Don’t pay any attention to the critics. Don’t even ignore them

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Old Master Drawing Bargue-Gérôme Drawing Course I

Old Master Drawing Bargue-Gérôme Drawing Course II


Source: Gerald M. Ackerman


In general art-historical usage, an académie means a drawing or a painting of a nude -model in a pose considered “noble and classic.” Highly finished charcoal drawings of male nudes were produced in such numbers in art academies that the institution became synonymous with its most representative product. Female models were not used in life drawing classes at nineteenth-century academies until sometime after the middle of the century. Students were expected to learn how to draw the female nude from statuary and other works of art, such as the models in the first and second parts of Bargue’s Drawing Course. This was true even at the École des Beaux-Arts. Thus, the term académie in Bargue’s title for the third part is the most restrictive use of the term: the seventy drawings are all of male nudes.

The mastery of the nude male body was considered the most important part of the artist’s repertoire, for it was taken for granted—in the persistent patriarchal worldview—that males were the most important members of society; for all practical purposes, they were also the most important characters in the historical and biblical subjects academy students were instructed to paint. Despite the fact that history paintings had gradually gone out of favor after the middle of the century—and that it had always been easier to sell a painting of a nude female than of a nude male—intense study of the male nude persisted until late in the nineteenth century. During the twentieth century the practice changed; now females are the favored models in art schools and drawing groups.

The results of the nineteenth-century practice can be seen in the works of Gérôme. In the lycée in his hometown of Vesoul there were no live models at all in any of the drawing and painting courses Gérôme took. When he left Vesoul and went to Paris in 1839, he studied in the ateliers of Delaroche and Gleyre; only the latter is known to have used female models, but Gérôme’s time with Gleyre was a mere six months. Although his male nudes were, from the start of his career, both accurate and learned, it is easy to see from his early paintings that he had learned the female form by studying Greek statuary: his nude women are geometrically idealized, with taut skin over rounded forms, and with particularly firm, hemispherical breasts. Not until relatively late in his life—probably influenced by the growing severity of the standards of Realism—did Gérôme produce female nudes that seem to be drawn, painted, or sculpted from live models.

Ancient Sculpture as the Model of True Beauty, The Prevalence of Male Models

The nineteenth-century preference for male nudes as studio models had an old and embedded philosophical tradition behind it. The preference, nurtured and developed over a long period, was based on some tenets of Neoplatonism. The term covers a series of independent and different philosophical schools of thought in ancient and recent times, all sects or varieties of which were ultimately based on the dialogues of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (427?-347 B.C.). Neoplatonism flourished, in various forms, into the seventh century A.D., when it was suppressed first by the Christians and then the Muslims as pagan, although many Neoplatonic ideas had already been assimilated by Christian theology. The interest of the humanists of the fifteenth century in ancient texts and philosophies led to a revival of Neoplatonic thought in several forms (such as philosophy, mysticism, and theurgy), branches of Neoplatonism that have influenced Western thought down through modern times. Popular astrology, for instance, is organized according to a Neoplatonic system: the planets are intermediaries between a higher, spiritual, reality and our world.

The belief by Plato that an independent, intelligible reality exists above and outside our sensible, material world is the basis of all schools of Neoplatonism. This higher reality is the realm of the truth, of values and principles that are the basis of our intellectual and moral life. The purpose of philosophy was the attainment of knowledge of these principles through study, instruction, ritual, revelation, and restraint of the senses (denial of the flesh). At the most elevated level it could result in a union of the individual soul with the highest sphere of the cosmos.

Human attainment of knowledge about the true principles was endangered by the lower emotions, which were aroused by the distracting sensory experience of the material world, or, as Christians saw it, a struggle between the spirit and the flesh. The sensory experience of this lower, material world evokes the lower emotions—lust, anger, gluttony, pride, envy, greed, sloth—which can consume our energies, weaken our judgment, and obscure the guidance of the higher principles, which already exist—instilled by God for our guidance—in our minds, thus delaying or destroying our ability to understand the true, absolute, and immutable principles or truths, such as piety, honor, obedience, justice, the Good, beauty, and so forth. To live an enlightened and blessed life, one had to free one’s self from the domination of the senses, while clarifying to the point of unambiguous purity the concepts of the higher truths in our minds. Odd as it may seem, despite this antisensual argument, art—in particular the depiction of the nude human body—was seen as an aid in the pursuit of truth.

In Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus the love for a beautiful youth is described as an aid to comprehending the higher principles of the mind. Even though love is evoked by the youth’s physical beauty, the latter still provides an insight into the nature of true beauty, an insight that could lead to the knowledge of other absolute truths or principles planted by the creator in the mind but nonetheless difficult to access.

It is important to stress that the path opened by physical beauty to true knowledge is also the path away from sensory or erotic entanglements. Giving in to the senses would not only debase the relationship of lovers but would further entangle them in the material world and obscure their understanding of higher principles. (Hence the popular expression “Platonic love.”) Without embarrassment, this belief that falling in love could lead to spiritual enlightenments was revived by several Neoplatonists of the Italian Renaissance.

The idealized male body, especially as exemplified in the sculpture of antiquity, became a paradigm of true beauty. This pagan association of virtue and beauty can be sensed in many ancient sculptures as well as in the works of the ardent Christian and fervent Neoplatonist. Michelangelo, as in his famous statue of David and his poetry.

In the eighteenth century Renaissance Neoplatonism informed the thought of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), the founder of archeology and a prolific writer on ancient art. While studying Greek sculpture, he decided that the beauty of the Greek depiction of male bodies was due not to idealization by Greek sculptors but rather to the perfect bodies of their models, the Greek men of antiquity. Moreover, these men were more beautiful than modern men because they were simply better people. The idea that the contemplation of natural male beauty opened the door to la belle nature—the pure and eternal idea of nature in the mind—and that this could lead to other higher truths remained popular into the second half of the nineteenth century.16 Thus, through several manifestations the influence of Plato may be seen lurking beneath the exclusive use of male models in the École des Beaux-Arts until late in the nineteenth century, which is reflected in the third part of the Drawing Course.

The ancient statuary of female nudes likewise presented women in an already idealized and ideal form. From the Renaissance on, most artists—docile, chaste, timid, or shy—used ancient statuary as models from which to learn how to pose females and how to depict their anatomy. In a pinch when dealing with a difficult pose, artists often used a male model— preferably slightly plump—to pose for a female figure; in addition to substituting a female head, they made a few bodily adjustments to feminize their drawing, such as adding breasts or thickening the hips. As the female nude began to predominate in Western art, its “rarefied beauty” and purity were praised; the simplification of natural forms through geometry, such as hemispherical breasts, represented a step toward the ideal, and hence toward moral thought.

Nonetheless, the counterargument—that viewing an image of a nude woman put the male viewer in moral peril of experiencing an erotic reaction or of harboring impure thoughts—was an important and persistent position. Thus, it was argued for centuries that both female and male nude bodies, if depicted, should be presented in an idealized manner, bereft of direct erotic stimulus. In France between 1875 and 1881 official censors inspected and approved prints and photographs of nudes before they could be put on public display or sold in shops. Despite this review, many approved prints and photos of nudes could not be displayed in shop windows. After 1881 the police were empowered to arrest those who made an offensive public display of a nude in a shop window, on a magazine or a book cover. If a trial ensued, the defense would usually argue that the nude, no matter how lasciviously depicted, was purified, with rounded, geometrical, unnatural forms—”like a sculpture”—and that the depiction was aimed at the higher consciousness and consequently was unlikely to arouse the lower emotions. The defense often won. In 1888 a lawyer defended a nude on the cover of the magazine Le Courrier français by pointing out that no genitalia were visible and that “the marmoreal bust with its imaginary rigidity and strength bears no trace of realism. . . . I see nothing more here than an admirably pure body, its lines powerful and chaste… .’

Even so, students were thought to benefit in some practical sense from this philosophical preference for male nudes. Human anatomy was believed easier to grasp by observing the thinner, angular bodies of males than the fuller, rounder figures of females. It was thought easier to maintain discipline among the usually rowdy students—all male in most academies and art schools until very late in the nineteenth century—when the nude model was a male. Furthermore the teachers and administrators thought that they were protecting the morals of their students by shielding them from the power of the lower, sensual emotions that would be evoked by the depiction of a nude woman, especially one who was considered “available” (the popular assumption being that any woman who bared herself for money was of doubtful virtue). Even after the introduction of female models into the drawing classes in the mid or late nineteenth century, the general public, artists, and students often regarded and treated female models as no better than prostitutes.

Practical Matters, Copying the Drawings

As the title of this section indicates, these drawings of posed nude males are meant as preparation for drawing after live models in a studio. These exercises—the careful, exact copying of good drawings after a model—are meant to be executed in charcoal, as was the practice when drawing after a model posed in the studio. A good académie in charcoal should take at least fifteen hours, if not longer. Your copy should be developed and finished according to the steps in the first part (see the section entitled “Suggestions for Copying the Plates“).

These académies are remarkable inventions of Bargue. You will come to appreciate them more and more as you work with them; your admiration will intensify when you start drawing from live models. Even so, the procedure—from schema to outline to shadows—was not Bargue’s invention; it was standard practice in art schools and studios in the nineteenth century.

The drawings in this part are almost pure outline drawings, without shading or background; there are only sparse internal indications of anatomical features. Even if you are fairly advanced and sure of yourself, you should start out with the simpler, early plates, thereby making sure you grasp Bargue’s procedural method.

The first two parts of the course were designed to make you see the essential elements of a figure and teach you a procedure for drawing from a model. The drawings in the third part stress structure and unity as opposed to seeing bodily parts separately. The large factors—character, pose, and proportion—are more important than surface detail. A quick perusal of the pages of the third part discloses just how little internal information Bargue puts within the outline: faces are left blank and hands and feet are often indicated by schematic lines. Furthermore, the complexities of the outline of the body are often reduced to straight lines between points, as in the first schemata for the cast drawings in the first part. Despite the fact that there is little internal musculature, the figures are both simple and successfully articulated.

As this is preparatory practice for drawing a nude from life, it is best to simulate the working conditions of drawing from a model in a studio. (In all the drawings in this part, the model is assumed to be on a platform at least 40 centimeters [16 inches] in height. This will put the eyes of a seated model about level with an artist standing at his easel—an ideal height for portraiture—and will result in the artist looking up at a standing nude. This is best done by working with the Bargue académie and your drawing paper side by side or on a wall or on a straight (not angled) easel. (Students working without instructors should first carefully read about sight-size. Knowledge of sight-size practices will help students better understand many of the suggestions in the comments on the individual plates.)

At times the straight lines with which Bargue first captured the shape of certain parts of the body may seem like mannerisms, that is, trails or features reflecting a personal style; in practice these straight lines are tools that indicate the peaks of the planes on the surface of the body, which are demarcated by the protruding anatomical features under the skin. The straight lines do not retain their abstraction in the finished drawing, where they are usually rounded out to achieve a natural appearance. The schema—the resulting silhouette of connected outlines—is just the first step. And if you have worked through or from the plates in part I, you know how to proceed once you have outlined the figure. In part III only the last few drawings are finished: no shadow line has been developed and filled in and, of course, no halftones have been recorded. If you were working from a live model, you would be expected to finish the procedure, to produce a finished drawing with most of the surface modeled. Bargue teaches you to correctly draw the structure before you start adding the finishing touches, as well as how to determine the correct proportions of the outside shape of the subject; otherwise the interior features will not fit in correctly. You may continue making or checking your estimates by stepping back and measuring them at a distance; eventually you will make the measurements without a tool. Checking your drawing by comparing it with the model viewed in a hand mirror is always helpful.

With the Bargue drawing and your drawing side by side, you will soon learn to see errors. Remember, if these drawings were to be used as models for a painting, any inaccuracies would be compounded once you tried to fill in the interior. Such strictness is necessary both to teach you how to see and transcribe a human being’s form correctly and to purge your own practice of any mannerisms or impreciseness that you may have already acquired.

The Drawing Course was published on full folio sheets, about four times as large as the reproductions in this book. If you are working in charcoal, you should take the book to a photocopy shop that has a good laser printer and have the drawing you wish to copy enlarged in color two or three times. It will be easier to see and understand Bargue’s linear decisions in a larger drawing; many details would be virtually impossible to copy in a small scale, especially in charcoal. If you wish to copy directly from the book, you should work in pencil.

Some Notes on Bargue’s Style

Bargue’s use of straight lines seems intuitive rather than programmatic. In some complex anatomical areas (calves, knees, elbows, biceps, hands, and feet) he usually uses straight lines as a deliberate simplification. Whenever there is a lot of information to transcribe, the outlines of his forms generally tend toward straight lines. Just as often he uses a long, simple, sensuous and elegant line, slightly curved, taking in several dots. The virtuosity of these passages makes it seem as if he were performing for us, in comparison to the short, choppy units in the other passages.

The angles, both concave and convex, that change the contours of the figure imperceptibly are all based on internal anatomical features: swelling of muscles; attachments of tendons to bones; emerging surface bones; flexed muscles or fat. Emphasizing the protuberances of internal anatomical features punctuates the outline, clarifies the inner structure, and gives fullness to the contours. It takes a good knowledge of anatomy to see and articulate these features.

Bargue’s abstraction of the figure involves more than the simplification of planes and outlines. Each of his figures has a singular rhythm that subordinates and subsumes the details—or, rather, unites them: each element supports the overall effect of the pose and the direction of the gestures.

Bargue uses overlapping lines to emphasize the structure of the body (as in plate III, 38). These lines assist in the foreshortening since they indicate it one form or muscle is in front : another. Bargue is particularly well versed in the construction of joints and the knee: he always indicates the patella, the protubérances of the condyles of the fibula and tibia, and the connecting tendons for the larger leg muscles that anchor themselves around the knee. Similarly, Bargue often records accented forms caused by folds in the flesh or pits like the navel, axillae, and the pit of the neck.

Bargue’s indication of interior anatomy is almost calligraphie, particularly in the legs. These indications are drawn with a bit of brio. Some contours are quite refined, with Bargue recording all the expected changes in curvature (see the legs in plates III, 18, 19, and 37). Others are drawn in a more economical, “off the cuff” manner. For example, in plate III, Bargue audaciously draws the outer contour of the left leg with a single sweeping arc that is interrupted only by the bend in the knee; in plate III, 41 the outer side of the right leg is a sinuous s-curve.

A Repertoire of Traditional Poses

In the many studies in part III Cérôme and Bargue have included a repertoire of traditional poses, some of which might occasionally have been useful to history or narrative painters. They were certainly useful to students at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, many of whom intended to compete for the Prix de Rome. A list of the recognizable poses follows.

Rhetorical poses: plates III, 10 and 37.

Allegorical figures: plates III, 28 and 40 (melancholy); plate III, 29 (grief or mourning [he could be holding an urn or a libation vessel]); plate III, 37 (prayer); plate III, 39 (grief); plate III, 47 (astonishment).

Action figures: plate III, 12 (David with his sling); plate III, 38 (an archer); plate III, 46 (a man tugging); plate III, 45 (stretching).

Famous figures: plate III, 24, Hippolyte Flandrin’s Young Man Seated on a Rock, study (Jeune Homme nu assis sur un rocher. Figure d’étude); plate III, 33, after Michelangelo’s Dying Slave (L’Esclave mourant) (fig. 13); plate II, 35, the Dying Gaul (Gaulois mourant) at the Capitoline Muséum in Rome.

Biblical figures: plate III, 12 (David); plate III, 15 (Saint John the Baptist or a shepherd); plate III, 18 (a shepherd); plate III, 36 (Adam expulsed from Paradise); plate III, 42 (Ecce Homo); plate III, 44 (Abel dead, the dead Christ, or a martyr).

Traditional women’s poses: plate III, 17 (examining a bird’s nest); plate III, 50 (a bather).

Notes on the Plates III

The French titles used and translated are the modem inventory descriptions of the Goupil Muséum. In the text “left” and “right” refer to the left and right side of the model.

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Plate III, 1. Young man, leaning on his right elbow.

(Jeune homme, accoudé sur le bras droit.)

The first drawing is the most simplified) of all the figure drawings, reduced to an almost abstract figure of straight lines and angles; the emphasis is on proportion. Bargue wants you to begin the figure with straight lines right from the start. We suggest a plumb line from the bottom of the stand upon which the boy is sitting, through the rnargin of the stomach, and up the back of the neck. This is a popular, effective pose for a full-length portrait.

Plate III, 2. Young boy, standing while leaning on a box.

(Jeune garçon, debout accoude à un mur.)

This is a funerary or mourning pose. The weight is divided between the feet and elbows. Pay attention to the very faint construction lines that travel between the buttocks and the upper body.

Note: the line of the stand is an absolute vertical.

 Plate III, 3. Standing man, walking, rear view.

(Homme debout, marchant, de aos.)

This drawing of a fighter is more developed than the previous two: the arms, the hair, and the shoulders are more detailed; the pose, with its many foreshortenings, is more sophisticated. In places the outline cuts into the body, following the shape of a muscle. These overlappings are one of the techniques Bargue teaches. The outer limits of the scapula are clear on his right side, while its inner limit is indicated inside the back. The bones of the elbows show through the skin. The lower part of the raised arm is drawn with two quick, overlapping lines.

This is a pure outline, as if all the light were coming from the front, flattening the form. A light from a window or a lamp would cast a clear shadow across the body, as in most of the cast drawings in part I. The shadow line should be drawn first and then the shadow filled in with an even tone; the halftones may be added next. However, shadows are not recorded in most of the figure drawings of part III. I suggest a plumb line from the lower tip of the ear, through the knee, to the left toe. When drawing from nature—such as a studio model—it is best to make your first reference points from the bottom up. Although it does not make much difference when you are working from a drawing, you might start forming the habit of doing so now. With a model the position of the feet would be marked on the stand and would always be in the same place. The rest of the body will sway and move as the pose settles in. As a consequence, secure reference points taken from the feet will always be useful and assuring.

Plate III, 4. Standing young man, leaning on a box, front view.

(Jeune homme debout de face, appuyé sur un mur.)

This simple pose, with the emphasis on the outline, has only minor areas of foreshortening. There are some careful indications of anatomy in the upper body and arms. An important area i the interlocking of the models left hand with the waist. In some areas you can guide yourself by the distances across empty spaces outside the figure, between limbs and the body (the so-called negative spaces). A good plumb line could run from the left side of his neck to the top of the little toe of the standing leg.

Plate III, 5. Standing young man leaning on a box while holding up his left arm, front view.

(Jeune homme debout, de face, appuyé sur un mur; levant le bras gauche.)

The model in this drawing was probably holding onto a pole or a rope suspended from the ceiling. There is tension in various parts of the body; pay attention to how this tension is shown and how it affects the anatomy. His right arm is very accurately foreshortened. Leaning on the box produces a tilt of the rib cage and gives an angle to the hips. An axis or medial line through the head and torso will help organize the proportions of the upper body; furthermore, the symmetrical features of the body will align themselves more or less perpendicular to the line.

Plate III, 6. Standing young man, leaning on a pole, left leg set back, side view.

(Jeune homme debout, de côté, appuyé sur un bâton, jambe gauche en arrière.)

This is a sensuous, serpentine pose with a surprising sense of movement initiated by the act of looking over the shoulder. There are broad and subtle overlappings along the back and shoulders. The plumb line can run from the right heel to the back side of the head.

Plate III, 7. Standing young man holding a pole behind himself in his left hand.

(Jeune homme debout tenant un bâton de la main gauche derrière lui.)

The young man could be pulling a sword out of a scabbard, albeit with his left hand. Concentrate on the rhythms of the muscles in the arm and legs. The plumb line runs from the part of his hair through his right foot.

Plate III, 8. Standing young man, right hand on his head, rear view.

(Jeune homme debout de dos, main droite sur la tête.)

The angles of the arms and legs are set in rhythmic response to one another. The main weight is on the left leg, although equilibrium is maintained by the right leg. The negative spaces are small but critical since they indicate that the legs are not touching. On the model’s back Bargue uses predominantly straight lines to describe internal structure.

Plate III, 9. Standing young boy holding a pole, head turned toward the pole.

(Jeune garçon debout tenant un bâton, tête tournée vers le bâton.)

The only areas of pronounced foreshortening are in the legs and feet. The pole forms a safe negative space along the boy’s right contour, which you can use to check your measurements and

your shapes.

Plate III, 10. Standing man holding out his right hand, rear view.

(Homme debout de dos tendant la main droite.)

This could be the stance of an orator conceding a point (with his hand upturned); or it could be a repoussoir figure framing the central event of a history painting. The tension of the pose is described in several parts of the outline, particularly in the waist and thighs. The plumb line could run from the peak of the head to the inside right ankle.

Plate III, 11. Seated man, rear view.

(Homme assis de dos.)

After a popular studio pose, this is a more advanced, lifelike study. The outline is accurate, especially along the left side of the back, and the upper part of the leg. Light lines describe the medial line of the figure, and some of the internal structure. The weight of the body is emphasized by the flat line of the buttock and the bulging flesh above it.

 Plate III, 12. Standing young man, right hand on left shoulder.

(Jeune homme debout, main gauche sur épaule droite.)

This could be the biblical David with his sling over his shoulder, getting ready to shift his weight forward (notice the tilt of the pelvis) for the pitch. The plumb line is from the peak of the head down. You may need vertical reference lines to assist you in plotting this narrow figure. In a free-standing pose the head is always positioned over the weight-bearing or standing leg (the other leg is sometimes referred to as the free or play leg).

Plate III, 13. Standing young boy holding a pole, legs crossed.

(Jeune garçon tenant un bâton, jambes croisées.)

The visible hand and the feet are drawn with great clarity and emphasis. Watch the proportions of the slightly foreshortened left arm. The pole steadies the model and furnishes an extra reference line from which to judge. This drawing also demonstrates that the head is usually positioned over the weight-bearing leg (although here it tilts slightly off center due to the support by the pole).

Plate III, 14. Standing young man turning his back, hands crossed behind him.

(Jeune garçon debout tournant le dos, mains croisées dans le dos.)

This could be a prisoner tied from behind. The angular outline stresses the boniness of the young body. There are obvious anatomical notations on the back, such as the scapulae, and more subtle ones on the legs, such as the tendons of the hamstring. The plumb line runs from the top of the neck to the inner right ankle.

Plate III, 15. Standing older man leaning against a stand while holding a pole.

(Vieil homme debout adossé à un mur tenant un bâton.)

The vague support—a wall or a stand—is clearly improvised; nevertheless sketch it in so that you will not forget how the weight is distributed in the stance. Observe how a faint line has organized the angles of the man’s lower chest and belly. This observation relates nicely to the method taught in part I. Moreover, there are many negative spaces to help further organize the limbs. The plumb line runs from the peak of the head to the right toe.

Plate III, 16. Seated man, leaning on a wall.

(Homme assis, accoudé sur un mur.)

There are few straight lines in this splendid pose. The seated young man leans back against a table, so that all of the body recedes: the face is back, the hip forward. Study the position of the back and the upper torso. There are many good lessons in foreshortening in the drawing: one leg cornes forward, the other goes back; the torso leans away from the viewer, the head is behind the shoulder; and the right arm reaches back, foreshortening the upper arm as well as the forearm.

Plate III, 1 7. Seated young boy, holding an object in front of him in his hands.

(Jeune garçon assis, tenant un objet devant lui dans ses mains.)

This is a moody pose, as if the boy were reading his fortune in a teacup. All the forms are lean and sinuous. His left leg, however, is in an inelegant view (a situation that often arises when models are carelessly posed and may be inevitable when many students work from the same model). Relate the right leg to the left as you draw.

Plate III, 18. Standing young man leaning on a pole.

(Jeune homme debout appuyé sur un bâton.)

This is a shepherd’s pose. The young man is not so graceful as some of the other models; his legs are knobby and long. Pay attention to the articulation of the elbows and knees, which are described by Bargue with overlapping lines.

Plate III, 19. Standing young man, frontal view, with hand on chin.

(Jeune homme debout de face, main sur le menton.)

This could be either a pensive or pugilistic pose. Is he sizing up his opponent or simply dreaming? Although the model has articulated fingers, the toes are summarily indicated. The loincloth is elegant in that it does not obscure the silhouette. Part of each arm is in foreshortening. Study the marks that Bargue makes for internal features. Usually they describe the boundaries of major anatomical forms as well as the center lines of the torso. The plumb line runs from the right corner of the face to the inner ankle of the model’s left foot.

Plate III, 20. Standing young boy leaning on a stand, left leg crossed behind the right leg.

(Jeune garçon debout accoudé à un mur, jambe gauche croisee derrière la droite.)

In this highly developed drawing, the arms, hair, shoulders, legs, and feet are all detailed. The pose is sophisticated; the parts of the body are arranged in interesting juxtapositions. Notice the overlapping of muscles on the legs. Carefully measure the foreshortening of the reclining upper arm. The several negative spaces can be used as guides to the shapes around them. Such sharp lines show the angles produced by the bones, whereas the softer lines show muscle and fat.

Plate III, 21. Seated young man, three-quarter view, hair somewhat long.

(Jeune homme assis, trois quarts, cheveux mi-longs.)

The slump of the torso is shown by curves, the boniness of the arms and legs by straight lines. Bargue’s main interest is in the upper body, particularly in the tension of the supporting left arm. The plumb line runs from the peak of his face to the side of the box. This helps in measuring the distance from the box to the left toe, and so forth. In addition to a plumb line, extra horizontal reference lines (all perpendicular to the plumb line) would help to organize the various areas, say, through the top of the box under the buttocks and through the navel and left elbow.

Plate III, 22. Man in profile, leaning to the right.

(Homme de profil, penchant à droite.)

This is a pose with some action or movement indicated. It is a successful drawing, especially in the forms of the two arms. It is important to transcribe the negative spaces accurately. The tension between the left and right side of the contour is subtle and sensitive; small deviations in the contours may detract from the roundness of the figure. Work from side to side across the form and notice the variety of the contours. Normally a depression on one side will be paired with a swelling on the other. Again, some well-placed horizontals will help divide the figure into manageable areas.

Plate III, 23. Standing man, right hand on a stand.

(Homme debout, main droite posée sur un mur.)

In this classic pose the head tilts back with a hopeful expression. The left knee is locked to indicate support and the belly protrudes forward gently, adding grace and movement to the pose. You need horizontals here as well as a plumb line.

Plate III, 24. Man seated upon the ground, his head on his knees.

(Homme assis sur le sol, tête sur les genoux.)

The youth in this splendid drawing holds a pose similar to that in the famous painting of 1836 by Hippolyte Flandrin entitled Young Nude Boy Seated by the Sea, study (Jeune homme nu assis au bord de la mer. Étude), in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The areas of greatest interest are his right arm and hands, the vertebrae on the back of the neck, and the blocky feet. You’ll need horizontals as well as a plumb line to organize your work.

Plate III, 25. Standing man, seen from behind.

(Homme debout de dos.)

A back view is always difficult because of the ever-changing morphology of bones, muscles, and fat. This is an older model, and the muscles and fat under the skin have sagged in a few places. The weight displacement is on his left leg, throwing the left hip up and the right one down. The foreshortened right foot is obscured, making it difficult to copy. You have to measure the angle of the foot from a horizontal. Bargue’s attention to structure and the shift of bodily weight is as refined as his subtle notations of age. This drawing is a splendid example of the mixture of the idealist and realist interests of the Academic Realists.

Plate III, 26. Standing young man, holding a pole in his left hand while looking at it.

(Jeune garçon debout, tenant un bâton de sa main gauche et le regardant.)

This is a well-developed drawing with accurate proportions. The gesture is subtle: the boy looks up toward the pole in his left hand (as if he were admiring a banner lost to our view); he shifts his weight to the right leg, and moves his left leg back. As a result, his shoulders and hips tilt at opposing angles. Opposing angles similarly animate the fingers, which are carefully arranged on his left hand.

Plate III, 27. Standing man, in profile, holding out his open left hand.

(Homme debout de profil tenoant la main gauche ouverte.)

This subtle drawing emphasizes the placing of the weight on the model’s left leg. The head is clear in its turn and structure. The hand bent back by the akimbo arm is noteworthy; the other hand—held in a position that a model would find hard to maintain—seems to have given Bargue trouble. This hand appears to have been added later; its gesture is not supported by any connection with the body, which inevitably makes it look too large. Such an effect was perhaps unavoidable given this pose. The classical rule is to choose a view in which all major joints are visible.

Plate III, 28. Young man seated on a box, his right hand supporting his head.

(Jeune garçon assis sur une caisse, main droite soutenant la tête.)

Traditionally a cheek resting on the hand of a seated figure represents melancholy. The most famous examples are Dürer’s 1514 engraving Melancholia I and Rodin’s 1880 statue The Thinker (Le Penseur). Melancholy is one of the traditional four humors (or temperaments) that determine human physiognomy and personality. The humors were an integral part of the Neoplatonic system; even today they are embedded, albeit discreetly, in popular astrology. The emphasis is on the supporting left arm; notice the taut deltoid and scapula. Faint construction lines are visible throughout, and there are indications of the ulna and patellae. The hand is carefully blocked out to show its importance and to balance it with the foreshortened arm and hand holding up his head. Use horizontal reference lines as needed.

Plate III, 29. Young man in profile holding a ball.

(Jeune homme de profil tenant une balle.)

The figure holds a ball, putting the biceps of the arm in flexion to support the weight; the tension runs down the right side of the body through the locked knee. The far side of the body, not bearin gthe weight, is relaxed and lowered. The entire torso from buttock to neck is exemplary. The chest, belly, and thigh are described by a single curved line.

Plate III, 30. Standing man in three-quarter view, holding a pole with both hands, his left leg crossed over the right.

(Homme debout de trois quarts, tenant un bâton à deux mains, pied gauche croisé devant le pied droit.)

This drawing of a mature man with fairly well developed anatomy emphasizes gesture and movement. Compare him with other models, such as in plate III, 33, and note how his contours differ from the younger men. The right foot seems to be an undeveloped thought.

Plate III, 31. Seated man in profile, his hands crossed on his left knee.

(Homme assis en profil, les mains croisées sur genou gauche.)

This is an excellent example of a well-proportioned figure with judicious indications of anatomy. The negative shapes are clear and therefore helpful. The foremost leg is accurately drawn. The arms are twisted over one another. Make sure you pay attention to the rhythms in the outlines of the legs and arms by precisely placing the high and low parts of their curves, all the while comparing one side of the contour to the other. Draw the left and right sides at the same time, using the internal indications of anatomy to guide you.

Plate III, 32. Standing young man, right arm resting on his head.

(Jeune homme debout, bras droit posé sur la tête.)

When copying this model remember that the two legs are on different planes!

Plate III, 33. Standing man, right hand on his chest, left hand on his head.

(Homme debout, main droite sur le poitrine, main gauche sur la tête)

The model imitates the pose of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave (L’Esclave mourant) in the Louvre Museum in Paris (studied in plate III, 30 and shown complete in fig. 13). The view is higher than the other drawings. Notice how the feet steady the body, as if he were standing on an incline. Be sure to maintain the character of the model’s maturity throughout the drawing- his limbs -thicker and more muscular than those of a youthful body. The drawing of the right arm and of the right leg is noteworthy.

Plate III, 34. Standing young man, turning his head to the left, right hand extended.

(Jeune homme debout, tournant la tête vers la gauche, main droite tendue.)

This very exciting drawing combines the subtlety and grace of the contrapposto pose with an extended, foreshortened, and accurately viewed right arm. It exemplifies several qualities of a good drawing, combining an interesting pose, a legible mood, clear anatomy, and a simplified line.

Plate III, 35. Half prone man, holding himself up on his hands.

(Homme presque allongé se soutenant de ses bras.)

The pose echoes that of the famous Dying Gaul (ca. 190 B.C.) in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Each arm bears weight in a different manner. The foreshortened legs must be copied exactly. Throughout, the information—external and internal—is very subtle. The boy was probably first inscribed within a triangle of construction lines, with a plumb line through one side of the head and left hand. Try to imagine such geometrical shapes around your figures as you were trained to do in the cast drawings (see comments to plate I, 5).

Plate III, 36. Standing man in profile, hiding his face in his hands.

(Homme debout de profil, se cachant le visage dans les mains.)

The pose is for Adam being expulsed from Paradise; it is a rhetorical pose, with codified gestures. It could be used for anyone in despair or grief. Throughout this section Bargue helps the student develop a repertoire of archetypal poses. Learn to distinguish their individual qualities; consider how figures can communicate meaning and emotion.

Plate III, 37. Standing man, left hand on his chest, right hand extended.

(Homme debout, main gauche sur la poitrine, main droite en arrière.)

The man strides forward, looking up as if imploring someone and putting his hand on his chest to demonstrate his sincerity. Note the grace of the extended arm and the carefully posed fingers. This pose is traditional and, although rhetorical, it is full of emotion. The fact that a pose is traditional does not mean it is worn out and useless; a good artist can infuse standard iconography with fresh expression by rethinking and experiencing the emotion, resulting in a figure that is legible and communicative.

Plate III, 38. An archer.

(Homme tirant à l’arc.)

This drawing emphasizes the archer’s balance and the muscular tension throughout his body —especially in his arms and upper body—as he pulls the bowstring back.

Plate III, 39. Seated man, hiding his face in his hands.

(Homme assis, se cachant le visage dans les mains.)

The student must learn to draw the figure in a variety of poses—seated, lying down, leaning— with each position presenting specific problems. This pose is complex, containing more detailed observation than hitherto. Be careful to preserve the relationship of height and width so that the negative spaces retain their descriptive quality. Also pay attention to the breaks and overlappings in the contour.

Plate III, 40. Standing man, right hand on his chin, left hand behind his back.

(Homme debout, main droite sur le menton, main gauche dans le dos.)

Since antiquity the gesture of the hand to the chin has traditionally symbolized pensive contemplation. Among the problems that should be noted, the arms are both rather cumbersome in their foreshortening. Although the right arm is well drawn, the left elbow seems out of place. The upper torso looks small relative to the hip, legs, and head. Assume this pose and check the appearance of your arms in a mirror, or ask a friend to assume the pose for you. The rhythms of the legs are well conceived and the disposition of weight seems logical.

Plate III, 41. Standing young man, left hand resting on a stand, right hand akimbo.

(Jeune homme debout, main gauche posée sur un mur,; main droite sur les reins.)

This is an assertive pose. The young boy stands alongside the box, with one hand resting on it. Between the weight of the hand on the box and the weight on his standing leg, an equilibrium is established which resounds throughout the body. The concavity of his right side emphasizes the jut of the pelvis and then quickly turns into the convexity of the buttock. A good plumb line would run down the center of his body, from the pit of his neck through his navel. Note how many straight notations have been turned into curves.

Plate III, 42. Standing young man, hands crossed over his waist.

(Jeune homme debout, mains croisées sur le ventre.)

Here is another bound prisoner, this time with his arms in front. This could also be Christ, either presented to the populace in the traditional Ecce homo iconography, or being baptized by John the Baptist. The drawing is a good example of anatomical articulation, particularly in the legs around the knees and calves.

Plate III, 43. Man leaning against a stand, face lifted up.

(Homme appuyé le long d’un mur,; visage vers le haut.)

This is a very relaxed pose seen from a low position. The legs are strong, the fingers nicely posed and spaced, and there are great subtleties of observation in the outline of his left side, from shoulder to groin. Note the depiction of his weight-bearing right hand.

Plate III, 44. Supine young man.

(Jeune homme allongé.)

A supine young man with foreshortening effects across his whole body. This is a pose often used for the dead Christ, the dead Abel, and various martyrs. Use vertical reference lines to divide the body into manageable portions; for example, from the ends of the fingers of the right hand up through the thighs. Continue relating one part of the body to the other.

Plate III, 45. Standing man, his hands behind his head, looking up.

(Homme debout, mains derrière la tête, visage en haut.)

This is a wonderful drawing of a man stretching. The relatively low placement of the ears assists the foreshortening of the head. Muscular rhythms play throughout the body. Very light interior lines show features of the anatomy, such as the under part of the chin. On both sides you can see the insertion of the latissimus dorsi into the armpit. The left leg is seen from the medial angle, that is, from the inside, and should be much wider than the right leg, seen from the front, which it is not.

Plate III, 46. Man pulling on a rope.

(Homme tirant une corde.)

This drawing depicts a man—with a rather small head for his body—pulling on a rope. The gesture suggests that he is pulling against someone. The right pelvis has dropped and the left buttock is compressed as a result of the physical effort. The tapering of the right bicep into the forearm is precisely noted. In drawing an action, pay attention to the muscles that are working. They contract and change their forms: muscles are shorter and fuller in flexion and leaner and longer in extension.

Plate III, 47. Standing man, arms spread out.

(Homme debout, bras écartés.)

This pose could represent surprise or astonishment. This is a very developed drawing even without a face. Notice the guiding schematic lines of the hands: Bargue groups the fingers together rather than drawing them individually. This example provides an extremely good drawing lesson: you see indications of the sternum, the knees, and the ankles. Bargue does not want you to forget where the bones are. He has caught the movement of the figure in all the limbs. Note the foreshortening of the right forearm and of the left upper arm. Academies in the nineteenth century usually had ropes hanging from the ceiling to help the models maintain such poses.

Plate III, 48. Standing young man, three-quarter rear view, crossed arms.

(Jeune homme debout, trois quarts de dos, bras croisés.)

This drawing shows a bystander in pensive mood. The young man has fine legs, broad buttocks, and faintly defined shoulder muscles. From this point on the facial features are included, and the internal anatomical features are better described than in previous examples.

Plate III, 49. Man lying on his right side.

(Homme allongé sur le côté droit.)

The bearded model sleeps, lying on his side. The shape of his body is altered by gravity, not by effort. Noteworthy is the sag of the abdomen, an area that is carefully developed by Bargue.

Plate III, 50. Seated man, left profile, slightly leaning toward the right.

(Homme assis, profil gauche, légèrement penché sur la droite.)

This pose is that of a bather seated on a rock and looking out to sea or of a faun perched to watch mortals (or nymphs) at play or work. Keep in mind that he is leaning away from you: his head is behind his shoulder; the shoulder is behind the thigh.

Plate III, 51. Semi-prone man, holding himself up by his hands, the left leg turned back, head in profile.

(Homme allongé se tenant sur les avant-bras, la jambe gauche repliée, la tête de profil.)

This older man is posed like the young man in plate III, 35. The problem here is drawing an older body with some sagging forms. There is a strong sense of loose skin over the frame and musculature, which characterizes the age of the man. The anatomy is more developed; the hands are refined, as is the head. Even so, the anatomical observations do not distract from the general unity. A pedantic convention is used for the first time: the lower lines of the limbs and body are emphasized by thickening. This mannerism is more exaggerated in the next drawing. Whether this was done by Bargue or a revising editor is not known.

Plate III, 52. Supine man, a pillow under his back.

(Homme allongé, coussin sous le dos.)

A mature man is shown in a supine position in this very finished drawing. Almost all of the outline has been made firm and definite—perhaps by another hand. Supine and prone figures are hard to plot. To determine the plumb line, find a center point at the groin, equidistant from head and feet. Several additional verticals will help relate smaller features.

Académies by Another Hand

For some reason—perhaps the confusion of the war of 1870—Bargue did not finish all sixty plates of part III. Evidently the original intention was to conclude with a set of finished drawings, that is, drawings with firm outlines, internal notations, without organizational lines, and even with some chiaroscuro. One would love to have such a set in Bargue’s hand. Unfortunately someone else—competent but without the style or grace of Bargue’s hand the last eight plates, which are reproduced here, in smaller format, not as models to copy but for the historical record.

Plate III, 53. Standing man, rear view, arms crossed on chest.

(Homme de dos, deboutbras devant.)

Plate III, 54. Standing man, pushing something.

(Homme debout poussant quelque chose.)

Plate III, 55. Standing young man, right hand resting on a stand.

(Jeune garçon debout, main droite posée sur une table.)

Plate III, 56. Man seated on the ground, his hands holding his chest up, left leg folded back, head in three-quarter profile.

(Homme assis sur le sol les deux mains soutenant son buste, la jambe gauche repliée, la tête de trois quarts à droite.)

Plate III, 57. Standing man, right hand on left shoulder.

(Homme debout, main droite sur épaule gauche.)

Plate III, 58. Standing man, his two hands joined behind his head, without a loincloth.

(Homme debout, les deux mains jointes sur la tête, sans cache-sexe.)

Plate III, 59. Standing man, three-quarter view, right hand on his heart, with a loincloth.

(Homme debouttrois quarts face, main droite sur le cœur; avec cache-sexe.)

Plate III, 60. Standing man leaning against a stand, wearing a loincloth.

(Homme debout accoudé, avec cache-sexe.)

Appendix The Sight-Size Technique

An Experienced Artist and Teacher Defines the Sight-Size Technique

In the course of a letter exchange about the sight-size technique, Peter Bougie, who has been teaching the procedure to his students in his Minneapolis, Minnesota, atelier for years, sent me this fine explanation of the technique:

The sight-size method of measurement was a common method of working for both students and accomplished artists prior to the twentieth century, during which it fell into disuse in most art education settings. The term “sight-size” refers to making a drawing the size it would be if projected onto a plane extending left or right from your drawing board and intersecting your line of sight. This enables the artist to look at the subject and the drawing from a chosen vantage point and see them side by side— and appearing to be the same size. A plumb line [see glossary] is established for measuring widths on the subject from an established point. and a hand-held plumb line is used to line up features of the subject with the corresponding features of the drawing. This enables the artist to make very objective, virtually absolute. comparisons of shape and proportion. It is a superlative learning tool because it helps the student see objectively how what he or she has done compares to nature: that is, is the knee too high or too low? Has the width measurement to the end of the nose been placed too far from the vertical plumb line or too near to it? If you want the answer to either question, pick up the plumb line and see for yourself. The technique is an excellent tool because it establishes a common vantage point. an objective point of view, between student and teacher. There is no place for arguments about relative point of view, for the teacher and the student look at the subject from the same point of view. and the teacher is able to point out errors and incorrect observations objectively, and so help the student to see and understand what is really there, instead of offering vague generalities about whether or not something feels right or wrong. Finally, it is an excellent working method for any artist who wishes to use it in working directly from life in a controlled setting, because once you have mastered it you are able to fix solid reference points on a drawing or painting quickly, and save yourself a lot of misapplied effort…. Sight-size is a well known and proven method for taking measurements in a setting where the model is posed, or the subject is stationary. It’s a tool. It is no more theoretical than a pencil or a paintbrush. Its useful when its used in the right way. Above all, the sight-size method is used to help students develop and improve their “eye” and, as they advance, their problem-solving skills.

Using Sight-Size to Copy the Bargue Plates

The use of sight-size technique is recommended in all three parts of the course. It is basically a method of drawing in which the image produced has the same dimensions on paper as the apparent dimensions of the subject. There are several advantages to this technique when it is followed correctly. It produces an accurate transcription of the subject in the same size in which it is perceived. This permits continuous comparison of the drawing with the model. Once students have become proficient in the use of sight-size, they can easily correct their own work. The practice of the sight-size technique also increases a student’s ability to estimate accurately the apparent measurements of the subject and transfer them correctly to paper. This talent soon becomes instinctive; it is the greatest gift of practicing sight-size. Both abilities—being able to correct oneself and being able to estimate measurements—give the beginning student a sense of confidence. For beginners, the advantages of the sight-size technique are so great that it is recommended here, especially for students working alone. Although intended for drawing from nature, that is, from three-dimensional objects, it is easily adapted to the copying of drawings. Using sight-size technique would standardize the approach to all three tasks presented in the course (viz. working from casts, copying drawings, and drawing académies) and, in general, would be a proper preparation for the first drawing from live models using the technique.

How Old is the Technique?

There is endless debate among the practitioners about how old the technique is and about who practiced it. Some adherents have attempted to resurrect an ennobling lineage of artists who used the method, much like Renaissance dukes and popes extending their family trees back to Hercules. As a methodical studio practice it seems to be a late nineteenth-century development. Although there are many instances where one unself-consciously uses it not as a method but as a natural approach—say, in portraiture or capturing figures at a distance—it is best as an atelier practice. The examination of many etchings. drawings, paintings, and photographs of early ateliers in session—some as far back as the Renaissance—depict none of the upright easels necessary for the practice of sight-size. In many other depictions of older ateliers, one constantly sees younger students seated on the ground, with their drawing boards in their laps.82?

Necessary Conditions for Sight-Size Practice

First, the object drawn and the paper upon which the object’s appearance is transcribed must remain stable. Also, the drawing board on the easel must be precisely upright and the easel stable—in the same position on the floor—for the entire time the drawing takes to complete, which may be several weeks. The light upon the object should always be a stable, directional, light or, if coming from a window, always from the same northern exposure. This means that the space or room must maintain the same setup until the drawing is finished.

Second, the observing position of the artist as he or she studies the object and the drawing must always be the same. The observing position is usually at a comfortable distance from the setup and the easel, say, three times the largest dimension of the drawing (to reduce the angle of distortion) and at a spot where the drawing paper and the subject are visually side by side.

Mark the position of your feet on the floor with tape, indicating the position of each foot. The feet are best planted at shoulder-width distance from each other; this increases your steadiness. Plant your feet in position, lock your knees, and stand up straight each time you step back to observe the subject or the drawing. Wear the same shoes throughout the drawing process. Even the slightest change of view—such as higher or lower heels—can affect your view and your judgment.

Note: Never draw the object while looking directly at it; always study it from the same place and distance, and draw from memory, aided by your measured marks.

Excursus, Shadow Boxes

A shadow box is usually used for cast drawings. You will be copying from drawings already made from a cast. Even so, it is good to know how these cast drawings were made since this will help you when you switch from the Bargue cast drawings to actual casts.

The shadow box used for the cast setup is a small, three-sided box with a bottom but no top, and two adjacent vertical sides. It can be built from scratch or reconstructed from a wooden box (see fig. 44). The box, of course, rests on a solid stand or table that elevates it to easel height, so that when you stand in position you are looking at the center of the object. Line the box with black paper or cloth to absorb light and thereby lessen reflected shadows on the cast. (Some users prefer a middle-gray toned paper or cloth to lessen the depth of the shadows.) Light from a northern window or a lamp should create the best effect for the draftsman: clarity of form, outline, and a sense of drama are to be sought after. While working on the plates in part I you will find examples of various ways to manage lights.

Fig. 44. The Shadow Box. left: the setup of the box with a cast. Right: floor plan of setup indicating the Drawing: Graydon Parrish

To repeat, all these arrangements must remain absolutely stable throughout the drawing process. Slight changes in the position of the light or the cast can make it impossible to continue a drawing already in progress. Trace the outline of the base of the cast on the bottom of the shadow box just in case the cast gets moved.

Using sticks fastened to the sides of the box, hang a plumb line in front of the cast. Position it so that it cuts through the cast somewhere in the middle and crosses through some important reference or angle points. This real plumb line will be the same as the plumb line (vertical reference line) around which your drawing will be organized. It may take some time to set the cast up in the shadow box.

In drawing from a cast, that is, making a life-size transcription of the cast, the drawing paper on its easel will be placed alongside and just slightly ahead of the subject in the shadow box. If the subject is a cast or a still life, it should be in a setup, either on a stand or in a shadow box. When drawing a live model, the model should be positioned behind the easel, at some distance from which both could easily be seen, so that the apparent height of the model would fit upon the sheet of the drawing paper.

Drawing After a Cast, Positioning the Drawing

After the cast has been set up in the shadow box, the light adjusted, and the easel placed with the drawing board and paper on it set properly next to the shadow box, the drawing process can start. The placement of the paper at the edge of the drawing board (on the model’s side) and the drawing board at the easel edge (close to the view of the model) will make it easier to make measurements from the subject and to make visual comparisons of your work and the cast (fig. 45).

Fig.45. Sight-Size Technique. Left: measuring apparent distances. (vertical reference line); or checking for vertical elements and angle alignments. Both figures are meant to be working from the same marked foot position on Drawing: Graydon Parrish

Step 1: Draw two horizontals across the paper that define the height of the cast. Since you need a plumb line while drawing the figure, the string of the plumb line is the handiest tool for this step.83? Use your thumbnails to mark the visible distance on the taut string.

Stretch the string between two hands horizontally across the peak of the head of the model and over the drawing paper. Memorize the path of the line of the string across the paper; step forward and mark the path—one or two marks will suffice.

Step back and use the string of your plumb line to check the mark for accuracy; then lower the string and repeat the process for the lowest point of the feet; do not lower your head for this measurement, just your eyes.

Stand back again and check the marks by holding up the string across the drawing and the cast again. Draw a horizontal through each of the marks, top and bottom.

Step 2: Decide on the placement of the casts image upon the paper by estimating its width using the taught string or your eye.

Measure the width of the cast at its widest point from your set standing position. Move the extended string over to the paper; decide where it fits most comfortably, but not too far from the edge of the paper nearest the cast. Mark both ends on the paper. Check your measurements.

Step 3: Draw a plumb line (a vertical reference line) from the top line to the bottom line. It should be drawn well enough inside the width limits you have previously set up.

Use the string of the plumb line again to check the width of the figure and its placement on the paper before you draw the plumb line on the paper. You must first pick out the plumb line you want on the subject, a line, say, following the center of balance, preferably one that passes through many or several useful points on the cast. This can be found and preserved by dropping another plumb line in front of the cast from a stick fastened to the shadow box. Judge where to hang the line from your foot position.

Return to the location of the broadest width that you used earlier when deciding where to place your drawing on the paper. Find by measurement where the actual plumb line on the cast is within that measured width and find the same spot on your drawing by measuring again with your string. Draw the perpendicular through that spot, making sure that it is square with the top and bottom horizontal lines.

As you continue, you must always look at the figure or subject from the same vantage point and with the same stance—feet in position, legs and arms locked and steady, as you hold out the measuring string or needle. With your head always in the same position, look with one eye—always the same eye. You want the middle of the drawing to be straight in front of you. When you look down at the model’s feet, for instance, don’t drop your head, just your eye. These small practices will soon become habitual and will save you much aggravation.

Drawing After a Cast, Measuring Apparent Distances

Before beginning, measure the model from the plumb line to the widest and lowest points.

(1) Look for an important angle, concave or convex, on the contour of the model.

(2) From your marked floor position, hold up your plumb line string and make sure that you are holding it horizontally by comparing it with the top and bottom horizontals on the drawing paper.

(3) Pick an important point that will help define the shape of the image. Start with the extremities and extended limbs. Move the string—still held horizontally—over the point you wish to record.

(4) Make a mark on the plumb line where the horizontal string passes through it and the angle on the cast. Take the length of string (held lightly between the two fingers of your extended hands) and measure the distance from the angle on the cast between your thumbnails and the plumb line hanging before the cast.

(5) Keeping your arms extended and the string taut, move the string over the drawing paper; one end of the string should be over the mark on the drawn plumb line, while the other will be over the paper where the contour mark should be. Memorize that spot. Step forward and mark it lightly. Step back and check the accuracy of its placement with the extended plumb line.

Work this way around the figure until you have the shape circumscribed by dots; when you are certain they are all correctly measured and placed, you may connect the dots with straight lines. You can make lines through the plumb line for the slant of the shoulders, hips, or other features. Adding another horizontal or perpendicular vertical may help you deal with some difficult areas. The measuring, placing, and correcting of dots is cumbersome at first, but as you learn the method you will be able to pick out fewer and better points on the contours to work from and to estimate distances more quickly—sometimes with your eye alone. Since there is a lot of stepping back to measure and forward to mark or erase a spot. you should have in your hand at all times the pencil or charcoal, the plumb line, and the eraser so that you can switch instruments without losing your concentration.

Be sure to make these first connection lines straight. The curves can be worked out later. The greater the amplitude of the curve, the more straight lines—connected by points—you will need to outline the curve. One fundamental of Bargue’s method is the simplification of complex curves into straights; if one starts drawing a curve, one tends to draw an arc, and it is hard to know where to stop. (As your eye gets experienced, you will be able to connect some of the dots by curves.)

Once a full contour is drawn, it should be carefully checked —through measurement and study all the way around—before features on the inside of the form are put in. Studying your drawing or comparing it with the model in a mirror will help you uncover errors. (A mirror should always be kept handy for checking your drawing.) Refine the outline several times before filling in the curves, putting lines in for the major shadow; then revise the outline again. Once you fill in the major shadow shape, you will see that the contour needs further adjustment.

Keep your dimensions accurate and tight: if the figure spreads just a bit, you will have difficulty fitting the features into the outline and you may even lose the sense of an organic whole. Where it is hard to measure visually, you can resort to a tool for measurements again. Remember that a slightly wider, inaccurate neck may change a young boy into a mature man.

Drawing After Flat Models, Bargue’s Plates

The Bargue plates in parts I and III were drawn from the fixed point of view of a stable model; they might have been drawn with sight-size technique or a version of it. One of the main benefits of working in sight-size—besides the production of an accurate image—is the training it gives the eye in measuring visual dimensions. Both to prepare yourself to work from casts and models in sight-size and to benefit from this training of the eye, it is wise to adapt as much of the sight-size technique as possible to the copying of the plates.

Place the plate and the drawing paper side by side on a drawing board, an upright easel, or preferably on a well-lit wall. Locate a good plumb line on the drawing. (You can tape a piece of string in position over the image for the plumb line and for the top and bottom horizontals.) Transfer them to the drawing. Set up comfortable foot positions centered on a line perpendicular to the juncture of the plate and the paper. Using the foot positions will get you used to judging measurements from a distance with a plumb line, memorizing them, stepping forward to record them, and stepping back to correct them. Try to do as much of your work as possible in this manner. At times copying details close up will be necessary, but always slep back to judge your work. Stepping back also keeps you conscious of the effect of the whole, which you can further ascertain using a mirror. Check your shadow masses in a black mirror.

Pros and Cons Concerning the Sight-Size Technique,A Dialogue

Using sight-size as the only way of drawing might make practitioners model-bound and interfere with their depiction of objects from memory. Since models are incapable of holding dynamic poses for more than a few minutes, it may delay learning the elements that give motion to a drawing. In addition to increasing the student’s dependence upon the model, it also creates a dependence upon ideal conditions—typically those encountered in a studio— such as a controlled light source, an uncluttered and neutral background, and a model trained to hold long poses on a raised platform. However, it does not hinder the depiction of subjects larger or smaller than life size because there are several easy mechanical means of enlarging or diminishing drawn images.

Peter Bougie, the artist responsible for the fine definition of the sight-size technique at the beginning of this appendix, discussed the merits and disadvantages of the practice with me in an exchange of letters in 2001, from which several excerpts follow. In response to my comment about the innumerable times one wanted to draw something when a sight-size setup (particularly an upright easel) was not feasible, he replied:

“On the slant of the easel, l’ll only put in this two cents’ worth: a vertical easel is necessary for two reasons. One is so you can step back and look at the subject and draw (with both the subject and drawing in view) side by side without moving your head up and down or left and right. Two, since you’re working from a fixed vantage point and measuring, your drawing becomes distorted the more your easel tips away from the vertical, because the top of the drawing is closer to the subject than the bottom.”

“Sight-size is very useful in many ways but has definite limitations. It’s a good teaching tool and we insist that everyone use it because it sharpens the beginner’s eye for proportion relatively quickly and provides an objective context in which to work. It’s good for use in the studio in a controlled setting, but it’s impractical for landscape painting (not theoretically, but in practical terms) or making studies from life on the fly.84 I’ve also noticed that for some students who are naive (in their drawing experience), or of a strong logical mindset, sight-size gets in the way of seeing when they reach a certain point in their development. They will use the plumb line too much and their eye not enough. I’ve always thought that sight-size gets you close to where you want to go, in terms of seeing nature correctly, but if you don’t step back and compare what you’ve done to what you see, it can trip you up. In an académie study, if you have a head that’s 1/32 or 2/32 too big and a width across the shoulders that is about that much too narrow, the head will look quite large, and you can stand there with your plumb line for an hour and be unable to measure those small fractions with any confidence. You’ll just think the head looks big and you won’t know why unless you interrelate the parts. So you have to look and compare; that’s what it comes down to. And any artist worth his salt ought to regularly practice sitting down with a pad on his lap, or some flat surface, to develop a capacity for gathering information that way, if for no other reason than that situations often call for it.”

“I hope I haven’l been too didactic. Finally, it’s whatever works. But, in my opinion, that ‘whatever’ has to be grounded in some solid method, or it sounds a lot like the kind of vague instruction people pay for in so many of the art programs out there these days.”

“You cut the Gordian knot for me,” I replied. “The knot was in my head.” Then I continued: “Sight-size is great for teaching observation and precision. It is also wonderful in teaching because the correction can be precise. I find a problem in sight-size: if carried on too long, the students become model-bound and limited to the poses they can set before them. This keeps them from attempting motion, some expressions, interactions between personages, etc. They just draw and paint models sitting, lying, or standing around. (Gérôme complained that he often couldn’t get the good charcoal renderers out of the life class and into painting.) But, still, if you want to be an exacting realist, sight-size shows you the way.

“The Florence Academy of Art (under Daniel Graves) has evening free drawing sessions where the students draw after models with their drawing boards on their laps, a slanted or a straight easel, whatever. These freewheeling sessions occur two or three nights a week, with poses of fifteen minutes to an hour. You stand or sit where you can. I did not realize that this exercise was a natural corrective to the habits of the sight-size technique that were picked up in the daytime sessions at the school.”

The Bargue course, with its mixture of casts and académies, is set up like the private ateliers of the French academy. In Paris the students drew alternately from casts of antiquities and from models, three weeks for each in turn. In Florence students draw from the cast for half a day and from models for the other half. Consequently one could personally move toward realism or idealism in one’s personal style. Usually one stopped somewhere in between. Being a purist in either direction could put your style in a straight-jacket. Bargue gives you both casts of perfect bodies and parts in the first section and a variely of body types—induding the nonideal, aged body—in the third part.”

“I am not against other methods nor a partisan of any (although I do naturally prefer and understand best what I was taught, but must protect myself from being dogmatic about it); I think that different methods of drawing from life should just be called methods, none the ‘one way,’ and that the principles should be recognized as part of the method that organizes work and observation, not as absolutes. The payoff will always be the results.”

To which Mr. Bougie replied: “You’re right about the shortcomings of sight-size—it’s strictly for working in controlled situations, and it does breed a dependence on the model. I’m going to try having students do more work from flat copy of expressive figures, figures in motion, and so on, to try to bridge the gap between the study of nature and its application to making pictures. In doing that, l’m going to compare the two and try to show people how they differ. The trick will be to keep them on track with both the observation and the learning about convention without having the limitations of each method pollute the other, that is, become shortcuts, excuses, or mannerisms in the hands of the inexperienced.”

Appendix a Methode

Source: The Bargue Method, Learning to Draw the Traditional Way by Fernando Freitas

Let’s walk through the process of copying one Bargue plate. The early-stage Bargue plates provide an image of the construct, composed of large, simple shapes. (See Illustration 5a.) Using a fine knitting needle, try to form this simple construct using a minimum number of directional lines. The visual result should be a drawing made of simple geometric shapes. (See Illustration 5b.) The reason for starting this way is simple: By focusing on the construct, you won’t get seduced by the distracting smaller shapes and details. Rather, you train your eye to master distance, proportion, and angles and to identify relationships and key points.

Once the construct is complete, you can move on to articulation, detailing the form’s contour (its outer edges) and the all-important lines where the light meets the shadow (sometimes called the bedbug line, shadow edge, or terminator line). Break down each simple shape from the construct into a descriptive complex shape that rehearses the topography of the forms. (See Illustration 6.) The subjects will become more complex as you work your way through the program.

After refining the contour, the next step is to separate the lights from the shadows to achieve a simple, flat, clearly delineated silhouette, as seen in Illustration 7. At this stage, you are visually stating what is receiving direct light and what is in shadow, and the result bears a true likeness of the subject.

Illustration 5a The simple geometric shapes that make up the construct.

Illustration 5b The construct (location, size, and structure).

Illustration 6 Articulation—detailing the contour and the edge of the core shadow.


Illustration 7 The silhouette, showing the division between light and dark.


Throughout the process, try to view the image and its component parts as abstract shapes; this helps to simplify the form in the mind’s eye. There are five basic geometric forms that comprise the drawing lexicon: sphere, cube, cylinder, pyramid, and cone. Try to see and draw various forms as versions of these five shapes—a leg can be treated as a column, the head as a sphere, or a nose as a pyramid. You can also view light and dark shapes as silhouettes of creatures, cartoon characters, or other shapes, similar to finding images in the clouds. (See Illustration 8.) By focusing on these shapes—and not being preoccupied with the complex, three-dimensional form that the shape is part of—you will find it easier to accurately lay in forms.

Illustration 8 The essential shadow shapes of the image can be seen as abstract shapes or as creatures or animals.

Once you have established those big shapes separating light and shadow, it’s time to begin rendering values. We refer to a 9-value scale, on which 1 represents pure light, 9 represents pure dark, and 5 is the exact middle value. (See Illustration 9a.) This scale is the “alphabet” of the eye. As your eye becomes trained, you will become increasingly proficient at identifying the values you see and depicting them in your drawings, giving you more detailed and lifelike renderings, such as the drawing in Illustration 9b.

Illustration 9a

Illustration 9b

Moving back to our Bargue drawing, you next render the shadows, again working from large to small and from simple to complex. (See Illustration 10.) In this stage, you will gradually learn the rules of light, including the principles of the shadow edge, reflected light, cast shadows, and the various levels of values in the shadows.

Illustration 10 Rendering the shadows— assessing values in the shadows and showing what areas are light darks, middle darks, and darkest darks.

Illustration 11 Rendering the lights—starting by rendering the larger forms.

After rendering the shadows, render the lights. (See Illustration 11.) By practicing this, you will learn to distinguish between direct and reflected light (shown in Illustration 12), the different levels of values in the light, and facets or planes of the form. Rendering also teaches the key skill of transitioning between values through hard, soft, blended, and lost edges. (See Illustration 13.)

Illustration 12

Illustration 13

In copying four successive Bargue plates, artists master increasingly advanced skills. In the first stage, the focus is on developing a strong silhouette. For the second drawing, students build on this ability by copying an image with smaller shadow shapes and more forms and value ranges. In the third Bargue drawing, students work on a softly lit image to execute a more detailed subject (see Illustration 14), and beginning at this point students must develop the construct on their own. In the fourth and final drawing, the lighting and forms are extremely complex, and students are required to do a comparative measurement exercise to better understand ratios—a crucial skill for figure and portrait work.

Illustration 14 a

Illustration 14 b

These drawings are more than just exercises; they form a system that prepares students to excel in painting and other artistic pursuits, all of which require the ability to build constructs, identify shapes, understand tonal value ranges, master complex lighting, and render forms. In addition, despite the fact that during the Bargue course one is working in monochrome, the lessons learned through this process can help you develop an eye for seeing the properties of color.

The practicalities of the Bargue approach have a strong bearing on a range of modern disciplines, from animation and visual effects to gaming and tattoo artistry. A number of students have come to ARA to bring their skills up to the level needed to succeed in their chosen fields. For example, Kalene Dunsmoor earned a job with Industrial Light & Magic on the strength of her fine art portfolio. She has since pursued a successful career with various visual-effects studios. According to Dunsmoor, the industry values academic drawing skills as much as computer proficiency. “Those skills don’t come along often,” she says. “But they are in high demand, because you need to know all the same things: edges, color, light and dark, and the drive to finish things perfectly.”

It is unfortunate that in today’s world, proper drawing habits have given way to expediency. But we firmly believe that those habits should be taken as seriously as any other discipline. The Bargue drawing process may seem at first to be a simple copying exercise, but the skills it teaches can take you far as you pursue your creative goals.

praxis | Old Master Drawing Bargue-Gérôme Drawing Course III