Archive for May, 2015

Charles Bargue is widely known as the founder of the academic approach to drawing. His approach, as set out in his book, Cours de Dessin, (available here) is used most of the academies in Europe and America. The approach is dry and lifeless, even sterile, but hugely efficient.

Naturally gifted artists should avoid this kind of academic training as it will hamper their natural exuberance but in an environment where so much art is a talentless mess, all serious artists should at the very least pay serious consideration to it.

What came as a surprise to me is that in his painting, Bargue was a master of composition, colour, texture, atmosphere and detail.

Bargue. Flute player

Charles Bargue.
The flute player.

Usually we see atmosphere as the contrary of detail, and it takes a master such as Vermeer, Degas, and yes, Bargue, to bring the two opposites together into perfect harmony.

The study for his Chess Players is as loose as an impressionist painting, and the finished painting a tour de force of observation and technical mastery.

The Flute Player displays unbelievable virtuosity and great self discipline. One button on the musician’s coat is a still life in the small, and the music sheet looks as if it can be played from.

How is this done? I know from his drawings that he did a finished study in outline, but where do the subtleties of colour, value and texture come from? There is only one place, the subconscious.

Great artists can see what is unseen. They can visualise a world of the imagination, and they can live in it. Writers, musicians and artists have this gift of visualisation and if we want to encourage it we have to return to real painting.

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