This review was originally written when I was on the first plate of the course. The review below is quite critical of some aspects of the book, partly as a result of the frustrationI was experiencing at the time. Graydon Parrish, one of the editors of the book, sent me a very nice email having read this review, and considering how critical I was, he was very polite. The book appears to have been a labour of love on the part of Graydon and his co-editor,Gerald Ackerman. Graydon says that neither of them have gained financially from the book, and I see no reason not to believe him.
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This review was originally written when I was on the first plate of the course. The review below is quite critical of some aspects of the book, partly as a result of the frustrationI was experiencing at the time. Graydon Parrish, one of the editors of the book, sent me a very nice email having read this review, and considering how critical I was, he was very polite.
The book appears to have been a labour of love on the part of Graydon and his co-editor,Gerald Ackerman. Graydon says that neither of them have gained financially from the book, and I see no reason not to believe him. Having read his email, I do believe that the book was published with altruistic motives, and that getting it into print was no small task.
I could have worded them somewhat better though, with hindsight. I owe and everyone else who gets a copy of the Bargue book owes Graydon and Gerald Ackerman a debt of thanks for getting this invaluable material published at all. A phrase involving gift horses and mouths comes to mind. In order to redress the balance somewhat, I would like to point out, as I have in various other pages on this site, that this book has been an absolute godsend in my ongoing efforts to train myself to draw.
I learned the technique of sight size from this book, which I now apply to great benefit in much of my other work. I also learned an invaluable of approach, that of working from the general to the specific. That idea now informs everything I do. A couple of other points from the original review bear addressing here too: Firstly, the quality of the binding. Each reproduction costs as much as your average art book by itself. It is worth it, however, because the level of detail is much higher than laser copies.
Secondly, Graydon has told me since writing this that they did want to have at least some of the plates included loose-leaf in the original size, but it was a no go with the publisher. On with the review. The Review The Bargue Drawing course is not something that can appreciated with a cursory look. And you might even end up with a better idea of what this drawing course is about if I manage to stay on the point for more than five minutes at a time.
The Bargue Drawing Course has an interesting history. To understand it properly, some understanding of how academic art was taught in the late 19th century, when it was published, will help. A typical art education in the 19th century would begin with drawing from casts of Greek and Roman statues. Following a period of drawing from casts, students would move on to copying old masters. This education was common to all the visual arts, including commercial variants like industrial design.
The Bargue Drawing Course is split into three parts, roughly following this pattern. The first part is a series of drawings from casts, the second part a series of copies of old master drawings.
Students were expected to copy these drawings with great accuracy, producing work which was to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from the originals, assuming they were up to the job. The consensus was that this was due to the low standard of the work the students were copying. It did pretty well for them apparently, for thirty years or so, but fell out of favour when those pesky post impressionists stopped worrying about how accurate their drawing was and started worrying about the expression of their personal vision instead.
In simple terms, academic art institutions and ateliers at that time were mainly concerned with reproducing nature. In fact, this idea that the goal of art was to copy nature, either realistically or in an idealised version, had held sway pretty much since the time of Aristotle. The Renaissance marked a return to the natural and idealised forms of classical Greek and Roman art, but now often in the service of the Church. Those poor Renaissance artists had to spend lots of time and energy re-learning what their Medieval brothers and sisters had forgotten, how to represent nature faithfully.
On the plus side though, they were beginning to be seen less as low class artisans and were gradually becoming invested with a higher social status. Michelangelo in particular was instrumental in this change of the perception of the artist.
This book is a reproduction of the entire Bargue drawing course, together with some extra information about Bargue himself and a few other tidbits, including excellent coverage of the technique of sight size drawing. According to the introduction of this publication, there were a few competitors on the market at the time, but the Bargue course had something extra going for it.
It managed to straddle the two main camps in academic art at the time, one of idealisation of nature along the lines of Raphael, what you might call classicism, the other a part of the growing realist movement which held that art should be honest, including being truthfully ugly if the subject was ugly.
Bargue also had the knack of simplifying his forms in order to make them clearer and easier to copy for the aspiring student. So why is this anachronistic pedagogic aid being republished now? Well, what follows is entirely my personal opinion, so take it with a pinch of salt if you like. Compare art with music. The theoretical excesses of modern art have been matched and even out-done by modern composers.
You can even buy recordings of that piece you can also get blank CDs from PC World which will have much the same effect for a lot less money though. This stuff is hard, and takes years to learn. Of course there are exceptions. Picasso, the hero of modern art, was a consummate realist when he wanted to be. I do believe that this wilful abandonment of the traditions of the past has given rise to a growing representational movement which has a strong tendency to hark back to the late 19th century.
Old style academic ateliers are springing up all over the place, and the pendulum is swinging back the other way, at least in some quarters. Thus this book. Firstly, the plates are much smaller than the originals, which means that they have to be blown up if you want to do a proper job of copying them. An A3 laser copy of the first plate on the easel. These plates are supposed to be taped up onto a drawing board with the copies done beside them, the same size, the better to judge the accuracy of the copies.
One more point. The quality of the binding is, in my opinion, very poor. Given that these drawings are supposed to give one an appreciation of what good taste was over a hundred years ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that the book is hopelessly out of date.
Bargue was a superb draughtsman, it fairly drips off the pages, with plate after plate of beautifully realised drawings. For many of the plates, a one or two stage simplification of the final finished drawing is included, breaking the drawing down into simplified forms. It must be said also that the publishers do make the point that the book is only partly intended as a course for students. You have to get your charcoal out and draw.
A lot. That the beautiful drawings in this book are being brought to a wider audience is a very good thing. The manner in which it has been done is considerably less impressive. I hope another publisher with a better idea of how to go about their business produces a more usable, better constructed one.
Should you buy a copy of this book? If you just love drawing and have money to burn, you should buy it. But then, neither is any art book. Now check your email. Your first value exercise is on its way. There was an error submitting your subscription.
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Send me the Tutorials! I paint realism in oils, mostly still life.
Charles Bargue Drawing Course (Cours De Dessin) Review
If you plan to do the Bargue Drawing Course, you need to buy the book. It explains pretty much the right way to do the course. So, word to the wise. Do it the right way and the jump to painting in black and white and then color is a breeze. They might even charge you more for enlarging it. In fact, it was totally absurd. I bought the book.
C. Bargue Drawing Course