Drawing the Exhibition – Ruebens, Painter of Sketches

One of the current temporary exhibitions at the Museo del Prado is Reubens, Painter of Sketches, by which they mean oil sketches, works on canvas or panel made in preparation for other finished works.

Reubens did, of course, use other drawing media for preparatory works. I struggle with the high finish of his completed canvasses, so the lively brushstrokes he employs in these compositional studies proved much more to my taste.

One of the Victories, part of a sketch on the unity of England and Scotland intended for the Guild Hall, London

His figures, particularly those suspended in mid air, such as the Victory above, or other contorted poses, provide a demonstration of his mastery of human anatomy and are excellent models for copying. I doubt even the most skilled life model could pull this pose off.

It was also a lovely touch for me to see Reubens quoted talking about drawing antique statues. “Artists should use Ancient statues as models, but the figures based on them should be painted to look like flesh not stone.” Included in the exhibition is a study for Prometheus, based on pen and ink studies he made of the Farnese Hercules.

The works on display show a range of ‘finish’. A series of very small studies for decorations of a house (a pretty palatial one) at the end of the exhibition particularly caught my eye. In the Triumph of Bacchus, 1636, the rather corpulent god is supported by a faun while he gropes a nearby young lady.

The Triumph of Bacchus, 1636, oil on panel. My sketch graphite on paper.

I was genuinely engaged by this exhibition and would recommend it to anyone who will be in Madrid before it closes on the 5th of August 2018. NB temporary exhibitions are not accessible during the free access hours at the museum.

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Language lessons

It’s pretty obvious when you cross a border that the language might change and you will have to brush up on your new vocabulary. It may be obvious, but I didn’t think that it would apply to my sketching.

One of the staircases inside Sagrada Famila, watercolour and graphite

We have moved on from Paris and it’s neo-classical buildings, where under those twidly bits, was a regular and reliable structure you could ‘lean on’ to support your drawing. Way further south and east, in the city of Barcelona, there are no such certainties.

The Art Nouveau roofline of 582 Gran Via, Barcelona, which I can see from our hotel.

Moderniste, Art Nouveau and Gaudi, who speaks an architectural dialect all his own, have my sketches grasping for the new vocabulary. I am stumbling along not quite ‘getting’ the local lingo just yet.

From the street, sketching the facade of La Pedrera, also known as Casa Mila.

Finally getting somewhere, sketching the ‘guardians’ on the roof of La Pedrera, Barcelona. Water-soluble graphite, watercolour.

From the antique

It depends where you come from, but there isn’t much in the way of Greek or Roman sculpture in my neck of the woods. So it has been an absolute blast to visit the Louvre and have a go at sketching some of their collection. Here are some of the sketches I have made in the last few weeks.

First stop was the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’ I liked her so much I drew her from both sides.

This is her ‘best’ side, apparently the carving is more detailed than the right hand side.

Not her ‘best’ side, or so the museum guide says.

We were thrilled to see another man sketching the Winged Victory as well, so we had a mini ‘show and tell’ of our combined works

‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’, 3rd-1st Century BC, marble

Well the next goddess on the list had to be the ‘Venus de Milo’, that is once we could see her through the crowds. One of our friends told us about the late evening openings (Wednesdays and Fridays) and while there are still people around, most of the large tour groups are well away. I was pleased with my rough sketch, the torso in particular, so I decided to leave the sketch ‘unfinished’.

The Venus de Milo, not much more to add.

After braving the hordes staring at Venus I decided to move to a quieter part of the galleries. There I found the Athena Parthenos who, was sent back to Paris from Rome by the artist Ingres, who was head of the Académie de France, in Rome at the time. She sometimes goes under the name of the Ingres’ Minerva for that reason. For a while she hung out with the students at the Ecoles des Beaux Arts, but she moved over the river to the Louvre in 1913. Unluckily for Ingres she wasn’t an original Greek statue, but rather one of several copies of a sculpture by Phidias.

Roman copy of the Athena Parthenos, 100-200 AD, also known as the Ingres’ Minerva

Last but not least there was a delightful torso of the goddess Artemis (Diana). I couldn’t get over how finely carved the pleats around the neck of her dress are. The sheer skill of the sculptors never ceases to amaze me. The drapery covering these bodies flies or flutters in the wind and is ‘transparent’ enough to reveal the shape of underlying limbs.

Artemis, goddess of the hunt, 1st or 2nd century AD. One of several copies of an original Greek sculpture, now lost

More ‘colour cows’ join the herd

There’s not much that I like better than buying art supplies. Visiting another country, in my experience, is an excellent excuse to explore new brands and our new friends at USk Paris were most helpful in directing us to local art suppliers.

Here are the latest colours, mainly from Schmincke and Sennelier. I also have a new brush, whose name is Leonard no. 3, made by Gerstaecker (a brand I am unfamiliar with).

Down the bottom of the page are some Herbin inks that I also got in Paris at Galleries Lafayette. They come in 10 ml as well as 30ml bottles, all the better to encourage you to buy multiple bottles (see, it works). The most disappointing thing is that these inks are not waterproof. That hasn’t stopped me from using them, but I would be using them a lot more if I could be sure they wouldn’t run.

New colour cows: top row – Idanthrone blue (WN), Cobalt green turquoise (Schk), Delft blue (Schk); middle row – Payne’s grey (Schk), Potters pink (Schk), Light grey (Sen), Brown Green (Sen)

The other day I took Leonard no.3 out painting. He was a very good brush indeed. He holds lots of water and also has a good fine tip. This was the brush I used for the painting/ collage below, on the Canal St Martin.

The lock at Parc Eugene Varlin, Canal St Martin. Watercolour, pencil and collage.

Today I filled my favourite Sailor Fude nib pen with the Herbin Orange Indien and used it in my sketch of the Tropical Glasshouse at the Jardin des Plantes. When used in conjunction with watercolour you can get away without seeing too much ink bleeding.

Inside the Tropical House at the Jardins des Plantes, Paris

Urban Sketchers Paris

I went out sketching with Urban Sketchers Paris last weekend. We started off at La Monnaie (The Paris Mint). By complete coincidence I had the great pleasure of catching up with friends from USk Singapore and USk Kuala Lumpur who were also visiting Paris. Urban sketching certainly brings the world together!

Inside the mint there were a plethora of things to draw. An exhibition by artist-in-residence Subhota Gupta inspired many. I was struck by the contrast between his glittering and complex sculpture ‘Family Tree’ that was set in the main courtyard of La Monnaie and the 18th century building facade behind it. It was an extremely challenging subject to tackle, but I was pretty pleased with the outcome, (although I subsequently noticed that my building was a bit lop sided).

Family Tree, in the main courtyard of La Monnaie, Paris

After a picnic lunch by the Seine we walked down to the Marais to visit the Foundation Lafayette. En route our host for the day, Xavier, showed us the workshop where architect Renzo Piano has his architectural models made.

Unfortunately a gallery changeover at the Foundation meant that we couldn’t draw where we had planned. Instead we opted for a coffee break and the challenge of sketching each other.

My sheet of sketches of fellow sketchers

Some of us then walked to the nearby National Archives, but our plans to draw in their lovely gardens were drenched by rain. My final sketch of the day was made while sitting under the colonades of the building, looking across to the blown-up (only in size), version of some classic posters, currently lining the inner walls of the building.

Thanks to Xavier for organising and the other sketchers who made it such a great day.

Sketching with Rodin

I had the pleasure of meeting up with members of Urban Sketchers Paris last weekend, both days actually (but that’s another post). On Sunday we went sketching at the Musée Rodin in Varenne.

There was so much to see and sketch at the Musée Rodin, that I stayed for the whole day.

Sketching in Room 14 at the Musee Rodin, that’s a partially made model, not just my wonky drawing.

I was particularly inspired by the various studies and preparatory works for Rodin’s sculptures. I also enjoyed seeing Rodin’s collection of classical sculpture fragments. The wall of toes and feet was my favourite.

Room 17 with the collection of classical toes

I then moved to the next room along to draw these two torsos. One a ‘Muse’ and the other a model for ‘Polyphemos’. The pose for Polyphemus was extraordinary, the right knee lifted almost up to the face. Although, having since looked at more finished versions of this sculpture online, I can see that the figure is kneeling and leaning over, so the pose is less strange than it appears with they way this model is mounted.

Muse, 1907, Room 18 of the Musee Rodin

Large torso and various studies for Polyphemus, Musee Rodin

Mid-afternoon there was a special performance by Cambodian dancers, in the museum gardens, which was designed to allow sketchers to draw the dancers in tradtional dance poses. Unfortunately for the dancers the beautiful weather of the previous week had been supplanted by a gloomy day of 14 ° C. Wearing only their stunning traditional costumes designed for hot and humid Cambodia, the dancers were literally turning blue from the cold. I can only say that we truly appreciated their efforts to perform under such trying circumstances.

American abstraction and the last Monet

A few days ago I visited the Musee de l’ Orangerie, for their exhibition ‘Waterlilies: American abstraction and the last Monet’. (And yes I am in Paris). The jumping off point for this exhibition was the ‘rediscovery’ of Monet’s last waterlily paintings and the impact this had, on Abstract Expressionism, when Alfred Barr showed one of the large waterlily paintings in 1955 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

To quote one of the information panels, “As the impressionists attempted to deal with the optical effects of nature, … they [American Abstract Impressionists] were interested in the optical effects of spiritual states, thereby giving an old style a new subject”. Elaine de Koenig ‘Subject: What, How or Who?’, 1955.

It’s a challenge with such a show, not personally having done the requisite scholarly research, to asses the merits of the case put forward. Nonetheless the hanging of the exhibition, designed by Eric de Chassey, displays powerful resonances between Monet’s work and those of the other artists represented in the show.

Two of Monet’s versions of the Japanese Bridge, 1918, hang either side of Morris Louis, Vernal, 1960

Flanking the scene above were Jackson Pollock’s, Untitled, circa 1949,

Pollock and Monet

Jackson Pollock, untitled, circa 1949, tissue, paper, cardboard and enamel paint (?) on panel

and Willem de Kooning’s Villa Borghese, 1960.

Willem de Kooning, Villa Borghese, 1960, oil on canvas

For me it would have been worth going if only to see such works as Helen Frankenthaler’s Riverhead, 1963.

Helen Frankenthaler, Riverhead, 1963, acrylic on canvas

and the work of other Abstract Expressionist artists that we don’t generally see in Australia, such as Sam Francis.

An added bonus was the prentation of a painting and a series of sketches of waterlily leaves by the late Ellsworth Kelly, at the entrance to the Monet galleries. An absolute joy.

Ellsworth Kelly, Tableau Vert, 1952

Ellsworth Kelly, Waterlily, 1968, and reflections of some random people.

My take on this show was the joyous use of colour. Here is a little summary of some of the works.

Top row, left to right: Kelly, Frankenthaler, Monet. Bottom row: Monet, Louis, Francis