In 1890, in a letter to his sister, Vincent van Gogh described his joy of painting multiple versions sunflowers. He wrote the paintings were “almost a cry of anguish while symbolizing gratitude in the rustic sunflower.” It brought him comfort and familiarity and raised his spirits, he continued to write.
A couple stands between van Gogh's Sunflowers and Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers exhibited together in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
This study was a test for me - wanting to take on a larger painting with David Hockney's Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy. As simplistic as Hockney's composition is, it's the reproduction that just ain't as easy as I thought. But I've always been intrigued with his painting.
The two were Hockney's friends in London - Ossie Clark, a dress designer and Celia Birtwell, a fabric designer. Hockney portrayed couples in several very large paintings. The difference here is notably the two are looking at the viewer, other paintings have at least one looking off to the side. He painted them in their flat in Notting Hill Gate, in their bedroom where the light was favorable to Hockney. The tough part, the artist said, was the couple was against the light which darkens the figures indoors. He did many studies and experiments to get the composition, the lighting and the couple's expressions right - going against the standard portrait of a couple where the woman is seated and the man stands next to her.
Percy was one of the Clarks' cats who symbolizes a libertine and somebody who disregards rules and does what he pleases. Sounds right. The vase of lilies to the left of Celia are a symbol of the Annunciation and feminine purity.
Hockney was best man at the Clarks' wedding. The space between them in his painting is said to be prophetic - the marriage didn't last.
The artist Jacques (James) Tissot had an eye for beauty and fashion, the son of parents in the fashion and designer hats business. At a young age, he'd paint clothing in fine detail, a style surely influenced by what surrounded him. He also knew at a very young age he wanted to pursue a career in art.
Allow me to tell you about the woman in Tissot's painting Mavourneen (Portrait of Kathleen Newton) - raised in England and Agra, India - her father rose from an Irish army officer to chief accountant for the East India Company, and worth mentioning, a strict Catholic. When she was 16, her father arranged for her to marry a surgeon in the Indian Civil Service - she embarks on a trip to her wedding on a ship, where the Captain became obsessed with her and gets his way once they arrived. She married the surgeon, hadn't consummated the marriage yet - felt guilty - went to a Catholic priest for advice - he told her to fess up to her new husband - he was enraged - filed for divorce - ship Captain said he'd pay for her trip back to England but if, and only if, she was to be his mistress. She gets pregnant, refused to marry the Captain and ran off to live with her sister.
That's where James Tissot comes in. They meet, he falls madly in love with her - she gives birth to another child said to be his - they live together in domestic bliss for a few years until she contracted tuberculosis. Tissot suffered through her illness, she couldn't bear it all and overdosed on laudanum and died. Tissot was so distraught, he laid next to her coffin for four days. A true Greek tragedy.
My Mac died a couple of weeks ago. I work on what they call a 'vintage' model. I have to. I run programs from days of yore - ones I built my website on, etc. For about a week, I hunted down a 'vintage' replacement and turned it over to the experts and finally got my working studio back to normal. Happy to report I'm no longer out of sorts.
Meanwhile, I started this painting, working from a laptop screen. It's a slower process but better than nothing while I waited. So, that's where I've been lately.
When I stood in front of Ground Swell by Edward Hopper, I stared for quite a while. What was that buoy doing there? On an otherwise calm, beautiful day, surrounded by a sea of blues, there is this dark, ominous warning of sorts, alerting the people on the small catboat. A sign of imminent danger? Clouds signaling a storm is coming? I looked for an explanation when I had time. Hopper never offered one except - during the time he worked on Ground Swell in 1939, World War II broke out in Europe. I think that explains it.
From the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
I do a lot of small studies, mostly to keep painting while I'm think about my next piece and to feel out how a photograph or featured artwork translates into a painting. A generous Instagramer, Cilia, sent me the photo I used on this new painting, one of her viewing Henri Matisse's Blue Nudes in the Kunsthaus Zurich Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.
Matisse completed a large series of 'cut-outs' after a surgery which left him in a wheelchair with a limited ability to paint on canvas. He painted sheets of paper with various, solid colors of gouache, some more opaque than others, cut out organic shapes, overlapping and glueing, and created some of the most famous works of art in his lifetime. Proving that adversity can take you to unexpected places you may not have gone before.
When I reproduce masters' works of art, I learn more about color, mixing paints, edging, brush strokes and composition than any class or book could possibly teach me. My mom swore by it, which is why I spent a large chunk of my early years in museums.
Picasso's work is a whole other thing. Three Musicians is defined as a Synthetic Cubist style - meaning the compositions are made up of jigsaw-puzzle-like shapes, flat planes and solid colors. You don't look at it and think 'look at those brush strokes'. But I look at every shape and try to figure out where it fits, which I probably shouldn't obsess about but that's the jigsaw-puzzle solver in me.
The recurring characters - the masked Pierrot playing the clarinet, the Harlequin strumming a guitar and the singing monk holding sheet music represents the then-popular Italian comic theater that Picasso and his friends were involved in.
I saw this painting on Instagram by Diego Velazquez, Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria in Hunting Dress and fell in love with the dog. Not Cardinal Ferdinand, but his dog. He obediently sat for the portrait. What a good boy.
Inspired by a recent article in the New York Times about the Louvre Museum's renovations taking place while the museum is closed due to COVID - I imagined a more accessible viewing of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
In reality, the framed portrait is encased in bulletproof glass with a distanced railing for visitors to view the iconic masterpiece. Here's the new set-up at the Louvre.
Your Moment of Zen today featuring Claude Monet's landscapes.
I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art years ago but I do remember this gentleman. He stood inches from each and every painting, seemingly captivated by Monet's layered and impressionistic brush strokes in this case. And for good reason. The gist of impressionism is those layered, tiny, angled brush strokes. It results in life. Movement. Light.
The painting on the left is Bend in the Epte River Near Giverny and to the right is Morning at Antibes - both by the Impressionist painter Claude Monet.
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There is, there should be, a profound personal experience when one sees an original painting by Vincent van Gogh in person. Speaking for myself, my reaction depends on the subject matter. Landscapes and still-lifes are thick with paint and multitudes of rich, vivid colors swirling and defining edges. You want to touch it with your fingers. There's life and movement in outdoor scenes - you can hear the crows and the rustling of wheatfields. It puts you there, where he was painting that day.
Van Gogh's portraits evoke emotion in me. I feel his trouble or ease or torment or admiration. The Portrait of Dr. Gachet on the left is one of several versions painted. Dr. Gachet was a homeopathic doctor and artist himself. Gachet cared for van Gogh in the few months before the end of his life and understandably was important to van Gogh as a friend and caregiver. This version was owned by Gachet, bequeathed to France by his heirs and resides in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.
The Self-Portrait on the right was painted in 1889, the last self-portrait van Gogh completed a year before his death. Over a 10-year period, the artist painted himself over 30 times - mostly due to lacking the money to hire a model. He sent the painting to his brother, Theo, with a note reading "you will need to study the picture for a time. I hope you will notice that my facial expressions have become much calmer, although my eyes have the same insecure look as before, or so it appears to me." The swirls of color in the background would suggest his state of mind as he was declining physically and mentally. It's one of the most famous paintings van Gogh completed and resides in the Musee d'Orsay as well.
Every winter I obsess about wanting snow fall here in Atlanta. I scroll through the Twitter posts of photos during snowstorms with deep envy. Hence my inspiration for this new painting - bringing to mind one of my favorite landscapes by Claude Monet, The Magpie.
The low level sun behind the fence. The shadows of icy-blues and lavenders. You can imagine how quiet it was when Monet worked on this winter landscape. The tiny hint of life of the magpie, perched on the gate completely in its element. It is a perfect painting.
I remember the first time I saw this painting in the Art Institute of Chicago - Madame Paul Escudier (Louise Lefevre) - I wouldn't have guessed it was by John Singer Sargent. It's not the classic Sargent portrait. You have more of the surroundings of the Parisian apartment with more emphasis on the light and curtains framing the woman. She's not the dominant feature of the portrait, rather she's part of the composition. And I love that.
I know very little about Ms. Lefevre other than she was French and Sargent was her choice for the commission. Turned out this portrayal, subdued as it is, was a big hit in the Paris art world and Sargent's popularity grew larger than it already was.
It may surprise you Portrait of Marie Breunig was painted by Gustav Klimt. Klimt is widely known for his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, aka The Lady in Gold. Before Klimt headed the Secession movement in Vienna in 1897, he was a sought-after portrait painter, much like John Singer Sargent. Simply put, he painted the wealthy in a very classic, conventional style.
"Born in humble circumstances", Marie Breunig married into wealth. She was an avid client of the Floge sisters' fashion salon, keeping up with the rest of high society circles. The Floge sisters were also immortalized in portraits by Klimt, several times.
Although the Portrait of Marie Breunig belongs to a private collection, it currently in on display at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, Austria.
"You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is... unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far." ~ Alice Neel
"If I had the energy, I would have done it all over the country" - Edward Hopper
"It's what you carry to an object that counts." - Andrew Wyeth
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"When I'm old and gray, I want to have a house by the sea. And paint. With a lot of wonderful chums, good music, and booze around. And a damn good kitchen to cook in."