After the discussion regarding assistants helping the master with the creation of the work of art, it’s interesting to look at the other side of the coin. In a traditional studio, the assistants were often pupils who were learning their master’s techniques by copying his work. Copying was the standard method of learning technique for many years. Has it disappeared completely from modern fine art courses? I know there is more emphasis on “concepts” rather than technique but would be grateful for any information on this point.
There are some interesting copies made by famous artists. I was at the Dulwich Picture Gallery last year (to see a Vermeer which they had on loan) when I saw a copy of a Jacob van Ruisdael landscape painted by John Constable.
According to the Dulwich Picture Gallery website “Constable had always greatly admired Ruisdael (whom he called Ruysdael in the manner of the time). Together with Richard Wilson and Claude, he considered him one of the greatest landscape painters. He made frequent copies (‘memoranda’) of his works throughout his life, four appearing in his posthumous sale. DPG657 is a copy of the Dulwich Ruisdael, DPG168, made after the latter, apparently on Constable’s advice, had been lent to the RA schools for copying by the students in 1830.”
“[Constable’s copy] differs in showing a boy walking besides a man with a red coat on horseback in the right foreground. These figures were first recorded in the Ruisdael in 1835 and it is a reasonable assumption that they were there when Constable made his copy in 1831. In 1997 the boy, horse and rider were discovered by pigment analysis to be post-seventeenth-century additions and were removed. Bourgeois was not above ‘improving’ landscapes he had acquired.”
What prompted this post was seeing earlier this week a copy of a Titian painting by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.
“Reclining Venus, after Titian” Ingres, 1822
According to the Walters Art Museum website “Ingres was deeply inspired by ancient Greek and Roman art as well by Italian painting of the High Renaissance. Although he spent much of his career in Rome, he resided in Florence from 1820 to 1824, where he painted this copy of Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” (1538), from the collection at the Pitti Palace… He intended it to serve as a model for his close friend, the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini (1777-1850), who was creating a sculpture based on the same subject.”
I recently completed a course at Bolton College on Acrylic Portraits. This concluded with our copying a portrait by an artist of our choice and then painting another portrait in that artist’s style. I’ve always liked the Fauves so copied a portrait of Matisse by Derain. (I could have copied a portrait of Derain by Matisse.)
My copy of Derain’s work
It was only by copying Derain’s original that I appreciated the importance of the mid-grey priming layer and the dark grey drawing, both of which are still visible in the final work. It was also important to work out in which order the various colours were applied. The experience of this allowed me to paint a self-portrait in Derain’s style.
I was pleased with the result (but I don’t really have a green face!)