From Law to Art (part 1) – Painters who left the law behind

25/09/2012 01:01

What makes one abandon law for art? It's a phenomenon: painters and writers of the future move to big cities in early adulthood to study law; then, in each case, something happens... For a small number of them, legal studies provide little more than a front for pursuing a fully-realised affection for art; law is their back door ticket to an artistic centre – the capital city. For most, however, the reality is that interest in the law, both as a subject and a prospect, gradually wanes. The increasingly self-aware individual becomes attracted to the undefined and independent force growing inside them – an intrepid force that undermines the lawyer's middling respectability.


Here follow the stories of these men.


The Painters


Edgar Degas (1834-1917) – ceased his study of law soon after starting in favour of drawing and painting. Degas' law studies were at best half-hearted, initiated as they were by his father's wishes. Degas had painted for years and, in rejecting a legal career path, followed his clear desire to be an artist. The diligent Degas no doubt recognised the challenge he'd set for himself, later observing that: “Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do.”


Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) – practised at the bar for a short time after receiving his degree in law from the University of Paris. He then resolved to become a painter, having attended art classes in the evenings while he was studying law. Bonnard became a member of the group of avant-garde artists known as Les Nabis. Bonnard's French champagne poster influenced Toulouse Lautrec's subsequent posters that famously depicted nineteenth century Paris.


Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) – studied law in Paris but quickly abandoned it in order to devote himself to his verve for painting, thereby rejecting his father's plan of his son becoming a lawyer. Courbet favoured the creative bohemian life devoid of the bourgeois standards of his upbringing. The realist painter carved out an image for himself that was soaked in controversy, producing in his later life numerous erotic works such as 'The origin of the world.'


Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) – completed his studies in law and economics at Moscow University and then worked at the University for 3 years as a law professor. Increasingly dissatisfied with academia, Kandinsky decided to leave employment to become an artist around age 30, following his long-standing love for painting. Kandinsky then developed as a sensory artist, later claiming that he could hear colours.



Henri Matisse (1869-1954) – finished his legal studies in Paris and detested his subsequent job as a provincial legal clerk. Something of an epiphany followed when Matisse was given some paints to busy his mind whilst he was bed-ridden during a long illness. To the dismay of his father Matisse was at once infatuated with the brush, and he then resolved to become a painter and went back to Paris to study art.


Jacques Villon (1875-1963) – studied law at the University of Paris, but his interest and study in art led him away from following a career in law. He didn't look back and quietly developed as a cubist painter, largely away from the vibrant Montmartre art scene of the period.


Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) – studied law and had a number of conventional jobs before later starting to teach himself to paint when he was around 40. His former employment as a customs officer earned him the nickname “Le Douanier” within the art community.


Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) – studied law in his early twenties before deciding to study art in Paris, after which it took the reclusive Cézanne around thirty years to become appreciated and recognised as a painter. “The world doesn't understand me and I don't understand the world, that's why I've withdrawn from it,” he commented.



To be continued....


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