Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

June 5, 2017

Innocent X by Velasquez

Filed under: Art History,Italy,Painting,Portraits,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:43 pm

I intend to do a series of posts on paintings that knocked my socks off and thereby influenced me. Some famous others less so. I start with a famous one…

A decade or so ago I had a job painting a ceiling in Rome… no not that one, the ceiling of the Hard Rock Cafe which I had to cover in flying rock stars reimagined as cherubs. Working in Italy was great fun, the builders after initially being a little suspicious called me “Maestro” and brought me lovely coffees and treats. So I spent several weeks lying on on my back up on a scaffold tower being wheeled about by my long suffering helper Paul. In Italy work starts early but finishes at 4pm which gave me ample free time to float about Rome painting and looking at all the wonders.

One of those visits was to the Palazzo Doria Pamphili. I am embarrassed now by my ignorance, but I had not heard of it. I had just visited the Pantheon which was bombed out by hoards of tourists and was wandering home when I saw the sign and the entrance. It had that grand palazzo thing where you ascend a stone staircase to the piano nobile. To my surprise I was one of only a few visitors so could wonder around in peace. The place is absolutely stuffed full of paintings and every square inch frescoed and tromped. There are a many wonderful pictures, but I was after several rooms astounded by how much really bad painting had been done over the centuries! On average the decorative painting was better than the stuff in frames.

So I wasn’t prepared when I entered a fairly small room and there it was. I had no idea that the picture was there so it hit me right between the eyes. To say the painting had presence was an understatement. I nearly said, “Whoops, excuse me!” And tiptoed out again.

The picture of course is Velesquez’s great painting of Innocent X.

Velasquez, portrait, Rome, painting

A few details, painted about 1650 and 141in by 119in. The Pope was apparently suspicious of painters in general and Velasquez in particular and reluctant to be painted. He got Velasquez to paint his barber first to check him out. I suspect he was mainly concerned how any picture might reflect on his perception by others. In the event the picture was kept private by the subject in his own lifetime. There are two other versions that are probably studies. We don’t know but presumably these were done from life. There is an amazing consistency between all three in the likeness. Here are the other two:

Velasquez, Innocent X, portrait

This one is just a head study and is in the Washington Met.

Velasquez, Pope, Innocent X, painting, portrait

This is a head and shoulders and is in Apsley House in London

Though the studies are wonderful they don’t have quite the impact of the Rome picture. This is perhaps because of Velasquez brilliant structuring of the larger picture. Side to side the figure only just fits, indeed the paper held by the Pontif which holds the artist’s signature is cropped by the frame. The gilt work frame of the chair is broken by the Innocent’s head which both places the head in 3d space and anchors it in two dimensions. The background is an indeterminate russet then the chair fabric is a tad redder and then finally the Pope’s vestments a brighter red still. This progression pushes the figure towards us. All three reds are much the same in general hue which in turn gives harmony and subtlety.

The white of the rest of the vestments is where I feel Velasquez has had to work hard, I suspect they got painted and repainted a fair few times. The brief crisp shadow of the red papal fanon on the white makes the pope’s upper torso appear the float. The clever shadow of the right hand and the arm of the chair fixes the casually posed hand in space. There is the merest hint of lace to suggest opulence but not excess.

The hands describe a man who is relaxed. We cannot somehow imagine them fidgeting. They rest imperturbably on the fore-square arms of the gilded but rather severely formed chair.

Velasquez, Innocent X, Pope, Portrait

So to the head. Innocent was a lawyer and had been a representative abroad to both France and Spain for previous pontiffs. Here is a face that has seen much and would be hard to surprise. Worldly, he had a mistress, but not prone to any excesses although occasionally cruel and capricious he was a politician through and through.  He was not I suspect much of an art fan. Although Bernini was closely associated with Innocent’s enemies the Barberini he was left in charge of the works in St Peters and did a fine bust of Innocent. So although reportedly paranoid and suspicious, a calculating, worldly and pragmatic man. Velasquez catches this by having the head held forward little, not tense but wary. The eyes consider us with, if we can believe the mouth, a wry edge of amusement.

There is tremendous control of the edges. The hat is sharp and cuts across the forehead except as it approaches the ear where it is softened by hair. To the right of the brow there is a darkening of the gilt of the chair to pull the head forward. The line of the cheek is softened and wonderfully subtle. The shape of the chin is hidden by the Pope’s wispy beard. The collar cuts the neck sharply tone wise but the drawing indicates it is softly turned. The ear is strongly lit and describes the very slight turn of the head towards us. Velasquez has arranged it so the the eyes are turned further still which gives animation to the  square on pose of the body.

The features in themselves are ordinary, the fleshy nose the wispy beard, Velasquez has made no attempt to flatter. There is no real record of the Pope’s reaction to the painting, though rumour has it he commented, “It is all too true.” In any case the picture was hung in his family home where it still is today.

Finally a detail of the Washington study.

Velasquez, InnocentX, portrait, detail

Many layers of refinement are visible but the whole remains fresh. He decides what should be clear and what obscure what marks of making should appear and which blended.

For the sake of interest here is Bernini’s bust of Innocent.

Bernini, Innocent X, Sculpture, marble

He is given a more youthful air, Bernini hopes to flatter I suspect. This bust also stayed in the Palazzo and was not for public consumption.

Another by Alessandro Algardi who was Innocent’s favoured artist:

Alessandro Algardi, bust, sculpture, Innocent X, bronze

This image was I suspect more how Innocent preferred to imagine himself, more in the mode of an apostle weighed down by his office.

Algardi also got to do the official sculpture:

Alessandro Algardi, statue, Innocent X

Now this one was definitely for public consumption!

May 30, 2017

Picking it Apart

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:54 am

It is tempting when out painting to set up and just dive in. I do it myself though when I do though I mostly regret it, especially when doing watercolours as it is virtually impossible to change course once started. So I thought in this post to detail exactly how you might pick various scenes apart. Even going through the basic “I’ll get the sky wash in first, then the darkest shadows.” makes you stop and consider. You do not want really to stop and go into that mode of thinking whilst actually painting, because each time you do it breaks the flow. I deliberately decide which problems I am going to deal with first. If it is a street scene with one side in shadow, then I need to get the sky, lit side of the street, shadowed side of the street and road surface tonal ranges sorted out so I don’t have to suddenly darken a third of the canvas, which with oils means wiping back the whole area really. With watercolour I might consider the order of my washes. Some areas might be best  with an establishing wash then darker passages over the top, other areas might be better with the darks painted in first and the washes laid over the top to merge and soften. In watercolour especially I might gauge that a key wash needs to go in first because if it goes pear shaped then the painting will need to be restarted. Which you hardly want to do an hour in!

The problems get more acute painting en plein air, the light will not hang around for you to um and ah about the finer points of composition. I have trained myself however to mostly stop and consider at least the basics. Firstly what is it about the scene that has made you decide to paint it? Is it the lighting? The arrangement of light and dark? The content? The mood? It might of course be more than one. If however the answer is, I’ve been walking around looking for something to paint for an hour and this will just have to do… Then perhaps it is best not to start! I don’t often begin something with that, ho hum this will do feeling and produce something that is worth keeping. In such cases just drawing and sketching might be the order of the day. The very best subjects cry out to be painted and these are often the easiest to paint. Often because they have some clear motif that is straight forward to express. The only danger then is loosing focus on your initial vision and getting side tracked.

With oils you can change your mind and wipe out stuff that doesn’t work. It is a medium made for guessing then refining. So you can plan a picture to take advantage of that. Watercolour is however another kettle of fish. I have recently been doing a few watercolours of the Dorset landscape as it changes with the summers advance so I will try to explain what I recall of how my reasoning went when I set them out. Watercolour is not quite as “one shot is all you’ve got” as some painters say, so it is often possible to hedge your bets a little to allow for final adjustments. I often find it is these final overall adjustments that make all the difference and bring a painting to life.

 

Win Green, Dorset, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is Win Green the highest point of the Cranborne chase in Dorset. A very simple scene with only 3 elements really. Sky trees and grass… what could possibly go wrong? Time was an issue, those clouds were the forerunners of some serious weather! When I first sat down the clouds I could see were fairly benign so I decided to actually play them down a bit. In reality they were more dramatic but I felt they would dominate. What took my eye was the clump of trees growing on the bronze age barrow.

So after sketching out I did a graded wash over sky area from blue to a pink going right over where the trees would be. I could have done the whole sheet but then I would have had to wait while it all dried. As it was I could carefully wet the grass area leaving a tiny dry gap between hill and sky. I also left dry the areas which would be the pinkish bits of the path. I then started dropping greens both warm and cool into the wet areas. When I want granulation I put down the colour quite strong and then add a touch more water, this allows the grains to separate. If you tap the edge of the paper is makes the effect stronger as it causes the pigment grains to drop into the dips in the paper texture.

I now was forced to wait while the whole lot dried. Not too bad though as there was a bit of a breeze. I actually laid in the clouds when there was a tiny bit of dampness still in the first wash. For the clouds I premixed a purple for the darks and then made a pinker and lighter version. It is vital with watercolour to have a bit of test paper to try out your mixes as they look quite different in the palette. I washed in the pinker version first, making the cloud shapes with the side of the brush. I like to introduce a bit of randomness in the way  apply clouds and then keep the lucky accidents and adjust the bits I don’t like. Once the pinky colour was in I added the darker one to the top of the cloud shapes and let it merge downwards. You can control this process by tilting your paper. Lastly I dropped in a little clean water in the centre of the two biggest clouds to give them a bit of a glow.

The grass was now ready to finish so I washed in the path and then added a few marks to accentuate the curve of the hill. A short wait and the sky was then dry enough to add the trees. I laid in the whole of the shape with quite strong warmish green and then waited for it to reach a damp but not dry state. If the first wash is too dry and additions will be hard edged too wet and the whole lot merges. Once I reckoned it was about right I dropped in the strong darks. That was pretty much that… about 45min from start to finish.

Win Green, Dorset, watercolour, plein air, painting

The first lot of rain had missed me so I decided to chance my arm and go along the Ox drove and look back at the Clump. Sun was coming and going but I decided I liked it without sunshine. Compositionally I had to do some cheating as the clump was too small and too far left. With this sorted out I washed in the sky in much the same manner as the previous one except this time I added the darks to the bottom of the cloud shapes rather than the top. In between waiting for the first sky wash to dry I washed in the pink of the road and fence posts.

With all that dry I dealt with all the grass. I wanted to try and get the really quite odd green which seemed to have reddish purple areas. I mixed a good deal of quite strong colour and then laid it all in leaving just the fence posts and the road dry. I then tilted the paper so that the bottom right corner was at the bottom and allowed my reddish colour to run right through the base wash. I was then stuck for anything to do so I just had to wait for it all to dry.

Once ready it only took 10 min or so to finish off the tree shapes working quite dry and allowing the brush to make the marks. Last touches were a few bits of body colour where I had accidentally lost the road line. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Win Green Clump, Bowl barrow, watercolour, Dorset,plein air

I knew I was risking fate to start this one… Here I did a fairly random background wash with a few blueish darks. Once that was dryish I laid in the cloud shapes with a very pale pink and then keeping the paper very flat dropped in colour to the wetted areas. I was then snookered and had to wait for it to dry. Just as it was ready the rain began and I had to pack up. Even though my car was only 200yrds away I got completely soaked!

Back at home a day or so later I considered the photos and finished it off pretty much in the same way I did the first one. The only difference being I used Zoisite for the green as it granulates very strongly. A very few marks on top to accentuate the flow and it was finished.

Probably the best of the three, but in a way doing the first two taught me how to approach this one. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Wimborne Minster, Dorset, watercolour, plein air

A visit to Wimborne Minster. I had to go deep into the shrubbery to get this view. Often the case with churches that you cannot get far enough away get a good composition. Rather rushed this one as the weather was threatening. I have no complaints as to that though as rapidly changing weather gives more possibilities for moments of dramatic lighting. With all architectural subjects drawing is key. Trees, hills and shrubbery are relatively forgiving of drawing errors. People, buildings, cars and animals far less so. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Badbury Rings, Dorset, painting, watercolour, plein air

On my way home from Wimborne I couldn’t resist Badbury rings. I have painted it a few times without much success and I walked all the way around it unable to settle on a view. I was on my way back to the car having given up when I looked back and saw that the rings were lit by a shaft of sunlight. Without even setting up I quickly sketched the light and shade shapes trying to fix the effect in my mind. I use a method to do this I look at the scene then I close my eyes and try to visualise it in my mind’s eye. Then I open my eyes and compare the mental image to the reality. Then I repeat the process a few times. I find that then when I am painting the mental image is still there, albeit as a simplified cartoon, to refer to. The banks and the shaft of light were the very first thing I put in once painting. I would have preferred to do the sky first normally but here it was was vital the get the transitory effect on the paper as soon as I could before memory faded. Also the tones needed to bring out the shaft of light would set all the rest of the tone decisions in the painting. I would almost certainly have put the sky in too strongly if I had put it in with nothing else in the painting. The track was actually off to the left but I moved it to give a lead in. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Corfe Castle, watercolour, plein air, Dorset, painting

On this day I decided to go looking for views of  Corfe. So I walked from Corfe a way up the hill to Kingston checking the views as I went. This is a view of two parts the foreground and the background are about a mile apart! The light was bit murky which was a pity as the scenes were ones that really needed good light. I sat and painted the castle and sky but didn’t much like the fore ground so packed up and moved on. In the end I walked all the way to Chapmans Pool which was affair old hike. Later in the day I drove along one of the small roads out of Corfe and saw a track weaving away and just for fun decided to add it to the castle sketch! 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Chapmans Pool, sea, Dorset, Jurassic Coast, watercolour, painting

Sea mist had been obscuring everything and I nearly didn’t climb down to the Pool. I have done it once before and found it tricky because it is so unreal. The mist made it even more unworldly but I just couldn’t find a good viewpoint. I will need to use the photographs I took to sort out my composition and return on a better day. 9in by 6in Watercolour.

Chapmans Pool, Dorset, jurassic coast, plein air, watercolour, painting

I had more or less given up on Chapmans Pool but decided to walk around to the fishermen’s huts. I never got there as this took my fancy. The mist above gave a strange light as it thinned allowing the sun weakly through and I liked what it did to the colours. 9in by 8in Watercolour.

Hanford School, Dorset, watercolour, painting

Hanford school which has wonderful gardens and a fine Tudor house had an open garden day. I didn’t take my paints so this is done from reference but I shall try and go back as there are some super subjects there and it is very near. I relit this entirely using my imagination the photos were of a bright sunny dat with blue sky and fluffy clouds! I decided it needed a more gothic feel. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

Salisbury, wiltshire, watercolour, cathedral, plein air

Another day out, this time to Old Sarum and along the Avon. My main interest was to explore views of Old Sarum for future expeditions. This is another one with dislocated foregrounds and backgrounds. The cathedral liked great rising above the fields but the foregrounds were not good. I settle on this one about half a mile on… irritatingly I found an even better one after I had painted this one in! I must do the walk from here to the cathedral as I suspect there are some great views including the river as you approach. 9in by 6in Watercolour.

Old Sarum, Salisbury, watercolour, Wiltshire, plein air

Finally to Old Sarum itself. The day was not ideal bright sun and middle of the day are one of my least favourite painting moments. I felt I should give this a go however. I enjoyed doing it once I got going, the fade to the distance was a real challenge and as always the greens are tricky. I actually got out the sap green for this one. 9in by 7in Watercolour.

That’s it… I need to get the oils out soon or I will forget how to use them!

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