Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea


Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea

This is Part 4 of a 1901 article called Evolution of a Picture: A Chapter on Studies by academy-trained Edgar Spier CameronYesterday's installment discussed maquettes and animals. Today we follow the journey to the finished painting.

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Aimé Morot, Jewish Captives in Babylon, sketch and finish

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Studies of Hands by Adolphe Menzel
Part 4: Refining the Idea
"It may be said that an artist never finds a model which corresponds exactly to his ideal, and he is obliged to make changes of form and expression in making his studies. Certain characteristics may be accentuated and others suppressed, while others which the model may not possess are supplied from memory, imagination, or from other models.

"The ways of using studies when they are made are as various as the ways of making them. If a study is in the form of a drawing it may be copied directly in the picture, or it may be transferred either in its actual size by tracing or pouncing, or on a larger scale by "squaring up." In squaring up, lines are drawn over the drawing to form squares and corresponding squares of a different proportion are drawn on the canvas where the picture is to be made.

"All of these processes admit of a certain amount of refinement, correction, or simplification of the original study, and anything which gives an artist an opportunity to prolong his preparations and shorten the time of the actual painting of a picture is of great benefit, as the result will be more spontaneous, fresher, and more vigorous than if it is puttered over and shows traces of experiment.

"The artist's studies are the ammunition with which he loads up for a final effective coup, which makes a hit or a miss, as his aim has been true or not. That such studies are requisite for good work is the universal verdict of all who have essayed to teach the art of painting.

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Study by Friedrich August von Kaulbach, 1878
Planning or Improvisation?
"'It is undoubtedly a splendid and desirable accomplishment to be able to design instantaneously any given subject,' says Sir Joshua Reynolds in his Twelfth Discourse. 'It is an excellence that I believe every artist would wish to possess; but unluckily, the manner in which this dexterity is acquired habituates the mind to be contented with first thoughts, without choice or selection. The judgment, after it has been long passive, by degrees loses its power of becoming active when exertion is necessary. Whoever, therefore, has this talent must in some measure und what he had the habit of doing, or a least give a new turn to his mind.'

"Great works which are to live and stand the criticism of posterity are not performed at a heat. A proportionable time is required for deliberation and circumspection.

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Oil-painted studies by J.C. Leyendecker
"However extraordinary it may appear, it is certainly true that the inventions of the pittori improvisatori, as they may be called, have notwithstanding the common boast of their authors that all is spun from their own brain—very rarely anything that has in the least the air of originality. Their compositions are generally commonplace and uninteresting, without character or expression; like those flowery speeches that we sometimes hear, which impress no new ideas upon the mind.'

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville Defense of the Gate
"It is said of a celebrated French painter, that a visitor called upon him one day and found him busily engaged making studies for a new work—studies in posture, in facial expression, in drapery, in suggested action. A considerable length of time elapsed, and the visitor again called upon the painter and found him still engaged in the work of making studies for the same composition. The painstaking, plodding methods of the painter provoked some exclamation of surprise from the caller. 'There is no occasion for wonderment,' returned the artist in justification of his multitude of studies. 'This is the main part of painting.'

"Illustrations such as those accompanying this article present no element of novelty to the practiced artist. There are who have essayed creative work who have not well-filled sketches of similar character and equal interest. To those, however, unfamiliar with the methods of the studio they give an insight more convincing than words could furnish into the way in which artists have produced the disjecta membra, so to speak, of their finished compositions. It would be interesting in the case of some noted picture to reproduce the finished work together with all the studies that entered into its composition."
Editor's note: The author is muralist and critic Edgar Spier Cameron (1862-1944) from Chicago. He studied at the Art Students League in New York and the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His teachers were Dewing, Inness, Cabanel, Lefebvre, Boulanger, Laurens, and Benjamin-Constant.

Sources and More Info:
Evolution of a Picture: A Chapter on Studies by Edgar Cameron in Brush and Pencil Magazine
Vol. 8, No. 3 (June, 1901), pp. 121-133

The Academic Method Series:

4 Comments on Gurney Journey: Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea

  • arturoquimico
    on July 27, 2018 | 09:54 arturoquimicosaid :
    "Excellent series, thanks for posting..."
  • Susan Krzywicki
    on July 27, 2018 | 10:00 Susan Krzywickisaid :
    "This has been fascinating. "Sketching" nowadays - or journaling or whatever you want to call it - has been corrupted by Instagram and Pinterest. People post things that are from their "sketchbook" that are perfect. This issue is complicated by the images we have of highly technically accomplished artists' "sketches" from the past that to my eye also look prefect.

    Even the images you posted here - they look fabulous. While in my sketchbook, there are lumpy and misshapen blobs that I'd rather no one saw. I can barely stand to look at them myself. "
  • Paul Sullivan
    on July 27, 2018 | 11:53 Paul Sullivansaid :
    "Excellent post!"
  • Jayson
    on July 28, 2018 | 18:09 Jaysonsaid :
    "This has been a great series--I see the JSTOR link but I was wondering if I could buy it from somewhere? It doesn't seem to be available on Amazon."
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