Thursday, 7 June 2012

Sarah Biffen (1784 - 1850)

Sarah Biffen  Engraving of self portrait

Sarah Biffen was a Victorian Artist who Dickens included amongst the characters in Nicholas Nickleby, Little Dorrit and Martian Chuzzlewit. Sarah was born in the Somerset village of East Quantoxhead in 1784. She was a remarkable person who overcame enormous obstacles to become an artist. She was born without arms and only vestigial legs, so as an adult she was only 37 inches tall!
By the age of twelve she had learnt to read and use her mouth to hold a pen to write. She had also learnt to embroider using her teeth to work the needle.
By the age of 15 she was part of a traveling fair and it is said that the owner of the  sideshow in which she appeared Emmanuel Dukes taught her to paint. This was to enhance her as an attraction that people would pay to see at work.
1812 Broadside

Sarah later in her life insisted that she had been treated with kindness by the Dukes and certainly they provided her with a means of making her own living. During St. Bartholomew’s Fair in 1808, the Earl of Morton came to see the painting ‘Limbless Wonder’ and was genuinely surprised by how talented the girl was.
Sarah Biffen miniature self portrait 

The Earl was so impressed that he sponsored Sarah and paid for lessons from Royal Academy painter, William Craig. With support from the Earl Sarah became a painter of miniature portraits with a studio in London. During this time she was awarded a medal from the Royal Society of Arts and five of her paintings were accepted by the Royal Academy.
Portrait of a Lady

The Royal Family commissioned a series of miniatures from her including one of Edward, Duke of Kent, painted by Sarah in 1839 and purchased by the Duke's daughter, Queen Victoria. It is now part of the Royal Collection.
Miniature Watercolour  on Ivory

Queen Victoria awarded her a Civil List pension and she retired to Liverpool were she continued to paint, this is a portrait of James West captain of the “Atlantic” which carried mail between New York and Liverpool.
Captain James West 1844

Sarah Biffen died October 2, 1850 at the age of 66. She is buried in St James Cemetery in Liverpool.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Frank Duveneck (1848 – 1919)

Click on any of these images to see larger versions.
Frank Duveneck

Following on from Tai-Shan Schierenberg and his compelling brush work is another master and virtuoso with the brush Frank Duveneck who was a celebrated American artist in his day but has now dropped into obscurity.
Venetian Fruit Market

This study of heads and hands done in 1879 is now in the Cincinnati Art Museum the city were he taught.

The following details illustrates his brushwork well, we can see how he painted across the form rather than with it as I tend to do.

Also worth noting is his use of saturated and desaturated colours.

Most of his paintings tended to be low key with a close value range.

Keeping it simple and not fussing is one lesson from these paintings.

Although he could do the more refined painting popular during his time.
Girl with Rake

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Tai-Shan Schierenberg.

Another contemporary portrait painter I admire is Tai-Shan Schierenberg who’s work I first saw in the National Portrait Gallery London.

Seamus Heaney 2004

This Portrait of Seamus Heaney the poet gives the impression of being large, although it is only about three foot square, it’s absolutely stunning in life, something that really does not come over well in a photo. The brushwork is very bold and distinctive, using very large brushes. The smallest brush used is about a half inch wide and that is only used for painting in the eyes. The brush used on the jacket is an inch and a half wide, all the brushwork is very decisive using thick paint with a stroke layed and left alone. The shifts in colour and value are very subtle, see how he has indicated the glasses by painting the eyes below the glass with lighter and desaturated colour.

Here is closeups from a self portrait.
Self portrait detail 2003

The Emigre 2003

Tai-Shan Schierenberg went to art collage in the 1980's and found himself swimming against the prevailing current of the time, but soon established himself by wining first prize in the 1989 BP Portrait Award.
He has also won the 2011 Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture.
He is now an Hon Member of the Royal Society of Portrait painters.
Important Sitters include, Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, John Mortimer, Seamus Heaney, Lord Sainsbury, Lord Carrington, Duke of Devonshire, Duchess of Westminster and Professor Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Hawking

Natalia Phillips Duchess of Westminster

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Another artists obsession?

Not sure what happened but I seem to have inadvertently deleted this post along with the comments before I could reply to them sorry for that.
At various times John Singer Sargent’s relationship with Madame Gautreau has been portrayed as an obsession but it can as easily be seen as an ambitious artist looking for a subject that would enhance his reputation.
Madame Virginie Amelie Gautreau was the toast of Paris at the time and other artists also wanted to paint this beautiful socialite. Originally from New Orleans she was from a wealthy French Creole family, her father Anatole Placide Avegno was an oficer in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War; he was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and later died of his wounds in 1862.
Her mother also Virginie brought Amelie to Paris in 1867 at the age of eight. By the time Amelie was 19 she had married the French banker Pierre Gautreau.

Like Mary Robinson and Emma Hamilton who I wrote about before she relied on her Beauty to boost her esteem in society. Unlike the previous two she had an ambitious mother who managed her campaign.
Sargent by 1882 was well established and accepted by the Salon with successful works such as El Jaleo.

El Jaleo 1882
 Sargent never chose the traditional subjects of academic painting for example classical mythological nudes, biblical or historical epics. Nether did he chose the subjects from contemporary Parisian life that fascinated the Impressionist, he did not paint prostitutes, barmaids, ballet girls or the French bourgeoisie.
In these early days Sargent did not want to be known as a portraitist, however portraits paid and he had to make a living. He was determined to become a successful artist and be accepted by the same upperclass Paris society that Amelie moved in.

Dr Pozzi at Home 1881
 Dr Pozzi was a distinguished Paris Physician and the reputed lover of Madame Gautreau so Sargent probably first encountered her while painting the Pozzi portrait.
Having decided that Madame Gautreau would make a suitable subject he had to persuade her that he was the man for the job! Ben del Castillo and Madame Allouard-Jouan were both friends of Sargent and Amelie so were asked to be intermediaries and put in a good word for Sargent. Amelie had already turned down other artists who had approached her with the same proposal. Dr Pozzi had been pleased with his portrait and that probably helped, so in 1883 Amelie consented to Sargent’s request.
The rather long planing stages then began during which Sargent selected the gown he wished her to pose in, a dress by Felix Paussineau.

This was a very important painting for Sargent so the numerous quick studies were part of trying to get to know the model and work out what he was going to do with the final portrait.

Sargent was very frustrated by the laziness and willfulness of Amelie who he could never get to sit for him with all the distractions of Paris life.

Eventually he had to wait until she moved to Brittany for the summer to start further studies for the painting.

He eventually chose a standing pose which was finished during that summer in Brittany.
Back in Paris it would seem that Sargent was unsure of the painting and started a second version for the Salon that was never finished. Carolus Duran saw the original and assured Sargent that the first was fine and he should show it.

Unfinished copy

The painting as shown at the 1884 Salon with the fallen strap
 The intention had been to consolidate his position as a society painter, but the reality resulted in a serious scandal. The reason for the uproar was that it was to close to the truth and showed Madame Gautreau as the Professional Beauty who had used her wiles to cross the Class Boundaries of Paris society. Amelie never fully recovered from the clamour and Sargent left Paris for London under a cloud. The painting was kept by Sargent and displayed first in his Paris and then his London studio.

By the time Amelie died in 1915 Sargent was unassailably established as a eminent artist and the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York was pleased to buy the painting when he offered it to them in 1916.

Madam X

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Keeping oil paint usable for the Pochade Box.

This is an update on the Pochade Box I made last year and how I keep paint on the palette.

The box after six months use
So far I haven’t found any reason to make modifications to the box apart from drilling four small holes, one in each corner to let the rain out!

One thing I have made is a second palette. I can now have two palettes set with paint.

Usually one for landscapes and one for portraits I like to experiment with different colour palettes. I designed the box with a slide out palette, so as soon as I finish painting for the day I put the palette in the freezer.
That way the paint stays usable for days, and with some pigments for weeks. Oil paint dries by a chemical reaction, the oil oxidizes, that is it reacts with oxygen in the air which causes it to polymerise. This reaction can be slowed down by cooling the paint.

I’ve made a wooden block with two groves in it to keep the two palettes separated.

First palette set in the block

The two palettes showing the separation
They then get put into a plastic bag before going in the freezer.

Ready for the freezer

Getting ready for spring.
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