Now that traditional
representational painting is seeing something of a revival in art galleries,
there is a lot of interest among painters in the techniques employed by masters
of the oil painting medium. All of us learn from those who have preceded us,
and there are so many great painters from which to glean vital knowledge. In
particular, there is intense interest in the work of John Singer Sargent, and
to fully understand his craft, one must examine the teachings of his mentor,
Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran.
||Carolus-Duran by Sargent, oil portrait painting.
During his life,
Carolus-Duran had established himself as a master of genre and portrait
, whose naturalistic painting techniques derived from his studies of
past Masters, most notably, Velazquez. By studying and copying works by
Velazquez in museums, Carolus-Duran was able to understand and incorporate
Velazquez's techniques into his own painting style. That painting style not
only won him awards and fame, but was also considered unconventional, even
avant-garde by the academic standards of the day. At that time, the accepted
academic method promoted a system by which a painting is progressively built
up, beginning with a highly finished drawing which is then colored by
successive layers of thin glazes.
Carolus-Duran taught his students how to make an initial charcoal indication of
the model, and then immediately begin laying in the values with a large brush
in planes of thick paint exactly the proper color. Mid-values were applied
first, followed by halftones, shadows and highlights. If the student got off
track, the surface was either scraped out or scumbled together and a fresh start
would be made. This would occur as many times as necessary to obtain the
desired effect. He insisted on studying from life and painting accurately and
economically what nature reveals. This extremely challenging method was a
revolutionary approach to teaching painting at the time, and not every painting
student was open to it.
reputation attracted talented students from Britain and the U.S., who wanted to
learn his direct-painting techniques. By 1885-86 nearly half of the fifty
students were Americans, among them John S. Sargent, Carroll Beckwith, Theodore
Robinson, Will H. Low, Kenyon Cox, and many other artists of note. Sargent was one of the most talented and
capable of those students and soon became a favorite of Carolus-Duran, who
honored him by sitting for the now-famous portrait.
insisted on the use of a limited palette of colors: black, verte emeraude, raw
umber, cobalt, laque ordinaire, brun rouge, yellow ochre and white, laid out
from left to right. To facilitate the choice of tones, he mixed two or three
gradations of brun rouge with white, two of cobalt with white, two of black and
white and two of raw umber, also with white. In particular, Carolus-Duran knew
the Old Master's technique of mixing beautiful, rich greens from black and
yellow ochre. In our Members article, Secrets of the Old Masters: Mixing
Beautiful Greens from Black, we show you how to get those subtle greens in
your portrait and landscape work.
--John and Ann
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