The complete English translation of Adolphe Yvon’s Méthod de Dessin, in PDF form, is here.

The series began here.

Yvon1Adolphe Yvon, Study for a Self-Portrait (1865)

As you can tell from the first sentence, above, the deed is done. For that I wish to thank numerous people who came forward and helped out. I began this endeavor a month ago and to have it completed in that time is simply amazing.

Before you get to the translation, however, a short biography about Adolphe Yvon might be in order. I have learned that finding information on Yvon, in English, is quite difficult and that much of the content is simply regurgitated. For French speakers there is a biography, available via Google Books, here (go to page 161).


Adolphe Yvon was born in 1817 in Eschweiler, Germany. When he came of age he clerked in the Ministry of Water and Forests. After saving enough money, he left for Paris where he enrolled in Paul Delaroche’s atelier at the École des Beaux-Arts.

One reason for studying at the École was having your work accepted at the annual Salon. Yvon achieved minor notoriety from his first Salon entries but did not make the big splash he intended. Success at the Salon could make one’s career and so he wanted to do better.

Middle Eastern subjects (Orientalism) were all the rage and many of his contemporaries, like Gérôme, his fellow student at Delaroche’s atelier, set off to that region in order to acquire subject matter for their Salon entries. Yvon had developed an interest in early Russian history and headed to St. Petersburg instead. The result of the trip, a few years later, was The Battle of Kulikovo, a large battle scene illustrating a pivotal battle in the history of medieval Russia. The painting was eventually purchased by Tsar Alexander II in 1857.

Yvon3Adolphe Yvon, The Battle of Kulikovo (1850)

Through The Battle of Kulikovo, among others, Yvon became known as a painter of battle scenes. Ultimately Napoleon III took interest in his work.

Yvon4Adolphe Yvon, Napoleon III (1868)

In 1858 Yvon was commissioned to paint The Genius of America by American entrepreneur, Alexander Turney Stewart. Twelve years later, Stewart asked him to paint a far larger version. At 29.5′ x 18′ the painting was too big to fit in Stewart’s house so in 1876 it was installed in the ballroom of his Grand Union Hotel.

Yvon5Adolphe Yvon, The Genius of America (1870)

The hotel was torn down in 1952 and the painting was donated to the NY State Education Department. It was hung in the Chancellors Hall auditorium.

However, in the late twentieth-century the painting was curtained off after some employees took offense at the depiction of a black slave in the painting. Some felt he was being held down, others felt that he was being lifted up and that to show a white man doing that sent the wrong message. Bear in mind that the original, smaller painting (and the source of the mural) was created just prior to America’s Civil War. What Yvon and Stewart intended is anybody’s guess.

Regardless, the painting is back on view. See here for more on the controversy.

Yvon6One of Yvon’s oil studies for The Genius of America.

More info, as well as a GigaPan of the painting, can be found here.

For twenty years, between 1863 and 1883, he was a popular teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts. Among his many students were the Americans, J. Alden Weir and John Singer Sargent. During his tenure at the École, he produced Méthode de Dessin, to be used as a basis for figure drawing instruction by other écoles in France, self-study students and as a supplement to his own teaching.

Méthode de Dessin is similar to other nineteenth century drawing manuals, like the ever popular Bargue-Gérôme course and Bernard-Romain Julien’s drawing course. There are subtle differences, however.

Yvon7Adolphe Yvon, Plate 16 from Méthode de Dessin (1867)

Take a look at the plate, above.

Notice how Yvon began the legs using simple, straight lines. These lines define the entire leg, upper and lower as one combined unit, rather than the break-down of the simplified forms of each aspect of the legs. Yvon called this stage the layout and it is similar to a gesture drawing, only using straight lines instead of curves. The entire figure was first ‘laid-out’ in this way.

Next, you will see the larger forms which made up each aspect of the legs, both upper and lower. As in the layout, these lines were drawn straight with no curves. Yvon called this faceting stage the block-in, a term we still use today.

From there each facet was redrawn following the correct contour of the model.

You can see much the same thing if you look at the left forearm.

The method that should be followed for drawing, either from life or from references, consists in positioning what we want to achieve by the means of simple lines, whose carefully thought-out angles (compared to the vertical and the horizontal) first give the general directions of movement. The vertical and horizontal lines must be drawn before anything else, to serve as guides . . . Once these lines are in position, the student will then use them as a basis to consider the principal divisions of length and width. -Adolphe Yvon, from Méthode de Dessin

The complete English translation of Adolphe Yvon’s Méthod de Dessin, in PDF form, is here.

5 Responses to Yvon’s Méthode de Dessin – Final

  1. Daniel says:

    Thank you so very much for putting this together and taking the initiative to release it to a wide public. Big thanks to all who helped with the translation. All the best.

  2. Esther says:

    What a great job. Incredible. Thank you all.

  3. James Gurney says:

    Thanks, Darren, for sharing this fascinating study method. It’s generous of you to make this discovery “open-source.” It’s interesting to compare and contrast it to Bargue. This adds plenty of new DNA to the revival of academic art instruction.