Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dude Looks Like a Lady?

While looking through my recently-arrived copy of J.W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite, I was drawn to a footnote appended to the description of Waterhouse's work, A Tale from the Decameron (1916). The painting, which illustrates a scene from Giovanni Boccaccio's 1353 collection of novellas entitled The Decameron: Prencipe Galeotto, is among my favorites. I was therefore really surprised to read something about the painting which did not support my visual knowledge of the piece.

The footnote, by Elizabeth Prettejohn, Professor of History of Art at the University of Bristol, England, is as follows:

Some viewers read the rightmost figure as male, but the hairstyle and the design of the sleeve are closer to female figures in Waterhouse's work of this date. The figure may be not quite finished, and the features read as androgynous to twenty-first-century eyes (as do many of Waterhouse's figures of both sexes, particularly in this later period). If the figure is male, then Waterhouse has left out one of Boccaccio's seven women, which seems improbable given his addiction to groups of seven.

"Some viewers read the rightmost figure as male"? Some? Am I really part of the minority when I say that the furthest figure to the right is male?

I think, beyond question, that that particular character is not female, and here are my reasons:

First, to refute Professor Prettejohn, the hairstyle of this figure (#7) is the same as the hairstyle of the decidedly male lute player in the striped hose (#6). The females all have long hair, beyond shoulder length, and though the figure with the crown (#4) has her hair gathered so that it looks like a similar bob, Waterhouse has given her the circlet to accentuate her femininity.

Second, all three figures which I claim as being male are wearing the same clothing. All three are wearing hose, a white shirt, and a tunic. The tunics are all open at the neck, and laced. Figure #7's sleeves, though possibly similar to those Waterhouse painted on many of his female figures, are not specifically female in style. This "puff and slash" motif was used in both men's and women's clothing. The women in the painting are all wearing long gowns.

Thirdly, Waterhouse was a classicist, not a realist, meaning that he idealized his figures. The women all had alabaster skin, rosy cheeks, and, almost always, upturned, pixie-like noses. The men, including figure #7, have darker skin, and Romanesque noses. #7 also has 5 o'clock shadow, which Waterhouse generally did not give to his female figures.

Fourth, the figure is finished to the degree Waterhouse intended. In the second footnote to the painting, Prettejohn references a letter Waterhouse wrote to the collector W.H. Lever, Lord Leverhulme, warning that the painting might not be ready to exhibit at the 1916 Royal Academy. The fact that the painting did appear in the show suggests that Waterhouse had completed the piece to his satisfaction.

Fifth, in the study for The Decameron, Waterhouse had included a sixth female figure in the main grouping. Originally, there was a figure laying on the ground between #5 and #6. Perhaps Waterhouse removed the figure because he didn't like the composition or because she was the model who "defected to the country"† and was no longer available. †also from Prettejohn's second footnote.

Sixth, if Professor Prettejohn's argument is based solely on Waterhouse's fondness for numerical symbology, then it should be remembered that the painting is really about the 7 figures in the foreground. Figures #8 and #9 are so indistinct as to be just props in the background; even the trees are painted with more detail.

Lastly, in Waterhouse's painting The Enchanted Garden (1917), which remained unfinished at the time of his death, the male figure on the right appears to be the same model as #7 in A Tale from the Decameron. The Enchanted Garden was based on the fifth tale of the last day of Boccaccio's Decameron.

Though Professor Prettejohn offers a romantic reason for the occlusion of the tenth figure, I think she is mistaken in thinking the figure on the right is a woman. Prettejohn suggests that the "missing" male alludes to the tragedy of war and all of the young men killed during World War I. It would be a wonderful sentiment, but it is an error to assign this kind of meaning to an artist's work posthumously. I think the professor was probably closer to the mark when she commented in the painting's description about Waterhouse's ailing health as the reason behind the missing tenth figure. The model moving to the country, as mentioned in the second footnote, and quite possibly the deadline of the looming 1916 Royal Academy, were also probable factors in this decision.

What do you think? Are you too in the minority, or do you agree with the assessment that A Tale from the Decameron features 7 women, and 2 men? I'd love to hear your opinions.


When writing this post, I thought it was essential to consult someone with a greater knowledge than I about the costuming in the piece. The most I could tell was that the men were wearing fashions from the late 15th, early 16th centuries, and that the women were wearing a Victorian, romantic representation of medieval clothing. I chose to contact Gail Kellogg Hope, an artist and a seamstress who specializes in period reproductions to ask her for her opinion on the costumes, and her response blew me away. She broke down the clothing by figure, and even gave suggestions as to how she would go about recreating the outfits. In general, the costumes are mixtures of the 1400's and 1500's, with elements from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries mixed in.

All of the figures are very Arthurian in dress, meaning the Pre-Raphaelites made their own fashions. This is very much in the mode for the Artistic Dress Movement, which reached its height in the 1910's.

You have to remember that these were impressions and inspirations, rather than 100% correct representations. They picked & chose what they liked and then reshaped it to fit the paintings.

Women's fashion eventually adopted the designs created by the artists, though the clothing was generally more formal. "They never did convince men to adopt the fashions in these paintings," says Gail.

You can see examples of Gail's work at her site, Oakhill Clothiers.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Location in Malibu

The California Art Club, founded in 1909, is celebrating its Centennial by means of projects designed to "preserve and document California's heritage through art."  This current exhibit, On Location in Malibu 2009, is the fourth such visit the CAC has made to Malibu since 1999 to chronicle the varied and beautiful terrain of this beachfront community, and its first since the devastating wildfires of 2007.  Over 75 paintings and sculptures created specifically for this exhibition by members of the Club will be on view at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University through August 9th, but for those who cannot visit the show, the pieces are also available to view online.  The catalog is available from the CAC Gift Shop.

Also of note, Dick Blick Art Materials has arranged to donate a percentage of sales made at their online store, via the CAC website, back to the Club.  The next time you plan on ordering supplies from Blick, simply visit the CAC site, and click on the Blick Art Materials logo in the bottom left hand corner of the page.  10% of all sales made this way through the site will be given back to support the California Art Club.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Upcoming Auction Preview: Sotheby's

Sotheby's New York is also hosting previews for their Old Master & 19th Century European Art auction beginning May 30.  The day of the actual auction is Friday, June 5th at 10:00 AM.

  • May 30  10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • May 31   10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • June 1    10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • June 2    10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • June 3    10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • June 4    10:00 AM - 1:00 PM

Upcoming Auction Preview: Christie's

The Old Masters and 19th Century Art Auction is about to go into previews at Christie's Auction House in New York.  As always, this is a great opportunity to see period art which may not be available for public view for years to come.  For example, the painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, above, entitled Reverie (Waterfall Nymph) 1874, is currently in the collection of the Canton Museum of Art, Ohio, but is being de-acquisitioned to raise funds to purchase other works of art for the museum.  It could very well enter into private hands, and not be seen by most art lovers for decades.

The hours of the preview are listed below.  The actual auction will take place 10:00 AM June 4th.

  • May 30  1:00 - 5:00 PM
  • May 31   1:00 - 5:00 PM
  • June 1  10:00 - 5:00 PM
  • June 2  10:00 - 5:00 PM
  • June 3  10:00 - 5:00 PM

Monday, May 25, 2009

More Richard Schmid News

Kristen Thies of West Wind Fine Art has announced that there will be a catalog accompanying the upcoming exhibition at New York's Salmagundi Club, Richard Schmid and His Influence:  Childhood Innocence.  Full-color reproductions of paintings by Schmid and the thirteen other artists in the show are included.  This catalog will be available from West Wind beginning June 1st, and the $15 price for the first edition includes shipping.  The show itself runs from June 6th through June 13th.


Tickets to Schmid's digital presentation at The Salmagundi Club on June 7th are still available from Theater Mania for $23.65 each.  These tickets are for the simultaneous video feed of Schmid's performance, as the tickets to his live speech sold out within hours of them becoming available.  The seating will be in a room other than the main auditorium, but there will be opportunities, I assume, to meet with Richard and the other artists present after Schmid's talk.  Schmid will be available for book signing that day as well.


Artist Nancy Guzik has also prepared an art guide, available for a small fee, for children ages 6-10, to introduce them to the Childhood Innocence exhibition.  "We wanted children to have something to take home from this experience," said Guzik, "so I created 'An Art Guide for Children' to help children engage with the paintings, artists, and their parents."  During the weekdays of the exhibition, June 8th - 12th, the hour from 4:00-5:00 PM will be dedicated to children,  who are welcome to the show with adult supervision.


Katie Swatland's monthly online lessons, "Learning From Richard Schmid" also begin in June.  I have signed up for the first three months, and am looking forward to the first installment!


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Words of Wisdom

... it may be said that choice of palette is a matter of temperament.  Each student must experiment with the various pigments and select those which he personally finds most sympathetic.  But, in general, it is best to eliminate all the secondary or compound colors, such as green, purple, etc.;  and this for two reasons:  first, because a painter secures more vibration in his work by mixing his own secondary and tertiary tones;  and, second, because if one has a green on the palette, one is very apt to use that special green, instead of searching out the various greens (and they are infinite) that may enter into his picture motive.  It may also be stated as an axiom, that the more experienced the artist, the more limited is his palette.  The expert cannot be bothered with useless pigments.  He selects the few that are really essential and throws aside the rest as useless lumber.  The distinguished Swedish artist, Zorn, uses but two colors- vermilion and yellow ochre;  his two other pigments, black and white, being the negation of color.  With this palette, simple to the point of poverty, he nevertheless finds it possible to paint an immense variety of landscape and figure subjects, and I have never heard his color criticized as being anemic or lacking in power.  Many other painters limit themselves to five colors;  and when the palette is extended beyond seven, it is safe to presume that one is skirting the borders either of the amateur or the student class.

Birge Harrison, Landscape Painting, 1909

Friday, May 22, 2009

New Richard Schmid Book: Update

On the last day of the Portrait Society of America convention, Richard Schmid gave a little more information on his soon-to-be-published landscape book.  The book is 11"x14" and will be about 264 pages long.  Most pages will have a single painting filling the entire page, but others will contain multiple images showing various stages in the creation of the painting.  In total, there will be over 300 images!  It should be available this coming December.

According to Schmid, the book will "revolutionize the art world," and he may very well be right.  I often wonder who makes art books, and for whom the makers intend the publications, when I pick up the books and find horrible reproductions in collections which are already anemic in the quantity of images.  In the case of this book, Schmid has had a hand in the entire process of compiling the book, including self-publication, so it promises to be very good.

Alla Prima:  Everything I Know About Painting was Schmid's first self-published book by his own publishing house, Stove Prairie Press, LLC.  When Kristen Thies of West Wind Fine Art originally tried to find a publisher for Richard's Alla Prima, she approached four of the major art-book publishers, three of whom rejected the book's proposal because its market was "too selective."  The final publisher returned the proposal unopened.  Schmid was forced to issue the book himself, if he wanted to see his 15 year project come to fruition.  Now in its eighth hardcover printing from Stove Prairie, and also available in paperback, it is clear that an art book of high caliber like Alla Prima has a significant audience.  

With more and more artists like Schmid controlling the presentation of their own art, we are likely to see the major publishers finally follow suit in order to compete.  Vive la révolution! 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Random Inspiration: Maurice Leloir (1853 - 1940)

Manon Lascaut (1892, oil), Dahesh Museum
Maurice Leloir (French, 1853 - 1940)

French artist, Maurice Leloir, famous for illustrating the Musketeer stories of Alexandre Dumas, created this romantic piece in 1892.  It represents the penultimate scene in the book L'Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by Antoine François Prévost (the Abbé Prévost), in which the hero, des Grieux, must bury his lover, Manon, who had succumbed to exposure while fleeing pursuers in the wilderness of  French Louisiana.  The book, though controversial, was very popular, with several editions being printed in various languages, and with several operas composed around the story's theme.  It was most likely Jules Massenet's 1884 operatic version, for which Leloir designed the theatre posters, that fostered the association between the artist and Prévost's tale, and which inspired the artist to revisit this sad story.

The tale of Manon Lescaut was a familiar one, in which two people fall into an overwhelming, ultimately fatal, passionate love, and who live more "intensely" while battling the accepted societal and familial dictates which try to keep them apart.  Modern viewers need not know the context of L'Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut to understand Leloir's painting.  It is easy to discern that the picture portrays death and unfulfilled love, which was central to Prévost's romantic tale.  Leloir does not tell the spectator that Manon is a faithless harlot who will go with any man promising her a monied future, nor does he expose des Grieux as a man bereft of honor, who gambles, cheats, and steals to provide the luxuries which might keep Manon in his life.  Instead, the artist gives the viewer the ultimate heart-breaking emotion which comes of loss, in the moment of the story in which the audience forgives the transgressions of the characters' past, and finds empathy for these lowly creatures.

The scene which Leloir presents, happens just after the star-crossed lovers finally find peace, but are prevented from being together forever by death, and every element of the painting points to the despondency felt by the character left alone.  The angle of view, the barren landscape, the greyed colors, the male figure's expression and body posture, and the values of an overcast day, all support the melancholia of the moment.  My favorite aspects, however, are the claw-like hand marks in the sand, showing des Grieux's desperation as he dug Manon's final resting place by hand, and the heart-shaped, shallow grave which symbolizes their love.

Below is the same scene from L'Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, as painted by Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (1852 - 1929).  Dagnan-Bouveret executed this acclaimed painting fourteen years before Leloir created his version of Manon Lescaut, and perhaps it served as inspiration for Leloir.  Though the figures show the skill so typical in Dagnan-Bouveret's work, and are perhaps better than Leloir's, the painting on a whole feels weaker.  The emotion and the environment both are flatter.  Unfortunately, the location of Dagnan-Bouveret's Manon Lescaut (1878) is unknown, and all that is available is black and white reproductions of the reduction of the original painting, so to make a completely fair comparison is impossible at this time.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Color Palettes: David William Mueller (b. 1963)

Contemporary realist, David William Mueller, creates paintings which evoke a sense of antiquity, with landscapes and figural work offering a synthesis of the best aspects of late 19th and early 20th century art.  They evince the melancholia and romance of the late Pre-Raphaelites; the tonal control, quiet interiors, and Japonisme exhibited by the Boston Painters; and the expressive brushwork of the Naturalists.   Mueller's color palette, however, is his own, and where others might struggle to portray the same sentiment in their paintings with such a predominately warm palette, Mueller expresses himself with ease.

David Mueller was born September 23, 1963 into a family of artists.  His mother taught ceramics, needlepoint, and macramé;  his uncle worked for Hana Barbara Studios on animated projects such as Spider Man;  and David's father, Robert, was a largely self-taught cartoonist who had a natural gift for touching people through his work and imagination.  Despite this environment of artistic nurturing, David didn't decide to really pursue his own art until he was enrolled in a course of liberal arts classes at a local college, and finally realized that his true passions lay in drawing and painting.

Having been born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, it was natural that David would head to the Windy City to further his art education.  Of the schools available to Mueller, his first two choices, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where David had previously studied for one summer on a scholarship won in high school, and the Ray-Vogue Fashion Design College at the Illinois Institute of Art, proved to be imperfect fits for the young artist.  His third school, however, was The American Academy of Art, the institute  founded by advertising legend Frank H. Young, Sr. in 1923 as a place of intensive learning, where all of the instructors were required to keep working studios alongside their classrooms.  In the halls of this school, where students like Haddon Sundblom and Gil Elvgren once walked, and Andrew Loomis once taught, Mueller finally found the inspiration for which he was looking. 

For the next two-and-a-half  years, Muller diligently studied figure drawing from the live model, while working on all of his other practical skills to enable him to be a successful commercial artist.  Though he finished his course schedule on time, and had a portfolio to present, Mueller decided to stay at the school an extra semester in order obtain further training from oil painting instructor Ted Smuskiewicz, watercolorist Irving Shapiro, and from artist Richard Schmid, who would often come into the classes to give painting demonstrations.  

After graduating in 1987, Mueller spent the next couple of years working as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, before seeking out a position in a Chicago-based advertising agency.   This position proved to be a disappointment to David, who ended up being nothing more than a "gopher" and not the "illustrator's apprentice" for which he thought he had been hired.  Luckily for David, a job offer from Gibson Greetings in Cincinnati soon presented itself, and he happily accepted their offer.

For the next three years, Mueller created paintings for Gibson Greetings.  Though he feared he might end up painting cute little scenes and comic characters for the card company when he was first hired, David found himself in the enviable position of exclusively painting impressionistic landscapes, still lifes, and figural work.  He had found a job for himself, or perhaps it had found him, where he was creating the exact kind of art he had wanted to paint since his classes at the American Academy.

What happened next to Mueller is the stuff of which all artists dream.  A benefactor of the arts approached David and offered to match his salary plus benefits for the coming two years for David to leave the card company, and begin his career as a fine artist.  David has not looked back once.  His work has been in great demand since, garnering him many awards and commissions, including the official portraits of Ohio's Governors George Voinovich and Nancy Hollister, the first woman to hold that position in the state.

When not traveling on painting excursions, Mueller makes his home in Northern Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, where David is very active in the Cincinnati Art Club.  The Club, which is the second oldest continuously running art club in the country, boasts such founding members as Frank Duveneck, Henry Farney, and Edward Potthast.  David has often lent his skills there as a guest speaker and demonstrator.

David Mueller's palette consists of the following colors:

  • Cadmium Yellow Medium
  • Lemon Yellow
  • Cadmium Red Light
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Raw Sienna (which is very dominant in his work)
  • Indian Red
  • Sap Green
  • Raw Umber
  • Black (for cooling flesh)


Illustration Magazine, issue number 26 has the first part of a two-part essay on Chicago's American Academy of Art, which is currently available at major bookstands.