detail --Academie de femme debout
Charcoal, heightened with white chalk, on blue paper
In 1997, I came across a volume of beautiful provocative drawings by an early 19th century French artist in --
THE LANGUAGE OF THE BODY: DRAWINGS BY PIERRE-PAUL PRUD'HON
Text by John Elderfield; Drawings selected by Robert Gordon; Published by Abrams
...Well, I was seduced. I set out to gain some understanding of Prud'hon's particular approach. The works I'm referring to are the black and white chalk on blue paper academies. Other artists during his time used these combined materials to study the figure, but Prud'hon took the form to new heights. Most artists abandoned academic figure drawing once they completed their training, but Prud'hon kept at it throughout his career. His technique evolved into a beautiful style that attracted fans from his time, all the way up to present day.
Admired though he was, Prud'hon would not influence the future of academic training. His willful preference for "old fashioned" classical motifs did not suit the dominating interests of France's very modern school of Jacques Luis David, a force which would hold sway over the future of 19th century art. The Academy would train students in other techniques, thought better suited to modern times. Although sidelined in his life, Prud'hon's insights in drawing would beckon future generations with their enigmatic testimony to sublime beauty.
With a return of interest in classical art and its training, students are openly asking, "How did he do that?" Beyond the obvious need to draw accurately, the rest of the answer is not readily forthcoming. His process was not exactly like the Academy's. There is much in common with the standard Academy method, but, not immediately apparent, there are important differences. To see and read more about what makes Prud'hon's technique both unique and obscure, see this page.
My investigation into Prud'hon's technique has led to some observations, postulations and discoveries, which I share in the pages that follow. Perhaps with this material, readers can join me in my ongoing quest for black and white chalk on blue paper nirvana...
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