I have been having a discussion online with some other people about the need or use of reference. There seems to be this disturbing trend in younger thinking that reference isn’t a good thing and that you can learn enough about drawing and painting to not need it. They seem to think using any kind of reference is mere copying, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
While I agree that there are many people who get by with a professional level of representational work that doesn’t rely on reference. I think you cheat yourself to not include its use as a professional artist. This goes double for working from life. No matter what your level of ability or chosen genre, the use of reference can only help. Of course you have to be confident in your abilities and smart enough not to let it supersede artistic judgment. Reference should only follow and enhance design, never decide it.
Francisco Pradilla Ortiz
Working from life allows you an infinite amount of solutions to the problems of form, value and color. Our finite imaginations and limited memory can’t even come close to that full range of possibilities and combinations. Even composition can be better informed with the use of reference and life studies.
The great artists and illustrators of the past used everything they had available to them to create work of lasting impression.They worked hard to achieve their artistic goals and never settled for an easy solution to their paintings. If you just work to only satisfy a client and get by with the barest minimum of professionalism, then you doom your work to mediocrity and the trash bin of history. Not an epitaph one wishes for their career.
Ilya Semionovich Ostroukhov was born in 1858 in Moscow to a well to do merchant family. Ostroukhov was a primarily self-taught artist with no systematic formal art training. In 1880 at the age of 22 he took some private lessons from Alexander Kiseliov and then attended Ilya Repins Sunday evening drawing sessions. In 1886 he was an unregistered student at the Moscow College of Painting Sculpture and Architecture.
He participated in travelling exhibitions and joined the Society for Circulating Art Exhibitions in 1891. The Society formed in 1870 was major democratic association of realist artists.
Its members became known as the Itinerants and the Society was made up of the majority of the most talented and progressive artists of the day in Russia. The members sought to popularize realist art and championed their movement as a force for cultural progress and a better life for all Russians.
Ostroukhov focused his work on realistic but poetic landscape images of Central Russia. His most famous works were Golden Autumn 1886, Early Spring 1887 and The North Wind 1890 (the last three images in this article).
The north wind brought him critical acclaim and prominence in the art world. He became a member of the board of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow from 1898 to 1913. He was the gallery administrator from1905. His affluence allowed him to collect art and his collection of Russian Masterworks was nationalized in 1917 after the October Revolution. Ostroukhov stayed on as the museum’s curator until his death in 1929 at the age of 71 years old.
The Itinerants and the Society for Circulating Exhibitions
Aurora Publishers 1974
The Itinerants The Masters of Russian Realism
Parkstone Aurora Publishers 1996
All artists are influenced by other artists and to become an artist we need some form of training to get to where we want to go. People who claim to be self-taught usually mean their study was self-guided using museums and books and formulating their opinions and ideas without the direct influence of a teacher.
Most artists are trained by a teacher or teachers over the course of their careers. This could be at a generalized school taking art classes or a more focused approach through a trade school, academy or atelier, concentrated specifically on art. Either way the outcome depends on the student, there are far more students that graduate and have no career in art than students that are successful.
With the rise and renewed interest in realism I see a disturbing trend happening in art schools. Schools no longer train in the just fundamentals but indoctrinate students into thinking that their method is the only path to success. These schools engage in a sort of brainwashing equivalent to EST and all the other quack zealotry that happens in fringe religious groups.
A lot of schools these days prey on artists seeking knowledge, trying to convince them they must endlessly study under a school or teachers guidance to achieve success. In these situations the teachers and school are giving them only enough information and encouragement to continue forking over their hard earned money. When you feel someone is holding back information from you, find other instruction or take some time for absorption and practice of what has been learned and self-guided discovery.
Remember most academic artists at the turn of the century only studied fulltime for a year or two. Even then summers were spent painting with other students away from the instructor and school. Most of the artists of that time we revere today never completed their studies. This idea now by some institutions and teachers that you need 5 to 10 years or more of study to learn to draw is ridiculous. All a student needs is the fundamentals and some time putting them into practice on their own. Any honest teacher will tell you this.
Henryk Hector Siemiradzki was born on October 24th, 1873 in Bilhorod near Kharkov in the Ukraine, part of the Russian Empire at the time. Henryk first studied painting with a local teacher but his parents convinced him to get a degree in mathematics and natural sciences.
After receiving his doctorate in the natural sciences he continued to pursue his study of painting at the Imperial Academy of the Arts in Saint Petersburg. He was quickly recognized for his talent. He was awarded a gold medal and a grant to study abroad upon his graduation. He chose Munich, studying under Karl Von Piloty for a year.
After selling his first large scale work to the St Petersburg Academy Henryk used the funds to settle in Rome and built a studio there, in the summers he would stay at his estate in Poland.
Henryk won a gold medal and the French National Order of the Legion of Honor at the 1878 world’s fair in Paris. His success brought him many commissions. His large scale works were often acquired for museums. He is best remembered for his work depicting antiquity and the life of Christ.
Henryk died in 1902 at the age of 58
Some Call it Kitsch
Masterpieces of Bourgeois Realism
By Armand Cabrera
Elizabeth Thompson was born in Lausanne Switzerland in 1846. She was the oldest of two daughters of Thomas James Thompson and his second wife Christiana Weller. Her mother was an amateur artist and Elizabeth showed an interest in drawing at the age of five. The family spent their summers in the Italian Riviera and the children were home schooled. After formal studies in England the family returned to Italy where Elizabeth began study with Giuseppe Bellucci in Florence in 1869. By 1870 she was painting religious subjects and portraits of friends. She also sketched in pen and pencil and watercolor. Here sketches were mostly soldiers and men in battle.
In 1874 she submitted the painting Roll Call to the Royal Academy. The painting became a huge success for the young painter with critics and the public alike. Huge crowds gathered to see it and it was so popular the Academy sent it on tour. Multiple people bid to own it and the painting was eventually purchased by Queen Victoria. The Queen allowed engravings to be made of the image and prints were sold to the public.
Almost overnight Elizabeth became a much sought after artist. She continued to paint military subjects to great acclaim. Elizabeth made sure her paintings were as accurate as possible. Because of her fame and success many of the men who had taken place in the battles she depicted would pose for her paintings in their uniforms.
Her career changed the view of women painters and the idea of what military paintings should be about. John Ruskin who had proclaimed he thought no woman was capable of painting to a professional level publically recanted his statement after viewing Elizabeth’s work. Her paintings were not just action scenes of battles but focused on the human elements of suffering and bravery and the individuals taking part in the conflict.
In 1877 Elizabeth married Major William Butler. She had six children. Elizabeth traveled with her husband through Africa, the Middle East and Europe as he carried out his military service. After the Boer Wars (1880-81 and 1899-1902) the interest in military painting dwindled and though Elizabeth continued to paint, twentieth century taste turned away from realism to modernism.
Elizabeth Thompson Butler died in 1933 at the age of 87.
A Dictionary of European Genre Painting
Phillip Hook and Mark Poltimore
The Antique Collectors Club 1986
Lady Butler Battle Artist 1846-1933
Paul Usherwood and Jenny Spencer Smith
Sutton publishing LTD 1987
By Elizabeth Butler
Constable & Co. LTD 1922
I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism.
~ Lady Elizabeth Butler