A painter ought sometimes to consult a sculptor, and vice versa. ~ Alfred Stevens
|As picture teaches the colouring, so sculpture the anatomy of form. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson|
Many have, at some time, heard Jules Olitski's sardonic observation that "sculpture is the stuff you trip over when you are backing up trying to look at a painting," but if a painter were to actually adopt such disdain for sculpture, he would be ignoring the valuable lessons contained within that difficult art. Students have certainly benefitted by working from the plaster cast, and those contemporary ateliers which place as much emphasis on drawing from the cast as did the late 19th century Academies, are still producing the best draughtsmen of today. Painters who also sculpt, even if if is only occasionally, report that the three-dimensional work aids them in understanding and portraying form in their two-dimensional works, and painters who have made a study of sculpture have walked away with a better understanding of composing figures. With such factors in mind, it is no doubt that when famous Belgian artist Alfred Stevens suggested to other painters that they "ought sometimes to consult a sculptor," that it was not advice lightly given.
|The Plaque of the Ergastines, 445-438 BC, Louvre Museum|
William Adolphe Bouguereau was one artist who was very fond of sculpture. His workman-like studio at rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, had little of the exotic decor found in the studios of his contemporaries, but it did house plaster casts from which his students would draw, and several other sculptures he seemed to keep for his own enjoyment. It was sculpture, after all, which spurred him on to be a better painter.
During that period of my studies - around 1846 - when progress was slow or almost nil, and when no one was willing to provide the explanations my soul craved for, I experienced (it was just after my arrival in Paris) many discouraging weeks.
I was in this state of mind one day when, strolling through the Louvre, I saw the casts of the Parthenon pediment. How can I describe the emotion I felt? A veil fell my eyes. Never had I experienced such a deep and intense joy. What was it I saw in those wonderful plasters?
I understood that the subtlety of accents, in contrast with large planes, is what makes a drawing great. This truth, which I have yearned all my life to express and which still drives me on, is the secret of art. It applies to composition as well as to drawing proper. It is the principle that must guide both the young beginner and the fully developed artist.¹
|Many of Bouguereau's alabaster-skinned figures resemble statues.|
American painter Richard Lack may not mention the influence of sculpture on Bougereau, but in his essay on the French painter Lack certainly acknowledges Bouguereau's mastery of tone, which was the result of inspiration from the Parthenon's friezes.
Alongside his mastery of line, Bouguereau utilizes tone relationships with commanding authority. Harmony of dark and light tones is of first importance in a painting. It is even more critical than color since tone arrangement must underlie every color scheme.
Color or hue cannot exist without value. Painters often say that any color scheme will suffice if the values are harmoniously conceived. Bouguereau's handsome value harmonies are like music of great beauty and subtlety...²
|I say that sculpture is eight times as great as any other art based on drawing, because a statue|
has eight views and they must all be equally good. ~ Benvenuto Cellini
Finally, it must also be noted that Bouguereau would, on occasion, rely on the work of sculptors for his models, when his regular models could not suffice. James Caroll Beckwith, an American artist who studied in Paris from 1873 through 1878, recounted this story:
Entering Bouguereau's studio one morning, before he had come up from breakfast, I was studying with interest a large canvas half completed, representing a group of laughing children with a donkey. A gaudily attired Italian woman was endeavoring to pacify a curly-headed cherub, the model for the morning, who was ruthlessly rubbing his dirty fingers over some exquisite pencil drawing which lay on the floor at the foot of the easel. I rescued the drawings, while the mother apologetically explained to me in Neopolitan French that M. Bouguereau spoiled all of her children so that she could do nothing with them at home or elsewhere. The drawings were beautiful reproductions of the "Laughing Faun" in the sculpture gallery of the Louvre. As Bouguereau entered the room, he began a series of frolics with the youngest which quite verified the words of the mother. [When he stopped] at last to set his palette, I asked him when he had made the drawings. "Oh, you see, that mauvais sujet is so wicked," said he, pointing to the curly-headed urchin turning somersaults on the floor, "that I can use him for nothing but color and was obliged to spend nearly all of yesterday afternoon at the Louvre, making these notes for the form."³
|Good painting is the kind that looks like sculpture. ~ Michelangelo|
¹ William Bouguereau, "Allocution de M. Bouguereau" in Distribution des Prix de l'École de dessin au Grand Théâtre, 1899, (Bordeaux, 1899), pp. 17-18.
² Richard Lack, Bouguereau's Legacy to the Student of Painting (Minneapolis: Atelier Lack, Inc., 1982), p.4.
³ Caroll Beckwith, "Bouguereau" in The Cosmopolitan, January, 1890, Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 264.
The above excerpts were all taken from Mark Steven Walker's "Bouguereau at Work," William Bouguereau (The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, 1984), pp. 73-79.