Saturday, September 17, 2016

Cecilia Beaux Studies with Charles "Shorty" Lasar

While looking at the life of Cecilia Beaux, the name of one of her teachers makes a brief appearance - that of Charles "Shorty" Lasar. Not having heard of him till now, I wanted to do a little exploring and found some very interesting things written about both Cecilia Beaux' early studies abroad and about Shorty who was an American transplant in France:

"Her initial experiences with Bouguereau and the Académie Julian spurred Cecilia to continue investigating other ateliers for women. Concerned that her cousin May was not getting "enough criticism at Julian's," it was decided that at the end of the month that "she had better go to [the] Lasar" studio. Her uncle had written to her about him:

"Lasar's portrait of Mrs. Boyle is the best in the [Pennsylvania Academy] Exhibition this year. It is a first class work, 3/4 length, life size. Col. Cooper knows Lasar well, says he is about 32, came from St. Louis, began there as a lithographer, has been in Paris and thereabouts 7 or 8 years, worked hard at the "Beaux Arts" and started this class which is only 1 year old and wonderfully successful. Cooper says that Lasar has unusual talent as a teacher as well as painter -- in fact he considers him by far the ablest teacher and critic he ever met among men who can paint well and strongly themselves."

Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1856, Charles "Shorty" Lasar's experiences had been varied - from blacksmithing to lithography, and he had come to Paris with a modest purse determined to take up the study of art. He enrolled himself in the class of Gerome in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and was assigned to the antique room. For the sake of economy he used both sides of his Michelet paper in making his charcoal drawings, and these were entirely unlike the drawings of the other men. At first Gerome regarded him with amused suspicion, but suspicion soon changed to intense interest, and Lasar was sent to the life class. Before long Shorty's criticisms were almost as eagerly sought as were those of the master. There his superior drawing ability and his "famous angle machine" made him something of a legend. At night he studied the history of art and costumes, he made compositions and was ever searching for the reason of successful pictures in the galleries and exhibitions. There never seemed to be a moment when the subject of art was out of his mind.

"Trees by the River" by Charles "Shorty" Lasar
He soon became a popular teacher, establishing an art school in the Montparnasse colony in Paris. His sense of humor, his inventive and mechanical solutions to creative problems, his theories of art, and his entrepreneurial sense in marketing his aids for the study of art, all drew a number of American students, particularly women. 

Lasar, in fact, was one of the few Parisian art teachers to offer theories of art to women, teaching them that each painting should be different, suggesting its own style. His book Practical Hints to Art Students (1910) set forth his theories and ideas. He was, however, a born teacher, and many successful canvases were due to his advice. He practised great frugality and continued to stay in the Quarter. Students came and departed, but 'Shorty' remained. He had no home ties. Finally some young women urged him to organise a class. He did so and was immediately successful, leaving Paris every summer with thirty or forty women pupils. One of his earlier students was Cecilia Beaux.

Beaux had a "most comical" first impression of Lasar, noting that he was "a funny little young man with intensely bright eyes, and dark hair standing around -- and legs about two feet long. [And he] talks rather bad American, with no end of French excitement and gesticulation." She soon learned that, artistically, he was "more modern and less academical...teaches values and colors more than anything else, is very scientific and particularly good for outdoor work."

Indeed she studied under his tutelage in Concarneau that summer with his dear friend and fellow artist Alexander Harrison also critiquing her work - and even asking her for her critical input on his work. They complimented and encouraged her enthusiastically. "Harrison told her that she had the "right stuff" to become a painter, "the stuff that digs and thinks and will not be satisfied and is never weary of the effort of painting nor counts the cost. Even among the men here there is hardly one who does this." Lasar remarked that she approached her painting in "the right way, that is as a man would do it -- and that's the biggest compliment I can pay you." Both men encouraged Beaux's talent, endorsed her professional commitment, and told her to stay in Europe "one more winter -- to clinch it." This was enough to make her make a commitment to a professional art career and to paint something for the Paris Salon the following year.

*information gathered from "Out of the Background: Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture" by Tara Leigh Tappert:"