Charles Stanley Reinhart (1844-1896)
Americans Abroad–The Copyist in the Louvre, 1889
Story illustration for “The Copyist in the Louvre” in Harper’s Weekly v. 34 (January 4, 1890): 12.
Ink on illustration board
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, CAI – Reinhart, no. 25 (C size)
There is a bit of theatre surrounding the creation of art. This phenomena is so much a part of our culture that in the 1960s and 70s such an activity of art creation was even performed in the public arena in the form of happenings. In the 19th century Americans were just as intrigued by the act of painting. The Harper’s Weekly article this illustration was created to accompany tells about a young American woman who is part of the colony of American artists studying in Paris. Well into the 20th-century part of learning to be an artist included copying the work of other older masters. The unnamed author of this article declared that there are two types of copyists: one who paints copies to sell as their living; the other copies to learn how to do the same techniques for themselves.
“The true artist, the real one, copies the picture of some great master, and follows it out not only with his eyes and hands, but with his heart and soul.”
In Reinhart’s illustration, a crowd is gathered to the side and at the back of the young lady seated on a stool painting a copy of the art work she views beyond her easel. The crowd of museum visitors positioned in a rough semicircle around the pretty painter is comprised of men and women, members of the middle and upper classes, young and old. The cross-section pictured here informs us that in Paris viewing an artist at work was both an expected aspect of a museum visit and perfectly normal (at least in the halls of the Louvre). At the right of the illustration, a man leans forward to study some aspect of the bathing nude in the painting before him, while his companion waits staring off into the unseen right of the gallery space. I love the contrast between the elegantly garbed woman painter and the man in a bowler hat standing directly at the side of her easel. He wears a painter’s smock to protect his clothing and has no one admiring his work, while she, dressed in the latest fashion, wears no protective covering and has a bevy of admirers watching her paint.
More than 20 years before Reinhart’s illustration, Winslow Homer produced a similar scene also for Harper’s Weekly. Homer’s version is less interested in the admiring glances of gallery visitors and instead is focused on the troop of art students literally littering the long halls of the Louvre.* When Homer chose to focus on the women copyists front and center in his image, he was clearly addressing the changing climate in art education for women in the post-Civil War era. It is interesting to note that the seated copyist in the foreground is copying Eugène Delacroix’s painting, The Death of Sardanapolous, 1826, a monumental canvas whose violent imagery (complete with nude females) was in sharp contrast to the genteel still lives and dainty watercolors that were generally considered a suitable “feminine” subject.
Twenty years after the Reinhart illustration, artist (and illustrator) John Sloan created his version of a similar scene, only his is in a crowded gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. At the foreground left of Sloan’s etching, he details himself and his wife, Dolly, moving away from the crowd who are watching a young woman copying a painting of a shepherd and his flock. The copyist’s choice of a rather mundane image to emulate (to follow the flock) is in direct contrast to Sloan and his friends type of painting focused on the active contemporary life taking place all around them in the vast metropolis of the modern city. For me, the best passage in Sloan’s etching is the young girl at the right of the picture standing on her tiptoes with her left hand raised. With the juxtaposition of the edge of the copyist’s palette to the girl’s fingers, it is possible to ‘read’ this as the girl resting her hand against the palette’s edge. Just imagine what would happen if the child exerted a bit more pressure—the paint-laden palette would flip forward and her light-colored dress would certainly become more colorful.
In a 1906 article in The Gazette, Montreal, the reading public was offered a view into the incessant and sometime idiotic questions the public asked a copyist in the Met. One visitor asked the young woman copying Roman frescoes from the Bosco Reale villa inPompeii, “Is that a Sheraton or a Chippendale, please?” The chronicler of the event describes the painter as “. . . too astonished to reply. . . .”**
Now I’m forced to wonder just how different was it to watch a copyist paint versus witnessing an artist’s happening?
* In the late 18th-century the French painter and one of the first curator’s of the Louvre, Hubert Robert (1733-1808), painted a famous view inside the Louvre galleries, View of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre, 1796.
** “Volunteer Art Critics: The Questions They Ask Copyists at the MetropolitanMuseum,” The Gazette, Montreal (Wednesday, December 26, 1906): 10
April 18, 2013
By Joyce K. Schiller, Curator, Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, Norman Rockwell Museum