Urban Sketches – Madrid

I realised that I have a stack of sketches from my travels that I haven’t shared on my blog. My street sketches in Madrid came to a grand total of two. Mainly we spent most of our time in the museums, I will be sharing some sketching from of those visits in other posts.

Early evening, Calle de Zurita, Madrid, watercolour and pencil.

We painted in the Calle de Zurita the night of the first World Cup game between Spain and Portugal. Needless to say there were loud cheers and groans coming from the nearby bars. After sketching we went and joined the locals to watch the rest of the match.

My second sketch was of a building that I thought had an interesting roofline and I also liked the way the date palm appeared out of the courtyard. I was sketching, perched on a security block next to a bus-stop. An older couple stopped to explain that I was drawing the back end of the Cardinal’s Palace. They also mentioned that a famous painter was born there. When I walked up to look at the historic marker I could see that the artist was Claudio Coello, appointed to the court of Carlos II. Coello was born at the in 1642. I have no idea why he was born in the Cardinal’s Palace, but his dad was a sculptor so maybe he was working there at the time – this is purely speculation on my part.

The Cardinal’s Palace Madrid, from the Place Puerto de Cerrada, pencil and watercolour.

The Cardinal’s Palace, the plain end, watercolour and pencil.

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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.

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

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

Henderson Waves, Singapore

Henderson Waves is the highest footbridge in Singapore, at just over 36 metres above the road. Designed by RSP Architects Planners & Engineers (Pte) Ltd and IJP Corporation Ltd, UK, for the Urban Redevelopment Board of Singapore it joins Mt Faber to the Telok Blangah Hill Park. The hills are part of the Southern Ridges Walk, a hiking trail that takes you through three major parks: Kent Ridge Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Mount Faber Park, (I can assure you that given the heat and humidity we didn’t hike the trail).

Looking up at the Waves from Henderson Road

Henderson Waves from Telok Blangah, looking towards Mt Faber Park.

We were interested in sketching this modern marvel. It’s deck is made of balau wood and the seating areas along the bridge provide a suitably challenging set of curves for a sketcher to tackle. On this typically hot and humid day it also had the best breezes going.

Henderson Waves, watercolour and pencil

Looking out from Henderson Waves towards a set of residential towers. Watercolour, pen and ink.

How now brown cows?

(Serious amounts of watercolour obsessing follows, you were warned).

The desperate need to clean up and refill my palette has lead me to look at my current watercolour paint sets. Just to be clear, all my paint ‘sets’ now consist of my own choice of colours in half pans, in tins I have found or purchased. Some of my half pans are all used up, while others sit full and untouched. So I grabbed my newest sketcbook, a Stillman & Birn Beta series (270 gsm) and as many tubes of paint as I could find and got to work.

I don’t know about you, but I get so envious bored of all those sketcbooks that are artfully decorated with renderings of the artist’s working palette on their opening page. Give a girl a break! I give to you the ‘art cow’, a far more entertaining way of getting a sketchbook underway, without the need to resort to ‘serious-ity’. This approach also immediately renders concerns about not ‘ruining’ your sketchbook irrelevant.

On sorting out my paints I asked myself (rhetorically, of course), can you have too many browns/ earth tones in your palette. The answer is, of course not! I have some 15 colours in my palette that fall roughly into that category!

How now brown cows?

What about the rest of my paints I hear you wonder? In comparison they are fairly ordinary, although there are the odd outliers.

Most of the rest of the colours

I have a definite need for lots of greens. I find Perylene Green indispensable for super dark shadows in trees and elswhere. The yellow greens, such as Serpentine Genuine and White Knight’s Olive green are there as well. A darker cousin of those yellow greens, Undersea Green will be put on trial over the coming months. Viridian has finally been given the flick, it’s one of those ‘thug’ colours, that can overwhelm a painting. And no, I have never like the grey it makes with magenta either.

The blues are pretty standard, with the exception of Sodalite Genuine, which works beautifully as a subtle blue grey. Peacock Blue, from PWC, is a fun inclusion, with a better than expected lightfastness rating of two. I often use it in a mix with greens or yellow to make green.

My former fantasy colour favourite, Opera Pink, has been cast, like Tosca, out of the window, to be replaced by the more reliable Permanent Rose. I will be interested to see how my old favourite fares in my ‘test cow’ as I heard recently that some brands of Opera Pink, which is colour-heightened by a dye, can be so fugitive as to fade inside a closed book.

As I have currently run out of empty half pans, the decision is still out on whether Naples Yellow or Quinacridone Violet will make the final cut. Oh the fun of playing with colour!

The full herd over the start of my book!

PS No correspondence will be entered into over the anatomical accuracy, or otherwise, of my cows.