This is the first of several texts on Leo Marchutz that we’ll be featuring on the Marchutz School blog this year. In this essay, Billy Weyman recounts Leo’s rejection of traditional academia for a personal education rooted in the study of nature and the art of the past. Pictured above: students at the first session of the Marchutz school, summer 1972.
“It was seven years ago in Aix-en-Provence that I was introduced to Leo Marchutz as my painting instructor for the year to come. Ever since that time I have become increasingly aware of exactly what the teaching of Marchutz means and how valuable it is in these times. To understand the whole man, an evaluation of his relatively short teaching career is essential. As he himself refused all formal training, it is interesting to see the approach he now takes to guiding the young to a deeper understanding of art and painting.
Marchutz proposes that a student copy first and choose for this purpose a painting to which he is naturally drawn. If the idea of copying works of art seems today outdated then maybe it is proper here to reconsider why painters ever felt that copying was a valid means of learning. This being the first principle of Marchutz’s teaching, the matter shoud be pursued.
Since the names Cezanne and Van Gogh have been and are generally equated with art in its higher state, I will take the liberty of contrasting their attitudes to those of the Academy. Though for different reasons, both proposed copying other works of art. One may well wonder where the difference lies. Ever since the eighteenth century and the birth of Neo-Classicism and the Academy, there have been patterned beliefs about “correct” painting and drawing. It was generally accepted in academic circles that there was one way to draw and paint correctly and that way was gotten from study of the great masters. Ingres for example saw the ultimate truth in Raphael and nowhere else. The Academies in turn held up Ingres as a divine example for their students to follow. So art was limited to the general taste of the time. Even worse the Academy was not directing its students to the art of Ingres and Raphael but to their methods. If copying is of any value at all then it shoud be evident that the Academy’s approach is not one to observe. By looking at Cezanne and Van Gogh one can be more sure of understanding the benefit to be had from copying. Both rejected the Academy’s teaching and both turned to working from the masters of their choice. For them it was a means of penetrating nature, knowing that what they chose to copy had its roots firmly planted there. Let it be understood that nature in this context is simply, as Cezanne himself put it, ‘the spectacle which the Pater Ominpotens Aeterne Deus spreads before our eyes”. When Van Gogh copied Millet it was not Millet’s methods which he copied, it was the spirit which he himself felt behind Millet’s figures. The results are purely Van Gogh and hardly less original than the paintings he made from nature. The value of copying is immense if the reasoning behind it is right, for it instructs, through art not through technique, the poetic as well as the visual sense. The mere learning of technique is without value because it has become dissociated from the very source from which it grows, namely the artistic intuition which, seeking its own expression, gives birth to the work of art. The technique therefore evolves with the work of art. It does not precede it.”
– William Weyman, 1968
Read the whole essay here.