Big question….what post to offer just before the Christmas holidays? Something wintery? Nah, don’t need to be reminded of that at the moment. (Mind you, the Winter Solstice has just passed and we are now heading into lighter days again. Yay!!) And then I remembered a painting that I’d seen posted somewhere recently that I think is marvellous. It’s by Mary Cassatt and it’s called The Long Gloves: I’m both fascinated and also a bit puzzled by it. I thought it would be a lovely piece to share with you.
Back in April of this year, Don Gardi posted a portrait on the Pastel of America Facebook site – “Girl in a Black Hat” by Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Not only was this a stunning pastel but it was by an artist I was only vaguely familiar with. I was so impressed with the portrait I thought I’d share a close look at it with you. Here’s the portrait:
Stunning isn’t it?! The combination of energetic marks and the delicate work in the face took my breath away. It has a very contemporary feel to it yet was done in 1890! And have you noticed how much black pastel he used?!
Boldini was born in Italy but after studying in various countries in Europe, he made his home in Paris. He is most known for his portraits of elegant and beautiful women, becoming the foremost portrait artist in Paris in the 1890s. In 1933, he was dubbed the “Master of Swish” in a Time magazine article.
Okay, back to the “Girl in a Black Hat.”
I couldn’t find any information about the painting other than the basic facts regarding medium and size. Who is this young woman? Was the pastel produced in preparation for a full scale painting? I’d sure love to know! In 1890, Boldini painted two portraits of John Singer Sargent who was living at the time in London. This would suggest that Boldini was in England when he produced the “Girl in the Black Hat” so perhaps the young woman is an ‘english rose.’
Well that’s it for now. I’d love to hear what you think about the portrait. Are there things you’d like to point out that I haven’t? I encourage you to do so!
Until next time,
PS. Fearful of the Nazis, a young woman fled her Parisian apartment, locking it up and apparently never returning. In 2010, the executors of a will discovered the existence of the apartment and had it opened. In it, they found many artworks and most importantly, an unknown painting by Boldini. To read more, click here and here. You will note some conflicting dates: the date Marthe de Florian fled Paris and the date the painting was created. I have taken the date of the painting as 1888 when Marthe de Florian was 24 years old. Apparently, she and Boldini were lovers (which might explain the rather sensuous quality of the painting!) And yes, Boldini would have been 46 years old.
Here’s the painting they found. It will certainly give you an idea of Boldini’s style – such lush and vigorous brushstrokes!
I have been ultra busy preparing for my show opening this Friday and so my blog writing has slipped a wee bit. (Okay, that was an understatement!) Rather than let even more time pass by I thought I’d write a quick and dirty one. (If you want to know where that phrase came from like I did, click here.)
Have you seen the current International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) show?? This 24th Juried Exhibition can be seen at the Vose Galleries in Boston until 21st June. If you are in the neighbourhood, you can be sure it will be worth the visit!
I thought we could all have a look at the accepted entries and the winners and then ask you to choose your favourite and tell us why you made your choice. I’ll start. First, go and look at the IAPS exhibition by clicking here.
Okay, here’s my first choice.
I love this painting. Let me count the reasons why.
First off, it’s a wonderful portrait!
We see a boy concentrating as he makes his mark on….a transparent surface, glass perhaps. This surface is absolutely there and I am in awe at my belief. I know this painting is a two dimensional surface and yet I can’t help but believe I am looking up through glass at this young artist at work. Okay, so that’s two things.
Another thing I love is how my eyes track around the painting. I am pulled in by the boy’s eyes but instead of staying there (which can easily happen especially here with his intense concentration), I look where he is looking, i.e. his eyes direct me to my next stop – the red mark being created by his hand. From there I see green scribbles against the lighter reddish background. I follow them to the left where bright coloured marks contrast with the boy’s black shirt. These lead me up to his arm where I find a spiralled blue rose which lands me on the hair of his head and the faint halo created by light behind. And then I’m back at his eyes. An exciting journey through the piece.
The background feels as if its been thought out not just an accident or an after-thought (which is the way it appears in some work I’ve seen!). The balance between the light parts and the dark, and their placement in the whole seem perfect.
This young man, I have the feeling I really want to meet him. I want to know what he’s thinking about as he draws. I want to know what he wants to be when he grows up. I want to know him.
Now the thing that gets me the most is Christine’s daring and courage. Okay, so imagine. You’ve created this beautiful portrait but to capture what’s going on, you have to scribble all over it! Are you still imagining?? You have to choose different coloured pastels and make random marks all over your beautiful piece. Now that takes guts! And confidence. And sheer will and determination. So I figure, the title, Determined, could also refer to the Christine as much as her subject.
And just because, here’s a second choice.
Here we find a different kind of drama, one of nature. I feel it, I can see it, I can smell it, I can taste it. I love the even value of the whole piece with only a few specks of dark in the line of trees and a wee bit of light from that minuscule piece of light escaping from behind the clouds and reflected in the water below. This is almost an abstract painting!
Just for curiosity, I’ve included both paintings in a black and white version so you can see the difference between the two in terms of value. Christine’s painting runs the full gamut between dark and light while Carol’s is almost only one value. And they both work magnificently.
There are so many more beautiful paintings I want to comment on but I’m going to stick to these two. I would so love to hear about your favourite painting. (And it can be from any of the entries.) Just give the name of the artist and title and a sentence or two (or more!) why you like the piece. Come on, I’d LOVE to hear from you. You can always just reply to this email if it’s easier and I will post your answer.
I look forward to hearing from you!!
In one of my earliest blogs on this website, I wrote about my surprise at discovering that Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) worked in pastels from time to time. (Click here to read that post.) Since it’s the Easter weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to share three of Delacroix’s pastels of the crucifixion.
The first pastel is a vigorous sketch after Rubens’s painting, Christ on the Cross or Coup de Lance (Pierced with a Lance). Let’s look at Rubens’s painting and then Delacroix’s copy.
When I look at this sketch, I see Delacroix’s intention as capturing the positioning of figures as well as setting down colours. The greenish colour he uses for Christ’s body seems to me to suggest Delacroix used a colour at hand to show Rubens had used a lighter, greener colouring for Christ than he had used for the thieves.
Delacroix’s painting of the same subject in1846 (seven years later), shows the influence of Rubens’s work. Delacroix leaves out the thieves and many other figures, focusing on the figure of Christ, already pierced by the lance (not in view here). Interestingly the red standard in the background echo the lance and the cape of the rider in Rubens’s painting.
Now let’s look at the other two pastels.
The first was done in 1847, after the painting above was completed, suggesting that rather than being a study for the painting is was done afterwards. In his book, Delacroix’s Pastels, the writer Lee Johnson suggests that the pastel was made for an admirer of the painting (shown at the 1847 Salon). This person may have been Haro, the first owner of the piece, who was Delacroix’s supplier of art materials.
Much is the same between the drawing and the painting except that now there are no figures but the solitary Christ. There is certainly less drama, less of the light figure against the dark background but still there is an echo of the feeling in the pastel with a darkening of clouds over the distant hills where the sun rises. The warm paper gives a gentle warm underflow to the whole.
I have added three close-up so we can get a better look at the pastel application:
It appears that much of the pastel in the sky was blended/smudged (you can make out what looks like finger marks in the middle detail!). This was probably true of areas of the body over which hatched lines were applied.
Let’s have a look at the other pastel:
Now we have Christ facing the other direction (west, away from the rising sun) accompanied by a serpent, traditionally a symbol of evil leading to the original sin, the reason for which Christ died. The sunlight is seen rising from behind a craggier landscape than previously and there is less sky shown. Wind is suggested by the position of the material covering Christ’s lower torso. There is an incredible feeling of loneliness in the vastness of the desolate and unwelcoming landscape.
The whole thing looks more subtle and softer than the earlier pastel, with more experience behind it. It’s a smaller drawing and so less detail was possible. (It’s difficult to make out the hand on the right – is that due to the size of paper or perhaps an accidental smudge? The fingers look like they may have been outstretched originally.) Nevertheless, his knowledge and confidence with the figure and with the pastels is certainly clear!
Again, let’s look at some closeups:
Delacroix did paint another Christ on the Cross around this time and this drawing has been related to it. There really doesn’t seem to be that much similarity though. I certainly could make a list of all the dissimilarities!! What do you think?
I hope you enjoyed this review of a couple of Delacroix’s pastels. Another time, I’ll show you some of his studies of skies which are fabulous.
Until then, let me know what you learnt from this blog post 🙂
PS. Here’s the book I mentioned above, Delacroix’s Pastels by Lee Johnson, in case you want to add it to your collection 🙂
Okay, fess up. Did you know that the French Symbolist Odilon Redon (1840-1916) painted portraits? I didn’t realize this until I came across his Portrait of Madame Arthur Fontaine in the Metropolitan Museum collection.
We’ll take a look at it but first, take a glance at a couple of beautiful pastels which I think you’ll agree, are representative of his more well-known subject matter of florals and paintings with a rather more mysterious and symbolic quality.
Now let’s have a look at the portrait in question:
Here are a list of things I find remarkable about this portrait:
– the luminosity of the yellow dress
– the way the floral arrangement starts out as ‘real’, emerging from a vase, and then morphing into an imaginary bower of flowers that decorate the picture and create an arch over the subject, highlighting her
– the translucency of the fabric Madame Fontaine embroiders
– the depiction of the lace on the dress (both at the collar and at the end of the sleeve), it’s softness, it’s transparent quality
– the range of pastel layers, from a single application of pastel to a heavy coating and all of it working together
– the gentle contemplative expression on her face
– the indistinct sewing hand which suggests its movement
– the dark richness of her hair and the soft quality of the atmosphere around her head
Let’s take a closer look at the details:
I am reminded, looking at these few pastels, of Redon’s amazing use of colour, the saturation he achieved and his combinations of colours. The first part of his artistic life was all about black and white – primarily charcoals and lithography – and all of a sudden in his fifties (1890s) he moved into using luminous colour both in pastels and oils. Quite the change!
To see how his work developed over the years, check out this fabulous interactive … I don’t know what you call it! – at the MOMA. To see it click here and go to All Works.
I’d love to know what you think of this portrait and also about Redon’s pastels in general. Remember, you can always comment by sending a reply to me and I will attach it to the blog.
Thanks for sharing this journey with me,
PS. You know I can’t help myself.. here’s another portrait by Redon:
PPS. Madame Fontaine has painted by other artists. Here is an example by Vuillard painted a couple of years later. (Yes I know it’s not a pastel but it’s worth seeing isn’t it?!)
Sometimes finishing a pastel is the hardest part! When is a painting done? That’s a big, tough-to-answer question! Sometimes you just know, other times you aren’t so sure.
When I was working on the pastel “The Ginkgo Tree,” I came to a place where I thought the piece was nearing completion.
I sat with it for awhile knowing it wasn’t quite finished but wondering what I needed to do next. And then, one day as I was looking out my studio window at the ginkgo tree that had inspired this piece, the wind gusted and a shower of gold leapt from the tree. I realized this was the finishing touch I needed! So I added in those leaves. I also made a few other changes which I have marked below. Before you scroll all the way down, look at the finished piece just below and see if you can spot all the changes. Did you get them all? Did you find ones I left out?
Here are the changes:
1a&b. I thought the roof edges were too harsh against the sky so I softened them slightly. In 1a, I added more blue to the sky (I felt it needed some gradation) and then I ‘brushed’ some of that blue colour into the roof. In 1b, I ‘brushed’ the roof colour into the sky.
2. I added more broken blue areas into the lower left side – I felt it needed more interest.
3. I introduced the same blue used in #2 on the lower right side too.
4. I decided I wanted to show the edge of the roofline so I added more sky to delineate that edge.
5. I felt the foliage was too thick so I further broke up the foliage by adding background colour in among the leaves.
6. I worked more on the trunk trying to give the feeling of bark.
That’s it I think.
So when you’re pondering your pastel, trying to decided whether or not is is finished, I suggest you stay open to the possibilities that may arise. You never know what can happen!
Please let me know if this post was useful. What did you learn? What was missing? Do you have problems finishing a pastel? And if so, what are those problems? To comment, just click on the title of the post above and that will take you to my website where you can comment or, simply reply to this email and let me know that I can attach your comment to the blog and I’ll do just that. (Google search loves lots of comments!!)
As always, I look forward to hearing from you!
PS. You can see more of the evolution of the pastel over at my gailsibley.com website. Click here to see it. In it, I mention the influence of Wolf Kahn. Here’s an example of his work:
Gorgeous isn’t it??? One day I’ll do a blog on his work.