When “Secrets of the Old Masters” opens Thursday at Trends and Traditions Gallery, some of the paintings will look familiar to local art patrons.
Fifteen of the paintings were recently on exhibit at the Jepson Center during the final weeks of the “Dutch Utopia: American Artists in Holland” show. But even if you’ve never seen these works before, they still might ring a bell — they’re remarkably accurate copies of several of the 19th century masterpieces that were part of “Dutch Utopia.”
Seven adult painting students, ranging in experience from a few months to several decades, created the copies as part of a Telfair–sponsored class.
“The idea of the class originated in my own studio practice,” says Carl Fougerousse, the class instructor. “I do master copies routinely as a way of studying techniques. The practice dovetails nicely with the initial mission of the Telfair as a teaching museum.”
“We did not plan at first on having a show,” says Michael Wood, a student in the Old Masters class. “During the class, Holly McCullough [Telfair’s Director of Collections and Exhibitions] saw the pictures and said, ‘why don’t we hang them in Trustees Gallery?’ ”
After that short show came down, the class decided to present another show that featured their copies, plus originals by some members and by Fougerousse.
“The members of the class were so cohesive,” says Wood. “Carl is an exceptional teacher. We felt like people needed to see what came out of it.”
During the eight week class, each student sketched and then painted a replica of one or two “Dutch Utopia” paintings of his or her choosing.
“All the drawings took place in the galleries,” copying directly from originals, says Fougerousse. The students painted in the teaching studio space in the Jepson, to prevent the originals from being exposed to potentially damaging chemicals from the fresh paint.
Once the students began the painting process, they would “bring the paintings back up from week to week into the gallery, to compare them” with the originals, says Fougerousse.
For Wood, trying to match colors was a big part of the challenge. “It’s fun to sort of unwind the paintings into those color values,” says Wood. “Especially if it’s a large painting, I think of that poor fool grinding out those color pigments to make the paints when I can just squirt it out of a tube.”
Art classes at the Telfair Museums are both “old school” and a new direction in programming. When the Telfair Academy was established in the 19th century, teaching art was part of its purpose, but phased out decades ago, according to Torrey Kist, Studio Programs Manager at the Telfair Museums.
“We just reinstated the class objective in our mission only about three–and–a–half or four years ago,” says Kist. Now the museum offers classes and workshops for children and adults.
Offerings this spring range from “Drawing from Antiquity,” an eight-week figure drawing class taught by Fougerousse, to “Painting With Large Brush and Other Odd Implements” a daylong workshop led by Betsy Cain.
Cain’s work is part of the “Painters’ Reel” exhibit that just opened at the Jepson. Her already–sold–out workshop will “explore new ways of approaching painting and mark making,” she says. “My paintings in the Jepson are done with a four-inch house painters brush.”
In “Drawing for Antiquity,” Fougerousse will move students into the Sculpture Gallery of the Telfair Academy. They’ll make human figure drawings using the six plaster cast sculptures in the gallery instead of live models.
“That space used to house 60 plaster casts and was really built and used for teaching the figure,” says Kist. “Over the years it evolved into exhibit space.”
“It’s a tradition that’s been around for several hundred years,” says Fougerousse. “For one thing, the plaster cast models are immobile. Beginners have a lot of difficulty with live models that are shifting poses. And two, you don’t have to deal with skin color. It’s a stepping stone toward life drawing, where you have a moving form, a living form.”
Secrets of the Old Masters Art Show
When: Feb. 25 – March 31
Where: Trends and Traditions, 3407 Waters Ave.
Reception: Feb. 25, 4–8 p.m.
Class info: www.telfair.org