One of my three current projects is a copy of this lithograph by Charles Bargue.
Bargue produced the Cours de Dessin in 1886 and this is Plate 36 from that book. The book is composed of 197 lithographs which students copied (and, since the re-publication of the book still do copy) before moving on to work from plaster casts and drawing from the living model.
I’ve had a go at the Bargue drawings before but my problem has always been knowing the correct technique to adopt in copying them. When I did my first few (about three years ago) I did them in charcoal working at an easel. However, photos from the websites of various ateliers showed students working on the plates in pencil with drawing boards on their laps and that’s the method I’m trying currently. Pencil certainly gives a cleaner finish than charcoal.
Then there’s the question of measuring. I’ve heard a very divergent range of opinions on this. Some people say you should work on them sight size (ie putting the paper and the lithograph side by side and stepping back from the easel to judge the measurements using a plumb line or knitting needle, reproducing the image in 1:1 scale). Others say it’s a good idea to reproduce the lithograph larger than it appears, using comparative measurement. Photos of atelier students at work suggest that some schools actually allow measurements from the surface of print itself, using string or dividers. I’ve also seen accounts saying you should use no artificial means of measurement at all, simply using the eye alone, which sounds super difficult! I know of at least one atelier which says not to bother with the course at all, as the exercises deaden the eye.
Whatever approach is adopted, the idea is to copy the finished drawings exactly; hopefully my latest one will turn out well. For this one I’m measuring from the plate itself, which is pretty easy. Next time I might try working from eye alone and see how scarily bad the results are!
Among the artists who studied by means of Bargue's Cours de Dessin is Vincent van Gogh, who copied the complete set in the early 1880s.
Ben Laughton Smith
Aspiring artist, training in the classical tradition.