image: art renewal.org.
William Bouguereau: Song of the Angels.
There is an 11" by 15" painted sketch for this painting. I suspect there is one such preparatory study for most of Bouguereaus' paintings.
Young girl defending herself against cupid, 1880
This is a graceful and rhythmic design . There is a device going on here called counterchange. That is the practice of placing darks behind your lights, and lights behind the darks to show the forms and the arabesque of the figures.
Arabesque is a fancy word for outline, that painters once used. I don't know if it is in use today. My teacher Ives Gammell used it frequently. I find myself using studio lingo from the Edwardian era because those were the words that Gammell taught with, and they describe the ideas he espoused. I am sometimes surprised to find how archaic they are. Another painter will ask what I mean by a certain word and I realize that the word to which I am accustomed , has slipped from usage. The words you use to describe things, color how you think about them.
When I say outline, I think of what Gammell called a coat hanger. That's a dark line around something that has nothing to do with its actual appearance.He would when teaching figure drawing , point out for correction a coat hanger line. When he said arabesque, he meant a beautiful artistic line having an expressive value apart from its job of fencing off the figure from the outside world. He might also talk about the edge of a group of trees or an assemblage of figures, as enclosed by an arabesque.
If you look at the figure of the Cupid his whole figure is relieved against a dark background. Even the leg thrown onto the feebly resisting girl is set against a dark drape. When his hand holding the dart comes out from in front of the foliage it is counterchanged dark against the sky.
Reluctance girl is dark against the sky. However, Bouguereau has brought a spray of leaves behind her dark hair . He has kept the degree of difference between the figure and its background and her hair and its background the same. As soon as her face emerges from beneath the hairline it is immediately placed against the sky again.
As I have said over and over again, nothing smart gets into a picture by accident. Bouguereau deliberately monitored the contrast between his figures and the background and designed the picture to keep them always relieved against their opposite value by a set ratio. Real smart stuff.
Below is a drawing for the painting. This would be the last in a chain of drawings he made for a painting. Impressionist painters just set up and go , without a lot of planning ( drawing ). But a painting as highly resolved as this has to be carefully planned before committing the image to paint. I own a book called "How I Make a Painting" by Norman Rockwell. In this book he describes his order of preparation for a painting and it is the same as Bouguereau's.
The first step is thumbnails, lots of matchbook sized ( remember matchbooks?) doodles to rough out the general idea. When that is established, the next drawing is a larger and more definitive , and often there is a painted sketch. Drawings are then made from the model for every figure and studies are made for drapery and the natural elements surrounding the figure. Finally these are assembled into a cartoon. Often the same size as the finished work, the cartoon is as nearly what the artist wants the picture to look like as he can make it. An awful lot of problems can be avoided by working them out before the brush touches the canvas. When you are working on a large painting with multiple life sized figures, when things go wrong they go so terribly wrong.
Study of a blond womans' profile.
I am guessing that this is like the painted sketches he made on the way to a painting. Below is a drawing done in preparation for an existing painting.
I would have you notice the fabulous amount of careful preparation that went into the making of these paintings. It is very different from the idea most people have today, of the artist making his paintings quickly, and in a non aware state of pure creativity. They imagine this automaton artists' subconscious taking over, and that he awakens an hour later to find the completed masterpiece, wet on the easel in front of him. He then dresses in black, puts on his sunglasses, and goes clubbing till dawn, in a disco somewhere, filled with hundreds of other artists like him. You can still smoke there.
More tomorrow, including the historical French percusers to the subject matter of Bouguereau and also a donkey.