The Bargue Method at the Academy of Realist Art

The Fall 2013 issue of Drawing marks the magazine’s 10th anniversary, and as part of the celebration, we shined a spotlight on drawing instruction, an integral part of the magazine’s content for the last decade.

Here, as part of that spotlight, we offer a brief excerpt from our article by Fernando Freitas on the Academy of Realist Art (ARA), whose curriculum is based on the 19th-century Bargue Method. This method, based on the teaching model developed by Charles Bargue, was widely used in the French Academy in the 19th and early-20th centuries, and centers around students copying instructional plates developed by the artist. The goal for the student is to improve his or her observational skills and learn to deconstruct complex visual information into large and small forms and shadows and light.

by Jay Cudai.  Bargue drawing using a one-to-one ratio.

by Jay Cudai.
Bargue drawing using a one-to-one ratio.

Drawing "The Belvedere Torso" using comparative measurement.

Drawing “The Belvedere Torso” using comparative measurement.

How to Study the Bargue Method at Home

Any artist can pursue the Bargue method on his or her own—all it takes is a set of reproductions, patience, and determination. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your self-directed Bargue exercises.

  • Don’t get ahead of yourself, which will only lead to frustration. Start with a simple, high-contrast body part, and follow the steps in order. It won’t be long before you can tackle more challenging images.
  • Remember that the whole idea with the Bargue exercises is to learn through repetition. Mistakes are part of the learning process and should never be interpreted as failure.
  • While working on a drawing, use these helpful techniques to check your progress:
    1. Squint. Blurring your vision will help you gauge contrast between values.
    2. Turn the drawing upside down occasionally. This helps to provide a fresh perspective and allows you to see shapes more abstractly.
    3. Step away frequently to observe your drawing from a distance.
    4. Use a small “cut-out window” on a blank piece of paper to isolate areas and compare them to your copy.
    5. Have a friend critique your shapes.
  • For a detailed tutorial on Bargue 
techniques, consider the ARA’s DVD The Bargue Drawing Companion, available at the school’s website.

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