French Student and His Pupils
The Century, Vol. XXXI, No. 38 (1886),
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.
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
LESSONS TO MY PUPILS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Duran, we think, will not find many to agree with him in so sweeping a
condemnation of Raphael’s portraits.—Editor.
The Flight Into Egypt.
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,
heroic method, necessarily restricted, is obliged to impose upon its personages
a sort of conventional grandeur that suppresses the better part of their
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Subject of Sketch: Circe.
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
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.
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
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:
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?”
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.
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
que l’homme ici bas appelle le genie—C’est
le besoin d’aimer,”
has said. Remember your emotions when you were twenty and loved for the
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
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.
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.
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.
Subject of Sketch: Romeo and Juliet.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Date: Saturday, March 13, 2004
article was accompanied by one illustration: “Portrait. By permission of
Mrs. Bradley Martin. Painted by Carolus Duran. Engraved by T. Johnson.”
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.