On The Use Of Models
( Originally Published 1921 )
THERE is a popular idea that to " do a thing out of your head " is in some way a mark of superiority. A. S. Hartrick, on being asked " How do artists do ideal heads ? " replied, " Mostly from models." The novelist of a certain order is fond of a situation in which the artist is in despair until he can find the exact model for some situation, and his epoch-making masterpiece is consequently hanging fire until she (it is generally she) can be found and induced to sit. Something similar is a not uncommon incident in cinema plays. George Eliot's " Romola " is made to turn dramatically upon a painter having surprised an expression of abject terror upon the face of Romola's idol, who is finally broken on her recognizing him. in the picture. A most perfect model of girlish innocence and ignorance ; fair, with blank, blue eyes, and just budding into womanhood, was posing to me for the first time, and filling my head with the possibility of painting from her a new Annunciation, so exquisitely fresh and virginal was the contour, colour and expression. The rain slashed across the wide studio window ; and for something to say, to conceal my thoughts, I made the banal remark : " Wretched weather, isn't it ? " " Yes, it's enough ter give yer the Pip 1 " said my little madonna.
I am convinced that had the angel of the Lord announced to her, her only reply would have been "Fancy that!"
None the less she would have been the most perfect model for the most earnest Pre-Raphaelite, and I always regret my own unpainted picture. The descripftion of a model with a squint and a snub nose as having " the sort of face you'd paint a landscape from " was unkind to the lady, who had a splendid figure.
I was once interrupted as I was illustrating one of H. G. Wells' stories to see two young women who wished to know if I could give them sittings ; but all my arrangements were made, and the drawings in hand contained little but machinery. " I am sorry," I said, " that I can offer you nothing, unless one of you can pose for a viaduct and the other for a steam engine." They seemed quite glad to escape, but the expression that had passed between them sent me back to the machinery quite happy, so that they did help indirectly with the background.
The use of models is an art in itself, and both the lack of study from life and excessive dependence upon it are equally apparent to the expert eye. A drawing obviously made from " chic," where any trick is resorted to in order to cover up the flimsiness of the construction, is hardly more distressing than the conscientious product which makes a display of laborious and unselected copying of a pose from which all the life has evaporated, and only the model remains.
It is, in fact, rare for a model to contain more than a suggestion of what an artist requires at any given time—they are but animate lay figures as a rule, and there is hindrance as well as help in their employment. Yet to fall into a habit of never using them is as dangerous as too great a dependence upon them. In the one case errors of construction and an air of unreality may become habitual from being unchecked ; in the other, a stiffness and lack of movement—paradoxically a lack of " life " may come about from the regular employment of the living model.
The best manner of their employment will doubtless vary not only with the character of the work in hand, but with the temperament and preferences of the artist, and even of the model employed. As a general rule, it will probably be found best to make the first sketches of the composition without reference to the model at all, depending upon what knowledge of the figure the student may already possess, getting all the vigour and spontaneity of movement possible into the preliminary work. The model may then be called in and posed as nearly as possible to the position or positions already sketched out, when it can readily be seen if there are any gross errors in the construction, and if such or such a position is an impossibility, or can be improved upon. It will, of course, frequently be the case that the model cannot be posed fully in the position it is desired to represent ; but if the figure has been logically constructed and in due perspective in the sketch, it will not generally be found a matter of much difficulty to study the model part by part in such a way as to correct and improve upon the sketch by rendering it convincing. The main danger to be avoided is the risk of losing the movement of the sketch, and making the composition stiff and wooden. This is a defect frequently observable in the work of otherwise capable artists, who work from their models in such a manner that, even when they are shown as in violent action, they seem to be standing stock still —" struck like it "—like the figures in a tableau vivant praying for the curtain to come down and release them.
The excellence of the work of Paul Renouard is dependent largely upon his practice of drawing everything direct from life, and yet, while rarely employing professional models for his purpose, managing to keep the prime movement and correct relation throughout a complicated group, no matter what the action. In spite of the fulness of his presentation, it is always kept vivid and dramatic in the best sense, yet it appears so simple that an inexpert artist might think he had nothing more to do than to draw as conscientiously as Renouard to reproduce his effects.
That truth to life demands something more than a simple capacity for accurate draughtsmanship is a fact he will soon discover, and that for all its fulness of acceptance there is an extraordinary amount of rejection in Renouard's work, and a more alert sense of pattern involved than in rug making. It is, I believe, the pattern that the living and moving Kaleidoscope makes upon his eye that is generally the prime motif in Renouard's work, and that, having noted this pattern, the filling it with complex life is for him, though laborious, a simple task. His composition has a unity with the types he introduces, because he does not " make " his compositions in the ordinary way, but " observes " them, as he observes the types he draws, and never forces his characters into a plot, or foists a plot upon his characters, like an unskilful playwright, but gets both from the same source—life itself—at one and the same time in a single operation of the mind. He has no parti-pris, and it is remarkable that his drawings of English types are vividly English to an English eye, and never the stock " Englishman " of an out-of-date French convention, which remains hardly recognizable to an Englishman, any more, doubtless, than our stage or cartoonist's " Frenchman " resembles anything under the sun.
The methods of Paul Renouard are difficult or impossible for much of the work that most illustrators have to carry out, so much of this work consisting in the creation of imaginary scenes and characters in order to make them vivid to the eye, as the actor does with the work of the dramatist ; and not taking his subject so directly from life. The famous jibe at the politician who was said to rely upon his memory for his jests and his imagination for his facts, might with no more than the slightest turn lose all its asperity and apply as a whole-hearted compliment to the illustrator.
He has to combine the factors of his composition—to create them on paper, either from memory or more generally, by that process of logical deduction workfing from premises half of fact and half of fancy, which is called imagination. The Editor's final word, " By Tuesday morning, 9 o'clock, certain," gives a great jog to invention that everyone who has worked for the press recognizes with a mixture of curse and blessing. But for such work it is impossible to retain the services of a bearded and portly Falstaff, a clean-shaven Prince Hal, a Doll Tearsheet, a Bardolph, and a Dame Quickly at a moment's notice to pose at intervals during the small hours. If a model is employed at all that model, man or woman, will most probably serve for the lot ; in fact, in turn, the entire dramatis persona. A fold here, the pose and construction of a hand there, the turn of a head, may be snatched ; and a pretty girl is as good a model under such conditions for Bardolph's nose as any other person likely to turn to " modelling " as a profession ; with one pillow artfully arranged she may pass for Dame Quickly ; and with two for Falstaff.
Henry James founded a delicately amusing story upon the idea of some charming and proud old gentleman in reduced circumstances offering his services to a black and white artist as the " Real, Right Thing "; but the story turns to a deep pathos on the discovery that a little Italian waiter with the dramatic instinct was much more inspiring to the artist. It is indeed rare in fact, though painfully common in fiction, for an artist to rely for " inspiration " upon the discovery of some particular type of face in life for the creation of his " masterpiece " of imaginative work.
" Modelling " is a hard-working and highly respectable profession, about which much nonsense has been thought and written by ignorant persons.
Phil May's Method
As is well known, Phil May's method in the use of a model was to make a careful and full study in pencil or chalk for each figure in a composition, and in re-drawing this to select from the full study only such lines as he thought essential, being more pleased with the work according to the amount of simplification he could bring about without sacrifice of effect. All apparent labour was thereby done away with, the truly " finished" work having the appearance of a sketch, while the preliminary studies were often full of what is more generally looked on as " finish," which is often only unnecessary polish, or the introduction of a superfluous detail ; which in his case would have detracted from the general effect of the work. This is also the Japanese method. Later he dispensed to a large extent with the making of separate studies, working direct from the model upon the composition previously sketched in, in the manner already described ; but he never dispensed with his sketch book, so that his types of character were always fresh—even the subsidiary figures in the most crowded scene standing for something observed, and never being a mere padding out of an otherwise empty space.
Menzel was a tireless student, making studies of everything—of the various ways in which a hand adapts itself in resting upon a sword or a walking-stick, slight variations in the turn of a head—and so on endlessly, his attention being arrested by the commonest objects, even to the making of studies of the successive dishes placed before him at dinner. Facts were to him the food and salt of life, and all came alike to him from Frederick the Great to the gaiter button of a grenadier.
His work shows no concern with beauty, which he probably thought synonymous with prettiness—but all objects came alike to his gourmandizing and prodigious appetite. His industry in getting them stated on paper must have been unceasing. A waiter in a Soho restaurant once said of Menzel, " Ah, he make study I—ah, yes—but he never finish." Menzel certainly did make a vast number of drawings of unrelated facts, apparently from an encyclopaedic love of them for their own sake. There is a story told of him at a State Ball, that on the Emperor asking him if he would like any particular person to pose for him, he selected a great lady of the court, who was highly flattered, and posed steadily for a long time, having to forego all her dances On asking to see the artist's work, she found that had drawn nothing but just so much of her elbow is would show the fall of the lace upon it, and was quite unconscious of having given cause drew fury.
We frequently see in the effort to achieve feminine grace that the arms are drawn in such a manner that even the straight bones are curved to avoid an angle at the elbow, so that the humerus and forearm appear like a festoon hanging between the shoulder and the wrist.
Of course in a flippant and artificial production it may prove very amusing, where it is part of the artist's fun, but seriously to imagine that grace is achievable by such means is mistaken.
A model once told how, as a little boy in the country, he had read all his sister's Family Herald Supplements, wherein the lords and ladies were described as having teeth of pearl, alabaster foreheads, shell-like ears, coral and ruby lips, agate eyes, and so on ; and that it was not till after he was a full-grown man that he realized that Peers and Peeresses were of a like flesh and blood with ordinary mortals, though even then a doubt remained as to the blueness of their blood.