The NGA also has a revered copyist program, which, though much younger than the Louvre’s, launched two months before the American museum opened to the public in 1941. It was seen as a way to assist living artists, but also to help disseminate the budding institution’s impressive collection. To date, the NGA has issued over 8,000 copyist permits. “[It’s] designed with education in mind,” explained Meredith Kablick, who manages the program.
To get a permit at any of these museums, artists must be chosen through an application process. Not unlike an application to an art school, this often involves a personal statement and character references, as well as images of their work. Eble notes that for the Met’s program, which includes a mid-semester critique, they look to assemble a diverse group of artists—in terms of career stages and interests—who will be able to provide one another with valuable feedback.
“The copyists are a mix of established artists who are looking to improve upon their skills, and also people who have discovered art later in life (post-retirement) and who are using the program to hone their skills beyond their own studio coursework,” Kablick said of the NGA’s copyists. She noted that there are several young MFA grads, but the demographic is typically the over-50 crowd, due to the time commitment the program requires.
The Met’s program is similarly wide-ranging, Eble said, including recent MFA grads; established, mid-career artists; and people who are returning to art after a hiatus. And while these artists are typically locals, there’s the rare occasion that one may travel from afar to partake in such a prestigious program, given the opportunity. And some repeat the program again and again. At the NGA, among the current set of some 40 copyists is Vivian Parker, now in her 80s, who has been painting at the museum for decades.
Permits at various museums typically give the artist access to post up at the gallery once a week for a few hours, and for a number of months. The Met’s program runs for eight-week semesters each spring and fall, during which time artists work one day per week for three hours, like a typical studio art class. The NGA gives yearlong permits, though artists are also limited to one day per week, when they can work between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.