Paul Baudry, Study for the Torture of a Vestal, Black and Red and chalk on paper, 32″ x 26″
I will get to the drawing dissection in a little bit, but first I think a short biography is in order.
Paul Jacques Aime Baudry (1828-1886) is probably best known as one of the artists who decorated the Paris Opéra. He studied, alongside Bouguereau, at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1850 the two competed against each other for the Prix du Rome. Their entries tied for the win and both were off to Rome to complete their education.
It was not the first time they were in competition with each other.
The Wrestler Meissonier (1848), Bouguereau’s version on the left and Baudry’s on the right.
The images, above, show both artist’s versions of the Concours de Torse’s, 1848 competition: a half-nude study in oil. The pose was set by one of the teachers and was held for six sessions of seven hours each.1 As you can see from their paintings, both artists must have had their easels right next to each other.
Before we move on, there is a final connection between Bouguereau and Baudry. Baudry’s eldest daughter Cecile, one of the initial female students at Julian’s Academy, worked in Bouguereau’s studio between 1901 and 1902.2
In 1864, Baudry was given the commission of his life, to decorate the foyer of the new Paris Opéra. In order to prepare for the job, “he closed his studio in the spring of 1864, renounced the material advantages of Paris and returned to the Villa Medici in Rome, where the director, Victor Schnetz, gave him the Turkish Room. There, as in his student years, he entered into serious study. He painted eleven full-sized copies of the Sistine Chapel frescoes, studied Raphael’s Vatican frescoes, the decorations of the Carracci in the Farnese Gallery and made many preparatory drawings for the Opéra.”3
Paul Baudry, Study for Terpsicore, Muse of Dancing and Choral Song (left) and the final painting.
The painting measures roughly 10′ x 5′.
A good biography of Baudry, in English, is by the noted American painter, critic and author, Kenyon Cox. It is in a biographical compilation, Modern French Masters: A Series of Biographical and Critical Reviews. You can find it online, here. Once at the link, go to page 61.
The subject of this post is the initial drawing you see at the top of the page. It was done for the painting on the right, on which I’ve circled the figure in question.
As we study the drawing, it is helpful to think about how Kenyon Cox (in his biography, mentioned above), rated Baudry’s drawing prowess.
“Of his power of significant drawing it is hard for me to speak without indulging in what may seem hyperbole. I have found, for many years, that my admiration of his draftsmanship has grown with my own knowledge, and I should have no hesitation in placing him third, after Michelangelo and Raphael only, and far before Ingres, in the extremely limited list of the world’s really great delineators of the human figure. I do not know why the world has been apt to consider color as a gift and drawing as an acquirement. Mere correctness of proportion may indeed be learned by any one with a true eye, but the gift of significant line is one of the rarest of artistic endowments, and is compatible, as Michelangelo has shown us, with a neglect of mere accuracy. Baudry’s drawing is not always accurate, but it is intelligent and significant in the highest degree, and is instinct with what we know as style.”
To begin, the drawing is quite large, at 32″ x 26″. While I have not seen the painting for which it was intended, I assume that the figure in the study is the same size as its counterpart. This is clearly a guess on my part but we see no grid lines on the drawing, like we do an many of his other drawings.
There are numerous areas in the drawing where one can see red chalk, visible underneath the black chalk. As such, Baudry seems to have begun the drawing in red and then switched to black. That said, occasionally one can see the opposite, red over black. Nonetheless, the majority of the drawing is in black chalk over sketched-in areas of red. It holds together without the red but not without the black.
The detail below is of the upper-right part of the subject’s head. The number 1’s designate black over red. The number 2 designates red over black.
This detail, below, is where the tricep and chest visually touch. Again, the 1’s represent areas where red chalk is seen beneath black.
One of the tells for this kind of thing is how the black chalk looks as it passes over the red. Imagine a drawn line of crayon. Then, using charcoal, draw a line across the crayon line. Due to the wax content, the charcoal would not cover the crayon. Although red chalk (sanguine) does not have a wax as a binder, the ultimate effect is, at times, quite similar.
You can also see lighter lines, within the shading, which indicate the same thing.
From the start, Baudry looks to have been acutely aware of figure’s exact contour. Mistakes are erased, or gone over to strengthen the corrections with a darker line.
This curved approach is easily seen in the image below. Notice the unfinished arm of the Vestal and the erased areas of the bicep.
The image below is a fine example of most stages of the drawing. Faint lines, initially in red and then black, show the first attempt at representing the model’s shape. Looking where the base of the thumb meets the wrist, one can see indications of the shadow line, what we might call the bed-bug line or the terminator.
In general, the shadows are rubbed in and, when necessary, strengthened with line. I am tempted to call this, stumping, but given how smooth the shadow areas are I lean a bit towards thinking that they were brushed out with a soft brush.
The blending often obscures the bed-bug line and there are also areas where he erased it so that the edge was clean.
Occasionally, he draws a series of curving, parallel lines in accented areas of the shadow. These lines tend to follow the form. You can see this, below, where the trapezius meets the neck.
These same kinds of accent lines are also apparent in this image of the back. They are less well defined and in parts have been rubbed across to knock down their strength.
The final detail, below, shows one form of halftone. Notice the light, distinct parallel lines running across the form of the scapula. Other areas of halftone in the drawing are less linear and more rubbed or brushed, as are seen in the image above.
1Thanks to Ramon Alexander Hurtado for correcting this aspect of my post.
2For more on Cecile’s time at Julian’s and with Bouguereau, see here.
3The quote comes from Stephen Gjertson. Rather than elaborate on that story, interested readers should take a look at Gjertson’s site here.