Thursday, 17 November 2011

Artists Obsessions.

For this post I decided to explore artists obsessions with their muses starting with the eighteenth century portrait painter George Romney.

Self Portrait  painted in 1784 when Romney was fifty.
I thought this would be a short post but having done some reading it looks like being a long one. So first a bit of background on Romney who was born at Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire, in 1734.
He was one of eleven children, his father was a man of many occupations farmer, builder, cabinet-maker, and dealer and not very prosperous in any of them. By the time Romney was eleven years old he was helping his father in the workshop, during this time he drew portraits of the other workmen and people. He also became a skilled woodworker and was able to make violins (which he played throughout his life).  When he was twenty he made the acquaintance of a vagabond artist named Christopher Steele, who journeyed from place to place producing portraits, I wonder if there is still an opening for that sort of Itinerant!
In 1755 Romney became his pupil and was taken with him on his travels. In the following year Romney fell ill with a fever and was nursed by his landlady's daughter, a domestic servant named Mary Abbott, and being a romantic youth Romney married this girl in the first burst of his gratitude. Steele meanwhile had settled at York, and summoned Romney to join him there as soon as he was well enough, and since he was not earning enough to keep a wife, Mrs. Romney had to go back to service when her husband rejoined the man he was apprenticed to.
There was little that Steele, a mediocre artist and a loose liver, could teach Romney, and their association was more profitable to Steel than to him. After a year or two in bondage at York, Romney managed to purchase his freedom, and he then made a home for his wife at Kendal. With this town as his headquarters, he rambled about the Lake Country painting heads at two guineas each and small full-lengths at six guineas, till in 1762 he had at last managed to save a hundred pounds.
Romney was now twenty-eight, and he felt that if ever he was to make his fortune by his art he must seek it in London. So giving £70 to his wife, with the remaining £30 he came to the capital, where he at once competed for a prize offered by the Society of Arts for an historical picture on " The Death of Wolfe."

Study for The Death of General Wolfe 1763
Romney was at first awarded a prize of fifty guineas for his version of this theme, but later the judges reversed their verdict and awarded the fifty guineas to John Hamilton Mortimer, a young friend of Joshua Reynolds, and gave Romney only a consolation prize of 25 guineas though the painting was immediately sold for a further twenty-five guineas to a banker who gave it to the governor of Bengal, the painting was sent out to India and is now lost. Romney, not unnaturally, believed this reversal of the first judgment to be the result of favouritism, and to the end of his life he thought that it had been brought about by Reynolds, who had been actuated by fear of a rival. In 1766 Romney again gained a premium for his " Death of King Edward " from the Society of Arts, to which he was now admitted a member, and from then on he exhibited regularly at the Society's exhibitions, but always held aloof from the Academy. In 1767 he paid a visit to his wife and two daughters at Kendal, and returning alone to London soon established himself in public favour, and in the early 'seventies he was making over a thousand a year by his profession. He thought the time had now come when he should visit Italy, and in March 1773 he set off for that country in the company of fellow artist, Ozias Humphrey (1742-1810), who afterwards became a famous miniature-painter. In Rome, Romney separated himself from his colleague and traveller and led a hermit's life, shunning the society of his compatriots, and giving his whole time to work and study. In 1775 he made his way back to England via Venice and Parma, studying with advantage the work of Correggio in the latter city, and reaching London in the month of July. Greatly improved now in his colouring and confident in his increased knowledge and power, Romney boldly took the house and studio of Francis Cotes, R.A., who had been one of the leaders of the older portrait painters, at 32 Cavendish Square, and there seriously entered into competition with Reynolds. Gainsborough, did not come to London till 1779, so that Romney, though younger was the first formidable rival that Reynolds had to endure. Charging fifteen guineas for a head life-size, Romney soon found himself surrounded by sitters, and Reynolds was alarmed at the way in which his practice for a time was diminished by the painter to whom he contemptuously referred as " the man in Cavendish Square." Later Romney had so many commissions that he was able to put up his prices to eighty guineas for the full-length portraits. When Reynolds died he left a fortune of £80,000 earned by his brush, and though Romney was not successful to this extent he made a good living, his income in the year 1785 being £3635.
But Romney was never a mere money-grubber, and when at the age of forty-eight he first met his most famous sitter, the dazzlingly beautiful Emma Lyon, who changed her name to Emma Hart. She is of cause better known to history as Lady Hamilton, he was so fascinated by her extraordinary personality, that time after time he refused all kinds of wealthy sitters in order that he might continue uninterruptedly to paint the lovely Emma. In 1782 the future Lady Hamilton was a mere girl of twenty or twenty-one, living under the protection of Charles Greville, who four years later—when he was in money difficulties—heartlessly handed her over to his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, who treated her more kindly and honourably. For five years Romney painted this fascinating Woman continually in a variety of characters.

Emma Hart as Ariadne 1785

Emma Hart as the Spinner

Emma Hamilton as the Magdalen.
 Though gossip soon busied itself making scandal out of their relations, there is no evidence that the painter's affection for her was anything but platonic. Of his many paintings of her one of the most charming is this one.

Lady Hamilton " in the National Portrait Gallery.
George Romney’s portraits have a very feminine quality which gives an extraordinary pathos, to his paintings of frail women. There is a paternal tenderness rather than the passion of a lover in his paintings of Emma Hamilton.

Emma Hamilton
 Emma Lyon at one time worked at the Drury Lane theatre in Covent Garden, as maid to various actresses, among them Mary Robinson  another famous beauty known as " Perdita."

“Perdita” Mary Robinson
 Romney's beautiful portrait of Mary Robinson was done while this gifted actress was under the protection of the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV. But that royal rascal soon tired of her, and at the age of twenty-four she had already been abandoned by " the first gentleman in Europe." When he sent her away the Prince gave her a bond for £20,000 ; but he never paid it, and " Perdita " Robinson died in 1800, poor and paralysed.

Nobody has yet discovered who was the original of Romney's characteristically charming " The Parson's Daughter," but we may imagine that this beautiful Woman, with a gentle melancholy behind her smile, was also one of the frail sisterhood to which both Lady Hamilton and Mrs. Robinson belonged.

The Parsons Daughter
 Though he never brought his wife and family to London  he supported them in comfort, and when after years of hard work in London his health broke down, he went back to his wife at Kendal. She received him without reproaches, and under her affectionate care the tired, worn-out genius " sank gently into second childhood and the grave." He died at Kendal on November 15, 1802.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Bernard Dunstan

Bernard Dunstan is in his early 90's and still going strong you can usually find one or two of his works in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the New English Art Club annual exhibition. Brian Sewell writing of this years 's RA Summer Exhibition said " Consider the quiet perfection of small paintings by Diana Armfield and Bernard Dunstan, their painterliness never overblown, their brushstrokes free but matched to the canvas size, never mere gestures straining to be noticed. They set an example to expansive painters who must dab, dab and dab again to cover the canvas without adding a smidgen of significance."

Winter Morning oil on canvas 1991
Diana Armfield is Bernard’s wife who is also his muse, this was painted at their Welsh home.

Olga black chalk 1947
He studied at Byam Shaw School of Art and at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Cornelissen’s art supplies shop London oil on board 1987
Subsequently he taught at Byam Shaw. He was made a full member of the RA in 1968 and is currently the longest serving Royal Academician.

Nude at Curtain oil on board 1986
 He has written several books on painting, including 'Learning to Paint' and 'Painting Methods of the Impressionists' all of his books are well written and interesting, well worth finding.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Limited Pallette.

One thing I thought I would explore is Sargent use of a limited pallette.
I’ve chosen five works by Sargent: two portraits and three paintings from Italy that show just what can be done with a limited pallette.
As we have seen in an earlier post rather than the academic method taught in most of the ateliers in Paris, Sargent was introduced to a more direct painting method by Carlos Duran. As you can see in these paintings, he used bold brushwork and simplified and abstracted the descriptions of form. The paintings are full of bravado passages of direct strokes of paint with glowing touches of light and shadow producing painterly effects with lots of lost and found edges. To pull this off he had to be able to draw with the brush, for every brushstroke is put down and left. In many of his studies and some of his formal portraits, Sargent employs a very limited palette in these paintings I’ve selected..
Yellow Ochre (or possibly mars yellow)
Burnt Sienna ( iron oxide red or again a mars red, )
Ivory Black
White (Flake White)

The first painting "A Spanish Woman" was painted in 1879 and that of "Antonio Mancini" in1898. Both portraits are quick studies. The one of Mancini (a friend of Sargent} was painted in little more than an hour using heavy impasto. Both paintings show the importance of understanding that everything is either in the light or in the shadow. Sargent was able to use strong contrasts of value because of the lack of contrasting colour. You have to decide on one or the other.

A Spanish Woman

Antonio Mancini
"Street in Venice"
Sargent was 26 years old when he visited Venice in 1882. In this painting we can see how a limited pallette harmonises a painting while the dramatic use of black has been used to build the story and the composition. Notice that none of the shapes within the buildings are repeated and the individual elements including the negative spaces are abstracted. This is probably a very accurate depiction of local Viennese life in 1882, the year after Billy the Kid was shot dead by Pat Garret!

Venice 1882

 "Interior of Dodge's Palace" 1898
Again the same limited pallette with plenty of black. What can you say? Look how Sargent has depicted, Tintoretto's Paradise along the far wall and the oval ceiling painting by Paolo Veronese "Triumph of Venice"

Interior of Dodge's Palace

  "Corner of the Church of San Stae" 1913
Sargent could do so much with so little, this painting has a phenomenal colour unity with no discordant notes because of the limited pallette. The church has been given a restrained dignity and elegance despite the dilapidation of it’s facade.
Again the lights are so well handled with highlights, core shadows and reflected light giving a strong sense of the third dimension.
You will notice that the core shadows appear on the two columns where the sunlight hits them but disappear again in the shadows, this is a very important thing to understand.
And once again we see the importance of things are either in the light or in the shadow. Sargent never jumped the light. Also note the abstraction of shapes and the avoidance of any repetitive painting of the individual elements.

Corner of the Church of San Stae

Detail of the above Church.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

June Mendoza

Continuing with contemporary painters I thought I would explore the work of June Mendoza who is a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.
She is best known for her commissioned work of the great and good ranging from the immediate Royal Family to personalities from the Arts, Music, Church, Government, Business and the professions.
But she also does a lot of noncommissioned work for her own enjoyment and it’s this work that I’ve chosen.

Elliet and the Portobello Road Coat
Elliet is June’s eldest daughter who is a marvellously exciting musician who I first saw playing fiddle with Kangaroo Moon, if you ever get the chance to see her playing make sure you go!

Kangaroo Moon at the Half Moon Putney
Kangaroo Moon is still touring so if you get the chance go and see them, also if you can find any of their CDs give yourself a treat you wont be disappointed. Live they are like an opera with themes running throughout the evening.

Yellow Cello and Kim
Kim is another daughter and also a professional musician.

Madeline Bell
So keeping up the theme of musicians this is another portrait of a person who excited June Mendoza, Madeline Bell the jazz singer who June met on the street and wanted to paint!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Contemporary Portrait Painter

Thought I would start an occasional series featuring contemporary painters who’s work I like.
First up Maria Kreyn from Nizhni Novgorod Russia.

Sudden Glance

Young Prince
 Let me know who you like.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Becoming Established.

Over the years Sargent was commissioned to produced a series of a dozen Wertheimer portraits, now in the Tate Gallery, they reveal the artist's power to express the different character and social position of his sitters.
Sargent had a  long friendship and association with the astute art-dealer Asher Wertheimer, who stoutly affirmed his belief in the genius of Sargent.
The first two portraits were of Wertheimer and then his wife.

Asher Wertheimer 1898

Mrs. Asher B. Wertheimer 1898
The two men became friends and sargent dined weekly with the family at their home.  As you will see the paintings reveal a pleasant familiarity between the artist and his subjects.

Ena and Betty, Daughters of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer  1901
Sargent was much attracted by the charm of the Wertheimer family, especially the  eldest daughters, Helena (Ena) and Elizabeth (Betty). The vivacity of Ena (right), is clearly revealed in this portrait. The sisters’ dresses are skilfully conjured, the rich depth of Betty’s red velvet contrasting with the shine of Ena’s white damask silk.

Ena Wertheimer: A Vele Gonfie  1905
This portrait of Ena is unusually lively, and shows her wearing, as a joke, the Court dress of Lord Londonderry, which had been left in Sargent’s studio by another of his sitters. The portrait’s sub-title refers to her billowing cloak.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Narberth Portrait Group

It’s not often that I post my own work as that is not what the blog is intended for but I don’t have the time at the moment to write up the next piece on Sargent so thought I would take the opportunity to promote the evening portrait group I facilitate in Narberth.
We usually meet on the first Thursday of the month at 7:00pm for a three hour session. The venue is "The Queens Hall Gallery"

So this is a head shot of this months model Marion who is a classical pianist.

If you live in Pembrokeshire we would be glad to see you next month.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Vann Nath (1946 –– September 5, 2011)
When I was looking in to water boarding some time ago the name of painter and activist Vann Nath came up.

Vann Nath was a Cambodian painter and human rights activist whose memories of his experiences in the infamous Tuol Sleng prison inspired his paintings.
Born in Battambang, Cambodia, he was one of seven survivors of the Khmer Rouge's secret prison known as S-21, where fourteen thousand, women and children were interrogated, tortured and executed during the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime.
For more of his story please visit Vann Nath: Eyewitness to Genocide.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Hustler.

In Sargent's painting can be seen the irrepressible energy associate with Transatlantic business enterprise of the day, he was a " Hustler " in paint who swept the aristocratic and high society world off it’s feet by the amazing vivacity of his brushwork and by the almost uncanny certainty with which he could set a living being down on canvas.
A vigorous draughtsman, using sweeps of paint with economic mastery, Sargent developed powers of psychological penetration which made him supreme in the rendering of character. Some of his male portraits were so merciless in their unmasking of the real minds of his sitters that they justified the amusing but apt comment of contemporary author Finley Peter Dunne who has his comic character,
" Mr. Dooley " say
" Stand there," he sez, " while I tear the ugly black heart out ay ye."

Lord Ribblesdale detail

Lord Ribblesdale

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The French Influence.

Right back from sailing and it’s poring with rain in West Wales and I can’t get out painting so I thought I would continue with Sargent.

As I outlined in the previous post the Sargent family had sufficient wealth to lead a life of leisure and travel, consequently Johns education was sporadic. A short period with an English clergyman in Nice and some more formal education in Dresden where John briefly studied Latin, Greek, mathematics, geography, history and German. 
He was also enrolled at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence but found it unsatisfactory so the family travelled to Paris where the eighteen-year-old Sargent began his formal training in 1874. 
He enrolled in the drawing classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he learned the basics of academic draughtsmanship under Professor Adolphe Yvon.
But the big step was when he joined Carolus-Duran's atelier.

Portrait of Carolus-Duran 1879, John Singer Sargent.
To understand Sargent we have to understand his new master, Carolus Duran, who was born at Lille in 1837, Carolus won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1861and spent four years in Italy, afterwards travelling to Spain. He became the leading French portrait-painter of his time but rejected the  traditional academic system of careful preliminary drawings and elaborate underpaintings that was derived from the Italian and Flemish schools and instead embraced the Spanish school.  Duran developed and taught a painting style largely derived from Velazquez and Goya, an alla prima method with bold bravado brushwork, this new note introduced into portrait-painting and taken up by Sargent led to some of the most exciting paintings of the nineteenth century.

 "Le Baiser" Self-portrait by Carolus-Duran with his wife as newlyweds.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Itinerant Life.

Continuing with John Singer Sargent, who was a great influence on portrait-painting during his life time and continues to be so. John was the son of American parents, Dr. Fitzwilliam Sargent and Mary Newbold Singer Sargent who came to Italy after the death of their first child Mary (1851-1853). This death had left Mrs. Sargent very upset and she had insisted they travel to Europe while she regained her health. During the visit to Italy Mary got pregnant again, this time with John and he was born at Florence, in January 1856 .
His sister Emily (1856-1936) was born in Rome later the same year.

Emily Sargent
 The family stayed on in Europe never to live in the United States again. Mrs Sargent had further misfortunes with the birth and early death of two further children, a new daughter, Mary Winthrop "Minnie" (1861-1865) who died in Pau, France and a son Fitzwilliam Winthrop (1867-1869) who died at Kissingen Germany.
Emily also had an accident which left her disabled.
Violet Sargent (1870-1955) was the youngest and last of the children Violet also studied art at the Accademia delle Belle Arti.
Violet Sargent
The family moved continually around Europe and John was briefly schooled in Italy and Germany but most of his learning came from tutors within the family.    
Living in so many countries John became a good linguist and spoke so well that most people in Italy and France thought him a native speaker, this cosmopolitan experience turned Sargent into the modern painter he became.
During this time when John was 10 years old he met Violet Paget (a.k.a. Vernon Lee) and they became lifelong friends.

Vernon Lee

That’s it for a while as I’m off sailing again, more when I get back.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

John Singer Sargent.

When ever I start one of these blogs they seem to take on a life of there own and go off in unexpected derections. I thought it was time to take a look at one of my heros John Singer Sargent, although best known as a portraitist he also painted wonderful landscapes which I hope to visit later. In the meantime I thought I would start with some of his charcoal drawings that he loved to do.
They are quite hard to view as although there are plenty of them in collections such as the National Portrait Gallery they are hardly ever put on display.
This one is of "Kit" Anstruther Thompson and was the first one I saw in the flesh when I visited The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

Miss Anstruther Thompson

It’s full of life and was done quickly while Kit was sketching (Sargent?)
Sargent also painted a more studied portrait of Miss Clementina Anstruther-Thompson.

Miss Clementina
Miss Clementina was a friend of Vernon Lee who Sargent also painted.

Vernon Lee

Vernon Lee was the pseudonym of Violet Paget the two  women were co-authors on many books and their writing is a unique record of the romantic friendship and intellectual collaboration between two women which has had a significant influence on contemporary Women’s Studies.

And one more drawing this time of Mme. Eugenia Errazuriz to show just how dramatic charcoal can be in the hands of a master.

Eugenia Errazuriz
Sargent painted Eugenia several times.

Eugenia Errazuriz

She was also painted by Jacques-Emile Blanche, Giovanni Boldini, Paul Helleu, Augustus John, Ambrose McEvoy, and Pablo Picasso.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

More about the restoration game.

Frank Mason who’s anti-restoration stance I talked about before also worked closely with the painter Pietro Annigoni who was enraged and upset by the cleaning of the old masters at the National Gallery London. In July 1956, he initiated a heated correspondence in The Times on the subject of the gallery’s approach to restoration.
Letter from Pietro Annigoni published in the Times, July 14th 1956.
"Sir, –– A few days ago, at the National Gallery, I noticed once more the ever-increasing number of masterpieces which have been ruined by excessive cleaning. This procedure, which in former times created at Munich a veritable scandal and at the same time a reaction as vigorous as it was beneficial, recommenced at the close of the Second World War not only in England but Italy, France, Germany –– everywhere, and was received, alas! with almost total indifference.
"The war did not destroy a greater number of works of art. Such is the power of a group of individuals, nowhere numerous, whose proceedings may be compared to the work of germs disseminating a new and terrible disease. I do not doubt the meticulous care employed by these renovators, nor their technical skill, but I am terrified by the contemplation of these qualities in such hands as theirs. The atrocious results reveal an incredible absence of sensibility. We find no trace of the intuition so necessary to the understanding of the technical stages employed by artists in different pictorial creations, which cannot possibly be restored by chemical means. The most essential part of the completion of a picture by the old masters was comprised in light touches, and above all in the use of innumerable glazes, either in the details or in the general effects –– glazes often mixed even in the final layers of varnish. Now, I do not say that one should not clean off crusts of dirt, and sometimes even recent coats of varnish, coarsely applied and dangerous, but I maintain that to proceed further than that, and to pretend to remount the past years, separating one layer from another, till one arrives at what is mistakenly supposed to be the original state of the work, is to commit a crime, not of sensibility alone but of enormous presumption.
"What is interesting in these masterpieces, now in mortal danger, is the surface as the master left it, aged alas! as all things age, but with the magic of those glazes preserved, and with those final accents which confer unity, balance, atmosphere, expression –– in fact all the most important and moving qualities in a work of art. But after these terrible cleanings little of all this remains. No sooner, in fact, is the victim in the hands of these ‘‘infallible’’ destroyers than they discover everywhere the alterations due at different times, to the evil practices of former destructive ‘‘infallibles.’’ Thus ravage is added to ravage in a vain attempt to restore youth to the paintings at any price.
"Falling upon their victim, they commence work on one corner, and soon proclaim a ‘‘miracle’’; for, behold, brilliant colours begin to appear. Unfortunately what they have found are nothing but the preparative tones, sometimes even the first sketch, on which the artist has worked carefully, giving the best that is in him, in preparation for the execution of the finished work. But the cleaners know nothing of this, perceive nothing, and continue to clean until the picture appears to them, in their ignorance, quite new and shining. Some parts of the picture painted in thickly applied colour will have held firm; other parts (and these always the most numerous) which depended on the glazes, of infinitesimal fineness, will have disappeared; the work of art will have been mortally wounded.
"Is it possible that those responsible for these injuries do not perceive them, do not understand what they have done? Clearly it is possible; for they are proud of their crimes and often group the paintings they have murdered in special galleries to show their triumphs to the public –– a public for whose opinion, in any case, they care nothing. For myself, I cannot express all the sorrow and bitterness I feel in the presence of these evidences of a decadence which strives to anticipate the destruction of civilization itself by the atomic bomb. How long will these ravages in the domain of art and culture continue unrestrained and unpunished? The damage they have done is already enormous."
Despite a campaign by these leading artists the Gallery continued with inappropriate restoration of the collection leading Annigoni in 1970 to paint the word "MURDERERS" in red capital letters on the doors of the National Gallery
Two of Annigoni’s paintings of Queen Elizabeth II the first of which was unveiled in 1970

Her Majesty in the robes of the Order of the British Empire

The Queen wearing the robes of the Order of the Garter painted for the Fishmongers’ Company

Friday, 5 August 2011

Creating a likeness.

Here are a couple of recent Conti Crayon Portraits, one of Paddy and one of Helen.


 In them I was trying to get a likeness and also depict some of the character of the two ladies.

Dr Charlie Frowd is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire. He is also trying to get a likeness by improving the quality of facial composites. These are pictures of crime suspects used by the police to identify criminals the sort of thing you see in newspapers. Dr Frowd has developed a new way of generating these composites called EvoFIT using computer software to morph the face.
An example of an EvoFIT and a composite construct of a famous face is shown below.



Can you identify this man?

My Conti Crayons cost £3 Dr Frowd’s system cost around £500,0000 and he spent ten years engineering the computerised technique.
So I have another five years of learning before I match the time he has spend trying to get a likeness.

In a newspaper interview with The Chorley Citizen he said:
"Its uses are endless but one example of how it could also be used commercially is to predict how a child could look using a picture of the parents to breed them together to produce the offspring'. "We are very excited to see where this will go."
Science and art make dangerous bedfellows.
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