This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
By Sir Charles Holroyd.
The drawings of Professor Legros are a most excellent study for the art student, for in them we can read most easily the message of style the master came over from Paris to deliver to us. His drawings may be very well compared to the studies in the fascinating drawing-room of the Ufizzi Palace in Florence - his red or black chalk drawings to the studies of Andrea del Sarto for the "Last Supper," in the monastery of San Salvi, and his silver-point drawings to the studies of heads by Lorenzo di Credi and the pupils of Verocchio. It is verily the traditions of this school of Verocchio, from which Leonardo and many of the most intellectual of the Florentine masters proceeded, that Legros taught so consistently during the seventeen years of his professorship at the Slade School. He has always insisted upon the same supple outline, following the subtleties of form So sympathetically that the expression of bone, muscle and cartilage is plainly given by a simple outline more clearly than by the most elaborately corrected and worked-up stump drawing ever constructed. And simple line shading has been used by him so as to express the planes like fine sculpture. Besides all this, we may see in his work that grace of silhouette and line composition that belongs to the next great school of Italian art, the School of Raphael, evident in the etching the "Barque in Danger" here reproduced.
These qualities are most plainly to be seen in the drawings of Legros and in certain of the etchings. In his paintings he has followed more the oil manner of Bassano and the later Venetians, in which the particular graces of fluid oil paint were developed, as may be seen, for example, in the beautiful painting called " Repas des Pauvres" in the collection of Lord Carlisle, "The Tinker" in the Ionides Collection, or in "The Weed Burners" belonging to Mr. Guy Knowles. The Florentines were always, and until the end, fresco painters and tempera painters; even in Andrea del Sarto the oil manner is somewhat dry and partakes of a fresco character; his best work is in fresco.
Legros has followed faithfully the great Italian tradition as it has been handed down in the French school through Nicholas Poussin and Ingres to this day; drawing with the dignified sure use of his materials, and painting in the direct manner like all his artistic forebears. Unfinished heads, on the umber-toned canvases he uses, and painted in the same alla prima manner, may be seen in most of the great galleries of Europe. Those old canvases are so like the studies Legros used to paint before the students that I believe if some of them turned up in a London auction-room they would be labelled "Legros" without more ado. Talking of these studies painted before the students in an hour or so, it is a mistake to suppose they were painted quickly, for Legros' brush travels over the canvas more deliberately than that of any painter I have ever seen at work. But the studies were carried as far as he wished in a very short time, because those slow brush strokes were always properly considered and were always right. They never had to be repeated and worried. Once only in the many years during which I had the privilege of being his assistant did I see him work over a place twice. It was a bit of cheek-bone and brow between the eye and ear of an old model, and in delicate half-tone. When the study was finished, I asked him why he repainted that bit. To my eves the first painting had been quite right. He replied: "I did it twice over because I liked painting it so much - it was so very fine."
Turning to the drawings again. In these days when so much stress is laid on what is called "originality," and all sorts of dodges in drawing and tricks of outline are positively cultivated by the student, it is very wholesome for him to look carefully at such drawings as those here reproduced, which so unaffectedly represent the thing seen in the most direct manner, and yet they are as individual as it is posible for any work to be. Again, in many of the etchings - such, for example, as the etching ( reproduced in Arts And Crafts last month) of Mr. G. F. Watts, R.A., the great master who has just been taken from us - Legros exhibits a directness of method that etching seemed hardly capable of until we saw it done by him. The etchings of Vandyke and the one etching by Ingres, "The Bishop of St. Malo," alone excepted, nothing has been done so clear and subtle in line by even the greatest masters as the portrait etchings by Legros.
To learn to see the line, and to truly follow it with one pure stroke of the pencil, is the great lesson the student has to learn. This can only be done by patience and by working away from the model again and again, never discouraged by failure. The student who works by building up his drawing in squares or cutting it clown in triangles will get better results at first in the individual drawing, and he may even learn to be a correct draughtsman, but he will never learn to be a beautiful draughtsman, and form will never be understood by him.
During his many years of teaching, Legros has had a large number of pupils under his care. Many of them are now amongst the rising artists of the day, who, as they climb the ladder of fame, learn to appreciate his teaching even more than they did when they were under him, and I have heard expressions of gratitude and praise for the training received under him at the Slade School from some of those who are already great men in the art world. These men will hand on the tradition, the old Italian tradition, thus brought to us at last, after all these years of striving. The lectures of Reynolds, notwithstanding, the great traditions of painting, have never been practised here since the time of Hogarth. Every man invented a process of his own, and most of the processes were bad, though not all. The present condition of the pictures of some of our greatest painters, such as Reynolds and Wilkie, show what we have lost m the past by the want of method in our technique.
Study in Lead Pencil. by Professor Alphonse Legros.
(The hand is that of his daughter.)
Now that Legros has taught us a good manner of working, let us by all means continue it, use it for our own purposes, but in the right way.
The best way to fix a batch of pencil drawings is to dip them into a flat pan full of milk and watt in equal parts, so as to dampen the back without permitting any of the fixative to run over the face If it does, a white deposit will remain to mar the drawing.