Posts Tagged ‘Velazquez’

Copying an admired work of art is a highly recommended exercise for any art student and for any artist at any age.  We know that as a student Matisse spent many days at the Louvre copying paintings,  by Chardin, for example, and that he continued the practice as a mature artist.

Or take Picasso.  In 1957 Picasso—at the age of seventy-six—did more than fifty variations (“riffs”) on Velazquez’ Las Meninas, a painting he greatly admired.


So when we took Chardin’s Still Life with Peaches and Mug (Cup) as our subject for study we were following an honorable tradition.

One of the students in that class copied and then riffed on the motif by plopping a hand full of peonies into the mug.  Peonies?  Or a riff on peonies?  Pure invention!

You may think the peonies are a decorative embellishment, an indulgence of prettiness.

But I think this is witty. I see drama. It’s the centripetal vs the centrifugal.

The cluster of fruit with pear and peaches reads like a classic still life, perfectly executed as if were a 19th century submission for entrance into the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It is serene and balanced, rendering the spheres convincingly three-dimensional with faithful observation of shadow gradations and reflected light.

If you try to stay centered in this serenity, good luck, because the turbulence at the right is coming to get you.

The petals of the peonies are as exquisitely articulated as the peaches, but they are of a different vitality.  Where the round fruits say “centripetal density,” the peony petals are centrifugally chaotic.

Notice that the flower petals do not touch the fruit. The student/artist shows us these ordinary objects arranged on a shelf, fruit and flowers, but they are of two different domains. The knife cuts right through the divide. If the flower petals overlapped the fruit spheres, this “still life with fruit and flowers” would be just what you’d expect, harmonious.  It would be uneventful.

At its best, the work of copying an admired painting is not an act of obedience, but a conversation. My guess is that Chardin would enjoy this conversation and would encourage more of “le riff” on his paintings.

Drawing by Selina, graphite on paper, 12”x18”

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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I promise, we’ll move on to other topics besides cropping, but the power of cropping cannot be underestimated.

This face was one of four studies on the same page. The model was a magazine add with strong shadows, selling jewelry of all things. In setting up the exercise, I stressed that we were not after a likeness of this beautiful woman, but were using her as a point of departure for expressive studies of the face.  We already know that beauty and expressiveness are incompatible, a major thread in these conversations.

1304AlejandraFaceThe page as a whole did not work because the faces were too similarly drawn and were all the same size.  What to do?  CROP!  You can see the edges of the strips of paper we used in cropping.  The result is an expressive face.

But wait, there’s more.  What if we crop even more radically!  What if we slice the image through the eye on the right edge.  That’s the image at the top of this post.  It’s far removed from literalness, from illustration. Now we have a provocative image. It’s truly an image, in the sense that it is more than what it represents.

Let me point out just three things that make this image so rich.

1304AlejandraFaceCropLines*The left half of the page is all texture.

 *The contour of the face is varied, so that as we trace it we travel over three different “landscapes.”

 * One eye is in the middle of the page. Uncanny! There’s a study of this phenomenon (I can’t remember the author’s name now) that shows that portrait artists will compose their subject in such a way that one eye of the sitter is in the middle of the canvas.

 —————————————————————— Velazquez(1599-1663), Portrait of Juan de Pareja

VelázquezJuanDeParejaAll contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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