Rembrandt and Vermeer, finished

This one is done now, and I'm very happy with the result. I've also finished a Vermeer commission, and will post that below the Rembrandt.

 24 x 20" oil/canvas. There were issues with copying this one in person, largely due to darkening over time and glare within the gallery. The high-resolution images on the NGA.gov website were immensely helpful. In person, this is a very successful painting and has a real presence. Here are a couple detail shots. Use "open link in new tab" to see the fully enlarged image.

The Vermeer which was begun months ago is finished as well, I blogged about it before here. The final painting and some detail shots are below.

24 x 20", oil on canvas. Source imagery thanks to the Rijksmuseum.

Details ("open link in new tab"):


If you missed the earlier  post, there is a lot of great information about the meanings of these objects here. The symbolism has been debated for centuries, but even just the literal meanings of these objects are fascinating. The bread basket was hung on the wall to keep the bread away from mice. The dark object above that is a framed picture. The footwarmer on the floor has been interpreted as sexual metaphor (heat under the skirt), especially given the Cupid tile next to it and her bare arm, but it was also a practical fixture in daily life.


Rembrandt in Progress

This is a lovely Rembrandt portrait at the National Gallery, and a copy was commissioned by the good people who bought my painting of the Lievens Bearded Man.

We do not know the identity of the sitter, it hangs side-by-side with this portrait, and it seems that this pair of portraits might be husband and wife. Rembrandt made many portraits of wealthy Dutch people who are not known to us now. This pair of portraits has a very interesting provenance involving the Yusupov family, surviving both the Napoleonic invasion of Russia and the Bolshevik revolution. The paintings were taken off their stretchers, rolled up and smuggled out of Yalta aboard a British ship. They are now part of the National Gallery's permanent collection.

I'm three sessions into the Rembrandt, and the work is coming together. It's a difficult painting to work from even in person, because the dark parts are very dark. It's not due to old varnish, this painting had a complete conservation in 2007; but the contours in the drapery have darkened to near-imperceptibility. My guess is that Rembrandt used lead white as a lightener to describe the folds, and that has now darkened and become nearly as black as the areas around it. The high-res image on the NGA website is actually much better, because it was taken under very bright light which reveals more of the contrast than can be seen in person. Another very interesting fact about this painting is that it was transferred from one canvas to another (not relined, actually transferred) by a Russian conservationist during the 1800's. It wouldn't seem even possible, and is not a method that modern conservation would employ (since all modern conservation measures MUST be reversible), but it was commonly done then. Here is a link about the process to transfer a painting from one support to another, among the riskiest procedures ever used. Here's a link to the technical notes about this specific painting.

Work in progress, 24" X 20". Excuse the glare!


Vermeer and Duchamp

Two projects in process currently: a commission for Vermeer's Milkmaid, and a commissioned Rembrandt at the National Gallery.

The Vermeer is a huge challenge, especially because I can't work from the original which is in the Netherlands. So, I requested a high-resolution image and information from the Rijksmuseum, which they very kindly sent. This link is a wealth of information about this painting, Vermeer's masterwork, which is full of symbolism and sublime beauty. When I took it on, I didn't realize how much difference it would make that I couldn't see the actual work. The authoritative image is only as good as the monitor with which one views it, so I loaded it onto several computers and tried to sort of "average" the color interpretation.

Here is the work in progress, probably 2-3 weeks from being finished, lots of adjustments and details to be done:

24" x 20", oil/stretched canvas

The other commission I've done recently is Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, for a very dear friend and fellow artist who traded an original work for it. I was the winner in that deal. :)

This work was outside my comfort zone for sure, but I learned so much about how Duchamp worked. 13" x  9", oil/stretched canvas


Pope Innocent X

I'm wrapping up my latest National Gallery Copyist painting, and this one has an interesting background. I'll also talk more about the process and numerous benefits of copying, at the end of this post.

Here is the almost-finished painting, in front of the original:

We must use a larger or smaller support than the original. Since there are other references in a larger format (see below), I chose to go bigger (24 x 18), and the proportions are a bit different.

The original and the details of it can be seen on the NGA website, here. This painting was bought by Andrew W. Mellon in 1930 as an original Velazquez, but scholars have since established it as "Circle of Velazquez". Velazquez painted the full size portrait of Pope Innocent X in Rome, here is an image of that:

This portrait is still in Rome. The Pope, upon seeing it, said "Troppo vero, troppo vero!" Too true! (This is the work that inspired Francis Bacon's Screaming Pope paintings in the 1950's)

Then, Velazquez painted what is known as an "autograph replica"--a copy of his original, for himself. That painting now resides in London, and here is an image of it:

Both of these are known to be by the hand of Velazquez, so the work at the NGA was assumed to be another replica or study also painted by Velazquez.

 Time and modern technology have made better assessment possible...there is an unrelated painting underneath it. In addition, the expression and other elements have become a little bit exaggerated. On the ear, there is a visible series of dots--revealing a process that was frequently used to transfer an image. This was most likely painted by a workshop assistant or student, on a discarded canvas. We can't possibly know for sure, but the evidence seems compelling.

In making my copy, I decided to undo some of the distortion of the eyes and brow, and make mine closer to the original or the autograph replica--both of which have a much more believable expression. I referred to high-resolution images of those works, and relied on the paint and brushwork of the painting in front of me. 

My process, as in the past, is to paint from what's in front of me. No tracing or mechanical transfer of the image, because duplication is not my goal...learning is. While I'm grappling with visualizing the original, my errors are woven in and my own voice shows through. This is the greatest gift of copying, I think. It's a lesson from a master, but ultimately it comes through me and produces something original, just as this "Circle of Velazquez" rendition did for whomever painted it.

Copying is a standard part of an artist's training in school and beyond. We see differently and absorb things in a unique way when we copy--written, drawn or painted. Linda Barry likens it to singing along with a song you love, because it takes you somewhere. And yet, the voice is yours.

My result, minus final touches: