A Bull in
the Studio

In 2011 I
was invited by Kunstpodium T to develop an exhibition together with four graduation
students from Dutch art academies. The exhibition was part of the ‘Master-Apprentice
project’. Already at the start
I had problems with the term ‘master’ so I made a suggestion to the students
that we would use ‘Apprentice-Apprentice’ as the title for our show. It took
some effort to convince them, mostly because I didn’t want to tell them why I
specifically wanted this title. The reason why became evident to them and the
visitors at the opening of the exhibition. In my room I had installed works
from my 1982 graduation show from the Illustration department of the Royal
Academy of Arts and Design . In this way I created equality by comparing their
actual situation to mine at the time and also a nice historical
perspective on the time that vocational
training made up a major part of the curriculum of art academies.

Reading Courbets’ ‘letter to the young artists
of Paris’ reminded me of this episode. In the first blogpost you can read about
Jules Castagnary being the actual writer of this letter. Castagnary, professionally
active as a lawyer, journalist, artcritic
and politician, (think about that today!), had become strongly engaged with the
Realist movement by which he saw possibilities of societal change.

On September,
28, 1861 he organized a meeting for students who had left the École des
Beaux-Arts because of the teaching methods. The location for the meeting was brasserie
Andler. Courbet himself, living only 4
doors further down ,was a regular guest there. The brasserie, where good beer was served, was frequented by Germans and former
inhabitants of the north-eastern regions of France. It had a special attraction
as a meeting place for artists and writers.

Image source; ‘Histoire anecdotique des Cafés
& Cabarets de Paris’ by Alfred Delvau, 1862.

As a result
of the meeting it was decided to request Courbet to open a teaching studio. In which the students could develop their skills and
get acquainted with the modern painting
methods under his guidance.

In his
response Courbet explains why he doesn’t believe in schools; ‘There cannot be schools, there are only
painters (…) Therefore I cannot claim to be opening a school to be training
pupils, to be teaching this, that, or the other partial tradition of art. I can
only explain to artists, who will be my collaborators and not my pupils, the
method by which, in my opinion, one becomes a painter, by which I have myself
tried to become one since I started, leaving to each one the entire direction
of his individuality, the full liberty of his own expression in the application
of this method. To this end the
formation of a common studio, recalling the fruitful collaborations of the studios
of the Renaissance, may certainly be useful and help towards inaugurating the
era of modern painting’ (Georges Boudaille ‘Courbet Painter in Protest’, page

Boudaille writes with a touch of cynicism; ‘Forty-two
students, some of them dissidents from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, agreed to pay
20 francs to hear Courbet expound his theory of Realism’.

After Courbet
has thus shown his willingness to
accompany this band of colleague-painters Castagnary sets to work: ‘On December 6, 1861, Jules Castagnary had
signed a lease ( to become effective on December 9) for an atelier at 83 rue
Notre-Dame-des-Champs ( street level), where Courbet was to teach painting.
Student applications began on December 9, and that same day thirty-one students
registered.( Petra ten-Doeschate Chu)

Castagnary manipulates the students
with his own convictions; ‘You are tired of the precepts and methods of your
teachers. You vaguely realize that they are running counter to the social
current; that by following them to the limit you would end by speaking a
language that society would no longer understand…’’

Also; ‘In the time of the Renaissance the studio was
a collaboration. The pupil served his apprenticeship as a painter by painting
with and for the master…( take note of
his use of the term ‘master’ !)

Even in 1864, two years after the end of the
experiment, Castagnary writes in ‘Les Libres Propos’ how he had intended the studio to function; ‘for
models we shall have all the visible representations that make up Creation:
bulls, horses, stags, roebuck, birds and so on; all the examples that make up
society, from the bourgeois to the worker, from the soldier to the peasant,
from the ploughman to the sailor. In this way the whole of nature and society
will pass before your eyes in their infinite variety.

So the studio starts.
Teacher/colleague Courbet
gave only one piece of advice; “Don’t follow advice!” He pasted up these four
commandments in the studio: 1. Do not do
what I do. 2.Do not do what the others do. 3. If you did what Raphael used to
do, you would have no existence of your own. Suicide. 4. Do what you see and what you feel, do what
you want.

After his
enthusiastic start and his willingness
to ‘give all’ he slowly grinds to a halt. In a letter to his father he writes; ‘Dear Father , I apologize for not answering
you sooner but you must take into account that in Paris I am not really my own
man. I have important things that I must do here, that I cannot manage to do. I
have too much of a following, especially recently, with all of modern
painting converging around me.
At last I have triumphed across the board’.

In March, 1862 the experiment, the studio of
equals ceased to exist.

There are a
lot of stories, in connection with Courbets’ learning studio, about a white spotted red bull as a model for the
students , In this illustration you see the bull with his handler, the students
painting and Courbet on the right holding his palet ( and paintingknife) ready
for immediate corrections in the works of his younger colleagues.

Striking in
this illustration is the fact that you see only males, (including the bull). Male
art students had the opportunity to
study the nude, female and male. In her
famous essay ‘Why have there been no
great woman artists?’ from 1971 Linda
Nochlin proves convincingly that the answer to that question had nothing to do
with women being less talented, gifted or able to achieve that status, By using
the methods of academic research she showed that it was simply impossible for
women to perform in the highest regions of art. The knowledge of male and
female anatomy was a condition for making high art. And this, drawing and painting from live
models was forbidden for women.

photograph dates from 1855, (six years before Courbets’ bull). It shows the modelling class for women at Pennsylvania Academy working under direction of Thomas Eakins.
Their model, a cow.

A grand 19th
century lady , Rosa Bonheur, turned
this disadvantage around and reached world fame
with her paintings of animals The
majestic setup of her studio puts the solitary bull , roebuck and male deer in
an altogether different perspective.

material; Petra ten -Doeschate Chu, ‘Letters of Courbet’, University of Chicago
Press, 1992 , Georges Boudaille ‘Courbet Painter in Protest’, New York Graphic
Society Ltd, 1969. Linda Nochlin, ‘Why
Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ uit ‘Art and Sexual Politics’, Macmillan, 1971)