Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Edgar Degas. These artists are not only some of the most famous painters in art history, but they also share a common experience—copying the works of Old Masters in the Louvre. A long tradition dating back to just after the French Revolution, each year Paris' premier museum grants 250 permits to amateur and professional artists, allowing them to copy the masterpiece of their choice.
Post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne once said, “The Louvre is the book from which we learn to read.” This poignant thought sums up the traditional practice of learning by copying the work of previous masters. Indeed, as far back as the 15th century, when Italian artist Cennino Cennini wrote his artist handbook, The Book of Art, this task has been deemed essential for artistic growth. Cennini wrote, “When you have practiced drawing for a while… take pains and pleasure in constantly copying the best works that you can find done by the hand of great masters.”
The Louvre opened its doors to copyists in 1793, just one month after Marie Antoinette was beheaded and Louis XIV's palace transformed into a public museum. It was then declared that any artist would be provided an easel free of charge to take up the challenge of painting a masterpiece. This still holds true today. But while the easels are free, artists around the world can wait for up to two years in order to be granted one of the limited permits.
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