Drawing the exhibition: Boticelli to Van Gogh – Part 2

As I walked into the large room, people moving in front of me, I looked up and saw ‘The Duke’. Our eyes met, a shiver ran down my spine. OMG! IT’S A GOYA!!!

The Duke of Wellington by Francisco de Goya, 1812-14

If you are wondering about my delirium over this work, apart from the fact that it’s just a bloody marvellous painting, it’s because paintings by Goya rarely make it to our shores. I did a quick check and the only Goyas permanently in Oz are of Goya’s Los Caprichos series of etchings.

I was also surprised as nowhere in the pre-publicity for this exhibition did I see a mention of a Goya, nor Vermeer or Velasquez, all of whose works were in the show.

Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, (1769-1852) was arguably the leading military (and political) figure of the 19th century in the United Kingdom. His most prominent victory was the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo alongside the Prussian army under Generalfeldmarchal Blรผcher.

As this was my second visit to the exhibition (see my previous post here) I decided to prepare my page with a splash of red paint. This reflects the colour of the Duke’s uniform, but I wasn’t trying to be literal about painting it.

The Duke of Wellington, by Francisco de Goya, 1812-14. Prepared watercolour and pencil.

I also chose to do a closer study of the lower part of the face. By this time I had realised that trying to replicate the fine modelling of the oil paint was more than my pencil could manage.

The actress of the title is Mrs Siddons (Sarah Siddons, nee Kemble, 1755-1831). A famous tradegienne she was renowned for her portrayal of Lady Macbeth and Isabella from Isabella, or The Fatal Marriage by Thomas Sotherne. As an interesting aside, Siddons also played the role of Hamlet on numerous occasions over a 30 year period.

The portrait of Siddons in the exhibition is by Sir Thomas Gainsborough (she was also painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence whose work is also included in this exhibition). Her head is shown in profile with her powdered wig and her dramatically large hat framing her face.

Mrs Siddons by Sir Thomas Gainsborough, 1785

William Hazlitt said of Sarah Siddons “Tragedy personified … to have seen Mrs Siddons was an event in everybody’s life.”

The final grace note was to find out, via Wikipedia, that the Duke and Mrs Siddons were acquainted, as the Duke attended some of Mrs Siddons receptions.

Drawing the exhibition: Boticelli to Van Gogh – Part 1

From March to June 2021 the National Gallery of Australia is hosting a raft of paintings, including many masterpieces from the National Gallery, London, in the Boticelli to Van Gogh exhibition. I have to say masterpieces because there is not a single work by a female artist is included in this show! Really? Yes, the National Gallery London is a very blokey affair, although I would have been happy to see their works by Rosalba Carriera, Artemesia Gentilleschi, Rosa Bonheur or Berthe Morisot. Rather ironic as the Know My Name exhibition of women artists is taking up almost all of the rest of the main floor of the gallery at present.

I have purchased a season ticket that allows me to visit the exhibition as many times as I can. My first post focused on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers 1888, but I must admit I have spent a lot more time looking elsewhere in the exhibition.

By drawing my way through the exhibition I can spend time looking closely at the paintings trying to learn what I can by copying. Though the reality is that a pencil (the only drawing tool allowed in the Gallery), is not always the right tool to capture a finely wrought portrait.

My first sketches included Joseph Wright of Derby’s double portrait of Mr and Mrs Thomas (Mary Barlow) Coltman, c. 1770-72 (NG6496) and Frans Hal’s Portrait of a Woman with a Fan, c. 1640 (NG 2529).

Mr and Mrs Thomas Colton, by Joseph Wright of Derby, c 1770-72

The Coltman’s were painted in a ‘conversation piece’ portrait, which was a popular convention of the time, showing the couple in a charmingly relaxed pose, (something that the Curator Susan Foister notes that would have required quite some forethought on Wright’s part). It is a portrait of ease and nicely observed detail, including Mary’s horse with it’s ears back, because their spaniel (not in my sketch) is nipping at it.

Alas my sketch of the Woman with a Fan was rather less successful. I have turned the sitter from a young woman into a middle-aged version of herself! The figure itself and dress with the lace collar and cuffs I am quite happy with.

Woman with a Fan, by Frans Hals, c.1640. The colour and black marker was added later as only pencil can be used in the Gallery.

I made a somewhat better go of this work the next time I visited. At least there is some vague resemblance in this version, although she still looks much older than she does in Hal’s portrait.

Frans Hals reboot and a cameo appearance by Rembrandt’s self-portrait aged 34.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we meet the Duke and the Actress!

Drawing in the gallery – The Prado, Madrid

The undoubted highlight of our trip to France and Spain (Portugal still to come), is the thrill of seeing up close and personal, works of art that I have previously only seen in books or online. The Prado is definitely in the ‘big hitter’ league, even if you only consider, Velasquez, El Greco or Goya individually and don’t include all the other amazing works of art between it’s walls.

In person I could see that El Greco really went for strongly clashing colours in his works; and that Goya borrowed the same poses in his paintings of the Spanish Royal family as Velasquez used for portraits of the Hapsburgs back in his day.

I completed all these sketches in the Prado, but I later added some watercolor to highlight certain elements of the paintings.

In his portrait of Queen Mariana of Austria, Velasquez lines up her very prominent pink cheeks with the red ribbons in her hair and the plume at the side of her wig. The Queen’s gown is a study of black and grey. The painting on the whole has a very restricted palette which results in emphasising the highly formal nature of this work.

After Velasquez, Queen Mariana of Austria, c 1652-1653, graphite

The Infanta Margarita of Austria, here painted by Jaun Bautista Martinez del Mazo, is the same little girl that Velasquez painted in his most famous painting Las Meninas, which hangs only a few metres away from this portrait. Del Mazo’s portrait was painted several years after the Valasquez portrait when the Infanta was betrothed to the Emperor Leopold of Austria (who she married in 1666). Del Mazo was Velasquez’s son-in-law and was appointed court painter after Velasquez death.

After Jaun Bautista Martinez del Mazo, the Infanta Margarita of Austria, c 1665, graphite

In his portrait del Mazo also uses the colour red to great effect. The background is treated with a range of warm-hued browns and reds and the result is far more tender than the portrait of her mother, Queen Mariana.

After del Mazo, The Infanta Margarita of Austria, graphite and watercolour, added later

The other sketch I drew was one of Goya’s ‘black’ paintings. These were originally painted on the walls of his house and later transferred onto a backing so they could be hung. These are strange and disturbing works. Their meanings have been the subject of some pretty varied interpretations over the years since they were made public.

The sketch I made is of a painting called Atropos, or the Fates (I assume that the titles were post-Goya as he didn’t intend for thees works to be public). Four dark figures float above the yellow-toned landscape, appearing to hold scissors and other attributes of the mythological Fates who were thought to control human destiny.

After Francisco Goya, Atropos, or The Fates, detail, pencil on Fabriano paper

I found this a compelling work, the sort you can’t quite look away from, but wish you could. The floating figures were quite convincing which is rather a contradiction as they are also malevolently manifest and solid. Many of the other works in this series really creeped me out. If I have to spend a night at the museum I bags NOT staying in this room.