written by Allana Benham
We are very pleased to share this group of original 19th century academies. These are marvelous examples of the diversity of academic approaches to drawing the figure through the mid-19th century.
The first three drawings are by French artist Alexis Bafcop (1804-1895). Each of these drawings is finished to a different degree, likely using charcoal, black chalk, and in some cases, white chalk. In the above example, circa the late 1830's or early 1840's, he has chosen a warm-toned paper, blocked in the figure, and refined the forms in the upper body. The lower legs and feet remain loose, giving a good indication of his starting process for the drawing as a whole. Bafcop used a sharp point to refine the line quality in the upper body and begin the tonal development of the shadows, and he has begun to add white chalk to develop the light mass.
In this second example, we see a bit more development than in the first, although Bafcop has retained the looseness of the feet here as well. It appears that the head and upper torso are essentially finished, while he has left himself the opportunity to change his mind about the exact placement of the feet. This drawing is on an off-white paper and done entirely in charcoal or black chalk, without the addition of any white. The deep tone in the background is very effective to isolate the whites of the paper within the figure, and his halftones are developed with the utmost sensitivity.
In the final example, we see a fully finished drawing, dated 1846. This drawing was done on a blue paper, reminiscent of Prud'hon a generation before. With the passage of time, the paper has become a more muted greyish blue. The surface of this drawing is carefully worked, likely with some kind of stump first and then a reapplication of tone using hatch marks. In places, the light and dark chalks are blended together; in others, one or the other is predominant.
Every part of the background and the figure is treated to give a clear impression of a solid, muscular body moving through an atmospheric space. Once again, the forms of the figure are represented in perfect focus, yet with a certain looseness about them. This drawing shows Bafcop's virtuosity and profound understanding of the human body, representing the pinnacle of his achievement in this genre.
Finally, we see another remarkable approach by Paul Chameron (1865-1918) in a drawing made while he was a student of Gerome, likely in the 1880's:
This drawing bears the stamp of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for a concours d'emulation, a contest among the students for the best rendering from a live model. Chameron placed 6th, indicated by the large '6' in red on the left of the page, which may even be in Gerome's hand. This drawing was considered of high quality by Gerome, and we can appreciate Chameron's deft balance of precise linear drawing and soft, atmospheric tone. The varied tones in the background serve to give relief to the body and imply the space surrounding it.
verso of the drawing:detail:
These drawings have much to teach us about approaches to drawing the figure in the mid-19th century. We often think of academies as somewhat stiff or monolithic in approach, but for both of these artists, we can see that this is not the case. Both Chameron and Bafcop have chosen to emphasize the linear quality of their drawings in some places and de-emphasize it in others. But, each artist retains an open quality that breathes life into these figures. Each of these drawings is made according to the principles and taste of their times, and each is done in a unique way, representing the skill of these artists.