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!

Sunflowers come to Canberra

The first big ‘block-buster’ exhibition, since the pandemic started, has made it to the National Gallery of Australia earlier this month. Called Boticelli to Van Gogh, it is a rare sharing of paintings from the National Gallery, London, of some of their most precious works.

Sunflowers at night, the National Gallery of Australia sent it’s members sunflower seeds to plant in advance of the latest blockbuster show.

Not surprisingly the gallery marketing team are really banging on about the Van Gogh Sunflower painting. It is a star. But there are so many others as well.

Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888.

So here are some shots so you can get up close and personal, even if you can’t make the show itself.

Detail, of the Sunflowers
Detail of the Sunflowers.

PS if you are interested I have written previously about looking at Van Gogh’s work in these two posts: Up close to Van Gogh; and Van Gogh’s box of wool.

Van Gogh’s box of wool

A red painted box with balls of wool inside. I wondered what the box was used for. Vincent Van Gogh used the balls of wool to consider possible colour combinations.

Van Gogh’s box of wool, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Synthetic dyes were discovered in the 1860’s, influencing both fashion and the colours on the palettes of artists.

Up close to Van Gogh

While in the Netherlands in 2019 we had the opportunity to binge, in person, on the works of Vincent Van Gogh at both the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo. The latter is the largest private collection of Van Gogh’s work in the world and the second largest collection after the Van Gogh Museum. Unlike the Van Gogh Museum, the Kröller-Müller does allow photography so I was able to take photos and details of some of the works I saw during my visit.

The reason I am posting these photos now is that a fellow blogger, Rose Davies, has been spending some of her recent time attempting to copy Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night. As she commented in her recent post, “it’s so interesting to analyse a famous artwork and see what has gone into it”. So I thought I’d share a few of my detail shots and two drawings I made in the Kröller-Müller Museum.

Please note that these photos were taken standing back and using a close up lens, rather than with my face on the painting. Although I did see a man literally lean over a barricade, place his hand on the wall next to a Van Gogh self portrait in the Rijks Museum and literally stick his face only a few centimetres off the glass!

Enclosed Wheat Field with Rising Sun, late May 1889,

Detail from the left side of the painting (as we are looking at it).

My notes on the painting, Enclosed Wheatfield with Rising Sun.

Wheatfields in a Mountain Landscape, early December, 1889,

Details of the tree from the left side of the painting (as we are looking at it).

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Detail of the tree in the centre right of the painting, (as we are looking at it).

My notes on the colours of the tree on the centre right of the painting

Terrace of a Café at Night (Place Du Forum), circa September 1888

Detail of the street and figures to the far right of the painting, (as we are looking at it).

You can see those black arcs of ‘dry brush’ skipping over the other layers of paint.

Portrait of a Young Woman, late June-early July 1890

Detail of the left shoulder, (as we are seeing the painting).

I love how we are so simply led over the contour of her torso by those blue brush strokes, something that I noticed Van Gogh often does in his self-portraits as well.

Let’s hope that in the near future we will be able to see such art in person again.