The Century 1886 “A French Student and His Pupils”
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A French Student and His Pupils

The Century, Vol. XXXI, No. 38 (1886), pp. 372-376

A young painter of Boston, Mr. Robert C. Hinckley, in the fall of 1872 wished to become a pupil of the well-known Parisian artist, M. Carolus Duran. M. Duran refused, but told him that if he would take a studio he would occasionally come and see his work. The studio was taken, in conjunction with Batifaud-Vaur, Duran visiting them regularly every Tuesday and Friday, and refusing, then as now, all compensation. Others joined the class, new quarters were taken, and in 1873 there were about a dozen students, two-thirds of them American or English, and the rest French. For a time there was a Persian among them. The class has greatly increased in size, at one time nearly half the fifty members being American. The school at present is at 110 Boulevard du Port Royal. Among the Americans who have been members of the class are Messrs. John S. Sargent, Carroll Beckwith, Will H. Low, Charles Melville Dewey, Theodore Robinson, Kenyon Cox, Frank Fowler, Walter L. Palmer, Ralph Curtis, Stephen Hills Parker, and Alexander Harrison. 

M. Duran is as popular as ever among his students, who he generously continues to favor twice a week with his teaching. Twice each month M. Duran gives to his pupils a subject for a sketch. A day is fixed for the bringing in of the sketches, and, after the regular lesson of the day, the easels are put aside and the sketches, all of the same subject, in charcoal, crayon, or oil, are placed in a good light, on the floor, stools, or easels; the professor takes a seat, lights a cigarette, and the pupils gather around to listen to the criticisms of their works. Often these criticisms lengthen into talks, or, as Monsieur Duran entitles them, “lessons.” Some of them have happily been preserved for the outside world by one of the scholars, who has reported them stenographically. A selection of these is presented below.

First Lesson.

Is Painting simply an imitative art? No; it is, above all, an art of expression. There is not one of the great masters of whom this is not true. Even the masters who were most absorbed by outward beauty, being influenced by it according to the sensitiveness of their natures, understood that they neither could not ought to reproduce anything but the spirit of nature either in form or color. Thus it happens that these masters have interpreted nature, and not given a literal translation. This interpretation is precisely what makes the personality of each of them. Without this individual point of view there can be no really original work. This shows how dangerous are those schools that, restricting the artists to the same methods, do not permit them to develop their individual feeling. These schools, however, make use of a very respectable motto: “Tradition.” But what are we all but the result of tradition? — only we ought to be free to choose in the direction that agrees with our aspirations, and not have imposed upon those of another man, however great he may be. 

In the French school, since Ingres, the tradition comes from Raphael. That was very well for Ingres, who freely chose the master from whom he really descended; but we who have other needs, who desire reality — less beautiful, without doubt, but more passionate, more living, more intimate, — we should search a guide amongst the masters who responds most fully to our temperament. 

Imagine the painters of the seventeenth century in Spain, Flanders, or Holland obliged to follow in the footsteps of Raphael instead of the inspiration of their individual genius! What would have become of their reproductions? Instead of Velasquez, Rembrandt, Rubens, Teniers, Ostade, and Brauwer, we should have a lot of would-be Raphaels, counterfeited, stunted, and grotesque, — a commonplace and disheartening plagiarism substituted for their sincerely and extremely varied chefs-d’oeuvre.

The example that I have just given you in the past has a singular application at present, when the same causes are producing the same disastrous results. It is as absurd to attempt to impose on artists one and the same mold in which all — powerful or weak, impassioned or timid — must form their thought, as it would be to constrain them to modify their physical natures until all should resemble a given model. Art lives only by individual expression. Where would we be if the great masters of all times had only looked to the past — they who not only prepared, but made the future? Works of art can only be produced by the recalling of our aspirations and experiences. To live one’s work is the condition, the sine qua non, of its power and of its truth. 

These principles apply not only to “compositions,” but also to the painting of portraits, which many wrongly believe to be another art, because the greater part of portrait painters have only represented the visible form of their subject. If we study the masters that are looked upon as first in this order, we shall see that they have not been contented with the material appearance, but that, putting themselves aside, they have sought the particular characteristics of the model — his mind and his temperament as well as his manner. To place all one’s models on the same background is like serving all kinds of fish with the same sauce. 

We will review some of those who, right or wrong, have come down to us as types: Holbein, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Titan, Raphael, Van Dyck. Which if these painters best agrees with the ideas I have just expressed? Among the persons painted by Holbein, Velasquez, and Rembrandt, there is not one that does not seem to be known to you intimately. You exclaim, in spite of yourself: “I feel as it I knew him — what a good likeness it must be! Each has his own individuality apart from the habits and plastic tendencies of the painter. Titian, in spite of his admirable works in this art, is a transition between these first and those less close in their portrayal of the individuality of their subjects. Raphael, in his love for beauty and harmony, only heeded the model posing before him as far as it coincided with his ideal. In all his portraits we see Raphael; but it is impossible to disengage the precise individuality of the person portrayed.*  In Van Dyck it is yet more noticeable. He has painted commoners and nobles, giving them all the same style, the same elegance, that sprang from his own taste and graceful personality. 

This necessity of self-abnegation, indispensable to the portraitist, is the only thing that separates the portrait from composition. I will leave to Ingres, who did wonders in this direction, and to Delacroix, who really was unable to make a portrait, the task of saying to which of these two genres supremacy belongs — if supremacy there be. Ingres said that only the greatest masters had made true portraits. Delacroix wrote, with a sadness that one feels between the lines, that portraiture is the most difficult thing in art. I myself believe that each offers different but equivalent difficulties, the placing on view of one person being as complex as that of ten. In a picture you must draw all from your own soul,— your remembrance of the phenomena of nature and your feeling toward nature, your past joys and griefs. 

*M. Duran, we think, will not find many to agree with him in so sweeping a condemnation of Raphael’s portraits.—Editor.

Second Lesson.
The Flight Into Egypt.

There are two methods of understanding a subject. It may be treated heroically or intimately. In the latter case the artist enters into the life of the personages that he desires to represent, observing them as human beings; as it were, following them; taking account of their impressions, their joys, and their sufferings. The heroic manner, on the contrary, expresses but an instant of their life, when raised to an exceptional pitch. The personages represented are, as you might say, deified, so much do they seem to be absolved from the daily necessities of humanity. But, for this very reason, they lose many sympathetic charms that we only find in beings living, thinking, and suffering like ourselves. The latter alone can move us, because we find our own experiences in their melancholy, their terrors, their passions. 

The heroic method, necessarily restricted, is obliged to impose upon its personages a sort of conventional grandeur that suppresses the better part of their originality. 

In the subject that now occupies us, let us take our personages at their starting point and accompany them thorough the different episodes that must have marked their precipitate flight. You all know the legend. Joseph is warned in a dream that the time has come to quit Judea with the Virgin Mary and the Divine Child. Picture to yourselves the incidents of this departure. See the group precipitately leaving in the night; follow them hour by hour; imagine the scenes that must have followed one another, at the morning fires, in the glimmering twilight, in the moonlight, or under the bright light of day.

Tiepolo has made, in thought, this journey as I have indicated it to you; he has pictured these episodes; very many of them are most touching and very delicately felt. He has portrayed the solitude of a hamlet during the night; the holy travelers are crossing it hastily, not daring to trust themselves to any hospitality. Then, farther on, they arrive on the banks of a river that must be crossed. Angels push the boat, and, father on, the Virgin Mary is supported by them as they climb a steep ascent. 

You are not to imitate Tiepolo, nor to bear in mind his compositions; but you must proceed like him. It is the only way to avoid the commonplace — the only way to find charmingly intimate scenes; the child Jesus crying, smiling, or being nursed by his mother. The travelers have rested in the shade, as you might have done; they have had in their flight a crowd of emotions, such as you may have felt in your journeys. Call us your remembrances and apply them, so that the personages may be before your eyes, moving, walking, resting, forming a whole with the nature that surrounds them and of which they reflect the influence. 

This sympathy that has made you live in thought with your subjects has shown them to you in varied circumstances, under the numerous effects of light, shade, or twilight. Choose one of these effects — that one of which you have kept the clearest and the most vivid remembrance. Your group must harmonize with the hour, solemn or cheerful, that you have chosen. As you are very different from one another, your compositions will reflect the variety of your natures. 

This habit of living with your personages will have the effect of presenting them to your mind under a fixed form. Having followed and analyzed all their actions, all their sentiments, you will in the end know them as if they were real things. It will appear to be the remembrance of an actual scene. 

Do not hurry to place this vision on canvas. Turn it over in your mind, that it may be refined and completed at every point of view. It is only when you have thus mentally elaborated your composition, that you should decide to execute it; for then you will have lived it.


Third Lesson.
Subject of Sketch: Circe.

To decide upon their attitudes, to compose the groups, to give variety to all parts of this subject, you would have to make the same reasoning that I recall to you continuously. You must take into account the character of the personages, the actions they have just passed through before the decisive moment that can best be produced by painting. It is by this retrospective study of the acts and gestures of your heroes that you will be able to introduce among them that variety without which there is no picturesqueness. The action of each, in harmony with the action preceding it, will give an impression of life. The character of each individual must be preserved, making the scene interesting by the different manifestations of the same sentiment. 
Thus, in the subject that occupies us, what were Ulysses’s companions doing at the moment that Circe’s wand touches them and changes them into swine? They were degrading themselves by the misuse of pleasures, until they had fallen to the level of the brutes. Those who descend to this level have lost the sign of human dignity; they are touched by the wand; that is to say they have transformed themselves into swine. Some assumed, laughing coarsely, the bestial mask; others are in a state of dejected stupefaction; others wallow with a sort of fury, seeming to forget already that they have been human and have known how to hold themselves erect. Then, in the midst of this orgy (where only one companion refuses to abdicate his reason), see rising up the complex and mysterious figure of Circe.

Fourth Lesson.
Subject of Sketch: The Birth of Venus.

In the Grecian mythology Venus is the goddess of love. Her birth is the festival of life. The daughter of the inconstant waves brings to the world, of which she is to be the queen, youth, light, the pleasure of the senses, the attraction of the flesh. 

So much for the moral personification of the subject; let us now seek the physical side. All are transported at the sight of this beautiful moist body, the long, floating hair, and the juvenile grace. We might say that the inhabitants of the waves had decked themselves in their finest toilets to receive and do her honor. They are intoxicated with delight. Musset has said admirably:  

“Regrettez-vous le temps où le ciel sur la terre Marchait et respirait dans un people de dieux; Où Venus Astarté, fille de l’onde amère, Secouait, vierge encor, les larmes de sa mere,Et fécondait le monde en tordant ses cheveux?”

We have found the temperament of our subject; let us now see its picturesque points. Let us enter into the pagan world as well as our own; give to this divine beauty noisy mirth, a gay uproar of amorous nymphs, of Tritons in shell armor, blonde and dimpled cupids, and birds of variegated plumage. We have not roses enough in our palette to throw at the feet of her who brings love and life to a dazzled and grateful world. Place around Venus everything that she loves, for she is the personification of this exquisite and ideal sentiment. Here, then is the work in your imagination. Let it now become plastic. Call to mind all that has been painted on this subject. You will see how few artists have understood it; how superficial they have been. When Venus appears, she is pure; no one is born unchaste. She is yet ignorant of her empire. 
It is not only Venus that must be pictured; it is what she represents, what she makes us experience. It is the festival of youth — Venus in the highest expression of her glory. Your love, your need of loving, must be questioned. To have a response, touch the most secret strings of your heart. Imagine that love, until now unknown, has come to the world; that inclosed in her quiver are not only sharpened arrows, but also the highest ambitions that ennoble man. 


“Ce que l’homme ici bas appelle le genie—C’est le besoin d’aimer,” 

Musset has said. Remember your emotions when you were twenty and loved for the first time. 
I would make Venus almost like a Madonna, painting her with a religious sentiment. Like an immaculate lily opening in the sun, she enters into life radiant with beauty, as chaste, as pure as the foam of the waves. I would make her appearing majestic and superb; the entire earth should come to her. For, let us insist upon it, she gives to the enraptured world unlimited felicity, inundating it with a flood of light; sensuality is replaced by the union of hearts. This searching for expression gives us at once numberless accessory personages. 

Recall the pictures that have been made on this subject, and you will be struck by the small degree of logic, the little common sense there is to be found in them. Their authors have lived more through their eyes than by their hearts and brains. 

Raphael, in a picture that is entitled the “Triumph of Galatea,” but which I think should perhaps be called “The Birth of Venus,” has understood nothing of the subject. I say so, in spite of all clamors and the fact that it is the custom to call it a chef-d’œuvre. Evidently it contains charming points, admirable from a plastic point of view, but, from an aesthetic point of view, nothing. Beautiful forms, always beautiful forms; Raphael is always harmonious, elegant, but he has never emotions, — he is never a true thinker. If Raphael, if Titian, have not grasped this subject, what shall we say of others who have attempted it. 

It is in seeking the human side, the intimate side, that you will solve the enigma. Your joy, your conviction, your entire nature should contribute to your work. You must live that which you would paint.

Fifth Lesson.
Subject of Sketch: Romeo and Juliet.

When you would take a subject from a legend, a drama, or a poem, you must know how to find the characteristic of the work; you must be able to choose the situation that will give the most complete idea of the poet’s creation. This or that episode would only be an illustration. It is the synthesis that you should give, — the entire essence of the work this passing into your picture, and not a mere reflection of the thought of another. 

What is Romeo? What is Juliet? It is not by reproducing this or that scene of Shakespeare’s drama that you can paint these creations of his genius. It is in presenting them in their most striking aspect that you best convey the idea you have formed of them. If you represent only the griefs, the tears, the death of Juliet and her lover, you give but one phase of their existence; you have not expressed them. 

Before all and above all, they are the expression of love — love with all its youth, all its ardor, its heedlessness, its apprehensions, and its delirium! 

I have given you this subject of Romeo precisely to see if you understand what is the dominant emotion, and to recommend you always to seek for it. Now, the dominant note of “Romeo and Juliet” is, we have said, love; as “Othello” is violent jealousy, as “MacBeth” is an inordinate ambition, as “Hamlet” is a painful reverie mastering a fine but unbalanced intelligence, born for a calm life, but forced into action. 

Ask yourselves then what Shakespeare aimed at in writing his drama. Lovers, did he not? You must paint, then, lovers. If you had this story to illustrate, you would make drawings of the duel, balcony, or grave scene,—making your compositions more or less dramatic. But when you have “Romeo and Juliet,” to characterize, you are bound to give appropriate expression to the sentiment that exhales from the whole work. 

Any other subject presenting the same characteristics of passionate and exalted love would interest us equally. It is the picture of love that moves us, not the personality of those who experience it. Ask your heart how to paint Romeo and Juliet. It will give you a response. Then you will be eloquent. 

That which will make the celebrity in the future of all of us who are occupied with art, will not be our cleverness, but perhaps a little ray of personality. You will be nothing if you will be come one, even the humblest of you, if you are true to yourselves. You must love glory more than gold, art more than glory — and nature more than all. 

Carolus Duran.
From: Matt Davies

 <matt   davies>
Date: Saturday, March 13, 2004 

The article was accompanied by one illustration: “Portrait. By permission of Mrs. Bradley Martin. Painted by Carolus Duran. Engraved by T. Johnson.” 

I am assuming that the subject is Cornelia, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bradley Martin (née Cornelia Sherman, 1845-1920), of New York. Bradley Martin was a lawyer; and the couple inherited a large fortune from Mrs. Martin’s father. Their daughter Cornelia became the Countess of Craven, while their son, Bradley Martin, married Helen Phipps. Sargent painted Helen Phipps’ mother, Annie, holding her baby grandson Winston F. C. Guest (b. 1906), on her lap; he also painted Helen’s sister, Amy, Mrs. Frederick E. Guest.

Special thanks to Matt Davies, of Kansas City, a friend of the JSS Gallery, for sending the article. 

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo 
(1725 - 1735) Italian

Flight into Egypt

(Editor's note - I assume there is a whole series of these drawings and maybe this was a sketch for some finished oil -- I don't know, but I did find this on the net)

Alexandré Cabanel (French) 

 The Birth of Venus


By:  Natasha Wallace
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Created 3/15/2004