Charles Bargue Drawing Course for the Atelier Artist


 Charles Bargue Drawing Course for the Atelier Artist

Atelier Art

Atelier Art

The Bargue-Gerome Drawing Course is a complete reprint of a famous, late nineteenth century drawing course. It contains a set of almost two hundred masterful lithographs of subjects for copying by drawing students before they attempt drawing from life or nature. Consequently it is a book that will interest artists, art students, art historians and lovers and collectors of drawings. It also introduces us to the work and life of a hitherto neglected master: Charles Bargue. The Drawing Course consists of three sections. The first consists of plates drawn after casts, usually of antique examples. Different parts of the body are studied in order of difficulty, until full figures are presented. The second section pays homage to the western school of painting with lithographs after exemplary drawings by Renaissance and modern masters. The third part contains almost sixty academies or drawings after nude male models, all original inventions by Bargue, the lithographer. With great care, the student is introduced to continually more difficult problems in the close observing and recording of nature. Practised professional artists will see at once the problems of representation that are approached by Bargue, and they will delight in his solutions. Figure painters will copy the plates to keep in tune; so to speak, much as pianists practice the exercises of Czerny before performing Beethoven. Art students will find it a practical and progressive introduction to realistic figure drawing. Art historians can learn by studying these drawings just what was prized in late nineteenth century figure painting. They will recognize the reliance upon tradition by the use of antique sculptures as models in the first part: Antiquity is here used, not to impose a classical style, but as an aid in seeing the structure of the human body with clarity and intelligence. The result is a convergence of Classicism and Realism. There are no numerical proportional charts, perspective boxes or geometrical schemata to memorize. All the techniques and schemata are developed out of and for the object or person in view. The drawings are splendid; beautiful; not simply products of assiduity, but of careful observation and the wish to transcribe and communicate the beauty of nature and light, as well as the manifold appearances of the human body. These are objectives that will touch and move any careful reader of drawings, and the figurative arts. Charles Bargue started his career as a lithographer of drawings by hack artists for a popular market in comic, sentimental and soft-porn subjects. By working with Gerome, and in preparing the plates for the course, Bargue was transformed into a spectacular painter of single figures and intimate scenes; a master of precious details that always remain observation and never became self-conscious virtuosity, of colour schemes that unified his composition in exquisite tonal harmonies. The last part of the book is a biography of Bargue, along with a preliminary catalogue of his paintings, accompanied by reproductions of all that have been found and of many of those lost.

Charles Bargue Drawing Course for the Atelier Artist is available for sale in January at:

Beginner’s Art Journal: Entry 3

Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.

“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through.  Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it.  This is a kind of death.”       Anaïs Nin

Water Carrier Entry 3

As I return to the studio for my third lesson, I run through the principles I have learnt so far: stand back, draw from the shoulder, light markings on the paper and, most importantly, see the box and then the lines of flight.  Not forgetting my mantra of course: rub out and start again.

It all seems very simple, but I am prepared for a step back – perhaps one figure instead of three; frequent and slight rotations of the cast so that I can focus on the technique rather than the end product. I centre my attention on the slender, milk white nude to my left.  She gives the impression of having gently nudged her contours into space.  I love her tranquil gaze and the brazen nudity of her form.

Unfortunately my translation does not do her justice and my frustration rises in equal measure to her quiet.  On the page she is wider, her features blunt and her proportions, disproportionate.  How I can get it so wrong!  Softly but with perfect timing and incredible insight a teacher’s voice shifts my focus back to the lines and the fundamentals of process vs product.  A change of pose and pace; a fresh pair of eyes and few, sharp questions set me on course once more.

This is the first time that the subject I am drawing is necessarily smaller on the paper than in reality.  I define the top horizontal, trace the bottom horizontal, mark my left vertical, then the right.  Finally, but critically, I score in the major dividing lines – shoulders, hips, knees.  Once the distribution is there, then I can think about chiselling the outlines of her limbs, but always in straight lines and sparingly.

I stand back and reflect.  I compare the drawing and the cast.  In a world dominated by product it is easy to forget that the process is as important.  I am reminded of something I read recently: when you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur… don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.

With the same stroke I realise that for as long as a language, whether spoken, visual or other, has a grammar then whoever the teacher is, is secondary.   I had been disconcerted by the presence of a new facilitator but the beauty of Lavender Hill Studios is that all the teachers are artists, sharing in that grammar.  I understand suddenly that change stimulates learning, it keeps the student agile and focussed on the process.

Finally, a demonstration by one of the founders confirms my theory and raises my spirits.  Demonstrations are invaluable in showing how the grammar comes together.  They are spontaneous but determined, at once rigorous and relaxed.  Ultimately they show that mastery comes in practice, not in a flash of lightening.

It has been a frustrating week, but also an illuminating one.  I have come away empowered to work through the challenges and remain alive to them.  I know I can gain nothing if I stop.  I must push through.

Beginner’s Art Journal: Entry 4

Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.

“Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life, it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stoney.   Viktor Shklovsky

Ashmolean Barocci Virgin

I rewind the term so far in my head  – from boxes I have progressed to smooth, muscle inflected casts, beautifully lit against black curtains.  I have a way to go before I do them justice but as I reflect on the weeks passed I am pleasantly surprised by the trajectory.  I begin to see how knowledge and skills are layered to make the impossible achievable.

I also realise that there comes a point where practice, repetition and discipline must be the cradle of technique if I am to come close to mastery.  That is the definition of passion and commitment and ultimately talent.

However, this week one of my greatest lessons lies beyond the studios, in exhibition halls.  On the one hand it is about context; on the other hand it is about seeing.

Barocci, it transpires was meticulous in his preparation.  His sumptuous depiction of religious scenes and beautiful portraits did not fall like manna from heaven but were the result of hours spent laying down the detail – the proportion, the line and volume, developing chiaroscuro sketches and finally beginning to apply colour.  I see the Lavender Hill Studios mantra taking shape before me!  I am encouraged.

But above all I am excited.  After four weeks acquainting myself with the fundamentals of drawing from life, I have not only come away with a greater understanding of how to draw but also, and perhaps more importantly, of how to see.  Standing in front of this magnificent collection I see the work with new eyes.

For the first time I discern with confidence the skeleton of the picture.  I identify how the chiaroscuro and myriad sketches feed into the final work.  I look at the oeuvre and am thrilled by its delicate and thoughtful beauty, but also by my enriched understanding of it: the shadow shapes in the fold of the fabric; the compliment of colour; the lines that encase the scene then carve life out of the block to ensure an accurate relationship of parts.  It is ironic that one of my favourite pieces is that of a chiaroscuro study of the Virgin of the Rocks.  Incidentally, it is one of the few works by Barocci held in a British collection.

And the real beauty has been that I have assimilated this knowledge without struggle or resistance, almost without realising.  Simply through doing.  I have been guided by articulate and incisive teachers and supported by a community of peers all eager to exchange and enhance the other’s experience.

London Portrait Courses at Lavender Hill Studios

Portrait Painting Courses at Lavender Hill Studios

Working exclusively from life and beginning in charcoal, students will be introduced to the basic principles and the preliminary stages of rendering a portrait. Introducing proportional guidelines and using the ‘essential darks’ as the way to create structure and form, students will focus on mastering these basics. They will be taught the importance of the value scale for creating depth before progressing onto oil and colour. Students will complete at least one charcoal and one oil portrait. A demonstration will also be given.

Nick Bashall's Portrait Course Demonstration

Nick Bashall’s Portrait Course Demonstration

Hand Made Fine Art Panels made by Lavender Hill Colours


For over a decade I have been experimenting with making fine art panels, generally in batches of ten or less.  This time I wanted to make many more in one go. I enlisted Jon and we managed to produce nearly 1000 panels in a three week period.  If we are going to paint with Rosemary Brushes and use the best paints available then we must paint on the best!

Beginner’s Art Journal: Entry 1

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Andre Gide

Mondrian Journal 1

I stand in front of the easel in studio 101.  The afternoon sun is streaming through the windows to my right.  To my left, a configuration of small white boxes.  I am wondering how I got to be here, in this place of beginning and unknowing.  But before I am overwhelmed by this train of thought someone is at my shoulder breaking down the task into simple steps: stand back; see the whole; draw from the shoulder and do not be afraid.  Suddenly, it doesn’t feel so daunting.

The first lesson is that of proportion:  start by seeing the block, of which the white boxes are just a part.  If I can identify the outermost axis then I can pin down the ratio of size and distribution.  This means that when I come to drawing a figure, it will not have a head twice as big as the body – I hope.

I spend the next hour drawing lines – top and bottom horizontals first; then left and right verticals; finally the internal edges of the boxes.  Then I move onto a wine bottle and cup.  I continue to focus on the dominant lines, keeping them straight and the objects two-dimensional.  I think I see echoes of cubism yet the technique dates back to Renaissance Europe.

Every so often a firm yet sensitive voice intervenes and poses two simple but fundamental questions: Too big or too small?  Too wide or too narrow?  I think for a moment, stand back and seeing things afresh, start again.

I am no prodigy but begin to discern a method.  I realize that there is a journey of learning that everyone passes through, even the greatest artists.  Above all I feel supported by the authoritative and sensitive intervention of my teacher.

Like nowhere else, Lavender Hill Studios has created a space in which I feel safe to expose my unknowing.  The teachers are trained in house and supported to develop their practice.  As a result they are best placed to coax novices through.

My first class over and I have learnt a parallel lesson: that of perspective.  By standing back I see the whole better; by seeing the whole I understand its relationship to the parts.  Perspective teaches me that genius is rare and hard work is better.  Perspective, in painting as in life, allows me to loose sight of the shore.

Beginner’s Art Journal: Entry 2

Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?   Robert H. Schuller.

Demoiselles Entry 2

My second lesson and I am quite literally back to the drawing board, armed with packing paper, charcoal and shamy leather.  For a perfectionist I have grown remarkably comfortable with the idea of getting it wrong, rubbing it out and starting again.  I have learnt not to be precious and above all not to be afraid of making mistakes.  In fact, they are never mistakes just the art of learning.  It is amazing how much you get out of a lesson at Lavender Hill Studios.

I pick my spot and resume my experiment in boxes.  However, this is just a warm up as my teacher points me in the direction of a cast of three nudes, their arms interlaced, their backs facing the spectator.  They look beautiful, like three vestal virgins.

I know I will not do them justice but nor was Rome built in a day.  The exercise still lies in seeing the whole before the parts but now I am also adding strong diagonals.  In my head I have come to identify these as lines of flight – where the latent power of the composition escapes and so gives it depth and meaning.

I begin to cut across the right angles with a few key strokesI avoid curves and stick to straight lines.  Soon, new shapes (and spaces) emerge from my block and the curvaceous bodies of the cast whisper across my page.

I haven’t got the proportion entirely right and I have given one of them larger hips than is flattering – may I be forgiven.  But I am grasping the principle and can place the technique within a history of art. I am reminded of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and understand how indebted cubism is to its renaissance forefathers.  Again, the context (or the whole) is helping me to refine my perception and hone my skills.

In retrospect I am amazed by my composure.  I resolve that, yet again, it is testament to the teaching and preparation I have received.  I have been given the confidence to try, and better to overshoot than to never try.  With hindsight I know I was too ambitious but I have learnt so much more in the doing than if I had erred on the side of caution.  It is OK.

Over the three hours I am never criticized only ever instructed.  I stand beside more experienced students who have joined the school precisely because they have felt frustrated by the lack of rigour in their previous training. I feel fortunate to be learning so much without ever feeling the pain.  I am looking forward to lesson 3.

Saturday Morning Foundation Class

The Autumn Term:  23rd September – 7th December 2013 (Half-Term 28th-1st October)

Courses, Events… & a little more

Saturday Morning Foundation Class


This foundation class follows the same structure as our foundation course throughout the year. It is a ten-week course, looking in detail at proportion, line & volume, chiarocsuro with charcoal, and colour with oil painting. The instruction is intensive with demonstrations key to the learning process.

£350 for the term

10-1pm Saturdays  

Saturday Morning Foundation Course

Saturday Morning Foundation Course


Foundation Course Diary – Entry 9

Follow a beginner on their journey through the foundation course.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius

Sacred & Profane Titian

Sacred and Profane Love, Titian

This is my final week and I resist the temptation to paint; not because I do not long to cross the final frontier of the foundation course, but because I know that I will not enjoy it as much if I do not master my drawing first.

On reflection, the course is as much about learning to know yourself as it is about drawing and painting. I have learnt that I need to be less fearful of mistakes and less blocked by the illusion of perfection. I have also realised that learning is not a race to the finish; nor is there anything to be gained from comparison. If I am going to compare myself to anyone it might as well be to The Great Masters, at least then there is something to really work towards!

So, in the final week I take a more modest but equally exciting step. I move from one side of the studios to the other and cross a different dividing line. For the first time I am working from life, who would have thought it could feel so different!

The model is beautiful. She sits serenely on the edge of a stool, her skin pours over her form like crystalline water over rock, smooth and without a single blemish. Her gaze hangs in the middle distance, with no particular urge to travel anywhere. She betrays no discomfort in sitting nude in front of a group of painters; instead her figure melts into a space that seems to have been moulded for her. She is symmetrical like a diamond. Her shoulders slope and broaden creating a line from cheek to shoulder to elbow before beginning to taper in, skimming her thighs towards her knees and finally brushing her toes.

There is a sense of excitement that comes with tackling a live subject for the first time. I want to recreate that fluidity and strength of character on the page and this urgency drives me to work faster and more boldly. Of course I do not come close to doing her justice but I feel more relaxed in front of the easel.

Inevitably I cannot work fast enough as the session is punctuated by regular pauses to give the model time to rest. After 20 minutes an alarm clock rings, and the stillness breaks. Suddenly the air seems thick and stuffy and I can almost see it nudged aside by the stirring of those in the room. Our model moves swiftly to drape herself in a dressing gown, faded and reminiscent of the ones worn by 1950s Hollywood stars in their dressing rooms. In one seamless action she reaches for the mobile phone and with this the final thread snaps.

The class has been a revelation, it is clear to me now how demanding drawing from life is and the skill required to do it well. But, this spurs me on. I may not have progressed a pace with my peers, but I have taken stock of every bend in the road and enjoyed (eventually) the process. I look forward to more in the term ahead.

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