Friday, 19 October 2007

You Said Pochade?

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" - June 2007. Follow the link to subscribe to the newsletter.

I came across the word “Pochade” when I bought my first pochade box, a few years ago. A pochade box is to the painter what the laptop computer is to the modern office worker. You can carry it everywhere; paint when you have only a moment and it leaves you no excuse if you are not painting.

The Grove Art Dictionary (Oxford University Press) defines a “Pochade” as a “Small, roughly executed oil sketch, painted outside, usually as a preliminary study for a larger, finished studio picture.”

You won’t find the word in more general dictionaries (like the 1872 pages long Collins English Dictionary) and the use of the word seems limited.

A full text search in the digital archives of The Times newspaper, covering articles published between 1795 and 1985 only harvested 3 matches. On 20th August 1924, the Beaux Arts Gallery in London advertised “THE POCHADE EXHIBITION. Small Pictures by Great Modern Artists”. The same advert was published again 3 days later. The third occurrence, in 1964, refers to a play and not a painting.

I turned to French dictionaries to follow the roots of this word. The 6th edition of the Dictionnaire de L'Académie française (dated 1832-5) reads:

“POCHADE. s. f. T. de Peinture. Espèce de croquis; dessin au lavis, exécuté rapidement, et où l'on se contente d'indiquer les masses. Une jolie pochade. Ce n'est qu'une pochade.” (Translation: “Painting. Sort of sketch; drawing with glazes, quickly executed, and where you only indicate the main planes. A nice pochade. This is only a pochade.”)

I would define a “pochade” in 5 points:

  • Small format painting

  • Quickly executed

  • Done on location

  • Capture the essence of the subject without details

  • Records an impression and may be used as reference for a studio painting

The word pochade is not in fashion, as well as the pochade itself. Why? First, the pochade is perceived as a study for more ambitious works, like a draft of a masterpiece to come rather than a work in its own right. Secondly, many artists like to keep them to themselves because they are more personal, spontaneous and form a collection of vignettes showing the evolution of the artist. Finally, as soon as the work gets bigger, it becomes a plein air painting rather than a pochade, even if the technique remains the same.

There is no reason to overlook pochades. Artists: get them out of the studio and let the pochade exist in its own right. Collectors: this is a great way to start small and build-up your collection.

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