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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