Probably one session left to finish this.
Up close, there is still quite a bit to do. We must keep the materials at least 4 feet from the painting, so adding a couple feet for the distance to my eyes, I'm actually about 6 feet away while working. From that distance, my copy looks amazing; but then I step up close, and the perfection in the original makes me want to hang up my brushes.
Lievens did quite a few paintings of this same model. Here are some links with images of other "tronies". I think it had to be the same model.
Sotheby's and Christie's
The magical part of copying a work is not knowing how some of the effects were created, then accidentally stumbling onto those methods while working. Like happy accidents, those "ah-ha" moments are what make the exercise so valuable.
Here are two portraits of the same sitter, and a story to go along with them. I'll start with the one that I feel best captures who he is.
He's confident, happy, has a megawatt smile. He's also a busy professional with very little free time. He's a football fan (Go Redskins!), so when he came by for a sitting, he asked if he could listen to the game on headphones while I sketched him. I always want people to be comfortable and at ease while I'm working, so I said sure! Unfortunately, the team missed a field goal and fell behind, so the expression I got was actually more like this:
Not that there's anything wrong with that, I was very taken with the drama that unfolded on his face, but I struggled terribly to complete an accurate likeness (later repainted it 8 times, and then abandoned)--because this really isn't who he is. Fortunately, I had time to chat with him enough to get to know him, and took some reference photos--one of which enabled me to get the likeness in the top image here.
Yesterday I happened to talk to another portrait painter while painting at the National Gallery, and she mentioned how difficult it is to get people to come for a live sitting at all any more; they would rather just submit photos. People are busy, which is understandable, but a portrait painted from a photo without the benefit of "face time" with a sitter will never capture the same energy and character. There's something sublime that happens between the subject and the painter, that makes it possible to portray the sitter's best self: a blend of how they see themselves, how the painter sees them, and the essence of their personality. I am glad I had enough time with this guy to get to know him a little, because that's what saved me.
Last week, my husband took this shot of me working on my Lievens copy. Made good progress this week, starting the eyes and some of the skin tones:
The eyes, even unfinished, have brought the figure to life. Visitors love that, and for good reason. It's much easier now to envision the whole face. There is still much to do, probably three more sessions. I'm reserving the beard for last, because that seems to be the order that Lievens followed. The paint and scoring that make up the "whiskers" clearly overlap the skin and clothing.
I am using only an earth palette. Although I brought chromatic primaries with me, I didn't touch them. The "blue" eyes are painted with black and white, which is almost certainly what Lievens did. In isolation the color is grey, but in the warm context of the skin, they look very blue. Other than that, I'm using yellow ochre or raw sienna, earth red, burnt sienna and burnt umber. As for painting medium, I would love to use Venice turp which would give a lot more traction especially for the thicker passages of the skin, but real turpentine is not allowed in the NGA because of the stronger smell. Walnut alkyd medium works great for the glazing, adding translucency and a hint of tack and traction.Walnut oil is a nod to the original, since these masters were thought to use walnut rather than linseed. The alkyd helps it dry much more quickly than walnut or even stand oil would, alone.
If you haven't listened to the NGA podcasts about Jan Lievens, there are links in this post. Here is a slightly closer view of the copy at the end of the day: