A blog about the 19th century and now

A blog about the 19th century and now

About the blog

From my perspective as a visual art practitioner I will research two areas of interest.The first being 19th century French history painting and the second the attitude of the artists towards the free and censored press. I will connect this research with contemporary developments and my personal artistic engagement. Through blog posts I will reflect on the works I have created and the sources I have used, but essentially the focus will be directed towards the future.

a bull in the studio

The studio...Posted by Stijn Peeters Thu, November 01, 2018 21:54:19

A Bull in the Studio

In 2011 I was invited by Kunstpodium T to develop an exhibition together with four graduation students from Dutch art academies. The exhibition was part of the ‘Master-Apprentice project’. Already at the start I had problems with the term ‘master’ so I made a suggestion to the students that we would use ‘Apprentice-Apprentice’ as the title for our show. It took some effort to convince them, mostly because I didn’t want to tell them why I specifically wanted this title. The reason why became evident to them and the visitors at the opening of the exhibition. In my room I had installed works from my 1982 graduation show from the Illustration department of the Royal Academy of Arts and Design . In this way I created equality by comparing their actual situation to mine at the time and also a nice historical perspective on the time that vocational training made up a major part of the curriculum of art academies.

Reading Courbets’ ‘letter to the young artists of Paris’ reminded me of this episode. In the first blogpost you can read about Jules Castagnary being the actual writer of this letter. Castagnary, professionally active as a lawyer, journalist, artcritic and politician, (think about that today!), had become strongly engaged with the Realist movement by which he saw possibilities of societal change.

On September, 28, 1861 he organized a meeting for students who had left the École des Beaux-Arts because of the teaching methods. The location for the meeting was brasserie Andler. Courbet himself, living only 4 doors further down ,was a regular guest there. The brasserie, where good beer was served, was frequented by Germans and former inhabitants of the north-eastern regions of France. It had a special attraction as a meeting place for artists and writers.

Image source; ‘Histoire anecdotique des Cafés & Cabarets de Paris’ by Alfred Delvau, 1862.

As a result of the meeting it was decided to request Courbet to open a teaching studio. In which the students could develop their skills and get acquainted with the modern painting methods under his guidance.

In his response Courbet explains why he doesn’t believe in schools; ‘There cannot be schools, there are only painters (...) Therefore I cannot claim to be opening a school to be training pupils, to be teaching this, that, or the other partial tradition of art. I can only explain to artists, who will be my collaborators and not my pupils, the method by which, in my opinion, one becomes a painter, by which I have myself tried to become one since I started, leaving to each one the entire direction of his individuality, the full liberty of his own expression in the application of this method. To this end the formation of a common studio, recalling the fruitful collaborations of the studios of the Renaissance, may certainly be useful and help towards inaugurating the era of modern painting’ (Georges Boudaille ‘Courbet Painter in Protest’, page 85)

Boudaille writes with a touch of cynicism; ‘Forty-two students, some of them dissidents from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, agreed to pay 20 francs to hear Courbet expound his theory of Realism’.

After Courbet has thus shown his willingness to accompany this band of colleague-painters Castagnary sets to work: ‘On December 6, 1861, Jules Castagnary had signed a lease ( to become effective on December 9) for an atelier at 83 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs ( street level), where Courbet was to teach painting. Student applications began on December 9, and that same day thirty-one students registered.( Petra ten-Doeschate Chu)

Castagnary manipulates the students with his own convictions; ‘You are tired of the precepts and methods of your teachers. You vaguely realize that they are running counter to the social current; that by following them to the limit you would end by speaking a language that society would no longer understand…’’

Also; ‘In the time of the Renaissance the studio was a collaboration. The pupil served his apprenticeship as a painter by painting with and for the master...( take note of his use of the term ‘master’ !)

Even in 1864, two years after the end of the experiment, Castagnary writes in ‘Les Libres Propos’ how he had intended the studio to function; ‘for models we shall have all the visible representations that make up Creation: bulls, horses, stags, roebuck, birds and so on; all the examples that make up society, from the bourgeois to the worker, from the soldier to the peasant, from the ploughman to the sailor. In this way the whole of nature and society will pass before your eyes in their infinite variety.

So the studio starts. Teacher/colleague Courbet gave only one piece of advice; “Don’t follow advice!” He pasted up these four commandments in the studio: 1. Do not do what I do. 2.Do not do what the others do. 3. If you did what Raphael used to do, you would have no existence of your own. Suicide. 4. Do what you see and what you feel, do what you want.

After his enthusiastic start and his willingness to ‘give all’ he slowly grinds to a halt. In a letter to his father he writes; ‘Dear Father , I apologize for not answering you sooner but you must take into account that in Paris I am not really my own man. I have important things that I must do here, that I cannot manage to do. I have too much of a following, especially recently, with all of modern painting converging around me. At last I have triumphed across the board’.

In March, 1862 the experiment, the studio of equals ceased to exist.

There are a lot of stories, in connection with Courbets’ learning studio, about a white spotted red bull as a model for the students , In this illustration you see the bull with his handler, the students painting and Courbet on the right holding his palet ( and paintingknife) ready for immediate corrections in the works of his younger colleagues.

Striking in this illustration is the fact that you see only males, (including the bull). Male art students had the opportunity to study the nude, female and male. In her famous essay ‘Why have there been no great woman artists?’ from 1971 Linda Nochlin proves convincingly that the answer to that question had nothing to do with women being less talented, gifted or able to achieve that status, By using the methods of academic research she showed that it was simply impossible for women to perform in the highest regions of art. The knowledge of male and female anatomy was a condition for making high art. And this, drawing and painting from live models was forbidden for women.

This photograph dates from 1855, (six years before Courbets’ bull). It shows the modelling class for women at Pennsylvania Academy working under direction of Thomas Eakins. Their model, a cow.

A grand 19th century lady , Rosa Bonheur, turned this disadvantage around and reached world fame with her paintings of animals The majestic setup of her studio puts the solitary bull , roebuck and male deer in an altogether different perspective.

Source material; Petra ten -Doeschate Chu, ‘Letters of Courbet’, University of Chicago Press, 1992 , Georges Boudaille ‘Courbet Painter in Protest’, New York Graphic Society Ltd, 1969. Linda Nochlin, ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ uit ‘Art and Sexual Politics’, Macmillan, 1971)

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