If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.
- Sir Isaac Newton, 1675
Very few artists in the art historical canon can boast being entirely self taught. Whether it be formal instruction at the great European academies or the mentorship of a friend, new painters have long sought the wisdom and experience of painters who came before them. An artist's formative experiences learning their craft have an indelible influence on their later style - sometimes they adopt the style of their former teacher, while others rebel against it. The dynamic of the student-teacher relationship, however, is always fascinating. Here are some of our favorite pairs from throughout art history.
J.C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell
Today, the name Norman Rockwell has come to be synonymous with American illustration. His vision of America in the 20th century focused on the stories and nuances of ordinary people in everyday life. Taken together, his many works capture the essence and spirit of an entire generation of Americans.
Yet, early in his career, this great American illustrator looked to another for inspiration - the legendary J.C. Leyendecker, the most sought-after artist of the Golden Age of American illustration. Leyendecker's compositions captivated the American public, who were entranced by his fashionable illustrations of debonair men and glamorous women. Through his highly popular Saturday Evening Post covers, he created dozens of enduring icons (including babies representing the New Year and the tradition of giving flowers for Mother's Day), and with his handsome Arrow Collar Man, he virtually invented modern advertising as we know it today.
His remarkable and extensive oeuvre ensured his influence over an entire generation of young artists, most notably Norman Rockwell, who was vocal about the impact of Leyendecker on his work. As a budding young illustrator, Rockwell sought to emulate Leyendecker from his distinctive artistic style down to his swagger. From the broad brushstrokes of his white backgrounds to his charming caricatures, Rockwell's imitation of Leyendecker during his early career was so extreme that readers were often confused about whose work they were seeing - Leyendecker or Rockwell? Though Rockwell's scenes later became more detailed and nuanced thanks to the advance of printing technology, they retained the same sense of charm he learned from Leyendecker throughout his career.
Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet
When one envisions an Impressionist painter, the image that comes to mind is an artist painting outdoors at their easel. Known as painting en plein air, the method was widely promoted by Claude Monet, one of the main figures of the Impressionist movement. Yet, Monet can't be credited with inventing the method - he learned it from the great French landscape painter Eugène Boudin.
When Boudin met a young Monet on a Normandy beach in the mid-1850s, Boudin recognized his talent and offered to be his mentor. The duo became fast friends, and Boudin took the budding artist along with him on painting excursions into the countryside. These outings were Monet’s first introduction to painting en plein air, and from Boudin, he learned to observe and record the effects of light, tonal values, and perspective. The techniques that Monet learned from Boudin would become essential in the future of the development of Impressionism.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Camille Pissarro
Though Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot died shortly after the Impressionists first began exhibiting together, he had a remarkable influence on the movement. His luminous, light-filled landscapes position him as an important link between the art of the 18th and 19th centuries. His goal for his paintings was to capture the truth of nature, and in many ways, his artistic ideals echo those of the Impressionists who followed him. His influence was far reaching, and Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, and Alfred Sisley were all at one time his pupils. As Claude Monet once said, “There is only one master here—Corot. We are nothing compared to him, nothing."
Pissarro was perhaps his most devoted pupil; in fact, in the catalogues for the Salons of 1864 and 1865, Pissarro called himself a student of Corot. The two painters shared an affinity for rural scenes painted en plein air, and Corot famously advised him to focus his studies on the effects of light and the tonality of color. Pissarro took Corot's advice a step further by also striving for spontaneity - the result was some of the greatest masterpieces of the Impressionist age.
William Adolphe Bouguereau and Guillaume Seignac
Amidst the artistic innovation that was occurring during the 19th century, Academic painting was truly the nexus of it all. Though many artists of this era have been credited among the first to push away from these Academic ideals, the majority had grown up in the tradition. The root of Academic painting was Neoclassicism, and the genre was defined by careful contours, brilliant coloring, detailed draftsmanship, and a classical ideal of beauty. William Adolphe Bouguereau was unquestionably the master of them all.
Boasting an unsurpassed degree of finish and luminous coloration, Bouguereau's works came to epitomize the ideals of the Academic style. His art never deviated from the basic principles of Academic training, and he so dominated the Salons of the Third Republic that the official Salon became known unofficially as Le Salon Bouguereau. In the midst of his success, Bouguereau wished to share his talent with young painters and began accepting promising young students into his studio. Guillaume Seignac was among the most significant of his protege.
Following the footsteps of his teacher, Seignac became known for his stunning neoclassical works. His paintings often featured allegorical subjects and mythological figures such as nymphs, muses, and Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. As with most French Academic painters, Seignac’s technical skills were masterful, his color balances and compositional style on par with the artists of the Renaissance.
Jean-Leon Gérôme and Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt was remarkable for a number of reasons, but most notably for the fact that she was both a woman and an American who achieved artistic notoriety in 19th-century Paris. One of the founding members of the French Impressionists, she became close friends with Edgar Degas and exhibited in four of the eight original Impressionist exhibitions. She became remarkably successful due to her association with the group, and her highly original paintings of mothers, children and domestic tranquility are among the best of the late 19th century. Yet, her early career was fraught with difficulties thanks to both her gender and her nationality.
She was born into a wealthy family in Pennsylvania and spent a good portion of her youth traveling, encountering the great art of Europe along the way. She soon decided to pursue a career as an artist, enrolling at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1860. Her parents were against her entering such a male-dominated field, and as a woman, her artistic training proved difficult in America; she was, for instance, unable to study from nude models, as it was not considered proper. Frustrated but undeterred, she left the Academy in 1866 and moved to Paris, where she was accepted for private lessons by one of the city's most sought-after teachers, Jean-Léon Gérôme.
It was a remarkable coup for the young artist. Gérôme was considered among the most important and talented draftsman of his generation. A pioneer of Orientalist and History painting, Gérôme created an oeuvre of paintings whose finish and subject matter surpassed that of many of his contemporaries. Though years later Gérôme would become hostile towards the Impressionists, his early instruction of Cassatt made her one of the movements most skilled draftsman.
John Lavery and Sir Winston Churchill
Known for his leadership and political prowess, Winston Churchill was also a prolific painter. He first began painting in 1915 following a personal and political disaster, the Dardanelles campaign, with the encouragement of his sister-in-law, Goonie, herself a gifted watercolorist. From that moment on, he would never be far from a brush and canvas the remainder of his life. Painting became a dominating passion for the famed politician and was often his refuge from the stresses of his position. Prior to picking up the paintbrush in 1915, he had no artistic training - in fact, his wife Clementine said that before he began painting, Churchill had hardly visited an art museum, much less created art.
It was due to the help of his good friend John Lavery, a renowned Irish artist, together with his talented artist wife Hazel, that Churchill gained the courage to pursue the art of painting. In 1915, Churchill could often be found working side by side with Lavery in his studio in London, learning basic painting techniques and an expressive use of paint. Today, Churchill's works are popular precisely for this dramatic expressivity.
Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse and Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin is counted among the greatest artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries alongside the other great Impressionists. Yet, like his painter counterparts, he received significant training in more traditional Academic techniques before developing his distinctly modern style.
Rodin began working in the studio of French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse in Paris in 1864, assisting him in the creation of some of the elder artist's most revered works. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 caused a sharp decline in the market for fine art, forcing Carrier-Belleuse to move to Brussels with Rodin following. Though none of the sculptures Rodin created during this period bear his signature, the bronze above is one of many examples the two sculptors collaborated on.