Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Why I never liked the “Lunch on the grass” by Edouard Manet

“Le déjeuner sur l'herbe” (the title can be translated as "Lunch on the Grass") is a large painting on canvas (2.08 m high and 2.645 m large) painted by Edouard Manet in 1862-1863. The artist exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés and it sparked controversy at the time because it featured a female nude with men dressed in contemporary clothes. It is interesting to note that mythical scenes with nudes were perfectly acceptable and on display in the Louvre museum.

I saw the painting many times when I visited the Galerie du Jeu de Paume in Paris, where it was exhibited until 1986, before being transferred to the Orsay museum.

The reason I don’t really like this painting is because of its inconsistencies that break the realism pact.

Rather than being blended into the surrounding nature, the figures are superimposed onto the landscape as if the landscape was just an after-thought. This is particularly flagrant for the women taking a bath in the background. You can see how she completes the three figures in the foreground, fitting into the triangular shape of the overall composition. However, compared to the tree and the boat on her right, she is out of proportion. To be in scale with the landscape where she is supposed to be, she would have to be twice as small as she appears on the canvas.

The second element that destroys the illusion that these four figures are really having lunch in the middle of the woods is the base of the trees. Many of these trees do not seem to have roots. The trunks are like straight lollipop sticks planted into the ground and the large tree by the side of the bathing women’s head looks stuck into the water.

Presented with these anomalies, I cannot refrain from thinking that these figures, far from being outside surrounded by nature, are in the artist’s studio and on a theatre stage with a painted backdrop.

Related resources

Wikipedia article on “Lunch on the grass”

Monday, 26 October 2009

Lunch break in the Yosemite - oil painting

This oil painting is part of the Californian paintings that I plan to exhibit in the first half of 2010.

Lunch break in the Yosemite - oil on canvas (18” x 14”) by Benoit Philippe

Friday, 23 October 2009

Working on the same subject in different media

I work in oil, watercolour and pastel and enjoy these three media. When someone asks me which one I prefer, I usually answer that it depends on the subject. This is true in 99% of the cases, but from time to time a subject is equally suitable for different techniques.

I find interesting to work the same subject in different media to see how the works come out in a distinct way. As you become more familiar with the subject, the mind relax and I enjoy playing with textures and colours.

“Summer walk” is one of these landscapes that I could see in any media. The composition is simple yet strong. The combination of the path leading to the trees, the fields and the cloudy sky offered great opportunities to develop the composition, colours and textures.

I left several months gap between each version. I started with the watercolour, then went to do the pastel and finished with the oil painting (hence its title “The last summer walk”). I varied the size of the works and used slightly different formats. Each one was a different way to interpret this summer scene.

Golden field - Watercolour by Benoit Philippe
The watercolour was all about transparencies. I layered washes of colours and I wanted to play with colours bleeding one into the other. Shadows in the trees are blue as I built them up with Ultramarine blue. There is a light hearted feel in this painting.

Summer walk - pastel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

With the pastel, I put the emphasis on texture. I was looking for an impressionist feel, as if I had painted on raw linen canvas. The rough Fabiano watercolour paper prepared with a coat of Sanfix pastel gesso from Art Spectrum did the trick. Because of the small format of the work (6” x 8”), the texture of the paper is even more prominent. To reinforce the painterly nature of the pastel, I framed it under glass without any mount (just separators between the work and the glass, hidden by the rim of the frame). The brightness of the pastel pigments and an application in non-blended strokes concurred to the brightness of colours.

The last summer walk - Oil painting on canvas (20” x 16”) by Benoit Philippe

Finally, the oil was painted in more subdued tones compared to the pastel and the watercolour versions. In a way, the two first paintings were liberating and I could use more white than I usually do without craving to put bright colours. With this painting, my aim was to achieve a great sense of depth and perspective. I used a lot of blending and smooth transitions between tones to lead the eye towards the horizon.

The advantage of working a subject as a series of pieces in different media is that you can concentrate on one particular aspect for each work. I treated each painting as independent from the next. I did not look at the work already painted when working on the next one. In fact, the gap I left between each work reduced undue influences. However, it is clear that “The last summer walk” (the oil painting that came last in the series) would have been different without the watercolour and the pastel paintings that preceded it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Art writings online for free

Vincent van Gogh's letters

There is a new edition of Vincent van Gogh's letters in six volumes with annotations and numerous illustrations: Vincent van Gogh - The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker.

This publication coincides with an exhibition (until 3 January 2010) at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam presenting a selection of these letters. The exhibition will then come to England at the Royal Academy of Art in London from 23 January 2010 until 18 April 2010. The good news is that you can also read the letters online.

Van Gogh - The letters is an extraordinary web resource. The site gives you access to the letters in their original language, an English translation and the facsimile. Even better, you can search by correspondent, locations, or search all the letters using key words.

Self-portrait - Oil on cardboard 1887 (42 × 33.7 cm) - Collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. Source: Wikimedia

Other artists’ writings available online for free

Leonardo da Vinci

are both available on the Guttenberg Project site

John Ruskin (1819-1900)

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

If you know about other artists' writings on the internet, please share your source by leaving a comment.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Raoul Dufy: bringing flat colours to life

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – September 2009. 

Raoul Dufy was a French painter born in Le Havre (Normandy – France) in 1877, where he was able to study the work of Eugène Boudin in Le Havre Museum. He attended the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris at the same time as Georges Braque. In the early stage of his career, he was influenced by Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet and some of Dufy’s paintings done on the beaches of Normandy have a clear connection with Monet’s paintings of the same subject.

Dufy was most impressed when he saw in 1905 the painting “Luxe, Calme et Volupté” by Henri Matisse and he turned to Fauvism. Dufy produced in this style some vibrant and colourful paintings during this period.

Le Havre museum has a good collection of works by Raoul Dufy

Later he went for flat colours and line drawings, with scenes of beaches, crowed avenues, yachting, horse racing and views of the French Riviera (in the South of France). Some parallels can be drawn with Henri Matisse’s works, although he solved the issues raised by using flat colours in a different way.

Matisse and Dufy shared a taste for decorative patterns found in fabrics and wallpapers and used them to introduce variety in their compositions of flat colours. Both Matisse and Dufy were relying on a combination of flat colours and line drawing in their paintings, but with Dufy the line is more open and less definitive.

One feature that makes Raoul Dufy stand out is his use of what he calls “the theory of colour-light”. He wrote in one of his notebooks: “By following the light of the sun, one wastes his time. The light in painting is altogether something else, it is a light of repartition, of composition, a colour-light.” (Quoted in the catalogue of the exhibition “Raoul Dufy – Le Plaisir” – Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris). The idea is to make light radiate from the colour rather than having it brought to life by the external light of the sun (“I paint with my colour-light which get its shinning power from itself, where in reality, the sun brings colours to life by lighting them.” - Notebook 9, pages 44 – MNAM documentation).

In some of his late water lilies paintings, Monet drew outlines for the lily pads that were shifted from the colour of the pad, creating some interesting tension and movement in his work. Raoul Dufy took it one step further by having some abstract blocks of colour in the background of his painting very loosely connected to the drawing of the subject in order to create a certain mood and add another dimension to the painting. It seems to me that Dufy transposed in his oil paintings a technique he found when he created ceramics.

While being a successful artist during his life time, Dufy suffered from being labelled as a “decorative painter”. He branched out and created ceramics, some fabric designs for the fashion designer Paul Poiret and he produced a great number of tapestries. Art critics marked him down for not staying in the field of “pure art” (if such a thing exists).

Where to see Raoul Dufy’s worksArtcyclopedia provides numerous links to museum having works by Raoul Dufy in their collection.

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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Artpoint interview

During the Swindon Open Studios, Swindon Viewpoint went around and interviewed artists taking part in the event. In this 3 minutes Artpoint interview, I talk about my painting Relaxing at Mevagissey.

A “new” Leonardo da Vinci

A picture executed in chalk, pen and ink and previously known as Young Girl in Profile in Renaissance Dress (33 x 23cm or 13 x 9in) has been identified as a work by Leonardo da Vinci, thanks to a fingerprint in the top left corner of the vellum.

Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal-based forensic art expert, found the fingerprint when he examined the work using a multispectral camera. The fingerprint matches one on Leonardo’s St Jerome in the Vatican. Carbon-14 analysis of the vellum gave a date range of 1440-1650, consistent with an attribution to da Vinci.
Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of History of Art at the University of Oxford, has rechristened the picture, La Bella Principessa. He has identified the women as being Bianca Sforza, daughter of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan (1452-1508). He has written a book about the discovery (to be published)

Leonardo da Vinci is known for using his palm and finger to blend colours in his works.

Timothy Clifford, director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland from 1984 to 2006, commented: “What is so exciting is that no drawings by Leonardo on parchment are known, although we do know from the Codex Atlanticus that Leonardo was interested in the technology of drawing, in colour, on vellum.”

In the paper version of his article “How I know the new portrait is by Leonardo”, he details “A six-point Leonardo test”, he also made an interesting point: “Leonardo, unlike any of his contemporaries, was left-handed and so shaded from the top left to the bottom right.” This somehow corroborates the conjecture I made in my previous article The left-handed conjecture

Read the press articles

Related blog articles

Monday, 12 October 2009

Canvas formats

Before I came to England, it was obvious to me that canvasses came into three types of formats: Landscape (“Paysage”), Portrait (“Figure”) and Seascape (“Marine”). Then I realised that this classification was very French and that different countries had different formats.

Nowdays, with global trade, you can find or get these various formats in pretty much all countries.

Canvasses formats in France

You can see that, for a given canvas numbers, the longer side is common to the three formats (Landscape, Portrait and Seascape). There is a practical reason for this: it reduces the number of off-cuts in a roll of canvas (see below the first figure showing the three formats one on top of the other).

The interesting point is that these formats give you a different feel:
  • Landscape: Rectangle
  • Portrait: Rectangle going towards a square format
  • Seascape: long format ideal for pamoramas. This format is the less usual one

In Belgium, Germany and Italy, you find some «metrics formats»:

Winsor & Newton offers stretched canvasses

It would be interesting to see how the size of canvasses has evolved over time and when canvas sizes became standardized.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Last summer walk - oil painting

I started this oil painting during the Swindon Open Studios and just finished it.

The last summer walk - Oil painting on canvas (20 x 16) by Benoit Philippe

Monday, 5 October 2009

Degas’ small wooden horses

This quote was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – September 2009. Follow the link to receive this free monthly newsletter.

Vollard, in his book “Recollections of a picture dealer” reports the following conversation he had with Boussod about Degas:

“- But how does Degas manage to set-up his easel in the middle of the crowd?
- Him, it’s on the third floor he paints, with small wood horses as models.
And as I was stupefied:
- Degas, without doubt, goes to the races, at Auteuil, at Longchamp; but it’s in the studio, while rotating his model horses in the light, that he reconstructs nature.”

Race Horses in a Landscape, Edgar Degas, 1894, Pastel on paper, 47.9 x 62.9 cm

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