluous details. Careful academic practices not only develop patience but also train the student to see mistakes and correct them. In addition, academic theory urges the student to make continuous reference to nature in order to avoid excessive personal expression or mannerisms maniera.

The human figure is viewed and painted with respect, without detachment or a sardonic air of superiority on the part of the artist. The academic tradition exalts the human body.

Eight thousand drawings and sculptures by students from the art departments of public educational institutions had been put on display; officials and critics were united in decrying the exhibits as very poor in quality. Since early drawing education in the industrial and decorative art schools consisted mainly of copying after prints or casts, the general conclusion was that they had been given poor models. On this account, we are afflicted by the weakness of the models that are called upon to develop it.

To place before the eyes of beginners in our schools examples devoid of all ennobling sentiments, to have copied engravings and lithographs of a false style, of incorrect drawing, of schematic method—this amounts to the corruption of the taste of the nation; it makes the development of vocations impossible.

These fundamentals of [art] instruction must be rigorously reformed. Although he, too, expressed his unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the works on display, he saw a silver lining; [T]he great benefit of this exhibition will be its having opened the most obstinately closed eyes; of forcing the opinion of a few to become the general opinion: of leading, we hope, to a complete reorganization of the teaching of drawing.

Guillaume had just denounccd as corrupters of taste…. Thus it was left to individual initiative to solve the problem.

Men of taste and learning applied themselves and a certain number of good models have been published. The Maison Goupil could not remain a stranger to an effort having as its object the response to such a high degree of contemporary concern: it, too, set to work, and with the aid of some practical men it has designed a program whose execution has been entrusted to some distinguished artists….

In the choice and execution of these models no concessions were made to the pretty or to the pleasant; their severity will doubtlessly discourage false vocations; they will certainly repulse those who think of drawing as an accessory study, a pleasant pastime; thus. The Drawing Course was not unique; there were many others on the market.

Around , for example, Bernard-Romain Julien had published his own course. It was designed for use in the public schools of France, a had it proudly declared on the title page. The plates are in a refined, linear, Neoclassical style, yet they migth have been the very models against which Chesneau and the committee had reacted.

The delineation of the profile between the forehead and nose is subtle, with almost invisible modulations. The hair is complex and would discourage a novice.



This review was originally written when I was on the first plate of the course. The review below is quite critical of some aspects of the book, partly as a result of the frustrationI was experiencing at the time. Graydon Parrish, one of the editors of the book, sent me a very nice email having read this review, and considering how critical I was, he was very polite. The book appears to have been a labour of love on the part of Graydon and his co-editor,Gerald Ackerman.


“Drawing Course” by Charles Bargue – Cesar Santos Vlog

Dutaxe The consensus was that this was due to the low standard of the work the students were copying. The reading of the material is fast, but now the fun begins as I go back to replicate the drawings. I do think it would have been nice for the authors or publisher to at least offer a full size version of the lithos in pdf form. The Bargue-Gerome Drawing Bbargue is a complete reprint of a famous, late nineteenth century drawing course.

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