art theories





also teached at the École des Beaux-Arts


In several books the art-theories rendered on this page are presented as avant-garde. Emphasized is how they influenced the impressionist painting style and Neo-Impressionists like Seurat and Signac. But a closer look makes clear that most of these art-theoreticians were connected to the École des Beaux-Arts and so probably their teachings were regular part of the curriculum of that ‘conservative’ institute. Painting en-plein-air was already taught by Valenciennes in 1800 and the application of juxtaposed brushstrokes derives from the theories of Chevreul (1839) and Blanc (1867).


Valenciennes (1800) and others on landscape painting:
Pierre Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819) was appointed in 1787 as member of the Académie Royale and 1812 onwards he was professor in perspective at the École des Beaux-Arts. Among his students were Jean-Victor Bertin (1767-1842) and Achille Etna Michallon (1796-1822), who both would teach -/- Corot. Michallon had won the first Prix de Rome en Paysage historique in 1817. In 1800 Valenciennes publiced a textbook that was called ‘Elémens de Perspective pratique à l’usage des artistes, suivis de Reflexions et conseils à un Elève sur la Peinture, et particulièrement sur le genre du Paysage‘.
In his publication he discerned the ‘paysage historique’ (compare the ‘paysage heroic’ of Roger de Pils). The ‘paysage pastoral’ and the ‘paysage-portrait’. In this ‘paysage-portrait’ the artist renders a faithful representation of nature. Important was to find the charme of romantic spots. In these landscapes the artist depicted seascapes, hunting scenes and battles. In the ‘paysage pastoral’ the artist added his own imagination and memories of travel experiences, thus creating an ideal landscape. After painting the landscape the artist had to add not everyday figures like nymphs.
In his publication Valenciennes also rendered advices on how to paint ‘en-plein-air‘. He adviced to paint completely finished paintings outside and not only to make sketches (R290,p8+15). He wrote ‘The light and atmosphere in a landscape changes too often to allow for comprehensive detailing.’ (R290,p14) He adviced to render the same motive on various times of day, to see how the lighteffects change and even fade out the forms. He adviced to travel much and to paint in different seasons and to study trees, rocks, the sea and the sky.
Maybe influenced by the publication of Valenciennes, there were many courses organised in landscape painting, especially between 1800 and 1830. There also were ‘course d’études’ in which twigs, stones, hedges, foliage and individual plants were elaborated to the smallest detail. In these courses the Dutch landscapists were a source of inspiration, leaving the Italian idealised landscapes with classical monuments in the shades. (R290,p29+32).
Other early publications on landscape painting were from C.J.F. Lecarpentier who published in 1817 ‘Essai sur la Peinture’ and Jean-Baptiste Deperthes who published in 1818 ‘Théorie de paysage’. Lecarpentier (1744-1822) called landscape painting the most attractive genre in painting. Deperthes (1761-1833) pleaded for an idependant position of the landscapist. He wrote that the history painter just used the landscape as a backdrop. For the explicit form of what he called ‘paysage champêtre’ one could study nature a lifetime to become a good landscapist. He thought it would interest a larger part of the population.
All these writers refer to the 17th century Dutch landscapists as inspiration.
Sources: R290,p1-20;

D.P.G. Humbert de Superville (1770-1849) on the effect of lines:
Rendered theories on the universal and expressive power of lines. Ascending lines correspond with joyfullness. Horizontal lines with calm. Descending lines with sadness. His ideas are incorporated in the manual of Charles Blanc↓. His ideas influenced artists like Seurat.
Sources: R207,p61.

Chevreul on colour contrasts (1839):
Michel-Eugène Chevreul (1786-1889) was a chemist. In 1839 he published De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs; it was reprinted at least in 1864. In this publication he presented his ‘Cercle chromatique‘ (his colour wheel) and the colour circle, rendering primairy and secondary colours. He clarified the optical effect that a colour is influenced by an adjacent colour. He mentions two sorts of contrast: simultaneous and successive contrast. Simultaneous contrast is the phenomenon that each of two adjacent colours influences the other by coloring it with its own opposite colour. Successive contrast occurs after staring at one colour for a long time and then looking at something else; a complementary afterimage is then created that affects the colour of the recent image. He divides colour combinations in harmonies d’analogue and harmonies de contraste. In his publication he also rendered observations on light and theories on the effect of groundings and frames. His ideas are incorporated in the manual of Charles Blanc↓. His ideas influenced artists like Seurat.
Sources: R207,p62.

Charles Blanc and his manual (1867):
Charles Blanc (1813-82) was director at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1848-50 and from 1870-73. In 1864 he published an article on Delacroix. In 1867 he published his famous Grammaire des arts du dessin; it was reprinted many times. In this manual he explained principles of art, based on current theories, including those of Chevreul↑ and also the colour principles of Delacroix. He introduced the term ‘mélange optique‘, the idea that colours applied separately to the canvas blend in the viewer’s eyes. His ideas influenced artists like Gauguin, Seurat, Signac and Van Gogh.
Sources: R207,p60-61;

David Sutter and his visual phenomena (1880):
David Sutter (1811-80) was born in Switserland and became in 1863 professor of esthetics at the École des Beaux-Arts. He wrote books on esthetics, perspective and Greek sculpture. His article ‘Les phénomènes de la vision’ was published in L’Art. His ideas on colour, influenced by Chevreul, dealt with colour contrasts, coloured shades, the influence of adjacent colours, the relation between colour and light and the effect of a dark form that is surrounded by a light glow. I assume that he had teached these ideas earlier at the École des Beaux-Arts and probably were known before 1880. His ideas influenced artists like Seurat.
Sources: R207,p63.

Ogden Rood on colour (1879/1881):
Ogden Rood was professor of physics in New York and also an amature painter. He published in 1879 in New York a book that in 1881 was translated and published as ‘Théorie scientifique des couleurs et leurs applications à l’art et à l’industrie‘. He integrated recent scientifique insights with the theories of Chevreul↑ and Blanc↑. He discerned between coloured pigments and coloured light. He explained that the effect of coloured light is approachable by ‘mélange optique‘ of paint. He rendered the method to apply small dots of colour side by side, that would blend in the viewer’s eyes. He explained that ‘local colour’ inherent to objects don’t excist. He also elaborate on primairy colours, complementary colours and contrasting pairs of colour.
Sources: R207,p63+64;

Charles Henry on the psychological effect of colours and lines: 
Charles Henry (1859-1926) was a mathematician and esthetician. He published in 1885 ‘introduction à une esthétique scientifique‘. It deals with deals with psychophysics, the connection between physical stimuli and psychological experiences. He introduces the principle that an observation that takes much effort is experienced as painfull and an observation that requires little effort is experienced as pleasant. Ascending lines and warm colours render feelilngs of joy. Descending lines and cool colours arouse feelings of sadness. A clockwise bend in line arouse a pleasant feelings. A counter-clockwise bend in line arouse unpleasant feelings. Seurat met Charles Henry at the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886, but the influence of Henry on Seurat is disputed on.
Sources: R207,p65;



My main sources are Helewise Berger (2014=R207); Sillevis (1985/85=R290). Additional sources are: See link for other general references (=R) and for other references to internet sites (=iR). For other additional references (=aR) see below. See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.


Recommanded citation: “Meta-Impressionism: art theories, also teached at the École des Beaux-Arts. Last modified 2023/06/03. ”