It’s time for my monthly round-up of pastels but I decided to do something a little bit different this time. I was looking through a little book I have called Women Artists put out by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Funnily enough, on the same
The painter I’ve chosen is the French female artist Marie-Geneviève Navarre (1737-1795). Navarre, whose teacher was the famous Maurice Quentin de la Tour, became well-known for her pastel portraits, a genre that had become fashionable in the 18th century. The one I have here to share with you is not of a member of the royal court. By her dress and demeanour, we might guess that this woman is instead, middle-class. The painting has such a luminous feel and presents this seated woman with such clarity. I’m sure she will speak to us any minute now!
Notice that the main colour scheme is basically a blue/orange one. The figure is set slightly left of centre leaving room for the chair she sits on. The woman looks out but not with a direct gaze at us, the viewer. Instead, she looks slightly off to the right, just over our shoulder. She seems comfortable. She’s at ease in her pose and with being painted even showing a hint of a smile.
Now let’s look at the painting in closer detail.
First, the face. I love the combination
I love the hint of the smile in the lips, a smile that’s reflected in the slight crinkling of the eyes. (You can see the creasing that is beginning to show at the corner of the eye on the right.) A cast shadow from the bonnet on her face informs us clearly of the direction of the soft light source.
The arms cross each other right at the bottom of the portrait. We see a pair of hands that are accustomed to
And then there’s the fabric, so deceptively simple. Folds are revealed by the curves and loops of pastel with colour and darks and lights defining the form. We feel the texture of the cloth – the dress fabric and the frilly lace at the end of the sleeve. The sheen and colour of the material are all displayed in a few well-placed lines of colour (and value).
This is dark yes? Can you see how Navarre gives us just enough information about the chair yet keeps it sitting in the background, not distracting our attention from the main subject of the woman? Both the dress and the chair are the same colour and value and they, along with the background at this place in the painting, are all kept in the dark value range.
Navarre uses grey pastel to render the woman’s grey hair (is it powdered or is she not so young after all?). She also uses it to create the cast shadow made by the bonnet, to describe the lacy circle around the edge of her headwear, and to describe the shadow sides of the hat itself. Note how the artist incorporates the hairline – it’s not a solid line but a zigzag between hair and skin – subtle and effective.
And finally, there’s the background. (You can read a post I wrote about dealing with backgrounds here.) It’s pretty much a deep blue but it subtly changes from dense dark to a glowing dark. In the detail above you can see how Navarre lightens the background behind the head giving a feeling of space. The figure doesn’t feel cramped nor does it feel cutout against the solidity of a flat dark background.
Here’s a close look at the other side of the painting. I captured this detail crop because I wanted to see if the artist incorporated any of the warm browns used in the figure. I couldn’t see if there was a colouration change in this digital image (has anyone seen the real thing??) but what I did discover was a quietly inserted signature with the date, 1774. Exciting huh?
Sooooooo what do you think of this painting by the lesser known female artist Marie-Geneviève Navarre? I was taken by the physical and emotional impact of the piece. It seems a bit smaller than life-size. Like any painting, I’d love to see it in the real! I hope you’ll leave a comment and tell me what
In this blog post, I wanted to focus on this painting and this artist but I’d like to bring your attention to another lesser known female artist – Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones. I’m reading a fascinating book about this early successful 20th-century female artist. I first encountered her when I saw the painting, The Shoe Shop, at the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago.
Another fantastic book I’m reading right now is called Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Who Made History (In That Order) (get the title?! Broad strokes) beautifully written and brought to life by the author, Bridget Quinn. I highly recommend it!!
And to finish off books I’m presently reading about female artists, I am soooooo enjoying Ninth Street Women a book that looks at the lives of five women painters – Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell (a favourite of mine!), and Helen Frankenthaler. It really gives you a sense of time and place!!1
Okay, one more – Women Artists: An Illustrated History. This was one I read some time ago and it was a revelation… so many artists I’d never heard of.
And so that’s all for now. Happy International Women’s Day!
Until next time,
I recommend all the following books!! (To be transparent, if you purchase through these links, I do get a wee commission which all goes into helping support this blog. Thanks!!)