Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Color Palettes: James Abbott McNeil Whistler (1834-1903)

American expatriate, James Abbott McNeil Whistler, painted at a time of great excitement and change within the art world. While a student in Paris at the Academy of Charles Gleyre, he was friend and classmate to the artists who would alter the face of art, those painters who would become known as The Impressionists, but Whistler, always the eccentric and outsider, pursued his own course toward fame. His works, inspired by the realism of Courbet, the spontaneous brushwork of Velázquez, and the harmonious arrangements of great music, were studies in tone, meticulously planned, yet painted with freshness and verve.

(His) technique was a quirky mixture of methods of painting learnt at Gleyre's academy in the 1850s together with a series of improvisations directly onto the canvas. When working on large paintings, he used a three-foot long mahogany table as his "palette," arranging an array of mixed colours and tones on it with meticulous care, saying on one occasion, "If you cannot manage your palette how are you going to manage your canvas?" He worked with a fully loaded brush, holding it firmly and applying paint to canvas in a single confident sweep, standing at a distance from his canvas in order to balance the emerging forms with his subject. His long-handled brushes were specially made for him, and he also had a particular liking for large house-painter's brushes, his favourite being one to which he gave the name of Matthew. In place of the traditional mahlstick he preferred to use a walking cane.¹

Whistler always strove for a restrained and harmonious effect, avoiding excessive colour and strong tonal contrasts, and unlike the Impressionists he never worked on a white canvas, always pre-tinting his ground a mid-grey, warm brown, red or sometimes even black. He would not begin a painting until he had prepared it, tone for tone, on his table-top "palette." In his portraits, the accents of tone would become sharper and sharper as the session progressed, and at the end of it the painting was either declared finished, or it was washed down with spirits in preparation for a fresh start the following session. His perfectionism was such that his unfortunate subjects often had to endure endless sittings.²

For his Portrait of Miss Cicely Alexander (Harmony in Grey and Green, above), Whistler organized his table-top palette in the following way. In the centre he placed a large mass of flake white. To the left of this were ranged light yellow to browns, and to the right were the reds, gradating to blues at the cool end of the colour-temperature scale. Below the central white was a band of black, the extremities of which were used for mixing flesh and background hues.³

Whistler's colors were as follows:

  • Lemon Yellow
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Raw Sienna
  • Raw Umber
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Vermilion
  • Venetian Red or Indian Red
  • Rose Madder
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Antwerp Blue (a weak pigment inferior to Prussian Blue)
  • Flake White
  • Ivory Black

From Gleyre, Whistler learned the axiom that "Black is 'la reine des couleurs!',"⁴ and it appears from the tonality of his work, that he followed that early lesson and began each of his color mixtures with black.

¹ Michael Howard, Whistler (History & Techniques of the Great Masters), (Eagle Editions, London, 1989), p. 13.
² Ibid.
³ Ibid.
⁴ Albert Boime, The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century, (Phaidon Publishers, New York, 1971), p. 63.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Philip de László: An Air of Nobility... a Spirit of Humanity

The National Portrait Gallery in London currently has on display an exhibition of Philip de László's portraits, the first such museum exposition since the artist's death in 1937. de László's works fell out of favor at the same rate as the decline of British aristocracy, but now, after more than a half-century later, the artist was "ripe for reappraisal,"¹ says curator Paul Moorhouse.

"He is a much more sophisticated and complex painter than he has been given credit for," says Moorhouse. "He was incredibly good at what he did. He was prolific, and that very facility has caused a certain amount of suspicion. In his day, he was celebrated for being able to capture a likeness in two hours, which has been taken as a mark of superficiality. (de László's) brilliance can now be seen for what it is. He was an excellent colourist, a wonderful craftsman and hugely accomplished."²

The show, which runs until September 5th, is accompanied by a small catalog, available from the National Portrait Gallery store.

Also, on April 22nd, Sandra de László, director and executive editor for the Philip de László Catalogue Raisonné project, will present a free talk on the artist entitled, "An Air of Nobility... a Spirit of Humanity" detailing the artist's "extraordinary life and work in the context of the paintings that are on view."³

¹ Higgins, Charlotte (2010). Portrait of a Neglected Painter: Philip de László's Works to go on Display. Retrieved March 26, 2010 from {www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/mar/23/philip-de-laszlo-portraits-exhibition}.
² Ibid.
³ NPG. March 27, 2010. {www.npg.org.uk/whatson/event-root/philip-de-laszlo-an-air-of-nobility-a-spirit-of-humanity.php}.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Upcoming Auction Preview: Sotheby's April 2010

Sotheby's Auction House in New York City will be holding previews in April for their upcoming auction, 19th Century European Art. Objects in the auction will be available for public examination 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily, from Saturday, April 17th through Thursday, April 22nd. The actual bidding will begin at 10:00 AM on Friday the 23rd.

Christie's Auction House in New York, which formerly held their Old Master Paintings & 19th Century Art auction concurrent with that of Sotheby's, will present their auction June 9th instead. It is expected that previews for that auction will run for the week prior to the first session of bidding. All images in this post are from Sotheby's.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Missing Waterhouse Painting Found

For over 30 years, John William Waterhouse's painting, Isabella and the Pot of Basil, has been "unlocatable" and inaccessible to art historians. The painting had sold at Christie's Auction House in 1967 and entered into the Lord Lambton collection, but after its appearance in the Waterhouse retrospective exhibition at the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, in 1978, its whereabouts were unknown. Now, after three decades, the painting has shown up again, exactly where you might expect it to; in Rod Stewart's bedroom.

Photos by Mary E. Nichols for Architectural Digest

In the May 2007 issue of Architectural Digest, the 28,000 square foot, Beverly Hills home of the rocker-turned-crooner was profiled, and in one image, the painting could be seen above the mantle in Stewart's master suite. An expert spotted the painting and passed the discovery on to Catherine Payling, curator of the Keats-Shelley House in Rome, who had been interested in finding the work. Payling shared her excitement, and the original painting's location has since been confirmed by Waterhouse authority Peter Trippi through interviews with sister-sites johnwilliamwaterhouse.com and ArtMagick. The provenance from Lord Lambton to Stewart, however, has not been released.

Stewart, who is an avid art and antique collector, is most proud of his collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, of which, he believes, he has one of the world's largest assemblies. Only about one-third of that group of paintings are on display in his California home. Hopefully, now that the location of Isabella and the Pot of Basil is known again, Stewart might be convinced to loan the painting to upcoming exhibits, or perhaps, even include the work in a showing of his extensive, private art collection.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Croatian Masters

Artist Valentino Radman of Zadar, Croatia, recently started a blog through which he hopes to introduce more of the world to great artists from his country's past. Some of these artists, such as Vlaho Bukovac, are better known to the world, but most of the painters Valentino has so far featured on his blog are unfortunately no longer remembered far from their home. I enjoyed visiting the site, and seeing artwork which was new to me, and look forward to future posts.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Words of Wisdom: Alfred Stevens Part II

It is not until a certain period of life that a man rightly understands his art.

The more one knows, the more one simplifies.

The artist in his maturity should have his convictions, but he should nevertheless wrap himself in pious meditation before his easel. The early masters undoubtedly made the sign of the cross before painting.

Time renders sound painting more beautiful and debases the bad.

As a general thing, one must be dead in order to sell at a high figure.

There is no artist's studio, even a mediocre one, in which a study may not be found superior to his finished works.

At a certain age, a painter should no longer be afraid of trembling.

The born painter never believes that he has succeeded; he is constantly seeking to enlarge and elevate his art, even above his strength; this is, besides, for an artist, the only means of not weakening at a certain age.

Reputations are easy to acquire; what is difficult is to render them lasting.

The sincere approbation of his professional comrades is, for the painter, the most flattering of recompenses.

A great reputation is difficult to preserve if one has left few works behind him.

To live to be very old, and to preserve until the end of one's days a great reputation in the art of painting, seems to me an almost impossible thing.

If one laments the premature death of a painter, one should also sometimes mourn for him who, for his art, lives to be too old.

Art is jealous; it does not forgive even a moment of forgetfulness.

There are painters who have been useful to others and who are worth very little to themselves.

If the old masters, of no matter what school, could return to earth, be assured that they would not hesitate to cause not a few of their works to disappear.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Words of Wisdom: Alfred Stevens (1823-1906)

The magnifying glass has been laughed at; fine painting ought to be able to withstand it.

The greatness of a work is not to measured by its dimensions.

Success too generally acclaimed belongs oftenest to mediocrity.

A painter is only great when he is a master-workman.

The higher one rises in art, the less is one understood.

One does not judge a picture justly until ten years after its execution.

A painter is constantly at work, even outside his studio.

In painting, it is an art to know when to stop.

Laboriously painted pictures, in which hard work is visible, please the public; it gets its money worth.

Photography proves to us that art is much superior to this admirable invention; even if it found color, it would still be inferior to painting.

In looking at a picture, one aught not to have to suspect the artist of having called photography to his aid.

Masterpieces are generally simple. A figure, a torso suffice to reveal a master.

The painter should try to express himself in his work, and should do it with sincerity.

By looking at the palette of a painter, one knows with whom one is dealing.

A fine picture, the effect of which is admired at a distance, ought equally to bear analysis when looked at near by.

Nothing does more injustice to a good picture than bad neighbors.

In painting, it is well to identify one's self with the seasons. It is a mistake to depict a winter subject in summer.

One should go much to the Louvre to study the masters, but never try to imitate them.

One usually begins a picture with spirit, but often finishes it with a certain melancholy.

There always remains something to do in a picture for the artist who is not easily satisfied.

To make a pupil paint many flowers is excellent instruction.

People have a sad tendency to run after the qualities of their neighbors and to neglect those with which they themselves are endowed.

A student should draw everything that presents itself to his eyes. One must sow in order to reap.

Studios that are too small produce petty work.

A picture should not be of such small dimensions as to lead us to suppose that we are becoming farsighted.

Too good sight is often a fatal gift to a painter, because the retina is maddened by seeing too many things in detail.

All painting should be able to bear close inspection.

A professor may teach principles, but he ought especially to discover and develop the aptitudes of the student.

People do not trouble themselves enough in our day about the workmanship, the trade, painting for painting's sake; but they will be forced to return to it, and only those who possess this master quality will be certain of immortality.

Painters ought to have some knowledge of chemistry. The old masters knew on what and with what they painted- hence the good quality and the fine preservation of their works. In our day, people paint with anything. The old masters painted for posterity; we paint only for the present.

So many painters stop where the difficulty begins!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

News From Michael Klein

Las Naranjas de Jujuy

Several years ago, I saw El Sol del Membrillo a documentary about the working process of contemporary Spanish painter Antonio López (García). Director Victor Erice follows López through his personal challenges and triumphs as he attempts to paint a Quince tree. I found it fascinating how Erice showed the techniques behind one of today's most brilliant realist artists from the perspective of a non-technical person, and not from that of a painter. I wanted Flower Painting to be based off of their documentation of the artistic process, while bringing more to the viewer from an instructional standpoint. Having seen many DVDs by other artists, I was really inspired to bring something unique to the market. Flower Painting shows every aspect, from start to finish, of how a living artist can create respectable paintings.

This book is to act as a guide to better your understanding of my techniques in Flower Painting. It is a simple effort to share my knowledge of painting with as many people as I can reach. Art that is full of reason, beauty, talent, and above all rareness cannot be ignored. I believe strongly that we are lacking respect for competent painting in our culture.

- Michael Klein, Flower Painting: The Guide, pp. 8-9.

Though artist Michael Klein and his wife, Nelida, were successful at achieving their goal of wedding a documentary with an instructional video in the DVD, Flower Painting, Klein still wanted to provide his audience more. With his book Flower Painting: The Guide, Klein expounds upon the ideas and lessons put forth in his DVD, sharing his specific techniques and his personal thoughts on the craft of painting. It is his goal to bring a better understanding of the artistic process to artists and non-artists alike.


Certainly, the book was intended to complement the DVD, but it is not that they need each other. Both the video and the book stand well on their own, and I for one carried The Guide, which measures under seven inches square, to various appointments and events, thoroughly enjoying the reading of it despite the lapse in time since last viewing the DVD. In the book, Klein refers back to the painting he created during filming, but most of the information is broader, and gives a good sense of the classical training the artist has received, and the intelligence with which he assimilated the methods he outlines.

Chapters in the book include:

  • Introduction
  • Education
  • Getting Started
  • The Block-In
  • Starting with a Drawing
  • The Transfer
  • My Brushes and Canvas
  • Mediums
  • Commencing
  • Workflow
  • Keeping it Transparent
  • Strategy of Attack
  • The Reality
  • Painting From Life
  • Importance of Study
  • Opinion on Photography
  • Color
  • Color Mixing
  • Premixing Colors
  • The First Layer of Paint
  • Form
  • Light, Halftones, and Shadows
  • My Advice on Floral Painting
  • The Flower Sketch
  • Putting it All Together
  • Practice Makes Perfection
  • Finishing
  • Conclusion

The Bride

Michael Klein is part of a growing group of young artists who are trying to bring their specialized art training to a wider audience using any means available. The technical skill Klein has amassed since the age of 18, while painting nearly every day, either on his own or in the studios of his mentors*, is significant, and he has now expanded his passion for art by making it a mission to share his accumulated knowledge. His book and DVD combination are just the beginning of what promises to be Klein's unique perspective on training the up and coming generation of realist painters.

Flower Painting the DVD and Flower Painting: The Guide are available directly from Michael Klein at his website.

* I feel the need to mention here that Klein as well as the other artists who are sharing their knowledge have each studied under several teachers, but many seem to have Jacob Collins in common. Obviously, Collins has not only been raising up great artists, but also great teachers, and he deserves kudos for that.


The Wash Girl

This spring, Klein will be having his second solo show at Arcadia Gallery in New York City. It will be his first exhibit there since his highly successful debut in 2008, and marks his return to the United States after living in Argentina for the past few years. The exposition will contain over 20 new works inspired by his time spent abroad (several are pictured here in this post), and will run from May 13th through the 28th. Catalogs of the show will be available directly from Arcadia Gallery.

Arcadia Gallery is located at 51 Greene Street (between Broome and Grand), and is open from 10 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Friday, and 11 AM to 6 PM weekends. Since its founding in 1998, Arcadia has been a leading showcase and salesroom for some of today's best contemporary, representational art. Its roster of artists includes such modern masters as Jeremy Lipking, Malcolm Liepke, Michael Grimaldi, Ron Hicks, Daniel Sprick, Joseph Todorovitch, and Robert Liberace.


Filming Kerry Dunn

This April, Klein Art Productions, a new production company formed by Michael, his wife, and his two brothers, will launch an exciting new project called American Painting Video Magazine. Episodes of the online quarterly will be available to download for a small fee from APVM's website, and will include interviews with today's top realist artists, studio tours, painting demonstrations, and much more (Annual subscribers will be given a reduced rate). Each issue is expected to be over two hours long.

The premiere Spring issue is scheduled to contain the following video segments:

  • "Paul G. Oxborough at Eleanor Ettinger Gallery, NYC" with Fran Bradford
  • "A Portrait Demonstration" by Philadelphia artist, Kerry Dunn
  • "A Conversation with Jacob Collins" an interview by Peter Trippi, editor of Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine, and author of the book J.W. Waterhouse
  • "Artist Profile" of Carlo Russo
  • "Still Life Demonstration" by Travis Schlaht
  • "Schools and Ateliers" with Robert Armetta at the Long Island Academy of Fine Art
When I contacted Klein to ask him a few questions about these upcoming projects, he honored me with a very special offer: he asked if I would be interested in contributing to the first issue of American Painting Video Magazine. How could I say "no" to working with such a great group of artists? Filming for my segment has not occurred yet (I'm holding up the works), but should everything go as planned, you will see me on film offering a review of Robert Liberace's recent DVD, The Figure in Motion, in the Spring edition of APVM. Wish me luck!

Oxborough Show at Eleanor Ettinger Gallery

Kerry Dunn Demo

Jacob Collins and Peter Trippi

Carlo Russo explaining his palette

Carlo Russo working on still life


The Craft