Archive for the ‘Copycat: Reproducing Works of Art’ Category

By Giulio Sorgini, graduate student in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art

I’d like to offer another possible answer to the question “when are copies useful?” which Copycat co-curator Alexis Goodin posed in the wall text for her exhibition and in an accompanying blog post.

In the Fall of 2011, I took a seminar on the American painter John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). The professor, Marc Simpson, had each of the students in the class choose one of Sargent’s pictures in the Clark collection to study over the course of the semester. I chose Blonde Model of circa 1877—a modestly sized oil painting (roughly eighteen inches tall by fifteen inches wide) that depicts the head and shoulders of a nude female model.

For our first assignment of the semester, Professor Simpson had each of us make a pencil drawing of the painting we had chosen. It’s worth noting that the quality of our drawings was, in this case, of little importance. The point of Professor Simpson’s assignment was not for each of us to produce great works of art—as you can see below, such a project would be beyond my artistic capabilities! The emphasis here was on the process of drawing, which requires careful looking over a long period of time. Whereas I might have spent five or ten minutes in front of Blonde Model had I not been asked to draw it, I stood in front of the painting for upwards of an hour.

Copying a work of art may help you observe things you previously hadn’t noticed. In the case of Blonde Model, I had barely considered the manner in which Sargent applied paint to canvas until I set out to draw it. I noticed that the model’s hair, for instance, was merely suggested by several exuberant strokes of the brush; the background and the model’s chest were similarly painted with little concern for detail. This loose handling of the paint was, for me, a strong indication that Blonde Model was conceived of as a studio exercise, and not a commissioned painting.

In the subject’s face, I observed Sargent’s method of applying color in “patches,” as opposed to blending the paint to create a completely smooth or homogenous surface. After a bit of research, I learned that Sargent’s technique here was consistent with the instruction he’d received in the atelier of the Parisian artist Carolus Duran. Sargent’s early training under Duran was ultimately a major component of my seminar paper.

In an age where high-quality digital reproductions are easily accessible, it may seem unnecessary for someone studying a work of art to spend time drawing it. But I have found that any activity that prolongs my engagement with an original art object is worth doing. By fixing my attention on Sargent’s painting, I was able to see things I wouldn’t have noticed if I had only looked at it briefly or in reproduction.

So I’d say that copying Blonde Model was useful for me in that it opened up multiple avenues for research.


Image credit:

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), Blonde Model, c. 1877. Oil on canvas © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.574

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By Deon Soogrim, Clark Intern

The Clark’s Copycat exhibit displayed a wide range of drawing, printmaking, and photographic techniques used for reproduction. Artistic creativity and intention vary depending on the artist and the work being copied. The works being displayed demonstrated the possibilities and limitations of past methods of reproducing art.

The computer application Adobe Photoshop has expanded the ways in which reproductions can be used to expand a work’s subject matter or to add comedy. Bouguereau’s  Nymphs and Satyr is popularly used as source material that is manipulated and expanded upon. We have found examples of his Satyr replaced with subjects like Spider-Man—and the entire painting being re-imagined as a Manga animation. We have also seen great works of art being incorporated into advertisements and creative responses to older works.

Nothing is safe.

Many works in the Clark’s collection have been appropriated by artists, advertisers, and copycats around the globe. I have collected a wide range of reproductions ranging from the artistic study to fantastic manipulations.

Degas remains as a source of artistic inspiration and study. Here a fellow artist has chosen to do a study of one of Degas’s ballerina paintings using oil pastel and charcoal. He does not cite a specific source of inspiration for this copy, but we can see clear similarities with the Clark’s Dancers in a Classroom. The artist uses a similar subject matter as Degas’s painting, paying attention to the ballerina’s scale and the way in which the frills of her tutu are rendered. Also the light rose-pink color unites the two paintings, though the artist uses a more vibrant color palette than the earth tones that Degas employs.

This artist employs Degas’s ballerina sculptures as a starting point to create a unique interpretation.  This work by Flickr user “Citybumpkin” modifies the Old Master’s work by using a light painting photography technique. We see the sculpture’s negative shape surrounded by crackling light and energy through the use of long exposure settings and L.E.D.  lights. Improvements in modern technology has given the artist new and exciting tools with which to reproduce and create unique works based works by artists like Degas.

Examples of reproduced images do not need to remain tied to their source imagery. This artist from DeviantArt.com completely re-imagines Bouguereau’s painting Nymphs and Satyr into an anime animation. The artist keeps the original work’s composition and general subject matter, but adds his own unique spin to the original work. It looks as if the drawing is placed somewhere in the future or on a different planet where people can fly!

This reproduction preserves Bouguereau’s painting completely, but reapplies it into advertising. Creative use of an image is not only limited to reproducing a new work of art based on a previous work. Instead, advertisers can use a work of art like Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr to add additional attributes to their product. Hoffman Cigars sought to attract potential customers’ attention by adding what they saw as a provocative image to their cigar packaging. This use of the image reinserts Bouguereau’s painting into the popular vocabulary in a new and reworked way.

Tampax’s creative ad for their product is inspired by the classic example of Jean-Leon Gerome’s The Snake Charmer. We can see how Gerome inspired the creation of this advertisement by looking at its subject matter, context, and painting style. In both we are given a snake charmer who is manipulating their own respective “snakes.” Tampax replaces the snake from the original painting to one of their own products. The similarities continue as each work is situated in similar location, indicated by the subject sitting on the floor and the ornamentation on the walls. Though this ad is not a direct appropriation of the previous work , we can see how a painting made a hundred years ago can influence culture today.

Image credits:

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), Dancers in the Classroom, c. 1880 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.562

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1879-81 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.45

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French), Nymphs and Satyr, 1873 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.658

Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824–1904), The Snake Charmer, c. 1879. Oil on canvas, 82.2 x 121 cm. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.51

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by Alexis Goodin, co-curator of Copycat

We’ve posed four open-ended questions about the nature and usefulness of copies on a wall graphic in the Copycat: Reproducing Works of Art exhibition:

There surely are many answers to the question “When are copies useful?”—and I hope you’ll respond to this post with your own thoughts on this question—but today I’ll focus on prints and a photograph that copy works that no longer exist, are untraced, or changed by time.  The copies in question are not only fascinating original works of art, but they provide us with important information regarding the appearance of the works that inspired them.

An 1816 fire at Belvoir Castle destroyed the painting Penance from Nicolas Poussin’s first set of canvases depicting the seven sacraments. The fire reduced the ancient wing of the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland to ruins.  The modern building was spared, as were many works of art in the famed collection.  The London Times remarked, “Some of the most valuable pictures of the inimitable collection were fortunately preserved; and, above all, no lives were lost.” The etching Penance by Poussin’s brother-in-law, Jean Dughet, preserves the composition of the destroyed painting, albeit in reverse.

John Skippe, a collector of Old Master drawings, made a chiaroscuro woodcut after a drawing in his collection, which he attributed to Parmigianino. The red chalk drawing, reattributed to an “Imitator of Parmigianino” at the 1958 London sale of Skippe’s collection, hasn’t been located.  The work may be in a public collection as a work attributed to another artist; perhaps it is in a private collection, waiting for the experts of Antiques Road Show to identify it!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York owns François Boucher’s canvas The Dispatch of the Messenger, but the painting’s pendant, The Arrival of the Messenger, has been untraced since the pair was offered for sale in February 1856. Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet not only copied Boucher’s compositions as drawings, but made prints of them as well.  While Beauvarlet reversed the compositions of the paintings in his prints—preventing us from reading the narrative as intended from left to right—the print The Arrival of the Messenger is nevertheless a valuable document of Boucher’s oeuvre. In fact, Alexandre Ananoff’s catalogue raisonné of Boucher’s paintings uses the print The Arrival of the Messenger to illustrate the lost painting.

Although not destroyed, the nineteenth-century chimeras and gargoyles made for the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris—part of Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration efforts of the medieval structure—have eroded over nearly two centuries.  The anonymous French photograph of the chimeras on the roof records the pristine appearance of these sculptures, giving us a sense of the powerful destructive force of weather and pollution.

Copies help preserve works of art that are no longer accessible to us, or are changed by time. I hope you’ll have a chance to explore the works of art featured in Copycat, now on view at the Clark through April 1.


Image Credits:

Jean Dughet (French, 1619–1679), after Nicolas Poussin (French, active in Italy, 1594–1665), From the First Suite of The Seven Sacraments, c. 1650. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Ordination, Matrimony. Etchings on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2011

John Skippe (English, 1742–1811), after Parmigianino (Italian, 1503–1540), The Entombment, 1783. Overall: 1 3/16 x 10 5/16 in. (3 x 26.2 cm); image: 8 1/4 x 10 5/16 in. (21 x 26.2 cm); sheet: 13 7/16 x 16 7/16 in. (34.2 x 41.7 cm). Color woodcut on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1980.21

Jacques Firmin Beauvarlet (French, 1731–1797), after François Boucher (French, 1703–1770), The Arrival of the Messenger and The Dispatch of the Messenger, after 1769. Etchings and engravings on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.2236 and 1955.2237

Artist unknown (French), Chimeras, South Tower, Notre Dame, Paris, c. 1855. Albumen print on paper, mounted on canvas. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of Paul Katz, 1995.6.2

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By Alexis Goodin
Exhibition Co-Curator
and Curatorial Research Assistant at the Clark

Just a couple more labels to mount on the walls, a few lights to tweak, and then Copycat: Reproducing Works of Art will be ready to open to the public. It’s gratifying to see the exhibition become a reality.

Just last fall, James Pilgrim, co-curator of the exhibition, and I were looking at prints in the Manton Study Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, selecting works for this show. We were amazed to discover that the Clark’s collection included more than a thousand works that could be classified as reproductive prints (prints made after other works of art), whether drawings, paintings, or other prints. We saw wonderful works in our first months of research on this exhibition, and had a difficult time narrowing our selection down to just forty-three.

In choosing prints for Copycat, we looked for strong impressions of works in excellent condition. We gave preference to prints that had never been exhibited at the Clark (and, on that note, had to say “no” to a few prints that had been recently shown, as works on paper are sensitive to light and, by a rule, should only once every five years).

James and I looked for works with diverse subjects, made by artists representing a variety of eras and geographies, from sixteenth-century Germany to eighteenth-century Britain, to nineteenth-century France. We also wanted to exhibit prints that utilized a variety of techniques—engraving, etching, lithography, mezzotint, chiaroscuro woodcut, to name just a few—in order to convey the range of options that artists had to choose from when creating prints that copy other art.

I hope you enjoy the works on view as much as I enjoyed selecting them! Here’s a sneak peek at what you’ll see in the galleries:

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Image credits:

Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), Lion Devouring a Horse, 1844. Lithograph on chine collé on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1993.38.1

Francesco Bartolozzi (Italian, 1727–1815), after Guercino, Italian, 1591–1666, The Libyan Sibyl, c. 1780. Etching and color etchings on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Acquired with funds donated by participants in the Friends of the Clark Print Seminar, 1984.75b

Johann Gottlieb Prestel (German, 1739–1808), after Jacopo Ligozzi (Italian, 1547–1627), Allegorical Composition: Virtue Overcoming Sin, 1780. Color etching and aquatint, with gold woodcut additions, on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Acquired by the Clark, 1987, 1987.55

Attributed to Félix Bracquemond (French, 1833–1914), after William–Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825–1905), Nymphs and Satyr, c. 1873. Etching on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1999.6

Charles Courtry (French, 1846–1897), after Théodore Géricault (French, 1791–1824), Trumpeter of the Hussars, c. 1870. Etching and drypoint on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.2423

John Baptist Jackson (English, c. 1701–1780), after Paolo Veronese (Italian, 1528–1588), The Marriage at Cana, 1740. Color woodcut on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2002.1

Édouard Baldus (French, 1813–1889), Statue of Pericles with Standing Figure in the Tuileries, c. 1856. Salt print from a wet-collodion-on-glass negative on paper. Collection of the Troob Family Foundation, TR2003.35.5

David Lucas (English, 1802–1881), after John Constable (English, 1776–1837), Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, 1831–32. Mezzotint on paper. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of the Manton Foundation in memory of Sir Edwin and Lady Manton, 2007.20.6.1

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