Wednesday, May 22, 2013


A Lot to Remember

Looking through the catalogue of a 1982 exhibition held in Cleveland and in Brooklyn, where I saw it, I came across a painting that has long been a favorite. The painter, Jean Charles Cazin (French, 1840-1901), was also a museum official and a respected ceramist. 

In the MFA, Boston, there's a nice Cazin hanging opposite the information desk.

This photograph of the painting from the exhibition is shot with my phone, from the catalogue itself (I've been unable to find an image for it online, though it is in the Cazin Museum on the second-floor of the Mairie, at Samer, Pas-de-Calais).

Jean Charles Cazin, La Boulangerie Coquelin
I apologize both for the wacky color and the blurriness. The scene is an interior courtyard at the Coquelin family bakery in Boulogne. Cazin was great friends, and would remain so his entire life, with the two young Coquelin sons. The Coquelin brothers would go on to be great stars on the Parisian stage.

What particularly fascinates me is that Cazin painted this work from memory, quite some time after the fact. No drawings, no photos. It seems quite impossible, but it's true.
I particularly like the light from the oven's fire reflected on the side of the baker. Magical!

Cazin was a devotee, along with Fantin-Latour, Alphonse Legros, Leon Lhermitte, et al, of the great 19th c. art teacher, Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran. Whistler was influenced by Boisbaudran, as was Delacroix.

Boisbaudran developed a system of memory training for his students. They would first draw something from life, or just study it for an hour or two. Then, in the absence of the subject, and of their drawing, they would draw the subject again from memory. This was repeated again and again, with the subjects getting more and more complex. At first, it might just be a nose, for example, which they would memorize. They would advance as they demonstrated the ability to master each problem. Along the way, tremendous powers of memory were trained, bit by bit.

Subsquently, Boisbaudran developed, too, a system for color memorization. His work is detailed in his The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist . You can read the book online, or download it at the Internet Archive website.

All of this relates in a wee way to the results from last weekend's workshop. (Parenthetically, I think I was the most pleased I have ever been by these students' progress over the two days.)  

Here are a couple of photos, thanks to two students.

But, getting back to memory training, most of you know that I'm a big fan of painting from memory and from imagination. At the workshop, I brought a panel which was tinted with Manganese Blue Violet (OH), just for fun. The first day I did my grisaille along with everyone else. It was a beautiful, soft day, in a riot of close-valued yellow-greens.

The second day started off gray, and when I did a bit to my painting, by way of discussing some things I wanted the students to think about as they essayed color on their canvases, this is what resulted. You won't miss the blue-violet!

Then on Tuesday, in the studio, I decided to turn this painting into the yellow green palette, along with the brighter light, of Saturday. I needed to try to remember, a la Boisbaudran, what it was like. I wound up with this, on top of the one above.

The real painting has some pale, pale blue in the sky. It's lost in this photo. Anyway, it's a pretty fair representation of the first day. But it's really boring.

Today, in thinking about what to do to jazz it up, I chose to do something which I once did, to the horror of the students, in one of last Spring's DPS session. I applied a lot of ultramarine and liquin to the painting: the sky, the far tree line, the far hill, and a strip in the foreground. It looked like this.

At least now it was getting some personality. I wiped most of the blue off the sky, and strengthened it in other places. I created a far light effect, and enhanced the the light in the mid-ground. As yet, I haven't figured out what to do with the water. But here's how it stood when I left the studio this evening.

Much to be done...or not
The paintings I do in the workshops almost never have a life afterward, only very rarely going off to market. They are the little pigs who stayed home. 

But this was a fun exercise. It was particularly welcome because it enabled me to stall on stretching The Vertical One 2, the stretcher bars for which have arrived.

Time for the Red Sox.


  1. I'll have to read that book on training of memory. Thanks for the reference Donald! I think this is what I find as the toughest part in painting in studio. Color as well as details always seem pretty fuzzy to me after the fact. I am still amazed that Cazin could capture that moment in time with such clarity and detail!

  2. I don't know how many times I see you make these changes, I think confidence, knowledge, fear, I'm not sure what to call it, what stops me from doing this? Thanks for the memory reference, which I have now. Hope this helps

  3. Thanks so much for this information Donald. I really enjoy seeing you develop and adjust your paintings to achieve your vision. I love this blog! As someone, like David above, who has trouble remembering details after I have left the scene, I am finding your instruction so helpful. One workshop behind me and I'm hooked. Thanks again.