Friday, January 23, 2015

Wishful Thinking

Wishful Thinking © Niall O'Neill
We have an abundance of bluebells in our garden; they grow with enthusiasm and spread themselves about, both the blue and the white varieties. I wanted to paint some in a little brass jug, to get the colour harmony between the complementaries. After trying out some other sundry objects in my collection of bric-a-brac, I decided to put the brass jug on a little Buddhist stand, and used a cloisonné snail as a whimsical note.
This is the initial sketch, which as you can see is very cursory, and a fill-in with basic colour and values.
The colour change on the background is wholly down to lighting conditions when I took the photos, and my complete inability to match them from session to session! The basic colours are greens, brown, off-white, black, and three shades of blue for the flowers - all Carbothello pencils at this stage.


The next stage is to finish the flowers with the colours I require to make them as realistic as possible. I used Sennelier Blue-Violet 331-335; and Prussian 464 for the shadows among the flowers. I outlined the flowers with the background colour to verify my values, started and continued with the brass jug, which has Rembrandt greens,  umbers and ochres; intensified the black top to the stand, worked on the facia, and began the shadows underneath. A check at this point shows me that the stems of the bluebells do not fit within the jug and will need correction.


I pull down the background almost to the horizon line; intensify the shadows under the stand; correct the bluebells by narrowing the stems and fractionally widening the neck of the jug. The snail starts to get a fill of greys, greens blues and Indian red (Carbothello again, Caran d'Ache umber, and Rembrandt). Note the dirty fingerprints on the untouched area! Tricky to keep clean when handling such dark colours, but I also know that I will cover this area later. Finally, I fill in and adjust the background with Senneliers darkest blue mixed with green, which intensifies it; the base is green and black, also blended together. Reflections are adjusted, soft pastel highlights added to the snail, and the piece is signed - and consigned to a temporary frame until I recheck it in about a month.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Foo Fighters

Ok ok, I know it's an offshoot of Nirvana. But Foo Dogs, or even Temple Lions would also cover the subject, but not as catchily.
I bought a pair of Foo dogs off eBay, in two different attitudes, I had wanted to paint them since I saw Jane Lund's lovely rendering of the subject.
Image © Jane Lund

The set-up was simple - a pair of ceramic dogs on black glass, black velvet backdrop, and a carved Chinese plinth to vary the levels of the two. I photographed the set-up and converted the image in PaintshopPro to 16 colours - effectively posterizing the image. I used that image for the base drawing and  blocking in. The difference in ground colour is due to the change in ambient light between photo sessions.
At this stage I am using hard pastels only - pencils and a few Rembrandts.


Here we are looking at the finishing of the left hand figure, and the blocking in of the plinth. I am still using Rembrandts for the finer details, but Schminke and Sennelier are participating in the colour fields on the statues.


At this stage the figures are nearing completion, and I want to check out the contrast between the lights, the planned dark background, and the edges of the figures against the background.


The background is filled in; the plinth completed with pencils, Rembrandt, and Caran d'Ache; and the foreground filled in too. The background is a mixture of  Sennelier's darkest blue (463) and darkest green (177). The foreground has black and green in it.


Foo Fighters © Niall O'Neill
Final image has reflections added and highlights refined. It will be put aside, and maybe adjusted before being framed and displayed.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Portrait of K #III

I decided that the earlier version was too chubby and decided to give it another go. Inspired by the Portrait Artist of the Year competition, where artists have just four hours to paint the sitter, I determined to waste no time on this, especially since I had already done it twice. So about 4 hours work over a couple of days completed the piece. Whew!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Portrait of K #II

Although the colour of the ground suited the portrait in that it echoed much of the skin tone, I decided not to leave it as the background; there was a red brick wall behind the subject that added interest and texture without losing the overall colour scheme. So I added it. I took the opportunity to narrow the face slightly, working on the shadows on the left face (as you look at it) and tidying the eyes, especially the sclera and the lower lids. It's framed now, so that's that!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Portrait of K

It's been a while since I posted any work on this blog, and I am breaking the logjam with a child's portrait - an unusual departure for me, as I usually stick firmly to still life. This was a challenge - doubly so as the contrast and information in the photos I had to hand were not really adequate. There is so much more character in an older person's face, that I found the smooth tones and transitions in a child's skin far more difficult to interpret.
I started out with a chosen photo, and reduced it in Photoshop to 16 colours, as is my normal practice. However, I did not use this posterized image as an underpainting on this occasion, but kept it beside me for reference as to the outlines of the value changes. 
The first layer was put in using only hard Nupastels and Derwent pencils in shades of Burnt Sienna, Brown Ochre, Terracotta, Spectrum Orange and Orange Earth.


This first layer was lightly blended by my fingers before proceeding - no fixative was used at any stage.
I started to lightly stroke Rembrandts in lightest tints of Burnt Sienna, Gold Ochre and Orange, and roughed in the shirt and side of the head,
This is a shot of my armamentarium! There are  few light greys out of shot - and black!

These are the skin tones I used - I compared them on a grey background, as my support was too close in colour to use for this.
Nearly there. Some adjustments were needed in the lightest lights on the face, to soften transitions and adjust the areas occupied by the lights. Some Jackson soft pastels and also Blue Earths were used for rich darks in the hair.


Final result - the only thing left to decide is whether I will paint in a background (there is a red brick wall in the reference photo) or leave it stand.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Colour Analysis of Pastels by Paul Centore


I wish to bring my readers' attention to the work of Paul Centore, as expressed on his pastel colour website, Colour Science for Painters, a website that applies colour science to understanding of the use of colour in painting, in particular with pastels. Paul's analysis depends on the  use of the Munsell system's concepts of hue, value, and chroma, which are fundamental to understanding colour in painting.

While the website is somewhat technical, the results Paul achieves are fascinating, and the pages on Colour Analysis of Pastels, with links to pdf documents of the work carried out on Rembrandt and Unison brands respectively give an idea of what Paul is faced with, as he intends to apply similar techniques to analysing more pastel marques.

In order to progress his work Paul requires the cooperation of keen pastel artists, in particular those who possess a comprehensive range of a particular brand. How one can assist is explained on the website - rest assured, you do not have to part with any of your precious sticks!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer

A three month break from this blog saw me return last week to a PC which showed its objection to its lack of use by promptly crashing when I turned it on. Windows stubbornly refused to load. I had to find the original recovery disks and laboriously re-load all the software before getting back to business. Painting is easier!

Regular readers of the Pastel Journal may have noticed the last page of the October 2014 issue featured Woman with a Medallion by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer in the Great Pastels series. This piece was a considerably abbreviated version of the original article I wrote for the Journal. Here is the complete article.

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer was born Lucien Lévy in Algiers in 1865, to Solomon Levy and Pauline Amelia Goldhurmer.  He returned as a boy with his family to France and in October 1879, at the age of 14,  he began studying at the École communale supérieure de Dessin et Sculpture, and was accepted at the Paris Salon of 1882, well before he had finished schooling, showing a small ceramic plaque featuring the Birth of Venus in the style of Alexandre Cabanel.  From 1886 to 1895, in need of money, he began as a ceramic decorator and climbed to artistic director of the studio of Clément Massier at Golfe Juan, near Cannes on the Côte d’Azur. He became known for his experimentations with metallic luster glazes based on Middle Eastern and Hispano-Moresque pottery, and around 1892 on becoming director he co-signed his first pieces of ceramics together with Clément Massier. Meantime he continued to paint in oil and pastel, exhibiting in Paris with the Peintres de l'âme in 1894 in a show organized by the journal L'Art et la Vie. In 1895, nearing his thirtieth birthday, Lévy travelled to Venice and Florence, where the work of da Vinci and the Renaissance Masters had a profound influence on him. The trip markedly re-focused him on his earlier artistic ambitions. He returned to Paris and his art.
In Paris he settled in a studio down the road from Gustave Moreau’s in the ninth arrondissement. The Belgian poet Georges Rodenbach, through a mutual friend, soon invited the young artist to lunch; he wanted Lévy-Dhurmer to draw his portrait. The portrait, now in the Musee d'Orsay, is a testimony to the rapid friendship coloured with mutual respect which grew up between the two men. In it the poet is shown full face  against a background suggestive of  the town of Bruges in reference to the book which made Georges Rodenbach famous: Bruges-La-Morte.



Thanks to Rodenbach,  Lévy had his first solo exhibition in 1896 at the Galerie Georges Petit under the name Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (he'd added the last two syllables of his mother's maiden name (Goldhurmer), in order to stand out from other Lévys.) He showed  a series of 24 works including 16 pastels, 2 chalks and 5 oils paintings, some of which are today among his better-known works - Bourrasque, Le Silence, Portrait de Georges Rodenbach, Eve, Mystère.  This location brought him immediate celebrity, as the gallery was known for showing only recognised artists and those with an international reputation. One critic proclaimed him “a youth, a debutant and also a master,” asking rhetorically if the artist was “Symbolist, Mystic, or Romantic.” Another critic likened him to "da Vinci, Botticelli and Memling, the ancients, the moderns…"  He also attracted the attention of artists like Émile Bernard, and Gustave Moreau. Georges Rodenbach introduced him to Pierre Loti, whose portrait he painted, with the Bosporous as the background.  "In the twilight Stamboul of Loti's portrait, I have lit little lamps today, which are reflected in the Bosporus, and which are the small trembling souls of Aziyade and Achmet," he wrote.  Loti thanked him most particularly in a letter:
"I often reproach myself that I have not thanked you enough for painting the only image of me  that will survive.”


His paintings and his style of hazy academicism  was appreciated in equal measure by the public and by other artists. Poet, critic  and resistance leader  Jean Cassou has pointed out: '[Lévy-Dhurmer's] pastels reveal an artist who can reconcile a technique of academic precision with an Impressionist vision of the world, and can thus treat his Symbolist subjects loaded with mystery.'
After 1901 Lévy-Dhurmer moved away from expressly Symbolist content, except in some representations of women illustrating the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy, and in some landscapes, although he was already incorporating more landscapes into his work because of his travels in Europe and North Africa. Travelling in North Africa and then Turkey he made greater use of pastels, easier to carry and use when traveling, and they remained a favored medium throughout his subsequent career.

He participated in some group exhibitions, was a regular at the Salon d'Automne, and had 8 further solo shows.  After 1900 he experimented with a technique of using  diffuse restricted colours, often with a bluish tint, which he continued with up to his death, long after Symbolism had been forgotten.

His paintings and his style of hazy academicism  was appreciated in equal measure by the public and by other artists. Poet, critic  and resistance leader  Jean Cassou has pointed out: '[Lévy-Dhurmer's] pastels reveal an artist who can reconcile a technique of academic precision with an Impressionist vision of the world, and can thus treat his Symbolist subjects loaded with mystery.'
After 1901 Lévy-Dhurmer moved away from expressly Symbolist content, except in some representations of women illustrating the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy, and in some landscapes, although he was already incorporating more landscapes into his work because of his travels in Europe and North Africa. Travelling in North Africa and then Turkey he made greater use of pastels, easier to carry and use when traveling, and they remained a favored medium throughout his subsequent career.
He participated in some group  exhibitions, was a regular at the Salon d'Automne, and had 8 further solo shows.  After 1900 he experimented with a technique of using  diffuse restricted colours, often with a bluish tint, which he continued with up to his death, long after Symbolism had been forgotten.

Around 1910, he began to explore the process of interior decorating, leading to a commission from Auguste Rateau (1863–1930), for his apartment at 10 bis Avenue Élysée-Reclus, near the Eiffel Tower.  Rateau  was an engineer who manufactured internal combustion engines and a member of the Académie des Sciences as well as an art connoisseur with a particular interest in the Art Nouveau movement. Lévy-Dhurmer, like many of his contemporaries (such as Josef Hoffmann in Austria, Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland, and Frank Lloyd Wright in America,) worked as an ensemblier, conceiving interiors as "total works of art" by designing not only the architectural setting but also everything that went into them.
The Wisteria dining room room and all its contents were thus  conceived as a unified whole and were created in 1910-1914. Lévy-Dhurmer incorporated the wisteria motif throughout the room: the canvases, painted in the pointillist style, depict herons and peacocks standing in wisteria-laden landscapes; the book-matched walnut-veneered wall panels are inlaid with purplish amaranth wood representing clusters of wisteria blossoms; tresses of wisteria flowers and leaves are carved on the furniture and even stamped on the leather upholstery. The motif is detailed on the door handles, drawer pulls, and the gilded fire screen. The standard lamps represent the twisting vines of the wisteria liana.  Lévy-Dhurmer was also responsible for a number of other rooms in the apartment including two salons, a library, and a study decorated with a frieze of stylized turbines and mechanical parts. (The Wisteria dining room was purchased in its entirety in 1966 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is on view there in Gallery 813.)

In an article “Modern French Pastelists: L. Lévy-Dhurmer”  published in The Studio in 1906, the  critic Frances Keyzer, wrote: “A determination to master the mysteries of his art, an astonishing power of draughtsmanship. taste of a rare order, a flexible and delicate fancy, a genuine love of all that is exquisite and subtle, without any trace of affectation, a fine sense of order and harmony of line and colour — these are the qualities by which the work of this versatile genius is distinguished.”
 She continues: “His paintings and pastels are generally one-figure studies; but the significance of each picture is conveyed as much by the background and surroundings as by the figure itself. The surroundings play a special and important part in this artist's work, for they are almost invariably imaginative, or efforts of memory. In other and less able hands such a proceeding might affect the earnestness of the work, but that clearness of vision which is one of M. Levy- Dhurmer's salient characteristics enables him to reconstitute and reproduce a landscape that has impressed him. In fact, the painter not only sees again the rocks and the trees, the hills and the valleys he has admired, but the same sensations that moved him at the time are revived in him with scarcely any diminution of strength.”

Lévy-Dhurmer used pastels a great deal, the medium readily lending itself to the magic of symbolism; several of his contemporaries, particularly Fantin-Latour and Fernand Khnopff, were equally attracted by his pastel technique. He was influenced by the ideas both of Khnopff and the Pre-Raphaelites, by Puvis de Chavannes and by Florentine and German painters  of the  XV-XVI  century.  This is particularly evident in the  Femme à la médaille, 1896, Paris, Musée d'Orsay ; and in  l'Automne, 1898, Saint-Étienne).


A contemporary critic, George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History Emeritus, Brown University, makes this observation: “Take as a point of comparison the exquisite hard-edge pastel portraits of Frederick Sandys, a late-Pre-Raphaelitesurvival, and set them next to Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Fair Ladies — single portraits at the opposite ends of Pre-Raphaelitism, the first set in bright clear light, the second in inner worlds of mood and emotion. Lévy-Dhurmer's soft-edge, often dreamy works move farther into a subjective inner world of memory, reverie, and desire.”

A great traveller, to  Italy, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, and Brittany, Lévy-Dhurmer's went through a realistic period where his works expressed simply the warm colours of nature or the curious personality of his models.  This, in the first decade of the century, was when he produced much of his best work, notably Les Aveugles de Tanger, 1901 (Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne), and the Mère Bretonne (Musée de Brest). He then tried to fashion a synthesis between reality and his artistic intuition, but he remained above all a master of esoteric Symbolism: he preferred to evoke mysterious appearances, distant faces with a mysterious pallor, such as Le Silence, 1895, a picture that Levy-Dhurmer kept throughout his life, and one of his most fascinating works. There is no clue to identity, or location; it is timeless, devoid of context,  making it thereby both symbolic and universal. It owes something of its intensity to the use of pastel , the hatching strokes makes the whole image shimmer.

In 1899 the critic Achille Ségard likened the face to "that of a statue". He was perceptive. For although Lévy-Dhurmer was influenced by the historical iconography of silence, as expressed in the depiction of Horus, the Egyptian deity, he took his inspiration more directly from the medal sculpted by Auguste Préault for Jacob Robles' tomb in the Père-Lachaise cemetery.
Exhibited in Paris in 1896, and again at the end of 1899 and the beginning of 1900, Le Silence fascinated his contemporaries, and had a major impact on the Symbolist generation from Fernand Khnopff to Odilon Redon. It was acquired by the collector Zagorowsky in 1953, just before the artist’s death, and passed to the Bobritschew collection in 1976; the French state acquired in it lieu of death duties in 2006, and it now resides in the Musée d’Orsay.

His exquisite portraits include those of Rodenbach (1896), Pierre Loti (1896), and Natalie Clifford Barney, (1906)notorious salon hostess and daughter of American painter Alice Pike Barney.  (In 1882 Barney and her family spent the summer at New York's Long Beach Hotel, where Oscar Wilde happened to be speaking on his American lecture tour. Wilde spent the day with Alice and her daughter Natalie on the beach; their conversation changed the course of Alice's life, inspiring her to pursue art seriously despite her husband's disapproval). 
In 1914, when he was forty-nine, Lévy-Dhurmer  married Emmy Fournier, nine years his senior, who had been an editor of the early feminist newspaper La Fronde until it ceased publication in 1905. By this time he was working primarily on landscapes, both oil and pastel, in a style similar to Whistler and Monet. He died in Le Vésinet, Yvelines,  in 1953.

The painting La femme à la médaille or Mystère, ( Woman with Medal, or Mystery) was until 1972 in the collection of M. et Mme Zagorowsky.  It was accepted as a bequest to the French state and destined  for the Louvre, but it was assigned to the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, where it may be seen today. (Lévy-Dhurmer's work was amassed by art collector Zagorowsky, whose magnificent  bequest,  exhibited in March-April 1973 at the Grand Palais (Paris), was divided between the Parisian Musée d'Orsay and Petit Palais, and the museums of  Beauvais, Brest, Gray, Pontoise, Saint-Étienne and Sète.)
This painting is well named Mystère. It is done in pastel and gold leaf on paper mounted on card, 35 x 54 cm, painted in 1896 – who is the subject? What is the medal? To whom is she showing it – to a lover, a husband – a mirror? The woman is tightly dressed, almost concealed in a coat with a high collar and a scarf wrapped round her hair and lower jaw, with just her face exposed. The colours are muted - it has the simplicity of a Whistler, but we remain forever intrigued.