Eye Candy for Today: Whistler’s Wapping

Wapping, James McNeill Whistler
Wapping on Thames, James McNeill Whistler

In the national Gallery of Art, DC.

The name refers to a rough and tumble dock area of the Thames River in London, where Whistler lived and worked for a time, though I think the location is actually a nearby inn rather than the artist’s studio.

In a marked contrast to the serene simplicity of his later nocturnes, Whistler has taken on a very complex subject, one that he reworked and struggled with, dramatically changing the figures in particular.

Whistler expected the painting to be hailed as a triumph, and was embittered when it was rejected by the London art world of the time, even after a reworking. The experience helped set the course for his iconoclastic and confrontational relationship with the art establishment for most of his career.

The woman was Whistler’s companion and frequent model at the time, Jo Hiffernan, originally cast in a narrative as a prostitute being solicited by an older man. The figures were reworked, the narrative element largely removed, Jo made more presentable and the older man recast as the artist Alphonse Legros.

Perhaps it was the reworking that makes the figures, for me, the least interesting part of the painting. My eye goes immediately into the background, where it delightedly wanders amid the profusion of sails, masts and lines, the beautifully painterly wood hulls of the boats and the impressionistic swipes of muted color that make up the river’s surface.


David Kassan (update)

Despite having previously written about him in 2008 and again in 2010, I still struggled a bit in trying to describe David Kassan’s approach to his portrait and figurative work.

He certainly doesn’t flatter his subject, but neither does his deliberately seek out the grotesque (as, say, Lucian Freud). Words like “honest” or “direct” don’t seem to carry it. The best I could think of was “unblinking”.

It’s as though Kassan opens his eye to his subjects with the intention of taking them in in their entirety, from the minute visual details of their physical appearance to the overall effect of their personality and mood.

He paints in keenly observed notation of color, value and texture, often setting his carefully studied subjects against rough backgrounds, which are one of the few areas in which he lets the paint come forward as paint, preferring to submerge the paint into its role as a medium for the image and the artist’s vision.

In addition to the paintings on his site, there is also a selection of drawings, mostly in charcoal on toned paper.

Kassan has established the Kassan Foundation, that gives out two 5k grants each year, one in visual art and one in music.

Kassan teaches classes and workshops, and offers instructional portrait videos on painting and drawing on DVD, and one by direct streaming.

In addition, he has a number of free shorter videos on YouTube, mostly of demo sessions, and also describing his latest venture, the parallelPALETTE.


Valerio Fabbretti

Valerio Fabbretti, children's book illustrator, concept artist and comics artist.
Originally from Italy and now living and working in San Francisco, where he studied at Academy of Art University, Valerio Fabbretti is a children’s book illustrator, concept artist and comics artist.

Fabbretti brings to his work a lively, innocent style ideal for his subjects. There is little information on his website about materials, but it looks like he is using watercolor and colored pencil.

His website and portfolio on Shannon Associates contain a number of monochrome pieces and preliminary drawings as well as finished color pieces.


Eugène Galien Laloue

Eugene Galien Laloue, belle epoch paintings of Paris in gouache
Though others have taken on the style and subject matter over time — continuing to this day — there are four artists that I associate with a particular approach to painting the subject of Paris during the Belle Epoch (around the turn of the twentieth century): Luigi Loir, Edouard Leon Cortès; Eugène Galien Laloue and Antoine Blanchard.

For lack of a better or more formal term, I’ve heard them referred to as simply “Painters of Paris”.

I might add Jean Béraud to that list, though his style wasn’t as close to the others. Neither was Loir, on the whole, but I think the origins of the style can be traced to him.

The particular style focuses on the beauty of the City of Light, and often portrays it thus — its shops, monuments, quays, boulevards, plazas and people highlighted with pools of color and light, both natural and artificial, set against lower chroma backgrounds of the city’s striking architecture.

Of the four painters, Eugène Galien Laloue (sometimes hyphenated as Eugène Galien-Laloue) is my favorite, both because I love his compositions, color choices and rendering style in general, and because he worked primarily in gouache, an often overlooked medium for which my admiration and fascination continues to grow.

Galien Laloue worked in oil as well, but reportedly preferred gouache because he could produce a salable painting in two days, rather than the week or more it took him for a oil that might sell for a comparable price.

Galien Laloue was prolfic, and while under contract to a single gallery, used several aliases, including J. Liwvin, E. Galiany and L. Dupuy, in order to continue to sell through other galleries.

Though he sketched on location, Galien Laloue preferred to paint in the controlled conditions of his studio. It looks as though he ruled out the perspective that is the basis of his architectural subjects in pencil, and often left the pencil showing as part of the finished work, even to the point that some indications of rows of window are only pencil, with little addition of linear details in paint.

This crossing of the border between painting and drawing, which gouache in particular facilitates, is one of the things I love about his work. He seems to have struck a wonderful balance between rendering and drawing, finish and sketch, detail and suggestion that I find particularly appealing.

I also enjoy his wonderful color choices, and his use of muted grays, overcast skies and the reflections of scenes in rainy pavement. In particular, Galien Laloue had a beautiful touch with portraying the city in snow, not just freshly fallen, but with the traffic of the day evident in tracks, ruts and swept away areas.

Many of his paintings of Paris are set in the late fall and winter. He also did oils of the countryside in springtime, and during World War I devoted himself to portrayals of soldiers in battle, though I find images of his work during this period are not prevalent on the web.

The best source I’ve found for high-resolution images of his work (which are particularly a treat) is to do a Google search of Bohnams.com: Eugene Galien Laloue site:bonhams.com, and then follow the links to indivudal pieces. You can do the same trick for Sotheby’s.

A great selection of medium sized images can be found in eight articles on One1more2time3’s Weblog, which is where I was introduced to Galien Laloue.

A good source for Eugene Galien Laloue biographical information and images is Rehs Galleries in NY, which frequently sells his work (and also has good info and images for Edouard Leon Cortes and Antoine Banchard). There is also a nice selection on Galerie Ary Jan.


Eye Candy for Today: Théodore Chassériau pencil portrait

Portrait of a Young Woman Wearing a Cloak and Bonnet, Theodore Chasseriau, graphite on wove paper
Portrait of a Young Woman Wearing a Cloak and Bonnet, Théodore Chassériau

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art; graphite on wove paper; approximately 18 x 15 in. (46 x 39 cm).

Chassériau has given us a beautifully sensitive pencil portrait. The commentary on the museum’s website suggests that Chassériau shows more interest in the subject’s garments than her face, but I have to disagree.

The face is rendered with wonderful finesse, and some of the delicacy of an etching, while the rest of the figure is more gestural and economically realized, in a manner similar to the pencil portraits of Ingres, who was Chassériau’s teacher.


Alvin Richard

Alvin Richard, precise, light filled still life
Canadian artist Alvin Richard, who lives in the Atlantic provence of New Brunswick, works in acrylic on board when painting his crisp, light-filled still life compositions.

Richard balances his precise draftsmanship with a sensitivity to the softness of edges and a nuanced feeling for the play of light, particularly through glass. This is especially evident in his portrayals of canning jars, with their ridged grooves and raised logos, as well as more decorative glass, both crystal and art glass vessels.

He will often juxtapose his glass containers against the covers of books, particularly art books, with the sheen of their coated covers a muted contrast to the more highly reflective passages on the glass surfaces. He will also often fill his glass containers with objects, both amusing and challenging in their own surface characteristics.

I get the impression he is always looking to challenge himself with interesting combinations and subjects that can be difficult to render, even taking on the portrayal of stamps, labels and book pages.

Richard uses his portfolio on the Federation of Canadian Artists website as his primary website, with selections of both available and sold paintings. He also maintains an active blog, which reaches back to 2007, and another shorter blog just to showcase his available paintings.

You can also find his work on the sites of the Elliot Fouts Gallery and the Fog Forest Gallery.

There is an interview with Alvin Richard on Carrie Waller’s blog, and several articles on Art & Critique.