Sunday, January 29, 2012

Words of Wisdom: Jules Bastien-Lepage

Joan of Arc (detail)

"I assert,"  said Bastien-Lepage, "that when one paints the past, it should at any rate be made to look like something human, and correspond with what one actually sees around one ...  and if one had a fancy to represent the Prodigal Son or Priam at the feet of Achilles ...  one would paint them in the surroundings of the country with the models that one has at hand, just as if the old drama had taken place yesterday evening.  It is only in that way that art can be living and beautiful."

Joan of Arc 1879
oil on canvas
100 X 110 in.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Frederic Leighton - Sir? Lord? Baron?

Solitude (1890)
72 X 36 in.
oil on canvas

In his day, the artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, would not have been accustomed to being addressed by such a grand honorific as "Lord."  Though born to a wealthy family with connections to royalty (his grandfather, Sir James, was the Court Physician in Russia, specifically attached to the service of Empress Elizabeth, the wife of Alexander I, and later was also doctor to Czar Nicholas), Leighton did not inherit his title.  In 1878, when Leighton was elected President of the Royal Academy of Art, Queen Victoria bestowed upon the artist his first title:  Knight Bachelor.  This is the most basic rank of knighthood, but earned the artist the right to be addressed as "Sir Frederic Leighton."  Eight years later, Leighton was created a Baronet, which placed him in rank above most knights, though it did not yet make him a nobleman.  He was still to be addressed as "Sir."  On January 24th, 1896, however, Leighton entered the world of British nobility, when he was issued the title of Baron, and the honor of being called "Lord.".  Unfortunately, for the Right Honourable Frederic, Lord Leighton of Stretton in the County Shropshire, this new appellation would not become familiar to his ears;  he died the very next day.

As a Baron, Lord Leighton holds two historically significant distinctions.  Not only was he the first artist ever created a Baron in the United Kingdom, his Barony, which lasted a single day, is the shortest -lived peerage in British history.  With Leighton's death, and the facts that he had not been married nor given issue, the Barony of Stretton was extinguished fewer than 24 hours after its creation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

'Resolve' at the Joshua Liner Gallery NYC

Tony Curanaj
Nouveau Red (2011)
oil on canvas
18 X 36 in.

Opening this Thursday at the Joshua Liner Gallery in New York City is Resolve, a group show celebrating the "other side" of contemporary art.  Organized by artist Tony Curanaj, the show features 25 artists (22 painters, 2 sculptors, and 1 photographer) whose works celebrate classical art traditions and training.  This is the first in a series of annual, artist-curated exhibitions scheduled for the gallery.

“This exhibition," says Curanaj, "reflects a relatively narrow but varied slice of the art world, and presents it to an audience that may not be exposed to this segment of contemporary art practice. The title Resolve speaks of (the artists') determination and progression, qualities that imbue each of these works with beauty and technical virtuosity. From concept to execution, these contemporary masters... are completely engaged in the artist’s process and an artistic direction that is unwavering, regardless of fashion or trend.”

Those artists featured in the show include founders and teachers of some of today's best centers for training in the realist tradition.  Schools such as the Water Street Atelier, the Grand Central Academy, the New York Academy of Art, the Ani Art Academy, and the Janus Collaborative are all represented,   with works by the following artists:

For several reasons, this a very important show that should not be missed.  First, Resolve is artist-curated;  Curanaj has taken an active role in promoting contemporary realism, rather than just lamenting the position of classically-based art in the world.  Second, this show marks another major inroad into the Chelsea Arts District.  Since the mid-1990's, when the Modern artists left SoHo and re-established the Contemporary art scene in Chelsea, there has been little room for representational artists among the 350+ galleries in the area.  If nearby, please make sure to stop in and support these artists, and the Joshua Liner Gallery for recognizing realism's place in the market.

Resolve will run from January 26th through February 25th, with an opening reception this Thursday from 6:00 to 9:00 PM.  Joshua Liner Gallery is located at 548 W. 28th Street, 3rd floor, in the Chelsea district of Manhattan. For more information, please visit, or contact Elizabeth Kurita at 212.244.7415 or

Edward Minoff
oil and gold on linen
24 X 36 in.

Anthony Waichulis
A Summer Affair (2011)
7 X 5 in.

Scott Waddell
Half World (2011)
oil on canvas
24 X 18 in.

Michael Grimaldi
Portrait of Trinette (2011)
tempera on canvas
18 X 14 in.

Jacob Collins
Interior III (2009)
oil on canvas
12 X 16 in.

Christopher Gallego
Studio Interior (2011)
oil on canvas
51 X 49 in.

All photos courtesy the artist and Joshua Liner Gallery

Monday, January 23, 2012

Max Ginsburg Workshop, Austin, TX

"Max Ginsburg will teach and demonstrate his unique approach to portrait and figure painting in an intensive 5 day workshop at the Gemini School of Visual Arts just north of Austin, TX. Max has had a long career as a commercial illustrator with over 200 book covers under his belt. He has also won many awards for his fine art paintings including Best of Show in this year's Art Renewal Center Salon. In 2011 Max released a retrospective book spanning 50 years of his work coinciding with retrospective shows opening in New York City and Indiana. Max taught for many years at the School for Visual Arts in New York City and continues to be a very popular workshop instructor at the Art Students League. This is a rare opportunity for artists to study with Max outside of New York City!"

Max Ginsburg: Painting From Life in Oil
April 2- 6, 2012 
Venue: Gemini School of Visual Art 
Contact: Danny Grant 

click image for Max Ginsburg Retrospective book

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Words of Wisdom: R.H. Ives Gammell

Great painting is the result of two factors.  The first essential is that the painter should be expressing his own genuine emotional reactions in a form which is the appropriate vehicle for that expression.  The second factor is that he should be a master of that form.
~ R.H. Ives Gammell

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Words of Wisdom: Frederic Lord Leighton

"I have the reputation of being a rapid worker, but in reality I am a very steady, slow worker.  I make many experiments before I begin, but when I start I go straight away.  I work with a belief that the deliberate work is the swiftest...  I paint practically all day, according to the work I have in hand...  I consider six hours a very good day's work.  As for waiting for inspiration I have no faith in it.  I am guided by the nature of the task I have in hand.  I take the thing as it comes...  Waiting for the mood, being unable to control oneself, is the stamp of amateurism.  My principle is that one ought always to control oneself."¹

~ Frederic Lord Leighton

¹Cassells Saturday Journal, 1052, January 29, 1896, p. 75.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New American Wing Galleries at the Met

Artist Marvin Mattelson recently contacted me to let me know how much he is looking forward to the opening of the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Mattelson, who brings his classes at the School of Visual Arts to the Met each semester to discuss particular, important works of art, was at first worried what the new construction would mean for his favorite paintings, but after seeing the online images of the renovated wing, he cannot wait to bring his students back to the museum.  Not only are the paintings now being illuminated by natural light from newly installed skylights, the 3,300 square feet of additional space has allowed for many paintings once only regularly viewed in the Luce Center Visible Storage area to be put on proper display.

The 73 galleries in the Met's 30,000 square foot American Wing are available now for online viewing, including large-file images of each of the paintings on display.  The images are interactive, and the amount of detail visible in the magnified images is superb.

Marvin Mattelson's Portrait and Figure Painting Classes as part of the School of Visual Arts' Continuing Education department will begin new sessions later this month.  For more information visit the school's online catalog.  Limited space is available.

From the Museum's Press Release:

New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts Opening: Monday, January 16, 2012 

The Metropolitan Museum’s collection of American art, one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world, returns to view in expanded, reconceived, and dramatic new galleries on January 16, 2012, when the Museum inaugurates the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts. The new installation will provide visitors with a rich and captivating experience of the history of American art from the 18th through the early 20th century. The suite of elegant new galleries encompasses 30,000 square feet for the display of the Museum’s superb collection.

This final phase of the American Wing renovation project is comprised of 26 renovated and enlarged galleries on the second floor. The new architectural design is a contemporary interpretation of 19th-century Beaux-Arts galleries, including coved ceilings and natural light flowing through new skylights. The redesign, which has added 3,300 square feet of gallery space, also allows for a chronological installation of the American paintings and sculpture, and improved pathways connecting to adjacent areas of the Museum.

Twenty-one of the new galleries—including the 18 sky-lit Joan Whitney Payson Galleries—have been created for the display the American Wing’s extraordinary collection of paintings. Its origins date back to the 1870s, thanks to the strong support of founding Trustee-painters Frederic Edwin Church and John Frederick Kensett. For the first time, the paintings collection is shown on a single floor, enhancing accessibility and coherence of the display. The Museum’s holdings are particularly rich in the works of the great masters, including John Singleton Copley (Daniel Crommelin Verplanck), Gilbert Stuart (George Washington), Thomas Cole (The Oxbow), Church (The Heart of the Andes), Winslow Homer (Prisoners from the Front), Thomas Eakins (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), and John Singer Sargent (Madame X).

The centerpiece of the new installation is one of the best-known works in all of American art, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s 1851 painting Washington Crossing the Delaware. For the re-hanging of this magnificent work, a large and stately gilded frame has been painstakingly recreated by Eli Wilner & Company from a recently discovered photograph of the painting from 1864. The renovated galleries afford a dramatic vista toward this monumental canvas, which hangs in the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation Gallery. This double-sized gallery showcases Leutze’s iconic work alongside two other masterpieces—Church’s Heart of the Andes and Albert Bierstadt’s Rocky Mountains—just as they were displayed at the famous 1864 Metropolitan Sanitary Fair. These three paintings have been beautifully restored as part of the renovation project.

The Museum’s encyclopedic collection offers visitors the broad sweep of American history as told through great works of art. The aforementioned central gallery focuses on the themes of freedom, exploration, and expansion that pervaded America during the mid-19th century. Other subjects, themes, and periods presented in the new galleries include: Colonial Portraiture, the American Revolution, the Young Republic, the Civil War Era, Art in the Folk Tradition, the Hudson River School, the West, the Cosmopolitan Spirit, and American Impressionism.

Interspersed among the pictures is the American Wing’s sculpture collection, which is equally distinguished and especially strong in Neoclassical and Beaux-Arts works. Artists represented include Erastus Dow Palmer, John Quincy Adams Ward, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, Frederic Remington, and Frederick William MacMonnies.

The new suite of galleries also encompasses the Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Galleries of Eighteenth-Century American Art, featuring four rooms dedicated to the display of American decorative arts, principally treasures of colonial furniture and silver. Selected highlights of the Museum’s extraordinary collection of early American silver include works by John Hull and Robert Sanderson, Myer Myers, and Paul Revere. The furniture gallery has masterpieces of late colonial case furniture by John Townsend of Newport and Thomas Affleck of Philadelphia, complemented by imposing architectural elements. In addition, the galleries include the grand pre-revolutionary entrance hall of the Van Rensselaer Manor House, Albany, New York.

The reserve collections of the American Wing are housed in the 17,000-square-foot Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, on the mezzanine level. The Luce Center, with its glass cases of some 9,500 objects, allows the Museum to display entire collections that otherwise would be represented by only a few highlights in the galleries. The concurrent renovation of the Luce Center includes a major revamping of its technological capabilities and additional cases for American sculpture and furniture. The public’s interface with the collection will be improved vastly by new touch-screen case labels and upgraded computer access enabling easy and in-depth searching for information about objects both in the Luce Center and throughout the American Wing.

The opening of the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts represents the third and final phase of a major, multi-part renovation project. Part 1 opened in January 2007 with galleries dedicated to the classical arts of America, 1810-1845. Part 2 opened in May 2009 with the renovation of The Charles Engelhard Court and the Period Rooms. With the opening of Part 3, nearly all of the American Wing’s 17,000 works are now on view.

In celebration of the new galleries, the Museum will offer a wide array of programming designed to engage all audiences. Highlights include performances, lectures, and private gallery tours, as well as a symposium, a conference for K-12 teachers, family and teen programs, film screenings, and gallery programs exploring artists’ techniques.

An extensive new audio tour of the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts will be offered as part of the Museum’s Audio Guide Program. It will be available for rental ($7, $6 for Members, $5 for children under 12).

A special area of the Museum’s website dedicated to the new galleries—including descriptions of each of the rooms, a floor plan, details about the related programming and publications, highlighted works of art, and more—can be found at

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Technique: Lord Leighton (1830-1896)

Frederic Lord Leighton
Self-Portrait (1880)
oil on canvas
30 X 25¹⁄₈ in.

Frederic Leighton, Lord Stretton, drew much inspiration from early Italian painters and often took trips to the continent to study their works.  A certain acquaintance of his, a Mr. Simonetti of Venice, apparently had access to damaged works by past masters, and would dissect the paintings, peeling back their various layers for Leighton to inspect.  In this way, Leighton was able to draw conclusions as to how Andrea Schiavone, Jacopo Bassano, Giorgione, and Titian built their paintings.¹

A Girl

Giovanni Costa, a fine painter in his own right, often accompanied Leighton while he was in Italy, and the two based their techniques on the discoveries they made.  After Leighton's death, Costa wrote a remembrance of his long-time friend and included the following information about their method:

The result of these studies and of the experience of years was that Leighton and I definitely adopted the following method.  Take a canvas or panel with the whitest possible preparation and non-absorbent - the drawing of the subject to be done with precision and indelible.  On this seek to model in monochrome so strongly that it will bear the local colours painted with exaggeration, and then the grey, which is to be the ground of all the future half-tones;  on this paint the lights, for which use only white, red and black, avoiding yellow, and stabbing (botteggiando) with the brush while the colour is wet, make the half-tints tell out from the grey beneath, which should be thoroughly dry.  When all is dry, finish the picture with scumbles (spegazzi), adding yellow to complete the colour.

Portrait of Professor Giovanni Costa (1878)
oil on canvas
19 X 15³⁄₈ in.

Leighton formed his method of painting from these general maxims, and he painted my portrait at Lerici on these principles as an experiment, and then in 1878 we adopted the system definitely.  For this portrait he had four sittings - one for the drawing and the monochrome chiaroscuro, one for the local colours;  then, having covered all with grey, he painted the lights with red, white and black, making use of the thoroughly dried grey beneath for his half-tints.  With scumbles he completed the colour and the modelling (sic).²

Leighton's full palette consisted of the following colors:³

Flake White
Yellow Ochre
Raw Sienna
Raw Umber
Red Ochre
Green Earth
Malachite Green
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Ivory Black

Head of a Girl in a White Dress (c. 1893)
oil on canvas
15 X 10 in.


¹ Costa, Giovanni, "Notes on Lord Leighton," in The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. II, January-June (1897), pp. 381-382.
³Osborne, R. and Pavey, D. (2004), Color Academy 2006- Artists' Palettes and Colour Mixing, retrieved January 13, 2012 from {}

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Of Pencils and Brushes...

In reading through older art books on painting technique, the word "pencil" often appears, but not with the denotation with which we are now accustomed.  It is obvious by the syntax that when the authors use "pencil," they are speaking about a paintbrush, but then when they use the term "brush" in other parts of their books, that word obviously designates an item which they consider to be separate and different (eg. "outline the shadow area with a hog's hair pencil, then use a brush to mass-in the tone").  Why would someone use the word "pencil" when they mean paintbrush, and, in the mind of an earlier artist, what made these "pencils" different from "brushes"?

In actuality, the word "pencil" originally meant "paintbrush." Its usage can be traced to the late 14th century where it was derived from the Old French word pincel, which in turn, developed from the Latin term penicillus, or literally, "little tail."  Specifically, it was a small paintbrush, as penicillus was a diminutive of peniculus, Latin for "brush."

Using the word "pencil" to refer to the graphite writing and drawing instrument was a development that came about in the 16th century.  In 1565, a deposit of very pure and solid graphite discovered in the Cumbria region of England proved to be easy to saw into sticks, and these sticks, when wound with string or inserted into metal holders, were found to be extremely convenient for writing.  "Pencil" brushes, which had been used for centuries as writing tools, were soon replaced.  In many countries, the new implement - and its successive improvements - became known as "lead pens" (graphite was at first mistaken for lead, and was even called "black-lead," until Swedish chemist Karl Wilhelm Scheele identified the material as a crystalized form of carbon and named it graphite in the late 18th century).  In France, the country which introduced the word pincel, the "lead pen" became known as the "crayon;" in England it appears that the word "pencil" remained in use, despite the fact that the original tool was replaced by an entirely new object.  

To a painter during those earlier times, a "pencil" was always a paintbrush, while a "lead pencil" would have been the graphite tool.

Hair "pencils" were not sized with numbers as were other brushes, but in quill sizes.  This reflects not only their history as writing implements, but also the origins of their construction.  In the first "pencils," the quills of crow, duck, goose, or swan were boiled to soften and swell the ends, and the hairs were then inserted.  As the quill cooled and dried, it shrank tightly around the hairs.  Often the end was wrapped in wire to help secure the hairs, but could be removed once the quill had re-hardened.

Generally speaking, "pencils" were smaller, and made of soft filaments.  These fibers could be mongoose, sable, swan's down, camel-hair, squirrel tail, or children's hair.  Painting "brushes," on the other hand, were larger and almost always made of hog's hair bristle.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New DVD from Donato Giancola

Brooklyn-based Donato Giancola has just released a new DVD which documents his processes as he creates a tribute to Joan of Arc, whose 600th birthday will be celebrated later this year.  The four hour long instructional video follows the award-winning illustrator from the first, abstract concept sketches, all the way through to the final glazes.  Filmed and edited by Aaron Fagerstrom, the same person behind Donato's The Mechanic,  Joan of Arc promises to offer the same detail and insight as that which made his first video so successful.

"The desire to create a painting about Joan of Arc had been flittering about in my sketchbook for years," says Donato, "ever since returning from a visit to France and the region of Burgundy where she lived. Thus when considering what subject matter to tackle for my second step-by step process DVD, Joan was an obvious choice, not withstanding the celebration of her 600th birthday occurring in this year, 2012."

"Rather than portray her in an overly heroic pose, I pursued an image which entwines her in the political forces at play during her brief fame and martyrdom - the noblility of France and England, the Church, and the common Frenchman."

"... it was my intent to use ambiguity to stress the complexities of the forces which shaped Joan of Arc. Are we here at her moment of triumph at Orleans embraced by a sympathetic French Nobleman?  Or at her capture outside of Compiegne a little over a year later by the Burgundians?  Is the Clergyman bowing in awe and prayer, or attempting to strip Joan of the symbol of her Faith? Is that arm supporting the banner, or pulling it down?"

The DVD is available for $49.95 from Pijjen Media, or directly from Donato Giancola.
"Join the Creative Journey."

"One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it.  But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying." ~  Joan of Arc

Friday, January 6, 2012

An Odd Fact or Two

When news broke of Norway's decision to imprison Odd Nerdrum for gross tax fraud, I must admit, my reaction was mixed.  Not knowing the full story, I found myself torn between wanting to stand behind Nerdrum as a fellow-artist, and feeling he deserved to be prosecuted for any of his possible transgressions. As additional information has come to surface, rather than find myself solidly in one camp or the other, I find myself no less confused by the facts.  Both the prosecution and the defense seem to have made errors -  some intentional, some accidental - in this case which, all pun intended, is rather Odd.  

At the center of the controversy is the Norwegian government's assertion that Nerdrum did not disclose his full income between 1997, when the artist signed with Forum Gallery in New York City, and 2002, when the artist formally moved to Iceland (the tax audit actually encompassed the years 1992-2002, but no discrepancies seem to have been detected prior to Nerdrum's 1998 tax return).  A portion of the money which Nerdrum is accused of hiding from authorities was a not-insubstantial sum ($500,000.00 USD) placed in an Austrian safety deposit box.  This money, a loan from Forum Gallery, was set aside by Nerdrum as security to compensate potential dissatisfied collectors whose paintings had begun to melt and run due to the artist's use of an inferior painting medium of his own making.  

What brought Nerdrum to the attention of the Oslo tax authorities was the business journal Dagens Næringsliv, which reported in their April 2002 issue that the artist had made a total of 120 million NOK in American sales during the previous twenty years.  Nerdrum was audited, and was found to have not reported 14,029,150 NOK during the fiscal years 1998-2002.  The Tax Office finalized their decision on October 3, 2010, and Nerdrum has since paid all back-taxes the government felt it was owed.

On February 18, 2011, Nerdrum was criminally indicted for gross tax fraud for not paying tax on millions of krone in income, and for hiding money from the government.  (It should be noted that the Tax Office and the prosecutors in the criminal case do not agree on the amount of income Nerdrum is accused of not reporting).  The two-year prison sentence was determined by a Criminal Court Judge, after Nerdrum's attorneys failed to make the artist's case.  The attorneys are now attempting to appeal the judge's decision.

In order for Nerdrum to have been convicted of "gross" tax fraud, it seems that several factors must have been proven by the prosecutor's office.  First, the amount of income not reported must have exceeded 1 million NOK.  Second, the evasion must have been conducted in a way which made it difficult for the government to discover.  Nerdrum's two-year sentence was more severe than usual, and the increased punishment was based on the large amount of money involved, the fact that the evasion took place over several years, and on the "considerable labor" Nerdrum took to hide his income.

What is interesting here is that the "considerable labor" Nerdrum is accused of taking to hide money refers mainly to the cash placed in the Austrian safety deposit box.  Of the amount Nerdrum is accused of not reporting, the cash in that box represented only 5%.  This means not much effort was put into hiding 95% of the unpaid income.

Nerdrum claims that the money in the Austrian safety deposit box was a loan from Forum Gallery, and as such, was not his money, but theirs.  It was not accrued through the sale of his paintings, and therefore was not income.  The money was to be held to compensate collectors for damaged paintings.  Prior to this loan, Forum Gallery was reimbursing clients though proceeds set aside from new sales of Nerdrum's works.  The loan was requested by Nerdrum for two reasons:  firstly, he expected a Norwegian collector to soon demand his money back, and the artist wanted to handle the refund quickly and quietly himself;  secondly, he was concerned that Forum Gallery, like so many other galleries in New York City at that time, would claim bankruptcy, and that he would never see any of the income withheld by the gallery.  It was in a way, an insurance policy.  Nerdrum claims to have returned the money to the gallery in 2002, and the gallery then paid that money back to Nerdrum, which seems to indicate that the money was now to be considered clearly as income (it is assumed that the money was considered part of the funds originally set aside for reparations - some held by the gallery in the USA, and some by Nerdrum in Europe).  Unfortunately, the court did not agree with Nerdrum's explanation of the money in the safety deposit box.

Why the money was not put safely in escrow is anyone's guess.

Whether or not it is believed Nerdrum tried to hide millions of dollars in income from Norway's tax authorities, it does seem that the judgment against him is unusually harsh, and quite difficult for an artist to endure.  According to friends of Nerdrum, the sentence handed down precludes the artist from painting during his two year incarceration.  In the Norwegian penitentiary system, where convicted murderers and rapists in Halden Prison have access to private trainers, art studios, specialty cooking classes, and a professional sound studio, it seems unimaginable that a painter found guilty of tax fraud would be denied similar opportunities, but apparently, prisoners in Norway are not allowed to practice business while behind bars.  For Nerdrum, who, for a living, paints, writes plays and books, makes films, etc., this means creative outlets would be, for all intents and purposes, closed to him (any creative work he produced, if he were allowed to produce at all, during his sentence would likely be confiscated, as he would not be allowed to profit from such work produced in jail, even after his release).  

In the Case Law used to determine the period of prison stay for Nerdrum, a verdict was cited in which a cab service owner who withheld an amount from the government similar to Nerdrum's, was sentenced to two years and one month in prison.  Though he was likely denied the possibility of running his company from behind bars, the company was likely still in business during his incarceration, and still earning the prisoner profits.  

The case is a difficult and emotional one, and has affected the many students who have benefitted from Nerdrum's training.  The man they know is generous and highly moral, and that the government of Norway would find Nerdrum guilty of such crimes is unimaginable.

Alison Malafronte, the senior editor at American Artist magazine, has explored Nerdrum's situation in the current issue of the magazine.  She has written an excellent article which gives friends, fellow-artists, and former students the opportunity to express their feelings about Nerdrum's case.  Graciously, Malafronte has allowed the article to be reprinted here.  I encourage you to read it.

To learn more about the case, please visit

On August 3, 2011 internationally acclaimed painter Odd Nerdrum was sentenced to two years in prison by a local court in Oslo, Norway, on counts of tax evasion totaling more than $2 million. The verdict started a frenzy of media activity from the artistic community, with Nerdrum supporters rallying around the artist through Facebook, blogs, petitions, exhibitions, and online groups. The collective indignation at the prison sentence was palpable— and although several artists were determined to prove the charges erroneous, it was the prospect of Nerdrum not being permitted to paint during his two-year sentence that ignited the greatest levels of empathetic response from his contemporaries. “The work of Odd Nerdrum is a gift to a world much in need of culture,” stated professional portraitist and Studio Incamminati founder Nelson Shanks. “To in any way inhibit or prevent his work is a crime against humanity and should be condemned. No court is above this reproach.” 

The tax-evasion investigation of Nerdrum began in 2002, with Norwegian authorities stating that from April 1999 to April 2003 the artist failed to report income from business transactions in the United States totaling $2,530,738. Of that amount, Nerdrum put more than $400,000 in a safe-deposit box in Austria, causing the Norwegian government to suspect that the artist was intentionally hiding money. According to Nerdrum, the sum was set aside because, from 1983 to 1989, he had experimented with a new medium and made close to 40 pictures with this method. In the 1990s, the fugitive mixture began to break down, causing the paint to drip. Forum Gallery, in New York City—which represented Nerdrum at the time—started receiving complaints from clients that the paintings were deteriorating. As a way to prepare for the imminent requests for compensation, Nerdrum took out a loan from Forum Gallery and put that money aside, intending to either reimburse his clients or repaint the pictures. As quoted in the English translation of the court case: “Odd Nerdrum did not at any point consider the sum as his money, rather it was Forum Gallery’s money, that lay in a ‘limbo’ deposit in Norway for potential reimbursement.” The money was later moved to Austria. 

Although most of us are not in a position to dig too deeply into the legalities of the case, there are three main points of contention that seem to be surfacing among supporters: First, many feel the Norwegian state has been decidedly unfair and intentional in its negative portrayal of Nerdrum over the years and has made concerted efforts to ostracize and silence him, even before the investigation began. Second, many people claim that the Chase bank account in New York through which Nerdrum allegedly transferred two large sums of money is nonexistent. According to Odd’s wife Turid Spildo, Nerdrum never had a bank account in New York. And last, all seem to agree that, irrespective of the verdict on tax evasion, not allowing Nerdrum to paint is a deliberate attack on his artistic freedom. “Perhaps the Nerdrum case offers an obvious opportunity to realize how unproductive it is to put creative people in jail, when the case could have been solved by economic settlement,” wrote Bjørn Li, the CEO of The Nerdrum Institute in an article recently published in Scandinavia’s leading art magazine KUNST. “And when a prison sentence entails that our greatest painter be deprived of his brush and colors—that is, he will be denied to paint—I think the sentence is grotesque and repulsive.” 

In an effort to express our support of Odd Nerdrum and sympathy for his sentence, American Artist is allowing several of his colleagues, former pupils, and compatriots to voice their opinions throughout this article. It is encouraging to see the outpouring of support from the many people to whom Nerdrum has offered guidance, friendship, and mentorship over the years, during what has surely been one of the most trying times of the artist’s career.


Professional painter, academic director of the Mölndal, Sweden branch of The Florence Academy of Art 

I find it deeply upsetting to see how Norway treats not only their best painter of all time but also one of the best painters who ever walked the face of the earth. What Odd Nerdrum has accomplished in his work, and the inspiration he provides painters worldwide, has no comparison. 

I believe that the motivation behind the Norwegian judicial system’s verdict is this: Independence is the state’s worse fear, and Nerdrum’s financial and artistic success outside of their economic structure is considered a threat. Odd Nerdrum is a phenomenon that challenges the consensus and the sheep-minded mentality that pervades the contemporary art world, and therefore must be “dealt with.” I also think this trial is about sending a message to everyone else who aspires to have the kind of independence Nerdrum has achieved. 

I will not even bother speculating whether Nerdrum is guilty of tax evasion, as that is not the point and way outside my expertise. Although, for the record, I don’t believe that the charges are just. Still, for the government to not be satisfied with a fine, but instead sentence him to two years in prison with no possibility of painting, is completely outrageous. It is a worse crime to keep a painter like Odd Nerdrum from working than it is to accidently (if at all) not pay enough taxes. The Norwegian state is already one of the richest in the world, and seeing their greed and how they treat a national icon is truly a tragedy.


Professional painter, former pupil of Odd Nerdrum 

The Odd Nerdrum I know is not the man I see portrayed in the Norwegian press, the man whose words they censor and twist. No, the man I know has freely given his great knowledge to thousands of students, has inspired millions with his empathetic paintings, has spent his life fighting for human dignity. The man I know rescued me from homelessness. I don’t understand why they demonize him, but perhaps I understand their misdirected anger. 

I must say that Norway has committed a grave injustice. Let’s be clear: the charge is not that he didn’t pay taxes. He paid the taxes, and the court acknowledged this. The charge is that he intentionally hid money. Of this he is not guilty! We must remember the gravity of the situation: more than 36 massive canvases that he had painted with experimental techniques literally melted. He heroically repainted them and offered refunds, which was the only honorable solution. Odd spent 20 years paying for an honest mistake that any of us could have made. 

Yet, the court convicted him based upon a nonexistent account at Chase bank, inflated numbers, and decades-old conjecture. They will not let him paint, though the musician Varg Vikernes was convicted for murder and burning churches and was allowed to release two albums from prison. The only explanation I see for such an unprecedented punishment is that the court has made a political ruling and not a judicial one. 

Some blame rests on the unfortunate timing of Odd’s case, coming just after such a great tragedy [the July 22, 2011 attacks on one of Oslo’s government buildings and the attendees a youth camp on the island of Utøya]. That an atmosphere of the most profound grief may create such a distortion of perception is only human. But it is not acceptable. We must look back, in our later clarity, and resolve the rash decisions we’ve made in our blind grief. This is what it means to be just. 


 DANIEL GRAVES Professional painter, founder and academic director of The Florence Academy of Art 

Whether or not Odd Nerdrum committed tax evasion is something I’ll leave to the Norwegian authorities, but I would hope that whatever crime they say he’s committed fits the punishment he’s been given. The two-year prison sentence without the chance to paint seems extremely harsh, especially when you look around the world and see deliberate criminal acts and conspiracies receiving far less punishment. In response to this sentence, all of us artists feel a sense of camaraderie and want to rally around Odd in support of all the wonderful things he’s contributed to art, culture, and the education of young people. 


ALEXEY STEELE Professional painter, founder of Classical Underground 

I still remember the enormous impact Odd Nerdrum’s Namegivers had on me after leaving the Soviet Union and arriving in the United States in the early 1990s. 

Consumed with trying to figure out the realist tradition’s place in a modern society, I saw his work as bright examples of the extraordinary possibilities available in this long-neglected art form. They still are.

The recent campaign by the Norwegian government against this influential visionary, a cultural icon and one of the true masters, amounts to nothing more than a governmental purging of intellectual independence. The glaring disconnect between the severity of punishment and incriminated actions, the questionable evidence and deeply flawed judicial process that would never stand the scrutiny of the U.S. judicial system all smacks of Stalin’s infamous show trials. For the Norwegian government to throw the full wrath of its fury on Nerdrum while premeditated global banking crimes go unpunished is shameful, unconscionable, and despicable. 

Odd Nerdrum is a true artist, and true artists can never be silenced. 


BRANDON KRALIK Professional painter, former pupil of Odd Nerdrum 

Odd Nerdrum and I have been friends for more than 10 years, and he has shown nothing but integrity, respect, and generosity to me and everyone with whom I have seen him interact. Recently, just days before his trial, we took a drive from Paris to Sweden together to visit Rembrandt and talk along the way about painting. Sitting along the banks of the Trave in Lübeck, Germany, having breakfast with Odd was a more concise lesson in history than any college course. 

We should remember that Odd worked tirelessly for many years to rediscover the secrets of making beautiful pictures. He did this against the current of the accepted artistic expression of our time and without the benefit of academies or teachers who could help him. When he “discovered” a medium that was wonderfully creamy, rich, and luminous he did what most any of us would have done: He used it.

It would be difficult to know what to do when many years later this medium proved to be flawed, and it’s easy to criticize whatever choice was made to make amends. Leonardo’s Last Supper suffers from the experimentation of a master as well. The truth is that Odd did what he felt was best, and that was to keep the customers satisfied. To do this he repainted pictures and had the gallery set aside money in the event of future claims. He has paid his taxes, and it has become clear that is not the issue that has placed him on this precipice, but rather an impetus to push him over the edge by nervous authorities. 

Odd has been an inspiration for all of us who wish to paint like the Old Masters. He has led the way through the forest and left us a trail. To be imprisoned for simply going against the flow, for trying to make things right, should not be the reward for a lifetime of generosity and brilliant achievement. The court’s decision is one that needs to rightfully be overturned.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Adrian Gottlieb's Verdaccio Technique

oil on belgian linen
26 X 20 inches

California-based artist Adrian Gottlieb has always been gracious in sharing his knowledge of painting.   His original website was filled with information he had amassed during his period of study at the Florence Academy of Art, and included recipes and procedures for making higher-quality and more archivally-sound materials than were then commonly available on the market.  For those seeking education in traditional painting techniques, his website was a treasure trove of instruction (much of this information has now been transferred to the website dedicated to Gottlieb's Atelier).

In October of 2010,  Gottlieb further shared his methods in an article which appeared in The Artist's Magazine.  Written by Daniel Brown, the article focussed on Gottlieb's verdaccio technique, and also explored the artist's feelings behind the psychology of the painted portrait.  Portions of the article were reprinted online at the Artist's Network, and the following excerpts are from that site.

1. "After I do a drawing and color study, I draw in paint, working on top of a warm imprimatura (first layer, the underpainting) that is closest to burnt umber in color and actually rather dark in value. I try for the color/value of the imprimatura to be the approximate color/value of the shadows of my main subject. When the imprimatura is fully dried, I draw in a similar color."

(For this demonstration, Gottlieb used a heavy linen canvas primed with five layers of acrylic gesso.)

imprimatura - Italian for first paint layer;  the initial stain of color painted on a ground and left visible in areas over subsequent transparent layers;  usually made with an earth color like burnt umber.

2. "In this step I build up the piambura, or white base, thinly so that the finished painting will have a luminous and translucent effect. It’s important that I create a good value relationship and blueprint of the form right from the beginning."

(Gottlieb uses mongoose and bristle filbert brushes from Rosemary & Co..  His medium is a mixture of sun-thickened oil and Canadian balsam.  For oiling out, he uses copal retouch varnish.)

piambura - the lead white base that gives faces their luminosity.

3. "The Verdaccio technique, which uses a verdaccio layer is particularly advantageous for a bright figure against a relatively dark background. I fully model the forms, using temperature variations (cool and warm) between blue-greens and reds. I keep the painting too light (in value) so when I glaze the piece, the tone will fall back down."

(For the verdaccio technique, Gottlieb recommends his students use Sinopia and Chrome Oxide Green from Blue Ridge Oil Colors.  He also suggests using permanent rose from Winsor & Newton, and Indian yellow from Schmincke Mussini.)

verdaccio -  is a style of underpainting, which uses green-grey colours to establish values for later layers of paint. The technique is renowned for being particularly effective when painting flesh tones. As such, it was popular amongst Renaissance artists, and Leonardo da Vinci used verdaccio underpainting in his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.

Portrait of Gregg
oil, 26 X 20 in.

4. "You can see the results of the primary and secondary glazes, executed in thin layers, using lakes of color that are similar in degree of transparency and tint. I then apply straight color to work out the exact color notes and establish the relationship between figure and ground in Portrait of Gregg (oil, 26×20)."

(On his personal website, Gottlieb lists his color palette as the following colors: lead white, lead tin yellow, yellow ochre, vermilion, transparent red oxide, pyrol ruby red, cobalt blue, transparent sepia, olive green, and ivory black.  When mixing his colors, Gottlieb limits the number of source colors to four or less, and never mixes his colors directly on the canvas.  The student materials list on Gottlieb's Atelier website goes into much greater detail.)


The piambura stage of Gottlieb's paintings shows the tonal sensitivity the artist has, and are so beautiful, that many of his portraits are left at this level of finish.

Piambura of Danni
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #3
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #1
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #2
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #4
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.

Piambura of Heather #5
oil on Belgian linen
20 X 16 in.