Lynne Barton, David Aspin and Michael John Angel
Lynne Barton, David Aspin and Michael John Angel

On Wednesday, October 30th, Michael John Angel, ARC Living Master and Director of Studies at the Angel Academy of Art, gave a lecture at the historic Tornabuoni Palace in Florence. The lecture’s title was “Annigoni and the Training of the 21st-century Realist Painter.” Angel studied under Annigoni in the 1960s. Born in Milan, Pietro Annigoni (1910 – 88) moved with his family to Florence when he was a teenager and lived there for the rest of his life.

He studied art at the Accademia di Belle Arti and soon became known locally, but it was only after painting his first portrait of Queen Elizabeth II of England in 1956 that he became the most famous portrait painter in Europe. Bernard Berenson (the art historian, known as the infallible Bernard Berenson) called Annigoni the greatest painter of the 20th century.

The Fine Art of Representational Painting is on the rise again after a century of decline and the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, is one of its leading schools. Based on forty years of research by founder and Studio Director Michael John Angel, the school is dedicated to the training of professional realist painters. The school advocates a marriage between the conceptual – the artistic vision – and empirical observation. Its programme teaches a successful step-by-step process, from cast drawing in charcoal to still life and figure work in oil paint. Situated in Florence, Italy, the Angel Academy teaches the methods passed down through the centuries, from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century, and espouses a variety of expression within the concepts of representational painting. Such painting has always been the mainstream of European art. When Lynne Barton and John Angel created the Angel Academy in 1997, there were about twelve throughout the world; now there are several hundred. The Angel Academy of Art is considered one of the most important schools in Europe and North America.

The Academy has 65 students, all enrolled full-time in a three-year programme. This programme begins with a specially designed set of drawings (created by Charles Bargue in the nineteenth century), from which the student learns the basic techniques of drawing, and then progresses to drawing in charcoal from the plaster cast. Next come studies in oil paint, working from the plaster cast, and the student masters the essential skills necessary to create an illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface, using color. Throughout all this, the student also learns, step-by-step, how to draw the live model, first with pencil, then with charcoal. Altogether, these studies take two years.

The third year is then spent painting both from the live model, which is generally recognized as being the most difficult subject of all, and from still life. Still life is the perfect arena in which to study color, texture and the creation of a seemingly three-dimensional illusion. In his lecture, Angel stressed that the training of an artist in this newly renascent Realism is arduous. At the Angel Academy of Art, Florence, the basic programme is a three-year one, and this is followed by one of two post-graduate options, each of a two-year duration: Pictorial Composition and Portrait Painting. Even three years is an expensive undertaking and one of the main thrusts of the lecture and presentation was to garner financial support for needy students. The student work that was shown in the lecture and displayed on the easels was beautiful.

Nancy Fletcher, Bulgarian rug. Oil on canvas, 80x75 cm
Nancy Fletcher, Bulgarian rug. Oil on canvas, 80×75 cm

The works on display were by Jered Woznicki, Megan Byrne, Nicole Lalande, Bruno Galuzzi Corsini, Brianne Kirbyson, Giulia Bucciarelli, Chapman John Hamborg, Marilyn Bailey , Lucia Foresi, Jonathan Scull, Evanny Henningsen, Katie Runyu Li and Michael John Angel. A feature of the presentation was Angel’s larger-than-life-size portrait of the British entrepreneur David Aspin, which was mentioned in a recent article on Mr Aspin in the Financial Times.