Values in Monet’s Impression, Sunrise

Values in Monet's Impression Sunrise
Values in Monet's Impression Sunrise

Originally exhibited in the April 1874 exhibit of the Societe’ Anonyme des Artistes, Peintires, Sculpters, Graveurs, Etc. (Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc.), now referred to as the First Impressionist Exhibition, this painting by Claude Monet appeared with the title: Impression, Sunrise.

The name was picked up by unsympathetic critics and used derisively to label the group “Impressionists”. The name stuck, and the Impressionists picked it up and ran with it.

The painting is, as Monet has suggests in his title, an impression, or quick representation, of a fleeting effect.

As part of their effort to portray the effects of light and atmosphere, the Impressionist painters, and Monet especially, were fascinated with new theories of color that were being investigated at the time. Perhaps one of the most important of these ideas was the concept of simultaneous contrast, as presented by French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul in his book The Principles of Color Harmony and Contrast.

But simultaneous contrast was only one of the visual tools the Impressionist painters were adding to their methods of conveying the effects of light.

In more recent times, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard, Dr. Margaret Livingstone, noticed that if you reduce an image of Impression: Sunrise to grayscale — so that we see only value (luminance) — the sun almost disappears, save for the edges of the scant few brushstrokes with which it was painted.

She went on to point out this gave the painting a particular quality.

Our brain processes visual information in two different parts of our visual cortex, old and new. The older one senses light in a relatively primitive way — shared with other mammals, — in which it detects only luminance, but not color. The other, more evolutionarily recent area of the visual cortex — that we share only with other primates — sees color.

So, to one part of our brain, Monet’s sun, and the bright orange areas in the water and sky, are almost invisible. To the other, more sophisticated part, the sun is very much visible. In addition, against the muted blue of the background clouds, the effective brightness of the orange areas is accentuated by simultaneous contrast.

 
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Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion

Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion,
Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion,

I received review copy of Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, a new instructional video from painter, illustrator, writer and teacher James Gurney.

The concepts behind making gradations of color in visual art can seem as though they should be simple, until you find yourself trying to paint something like different bands of color on a coffee mug as they round the form into shadow, and you suddenly realize you’re in uncharted territory.

In Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, Gurney takes on the concepts behind achieving gradual transitions in color.

Gradient, is a term that has come into popular use from its prevalence in digital art; it is used here used as a collective term for gradations, gradated washes, and other gradual tone or color changes.

Gurney uses methodical studio demonstrations to set out the concepts and techniques of working with these kind of color transitions, and then shows real world application of them in sequences of on location painting, adding a dimension of understanding that would be difficult to convey in studio demos alone.

Interestingly, Gurney leaves in what otherwise might be outtakes, demonstrating some of the real world problems painters encounter, such as sudden drenching rain, or coming up against the limitations of an experimental technique, like painting in gouache over water soluble printing ink.

He has also interspersed recorded questions from viewers of his other videos or readers of his blog, in which they ask about concepts that relate to the demo or painting that Gurney is working with.

One of the key points he makes is the degree to which our perception of a color is influenced by the surrounding colors. He brings this home in the last segment, in which he demonstrates how to paint one of those optical illusions that show two squares in a checkerboard pattern on a cylinder that look completely different in context, but, when isolated are shown to be the same color and value. It’s one thing to see one of these optical demonstrations, it’s another level of insight to paint one yourself.

In Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, Gurney has once again demonstrated his ability to take complex or confusing concepts, reduce them to their essential components and lay out a path to understanding with clarity and ease.

Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion is available for download or streaming through Gumroad, and is also available as a DVD. Both are 10% off Saturday and Sunday, September 11th and 12th, 2021.

 
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Vermeer restoration unveiled with revealed Cupid

Vermeer restoration unveiled with revealed Cupid
Vermeer restoration unveiled with revealed Cupid

Johannes Vermeer, the remarkable 17th century painter from the city of Delft in the Netherlands, is revered for his transcendent portrayals of the effects of light and atmosphere in domestic scenes.

He is best known for his series of compositions in which people, predominantly young women, are seen engaged in simple activities in front of a window — always to the viewer’s left. These make up the majority of Vermeer’s oeuvre, and consist of many variations on the theme.

The painting known as Girl Reading a Letter at a Window, which has been a centerpiece of the collection of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden for over 250 years, is recognized as the first of these.

It has been known since 1979, when an X-ray analysis was made of the painting, that Vermeer had placed a painting within a painting of a large portrayal of Cupid on the wall behind the figure. It was assumed that Vermeer had thought better of his compositional choice and painted over the image of the painting.

However, a restoration was undertaken in May of 2017, in which it was determined by materials analysis that the overpainting of the blank wall had, in fact, been added by another hand after the time of Vermeer’s death.

Given that knowledge, the conservators began to remove the third-hand paint-over, including painted over extensions of the composition at the edges of the canvas, which Vermeer had left blank, perhaps in anticipation of mounting the work in a particular frame.

Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister has now unveiled the restoration, which will be the center of a new exhibition, Johannes Vermeer. On Reflection, that will be on display from 10/9/2021 to 2/1/2022.

The restoration reveals the detailed, large scale painting of Cupid, similar to the painting within a painting of Vermeer’s later work, Lady Standing at a Virginal.

This page on the website of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister goes into the restoration of the painting at a time when the process was about half way completed.

The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister has not yet released a high resolution image of the restored painting, so I’m including images of the pre-restoration version — that are available in high resolution on the Google Art Project and Wikipedia — in which you can see a shadowy pentimento of the covered painting.

You can see the pre-restoration version in context, both by date and in size comparison to Vermeer’s other works in this fascinating comparison on the fantastic Essential Vermeer website. (See my post on Essential Vermeer.)

[Via Colossal and Kottke, thanks to Erlc Lee Smith for the suggestion]

 
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Sketches in Line and Wash by Jeanette L. Gurney

Sketches in Line and Wash by Jeanette L. Gurney
Sketches in Line and Wash by Jeanette L. Gurney

If, like me, you’ve watched many of James Gurney’s excellent short videos on YouTube, you have undoubtedly seen Jeanette Gurney, James Gurney’s wife, playing a supporting role, often accompanying him on sketching trips and sketching in the background while he sketches or paints.

Occasionally, we would get a look at her line and watercolor drawings, which I have always enjoyed, but usually only glimpses.
With the release of a recent video on YouTube titled Sketches in Line and Wash by Jeanette Gurney, we finally get a more extended look at Jeanette Gurney’s line and watercolor drawings.

Line and watercolor has been gaining in popularity in recent years as a favored medium among urban sketchers; Jeanette Gurney has been working this way for some time. It is a fascinating combination of mediums, with many of the eye pleasing characteristics of both drawing and painting. These characteristics are evident in the variety of approaches to line and wash featured in this video.

The video itself appears to be a recording of a livestream conducted with a New Jersey high school. In the first third or so both Jeanette and James field questions from the students and Jeanette discusses her materials and basic techniques. There is a list of materials links when you open the “Show More” link on the YouTube page.

About 12 minutes in, we see more of her line and wash sketches, in which her line application varies from pencil to marker to pen and even ballpoint. Her favored subject is architecture, and her sketches are of a fascinating variety of buildings.

She has a light touch with her lines — contrasted with occasionally bold marker lines — and an often free application of watercolor, giving her drawngs the feeling of a loose, casual sketch, though it’s obvious that there is a solid foundation of draftsmanship underneath.

This is one of those delightful videos that makes you want to grab your sketchbook and head out the door.

 
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Richard Schmid 1934-2021

Richard Schmid
Richard Schmid

I was saddened to learn of the death on Sunday of American artist Richard Schmid, one of the finest and most influential realist artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

His paintings are veritable textbooks of color and value relationships, texture, brush handling, and the subtle power of edges in painting. Schmid was not only a formidable painter, but a hugely influential teacher; you can see his influence in the work of his students, their students and even those who have just known his work from afar.

Fortunately, Schmid has left a legacy of teaching materials — treasure troves of painting knowledge that are available to the rest of us. His book Alla Prima II: Everything I know About Painting – and More is the single best book on the art of painting of which I am aware. I learn something new every time I go through it. I have also found his instructional videos — particularly those on landscape painting — of great value. (Most outstanding for me is the second in his landscape series: June.)

If you are not well acquainted with his work, the official Richard Schmid website is a great place to start. You will find examples of his work not only in the Portfolio, but in the sections on Available Art, Lithographs and Books and Videos. (In the Books section, on the pages for the individual titles, look below the image of the cover for the “Preview This Item” tab.)

Unfortunately, the official website pulls up short of showing his work to best advantage in large images. For that, you may need to use a Bing or Google image search, with the parameters set to “Large” or “Extra Large” (see my recent article on image search). In this way you can view larger images of his work that have been reproduced by auction houses.

As much as I admire Schmid’s work as a portraitist and still life painter, it is his landscapes that have long captured my attention. Subtle, atmospheric and evocative, his landscapes are masterful examples of the power of suggestion in painting, convincing your eye that there is more there than is actually delineated. The published collection, The Landscapes is a visual treat, beautifully printed and at a marvelously large size (see my review here).

I haven’t yet gotten a copy of the new still life book, but I can’t imagine it is anything less than superb.

In all cases, I strongly recommend purchasing his books and videos direct from the official website. Not only will the proceeds go more directly to his family, but the materials are actually less expensive there than through third party sites like Amazon.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: John Sell Cotman graphite and wash drawing

East End of Saint Jacques at Dieppe, Normandy; John Sell Cotman; graphite and brown wash
East End of Saint Jacques at Dieppe, Normandy (details); John Sell Cotman; graphite and brown wash

East End of Saint Jacques at Dieppe, Normandy; John Sell Cotman; graphite and brown wash; roughly 12 x 9 inches (29 x 22 cm). LInk is to zoomable version on Google Art Project, downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons, original is in the Yale Center for British Art.

English painter, printmaker and illustrator John Sell Cotman, who was active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was prolific and left a trove of drawings in addition to his paintings and graphics. Here, he confidently delineates the intricately decorative structure of a large Renaissance church with graphite, augmented with subtle washes.

The drawing exhibits both the substantial accuracy of a careful architectural drawing, and the liveliness of a more casual sketch.

In part, this is likely due to the loosely free rendering of the roof of the lower structure, but I think it’s also due to an approach I have also noticed in the wonderful architectural drawings of Canaletto.

In both cases, lines that over their course are ruler straight, are along the way wavering and often lightly broken. It’s a wonderful technique.

 
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