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 Charles Bargue  (1825 - 1883)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: figure and genre painting, drawing, lithographs

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Charles Bargue is mostly remembered for his Cours de dessin, one of the most influential classical drawing courses conceived in collaboration with Jean-Leon Gerome.  The course, published between 1866 and 1871 by Goupil & Cie, and composed of 197 lithographs printed as individual sheets, was to guide students from plaster casts to the study of great master drawings and finally to drawing from the living model.

Among the artists whose work is based on the study of Bargue's platework is Vincent van Gogh, who copied the complete set in 1880/1881, and (at least a part of it) again in 1890.

Although some sources suggest that Bargue was a student of Gerome, there is room for doubt. Bargue worked closely with Gérôme and was influenced by his style, which included Orientalist scenes and historical genre.  Bargue's last painting was completed by Gérôme and is now conserved in the Malden Public Library, Malden MA, USA.

Ackerman, Gerald M., (ed.) & Parrish, Graydon Charles Bargue avec le concours de Jean-Léon Gérôme: Cours de dessin, French edition, 2003


Biography from Schiller & Bodo European Paintings:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

One of the first in a series of important small genre oils on panel, Bargue’s Seated Negro of 1872 was his first Orientalist work, no doubt inspired and abetted by J. L. Gérôme, with whom he shared a studio at the time.  Two highly finished paintings had preceded it in 1871: A Sleeping Footman (Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession #81.1.565) and Un Vendeen Fumeur/Breton Fumant (private collection, Bethesda, MD) .  But neither of these works displayed the brilliant colors for which Bargue was admired in France, Britain and America during the 1870s and 1880s.

Rather it was Gérôme’s Black Bashi-Bazouk (Ackerman, c.r. #193), exhibited at Henry Wallis’s legendary French Gallery the year before that it bears the closest affinity. In fact, the same bejeweled ivory sword handle appears in both works, as it did in Bargue’s later La Sentinelle of 1876 and Sentinelle Turque of 1877 (Boston Museum of Fine Arts, #03.601), no doubt a souvenir from Gérôme’s 1868 expedition to Egypt.

Similarly, elements of the same multicolored tasseled turban also form a focal point for Nègre Assis. Like his compatriots Gérôme, Tissot, and Toulemouche, Bargue evidently gloried in the brilliant hues and fine textures of contemporary fabrics; but according to a good number of the more observant critics and collectors, he surpassed them all as a colorist and master of realist detail.  During his relatively short lifetime, it was even said, “he painted with eyelashes.”

Indeed, it was only the renowned Meissonier, the highest priced living artist of the day, with whom he can be compared in this domain.  Perhaps this explains why Bargue appealed to many of the same collectors, like the Vanderbilts, and obtained prices, especially after his premature death, vastly in excess of most other artists, including the best-known impressionists. With the rise of that group to prominence - even dominance - at the end of the 19th and continuing through most of the 20th century, Bargue, like most of his fellow Academicians, was all but forgotten.

Biography from Dahesh Museum of Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Horse head from the West Pediment of the Parthenon, ca. 1868: 
This lithograph, impression on gray paper, 18 9/16 x 24 in, is in the Dahesh Museum of Art
2000.8  Plate 47 of vol. I: "Models in the Round," from the Drawing Course (Cours de Dessin, vol. I: Modèles d'après la bosse), after a drawing by Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ (1842-1923)

Charles Bargue and The Drawing Course

Before studying plaster casts or live models, art students usually tried to master the skill of drawing by copying two-dimensional images. They did so on their own or with teachers, with the help of manuals or drawing courses. By the mid-19th century, many such courses were in print and formed a primary tool for basic drawing instruction. Proficiency in drawing—considered by the academy to be the essential component of art—was a requirement for admission to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and, once enrolled, students would continue to practice and perfect their technique.

One of the more famous drawing courses was compiled by the painter and lithographer Charles Bargue, in collaboration with the leading academician Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), and published by the art dealer Adolphe Goupil between 1868 and 1873. This Cours de Dessin contained 197 loose-leaved lithographs divided over three volumes, providing students with many different examples of plaster casts (vol. I), paintings and drawings by old masters and contemporary artists (vol. II), and charcoal drawings of a male model in various poses (vol. III). In the first volume, many plates show a rudimentary abstraction of the general form of the model next to a finished version of the same object.

All original lithographs from the Drawing Course in the collection of the Musée Goupil in Bordeaux were shown in an exhibition at the Dahesh Museum of Art (Charles Bargue: The Art of Drawing, November 25, 2003 - February 8, 2004). That exhibition coincided with the republication of the complete Drawing Course. This book by Gerald Ackerman can be ordered through the Museum.

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