Charles Bargue Drawing Method

IMG 8612 1 - Charles Bargue Drawing Method

In this post, we’ll talk about the Bargue Method and we´ll show you in our How-to-do section how to learn drawing, using his technique.

The French painter and lithographer Charles Bargue (1826-1883), with the help of Jean-Léon Gérôme (184-1904), who was one of the most important French sculptors and painters of the 19th century and Bargue’s teacher, developed drawing courses for artists and art students, interested in classical realism.

The drawing course was divided into three parts and was designed to train students’ perceptions. To learn to draw academically correctly, Bargue had 197 loose-leaf lithographic plates printed for the students. The lithographs include drawings after casts, master drawings, and male models, which illustrate the important characteristics and shapes and show how to play with light and shadow. The lithographs served as a mean to introduce the students to the drawing of sculptures, the copying of masterpieces, and finally to nude models.

In all three sections, the sight-size measurement method is used. The method depends on where you are positioned so that you can easily view the subject and the drawing, so that they appear to be the same visual size. Once the subject and drawing are seen as being the same size, it becomes possible to mechanically measure and compare the proportions of the subject to the drawing and it´s also easier for the teachers to judge the drawing’s accuracy and if a mistake has been done.

Drawing using Bargue plates

Copying Bargue’s lithographs, Plate I – III, is a good preparation and gives the opportunity to practice before drawing models. By copying, the eye is trained to assess measurements and the gaze aims at reaching an objective view. Working with the sight-size technique makes it easier for you to correct your own drawing. Over time, drawing becomes more and more instinctive and you become more confident.

How to draw using Bargue’s method:

  1. Place the plate and the drawing paper side by side on a drawing board of an upright easel or preferably on a well-lit wall. The drawing board as well as the paper and the Bargue plate must be well fastened on the easel, because the drawing can take several weeks.
  2. Find a vertical central line on the subject, take a plumb line and position it over the image by attaching the plumb line as a vertical line (with a tape) and transfer it with the charcoal or a pencil on the drawing paper. Continue marking the highest and the lowest points of the subject on your drawing.
  3. Choose a point of view from which you are going to judge and study your drawing. The viewpoint should have a comfortable distance to the easel and always be the same. Align your feet conveniently, centred on a line perpendicular to the juncture of the plate and the paper, and mark them on the floor.

Tip: Wear the same shoes throughout the whole drawing process. Higher or lower heels can affect your view and judgment.

  1. Transfer from the Bargue Plate all important connection points of the outer lines and the shadow lines into your drawing (the dimensions can be estimated from the vertical central line). A basic method of Bargue is to simplify complex curves in straight lines, because when you draw a curve, you do not know exactly where it is supposed to end. Make sure that the first connecting lines are straight. The curves can be worked out later.
  2. Step back from your drawing to your marked standpoint and judge the heights and widths, the proportions and angles of your drawing with the Bargue Plate. Remember your mistakes, recenter your drawing and make the corrections. Repeat the process, because stepping back also keeps you conscious of the effect of the whole. Keep the pencil or the charcoal and the eraser always at hand. So that you do not deconcentrate while you are drawing.

A mirror is very helpful to quickly recognize your mistakes. Hold the mirror in front of your eyes so that you can see the Bargue image and its drawing upside down and side by side. The mirror image will take your gaze away from the details and towards the essential shapes and outlines. Have fun trying it out!

Did you like our ” Charles Bargue Drawing Method” post? Then take a look at our “Charles Bargue Course” post.

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