Development of Visual Memory in the Arts

July 23, 2009

In 1848 the art teacher Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran wrote a treatise called L’Education de la mémoire pittoresque for his students. That treatise was revised and republished in 1862. Later, he wrote two other small texts for his students which were published in 1876 and 1879, respectively. Many notable 19th century artists passed through his atelier: Fantin-Latour, Legros, Rodin, Lepère, Lhermitte among others. Subsequently through Legros, many other artists, like George Innes and James MacNeill Whistler were influenced by his ideas.

Although the mainstream current of twentieth century art has moved away from imitative or realistic interpretations of the world around us, the role of personally significant memory has never been greater. It is with that in mind that I have finally located, downloaded and printed out this text. The translation, which was done approximately one hundred years ago, appears to be a fine one, well researched among the still extant students of LeCoq at that time.

I’m posting this link as information for anyone else who may be interested in exploring Lecoq’s work. The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist, Translated by L. D. Luard. Et l’original en français: L’éducation de la mémoire pittoresque, de Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran. Yesterday, for 14 Euros and an hour of my time, I located the link, downloaded the file, burned a CD, took it to a local print shop, for the which I received a simple, black and white, plastic coated, spiral bound edition. I now have a copy of a book that I have searched twenty years for. Hooray for the internet!!!

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4 Responses to “Development of Visual Memory in the Arts”


  1. Thanks so much for this information. I haven’t checked it out yet, but when one knows that Fantin Latour was influenced by his work, it must be important.
    I am always amazed by the brilliance of work that was done before photography became prevalent. Either the artist had to have a steel trap mind for details or make some poor model stand there for hours on end while he drew them.
    K
    also posting as artiseternal.wordpress.com


    • Oh, yes, do check it out. I think it is important to critically evaluate the influence photography has had upon the visual attention span of humanity.

      It might also be why the 20th century art world had to become abstract? But like the Taming of the Wild Ox in the Ten Oxherding Pictures from Zen, finally there is a return to the market place.


  2. […] 27, 2009 An interesting coincidence of events occurred in mid-nineteenth century France: Lecoq’s discovery of a systematic way to develop (human) visual memory to a high degree of acc…followed perhaps ten years after the French Academy of Sciences recognized the patent application of […]

  3. Wencesalao Ciuro Says:

    Never ever in the history of human race artist painted so much realism as today, even proportionally, so everythings good, now we just need them to paint as good or better than the old masters, nothing against abstract painting, some of it is not that bad.


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