Manet made the doodles in his letters look effortless … by using tracing paper | Art and design | The Guardian

Guardian article - Manet made the doodles in his letters look effortless ... by using tracing paper
Guardian article – Manet made the doodles in his letters look effortless … by using tracing paper

Art historian uncovers secret behind impressionist master’s ‘off-the-cuff’ sketches
— Read on

Reblog Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd


This is a relatively short, easy to read article from The Guardian illustrating and discussing a recent discovery that Manet, one of the (in my opinion) founding and great impressionist painters of his time, would trace out (via watercolor wash I think) on tracing paper part of an image that had taken some time to create, then transfer (not described how) to letters he wrote folks and represent it as being new and spontaneous to the moment he was in writing to that person.

There’s interesting speculation that Manet may have done this due to reputation anxieties (who would think, lol!).

It crossed my mind that another possibility (because evidently, I’m not 100% sure, other artists back then were “copying” something within their work, ie, Vermeer as an example) that Manet may have been referring to the then moment of watercoloring his copied sketch as what was new and spontaneous to communicating with that person.

It’d be interesting to see a followup article which maybe exams the same sketch and how it was recreated in fresh watercolors, and see how much similarity or divergence there was between renditions. And, how each rendition differed (if they did) from each other as per the communication it was attached to, ie, was each sketch‘s new watercolor creation spontaneously re-created, or are they all basically the same.

All in all, yes, a very interesting article from The Guardian!

of the illustrated letters: “They are always described as breezy, virtuosic and effortless, and dashed off in a moment. But what I discovered is that most of these things seem to have been traced from more searching and careful drawings that he’d made in his sketchbooks. He would take semi-transparent letter paper, lay it down over a sketchbook page, trace that design with a wash of grey watercolour and then basically colour it in with watercolour.”

Beeny, associate curator of drawings at the J Paul Getty Museum


On a related side note, it’s interesting I just recently uploaded a post about me and our youngest grandchild practicing his drawing via transfer paper and doing an original watercolor wash ❤️

Hoping everyone’s doing well this Friday! 😊


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    • So true! I love the idea but not as good at it as my youngest grandchild, lol! Would prefer the new tech version of projecting the image onto the canvas, and’ve tried two different methods, but couldn’t adjust either the size or visibility enough to make it worth the trouble. Even when I use the grid method, it only approximates the original, though it does help sometimes (lot of work though, lol!) 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great post Felipe! And there’s nothing wrong with copying, with tracing and with anything else that might get your idea on to canvas or paper or wood or whatever material medium you are using. The important thing is the message…as David Bowie said, and I paraphrase, all artists steal and copy…the important thing about making art is the work you put in to it and the creative approach of making something new and different, I guess those are the principal rules. All the best to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “the important thing about making art is the work you put in to it and the creative approach of making something new and different” – so true, Francisco! I remember in the early 70s I was so frustrated trying to “do” art (no classes nearby, no YouTube or videos or internet) I bought a small paint-by-numbers kit, I think of a horse 😊 and at first thought, this is dumb, all I’m doing is copying a color to a number! But it was all I had, so I kept going, started smudging the lines, letting colors bleed/blend into each other, and remember, really vividly, realizing the colors were mimicking light and shadow! I just remember being so stunned! And “my” horse pic came out kinda like the box picture, lol! But it was definitely by me 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ahhhaha, well, I’ll admit, I don’t know much about Manet’s day to day stuff, but I never had the impression he was using trickery (sly maybe, who knows, lol!). Like I mentioned in my post, be interesting to see how his actual watercolor washes differed and fit each communication. And the little I’ve read indicates the artist back 100+ years saw mirrors, and maybe transfer paper, as tools, with the image still needing what they brought to it via their own vision and feelings.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. No, Manet didn’t suffer from your modern anxiety. And no, sketch papers did not make his art or letters any less spontaneous. Only someone who is NOT an artists would say this.

    Liked by 1 person

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