A History of Teachers

(Featured image: Beer and Oysters II by Jacob Collins, Oil on Canvas, 12 x 20″, 2007)

Over the weekend I escaped our soggy Seattle spring to sunny LA where I wore sunglasses and visited the Getty Museum for the first time. I’m on a two week spring during which I took a weeklong alla prima portrait workshop and then went on this short museum trip. Both of these activities had the rejuvenating effect that simply taking a break doesn’t produce. It’s important to go out in the world and enjoy art.

While traveling I read a recently circulated article from the Epoch Times titled “A Resurgence of Art” about our little-known atelier movement in which students learn in the tradition of master artists and are taught in small studios by highly skilled teachers.

The article lists names of artists vital to keeping this tradition alive including my teacher Juliette Aristides. Interestingly, the article outlines a lineage of teachers who have passed on their wisdom through the generations. All names I’m familiar with but I had never quite thought of in chronological order. Seeing them written out like that I wanted to see all their works together and really visualize the lineage.

The list starts with Jacob Collins, a main subject of the article and moves backwards through time, through his teachers and theirs:

Jacob Collins b. 1946.  In addition to being a fantastic painter and draftsman, he has taught many wonderful painters including my teacher. Collins runs Grand Central Academy, an atelier in New York City. You may remember I posted about a great New Yorker profile of Collins.

Tony Ryder b. 1957. One of Jacob Collins’ teachers. He now has an atelier in Santa Fe. I was lucky enough to take a portrait drawing workshop with him a little over a year ago when he visited Gage Academy in Seattle.
Ted Seth Jacobs b. 1927. He taught Collins, Ryder and many other important artists and teachers and has authored several important books on drawing. He taught for a time at the Art Students League in New York but now has an atelier in Bellevue, France.
Frank J. Reilly b. 1906. He was teacher to Ted Seth Jacobs and also taught at the Art Students League. In addition to his fame as a teacher, he was known for his commercial illustrations. The “Reilly Palette” is a household concept among painting students. It is a method of mixing and organizing the palette to create natural looking flesh tones.
George Bridgman b. 1865. It was hard to find paintings by Bridgman but he has a great following among art students. His Complete Guide to Life Drawing was one of the first drawing books I ever bought. He taught at the Art Students League and, like his student Reilly, he seems best known as a teacher and posthumously as an author of essential drawing books.
Jean-Léon Gérôme b. 1824. Bridgman’s teacher was both an important painter and academic teacher, he studied and then taught at the famous Ecole des BeauxArts in Paris where many wonderful painters from all over the world went to learn to paint.
J.A.D. Ingres b. 1780. Teacher to Gérôme at Ecole des BeauxArts. We look at his drawings and figure paintings today as examples of what to aim for when painting academic nudes in the life room.
Jacques-Louis David b. 1748. Studied and taught at Ecole des BeauxArts just following the French Revolution. I saw the third painting in the series below, The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis (1818), at the Getty over the weekend. I also had the pleasure of seeing one of his figure paintings at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France last August. It’s rare to see academic figure paintings like those of David and Ingres in real life. As a student I often have aha! moments when I see how these painters handle light forms and shadows in person.

Andrea del Sarto b. 1486. This is where the timeline in the article gets a bit hazy. You can see a few generations of teachers missing in the 262 year gap between the births of del Sarto and David. But you’ll also notice it’s full-blown Renaissance time. During these years we have an explosion of schools and maestros training many fantastic artists all mixing and traveling to learn from one another. The lineage in the article bridges early Renaissance Italian masters to 19th century French teachers, but stepping outside of that scope, the Dutch were having their Golden Age and the Spanish got to celebrate the great Velasquez during this time, both of which had immense influence on the 19th century French painters.

According to the article del Sarto was a contemporary of Michelangelo who was ten years his senior. Del Sarto lived in Umbria and died in Rome but was influenced by Raphael, Da Vinci and especially Michaelangelo, all of whom lived in Florence at one incredible moment in art history.

Michelangelo b. 1475 And of course last on the list was the brilliant sculptor and fresco painter. Before I saw the sculpture David in person, I had read about “David syndrome” also known as Stendhal Syndrome.

From Wikipedia:

The illness is named after the 19th-century French author Stendhal (pseudonym of Marie-Henri Beyle), who described his experience with the phenomenon during his 1817 visit to Florence in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio. When he visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo Galilei are buried, he saw Giotto‘s frescoes for the first time and was overcome with emotion.

He wrote: I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.

And today:
The staff at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova hospital are accustomed to dealing with tourists suffering from dizzy spells and disorientation after admiring the statue of David.

I neither wept nor fainted when I saw David but I can’t deny the air was electric with reverence and awe. This was my first trip abroad and I wondered if any one was drawing, painting, and sculpting like this anymore. They were, at least in this same tradition. I just didn’t know it yet.

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