Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Portrait from Marvin Mattelson

Hart-Cohen Family
Posthumous Portrait of Arielle Hart

oil on linen
49 X 68 in.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the unveiling of Marvin Mattelson's latest portrait painting at his home studio in New York.   The four foot by six foot painting was commissioned as a tribute to Dr. Arielle Hart, a young wife and mother who tragically passed away far too early in her life. After discussing with her family the fond memories they shared of Arielle, Mattelson set to work painstakingly planning every portion of the portrait, leaving nothing to chance.

Painting a posthumous portrait can be a very demanding task.  Often the artist has only candid photographs from which to work, and such images, when clear, usually feature figures lit in a way not acceptable for painting reference.  For a work like this, where the deceased person is incorporated into a scene filled with living subjects, the difficulty of making the tableau believable is even more arduous.

Dr. Arielle Hart, the late wife of Michael T. Cohen

To achieve the proper lighting for the figure of Arielle – that which would offer clear form and atmosphere – Mattelson needed to create his own reference.  Working from hundreds of family photographs, Mattelson sculpted a bust of the late Dr. Hart, which he then lit to match the reference he already had acquired of the other family members.  He then gathered clothing that matched the items Dr. Hart was seen to have been wearing in some photographs, and used a body double to obtain the last of his reference.  

What resulted was a very time consuming commission lasting several years, but Mattelson's added effort was certainly well merited, and appreciated by his client.  For Mattelson, who takes extreme pride in all the work he does, putting in any less industry into a painting would be unthinkable.

By using a more painterly approach to objects in the background, and reducing their chroma, Mattelson was able to convincingly establish the figures on a closer plane within the picture.

To see more images of Marvin Mattelson's portrait of the Hart-Cohen Family, please visit his website, where he has posted an interactive image of the painting.  By clicking on certain key parts of the image, viewers can see detailed close-ups of the painting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Her Majesty's a Pretty Nice Girl...

HM Queen Elizabeth II
Rupert Alexander
oil on canvas
52 X 40 cm

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty!  This past Saturday, April 21st, was the actual (not the official) birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, and this year is a very special one indeed.  Not only is the Queen celebrating her 86th year on the Earth, she is also celebrating her 60th year on the British throne, a reign second only in duration to that of Queen Victoria.  For the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, special events are being held throughout the year and around the globe, including a touring exhibit organized by the National Portrait Gallery featuring over sixty of the "most remarkable and resonant portraits"¹ of the Queen made during the past six decades.  

HM Queen Elizabeth II, 1969
Pietro Annigoni

Though the show, The Queen: Art & Image, promises to showcase some quite remarkable images, there have been far too many portraits made of the Queen for them all to be included.  One image which unfortunately seems to missing from the exhibit is Pietro Annigoni's iconic Fishmongers' portrait of the Queen from 1955 (Annigoni's less popular 1969 portrait of the Queen, above, is in the show).

HM Queen Elizabeth II, 1955
Pietro Annigoni

There is much which can be written about Italian painter, Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988);  he certainly deserves a post devoted entirely to his person and career.  He was a passionate and controversial man, with outspoken views, especially against Modern Art;  his former student, Michael John Angel described him as "the most pessimistic and cynical man I've ever met;" and the producers of a recent biographical film on Annigoni described him as "a bohemian, a drinker, a fighter and a womanizer."²  Such endorsements seem hardly capable of encouraging a wealthy London organization to commission a portrait of the Queen of England, and yet, in 1955, Pietro Annigoni was the man chosen for that honor.

Annigoni had moved to London in 1950, but after peddling his portfolio to the Bond Street galleries without success, he had returned to Florence, dejected, within three short months.  But a week later, he was summoned back to England;  a self-portrait which he had forgotten had been submitted to the Royal Academy, had been accepted to the annual exhibit, and it was the stand-out hit of the Academy show.  He soon became known within the London art circles, and within the next two years, had earned two solo shows on Bond Street.

Pietro Annigoni

When the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, one of London's 108 chartered Livery Companies, set out to rebuild their stately headquarters near London Bridge, they decided to commission portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh for their hall.  In May of 1954, a small Portrait Committee was established by the Company, and they quickly concluded, "We have great difficulty in suggesting a British artist.  In our view the work of the best of them since the war – which has included many portraits of the royal family – has been disappointing."³  Annigoni had more of the qualities they were looking for than anyone else they knew.  And with the Fishmongers, Annigoni's temperamental reputation worked in his favor:  Annigoni was known for bravely refusing to paint both Mussolini and Hitler, and in a city still recovering from World War II – the Fishmongers' Hall itself was being rebuilt after suffering bomb damage from air raids – such actions were quite favorable for his being selected.

Annigoni very nearly turned down the commission, however.  Having no understanding of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers status and importance in the City of London, he thought the group was only a small collection of pescivendoli⁴ (fish sellers).  Luckily, an English pupil saw the commissioning letter⁵ and explained to Annigoni the significance of the overture.  The portrait of Queen Elizabeth II would go on to make Annigoni's career.

'When I painted it I tried to show Her Majesty not simply with the regal dignity of a queen,' said Annigoni, 'but also as she appeared to me – a beautiful young woman.'⁶

Queen Elizabeth proved to be one of the best models with whom Annigoni had ever worked.  At their  first meeting, he was quite nervous, but the Queen immediately set him at ease.  Standing by the window, she began talking to him casually in French.  "You know," she said, "when I was a child, I used to spend hours in this room looking out of the windows. I loved watching the people and the cars down there in the Mall. They all seemed so busy. I used to wonder what they were doing and where they were all going, and what they thought about outside the Palace."⁷  And as she spoke her face lit up with the exact expression – youthful, almost child-like – which the artist sought.⁸  "I saw her immediately as The Queen who, while dear to the hearts of millions of people whom she loved, was herself alone and far off," stated Annigoni in his autobiography, An Artist's Life.  "I knew then that was how I must show her.”⁹

Several copies of Annigoni's portrait have been made, including
reproductions made by Annigoni's students.   This detail is most likely from
a copy now hanging in the King Edward Hotel, Toronto, Canada, and
should be viewed for the purpose of assessing color only.  Unfortunately,
online reproductions of Annigoni's original QEII portrait are notoriously of
poor quality.  If anyone has a picture of Annigoni's original painting,
please contact me.

For the next four months, Annigoni went to Buckingham Palace every day, painting in the Yellow Drawing Room on the first floor.  He had requested 30 sittings from the Queen, but she agreed to only
15.  Each sitting lasted from an hour-and-fifteen minutes to an hour-and-a-half.¹⁰  "This was a lot of time for the Queen to give," said Annigoni, "but I am used to many more sittings than that."¹¹  After the Queen would leave the room, Annigoni continued to work for the next two to three hours, either from memory or from a mannequin which had been dressed in the robes of the Order of the Garter.

Near completion of the portrait, however, Annigoni threatened a "slow-down" strike.  He had found out that under the British copyright law of the time, reproduction rights rested with the owner of a painting, and not the creator of the work.  Because of the concerns over copyright, Annigoni had never signed a contract with the Company of Fishmongers.  Initially, the Fishmongers would have retained the rights in the United Kingdom, while Annigoni was welcome to reproduction rights outside the Queen's sovereignty, but after six months negotiations, the Fishmongers capitulated to the artist's demands.  In exchange for a donation made to charities overseen by the Fishmongers, Annigoni was able to retain his copyright in the UK.

Sir Herbert James Gunn, 1953-56

Despite the painting's cool reception among art critics, Annigoni's portrait became a huge success with the public, and it soon completely eclipsed the official state portrait of Her Majesty painted by Sir Herbert James Gunn.  Photographic reproductions were made of the portrait and sold throughout the British Empire, and when the painting went on display at the Royal Academy show of 1955, it attracted over 286,000¹² visitors.  The image was even reproduced on stamps and on currency throughout the British Commonwealth.  No other portrait of the Queen has seemed to have generated such positive popular sentiment and been so universally admired.  It is truly the iconic image of an iconic woman.

"Well, dear, I don't know much about Art, but I do know what I like."
Vicky (Victor Weisz)
New Statesman Magazine, May 7, 1955



Isobel Peachey, 2010
(commissioned by Cunard)

Jemma Phipps, 2006
(commissioned by the Ascot Authority of Queen Elizabeth II)

George Condo, 2006
(when displayed at the Tate Modern, this earned the nickname "The Cabbage Patch Queen")

Rolf Harris, 2006

Jeff Stultiens, 2003

Peter Blake, 2002

Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy, 2002

Lucian Freud, 2001

Sir William Dargie, 1954

Sergei Pavlenko, 2000
(commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Drapers)

Andrew Festing, 1999

Robert Wraith, 1998

Susan Ryder, 1997
(commissioned by the Royal Automobile Club)

Tai-Shan Schierenberg, 1997

Anthony Williams, 1996
("Sausage Fingers")

Michael Leonard, 1985-1986

Justin Mortimer, 1998
(official portrait of the Queen commissioned by the Royal Society of the Arts)

Sir Terence Cuneo, 1953

¹ "The Queen: Art & Image," National Portrait Gallery, London, retrieved April 24, 2012 from [].
² Annigoni: Portrait of an Artist, retrieved April 24, 2012 from []
³ Somers Cocks, Anna, "The Queen's Diamond Jubilee:  A True Icon," The Art Newspaper, Issue 232, February 2012, retrieved April 24, 2012 from ['s+Diamond+Jubilee%3A+A+true+icon++/25544].
⁴ ibid.
⁵ ibid.
⁶ Matheson, Anne, "Queen's Portrait his Best Work:  Italian Artist Wins World Fame with Royal Painting," The Australian Women's Weekly, Wednesday, May 4, 1955.
⁷ Somers Cocks.
⁸ Cullen, Tom, "Princess Comes to Annigoni," The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday June 23, 1957, p. 23.
⁹ Somers Cocks.
¹⁰ Matheson.
¹¹ ibid.
¹² Somers Cocks.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hilaire Hiler's "Rules for Oil Painting"

Hilaire Hiler
Violet to Blue Green, Diagonal Shadow, c. 1948
oil on board
14½ X 22 in.

A perfect confidence in the technical means at his disposal encourages the painter to dare self-expression to the fullest.  He has no longer fear of irreparable technical mishaps if acquainted with sufficient equipment of remedies.  If the conception engenders the technique, reciprocally, a technical discovery affording new facilities provokes the imagination to take advantage of dreams which awaited but the means of expression.  
~  Hilaire Hiler, Notes on the Technique of Painting, 1935.

It is very rare that an abstract painter will be featured on a blog devoted to realism, but since Hilaire Hiler was himself a very rare abstract artist, I feel I must give him his due credit.  He is probably best known for "Structuralism," his own particular brand of abstract art, which he described as "a geometric progression of color-form with sequential design relations resembling natural growth."  But Hiler was a man of many varied interests, all of which he apparently pursued with intensity and vigor.  In The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, written by his good friend Henry Miller, Hiler was characterized thusly:

Every now and then he takes a vacation from paint—to play the piano in a night club, to open a night club himself, to decorate a bar or a gaming room, to write a learned book on costumes, to study the American Indians, to explore the lost continents of Atlantis and Mu, to practice psychoanalysis, to confute the devil and confound the angels, to go on a bender, to find a new mistress, to learn Chinese or Arabic, to write a tract on the technique of painting, to study rug weaving or sailing a boat, and so on. He has a thousand and one interests...

Though Hiler was an outspoken proponent of abstract art, his obsessional interests actually provided a great service to today's realist painters.   Hiler found fault with the lack of good technique evinced by the works of "the modern movement," and his curiosity led him to study the proper ways to construct permanent paintings.  The book which resulted from his research, Notes on the Technique of Painting, is an educated treatise on "good painting," based upon the methods and materials of past masters.  Sir William Rothenstein, a traditional artist educated at the Académie Julian in Paris half-a-century before the publication of Hiler's book, wrote in the preface that this manual was "good portent" that "technical mastery, as an essential part of an artist's equipment, may again be looked for."

Whether or not Hiler's efforts had a positive effect on the methods of his contemporaries is debatable, but his research is certainly of benefit to those today wishing to learn more about technical mastery in painting.  The book is filled with information on colors, historical color palettes, supports, grounds, and mediums, and is oft referenced by today's scholars on technique.  The following passage from his book are some tried-and-true painting rules every beginning oil painter should learn.


1.  Always use the simplest ingredients possible, and see that their quality and purity are beyond doubt.  Good linseed oil and turpentine, oil of spike, or petrol are usually all that is needed.

2.  Use as little siccative or dryer as possible.

3.  Begin a picture lean, and finish fat.

The less oil in the paint superimposed, and the more in the paint underneath, the greater the danger of cracking.  This rule is observed by all housepainters, and is based on sound mechanical principles.

4.  Two thin coats are usually better than one thick one.

5.  Be sure that your paint is perfectly dry before painting over it, otherwise the undercoat will contract as it finishes drying, and crack the one over it, which being fresher has a different rate of change.

6.  If the paint does not "take" well, rub the surface which is too smooth with a little piece of fine sandpaper, some powdered pumice, or water and a stiff brush.  In the last case, there will probably be enough dust on it to furnish sufficient abrasion.

7.  Never use any more medium, or diluent for the colours – or, more simply, any more liquid – than is necessary.  The colours, if permanent, will stay fresh and luminous if left alone as much as possible.  The are afterwards to be protected by a good final varnish.

SOURCE:  Hiler, Hilaire, Notes on the Technique of Painting, (Oxford University Press, New York, 1935).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Random Inspiration: Ernest Lee Major

Ernest Lee Major
Miss F., c. 1910
oil on canvas
40 X 30 in.

Though a native of Washington, D.C., Ernest Lee Major (1864-1950) is best remembered as a member of the Boston School of Painting.  His earliest professional training was under E.C. Messer at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in D.C., but by his late teens, he had traveled to New York City to study with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League.  In December of 1884, Major was the first artist to win the Julius Hallgarten/Harper Brothers Art Scholarship, an award which provided the young American with the funds to study art for two years in Europe.¹  He travelled to France on the scholarship, and like many of his American peers, enrolled in the Académie Julian in Paris where he studied under Gustave Boulanger  and Jules Joseph Lefebvre.  Major remained in France after his scholarship funds were exhausted, attempting to establish his career while sending paintings to competitions in both Europe and the United States.  Eventually, in 1888, he returned to America and settled in Boston, where he took a position teaching at the Cowles School of Art, filling a vacancy left by Dennis Miller Bunker.  By 1896, Major had become an instructor at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, where he taught drawing and painting for the next forty-six years.²  

As a teacher, Major was beloved by his students, even though he was described as a gruff man with a biting wit³, and his devotion to the Masters was considered a bit archaic for the 20th century art program.  "He never did anything for anyone else," said a former pupil after Major's death, "and yet he was never alone.  Mr.  Major must have offered us something we desperately needed because one or two people were always in his studio to visit him and bring him gifts, and he had pupils until the very end."⁴  According to R.H. Ives Gammell, Major "took art and his teaching of art very earnestly and gave his best efforts unstintingly to his pupils."⁵  The painting of Miss F. (pictured above), was a gift to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts from Major's students.

As an artist, however, his career was not so memorable.  Despite having some successes, including a silver medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and the Bok Prize from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1917, praises for his work were limited to words like "competent,"⁶ and comments such as his paintings "offended no one."⁷ 

Samuel Burtis Baker
Portrait of Ernest Lee Major, 1910
oil on canvas
48⅛ X 37¼ in.

Gammell described Major as a familiar figure in Boston's Latin Quarter, "swathed in his coat
and invariably accompanied by an oversized dog."⁸  Dogs became somewhat of a personal
trademark for Major.  He took them with him everywhere he went including his classes (some
were even included in the class rolls) and to exhibitions where the rules against animals were
relaxed to prevent him from leaving.⁹

¹ "An Art Scholarship," The New York Times, January 6, 1885, retrieved April 16, 2012 from
² Hirshler, Erica, The Bostonians:  Painters of an Elegant Age, 1870-1930, (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1986), p. 219.
³ Yoder, Brian, Ernest Lee Major (1864-1950), retrieved April 16, 2012 from
⁴ ibid.
⁵ Ives Gammell, R.H., The Boston Painters 1900-1930, (Parnassus Imprints, Inc., Orleans), p. 138.
⁶ ibid.
⁷ Love, Richard H., and Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D., Biography of Ernest Lee Major, retrieved April 16, 2012 from
⁸ Gammell, p. 135.
⁹ Yoder.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Auction Preview: Sotheby's 19th Century European Art 2012

John William Godward
A Fair Reflection, 1915
oil on canvas
46 X 31½ in.

A Fair Reflection (detail)

A Fair Reflection (detail)

Sotheby's Auction House in New York City will be holding its annual sale of Nineteenth Century European Art on May 4th.  Of special note in this sale are six works by William Adolphe Bouguereau, an unusually high offering from this artist in a single sale.  For those wishing to see the works in person, Sotheby's will have the art in preview beginning April 27th;  otherwise, the catalog is available for online viewing at the Sotheby's website.

Sotheby's New York City Auction House is located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, at the corner of 72nd Street and York Avenue.  The auction itself will take place on May 4, 2012 at 10:00 AM.  Although the previews are scheduled to begin April 27th, hours have not yet been listed.  Please contact Sotheby's Manhattan Office for more information.

John William Godward
The Quiet Pet, 1906
oil on canvas
20 X 30 in.

William Bouguereau
l'orientale à la grenade, 1875
oil on canvas
23½ X 18 in.

l'orientale à la grenade (detail)

William Bouguereau
Mimosa, 1899
oil on canvas
18⅜ X 15 in.

Mimosa (detail)

William Adolphe Bouguereau
orpheline à la fontaine, 1883
oil on canvas
57 X 34½ in.

orpheline à la fontaine (detail)

William Adolphe Bouguereau
le repos (jeune fille couchée), 1880
oil on canvas
28¼ X 58¼ in.

le repos (detail)

William Adolphe Bouguereau
Study of a Woman's Head (Philomèle et Progné)
oil on canvas
16⅓ X 13⅛ in.

William Bouguereau and his Studio
l'aurore (réduction)
oil on canvas
49 X 25½ in.

Émile Munier
A Tender Embrace, 1887
oil on canvas
31⅜ X 26⅛ in.

Hugues Merle
Maternal Affection, 1867
oil on canvas
39¾ X 32 in.

Maternal Affection (detail)

Talbot Hughes
Echo, 1900
oil on canvas
26 X 46⅞ in.

Echo (detail)

Albert Janesch
A Busy Bazaar, 1918
oil on panel
42¾ X 55⅛ in.

Arthur John Elsley
The Joy of Spring, 1911
oil on canvas
36¼ X 46¼ in.

Henri Gervex
la toilette
oil on canvas
21⅞ X 15 in.

Jules Breton
paysanne au repos, 1873
oil on canvas
32 X 23¼ in.

Frank Cadogan Cowper
Fair Rosamund and Eleanor, 1920
oil on canvas
40 X 50 in.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
An Eloquent Silence
oil on panel
16½ X 13 in.

Isidor Kaufmann
Portrait of a Rabbi
oil on panel
17⅞ X 14⅛ in.

Hugues Merle
Young Beauty, 1870
oil on canvas
22 X 18⅛ in.

Petrus van Schendel
Buying Fruit and Vegetables at the Night Market, 1863
oil on panel
25½ X 19¾ in.

Charles Albert Walhain
Portrait of Countess de la Maitrie in Equestrian Dress
oil on canvas
82½ X 49½ in.

Sir Alfred James Munnings
Portrait of Mrs. Margaretta Park Frew Riding
oil on canvas
30⅛ X 30⅛

Emilio Sánchez Perrier
A Riverbank in Poissy
oil on canvas
10⅜ X 13¾ in.

Henry Herbert La Thangue
Winter in Liguria
oil on canvas
41¾ X 35¼ in.

Peder Mørk Mønsted
In the Shadow of an Italian Pergola, 1884
oil on canvas
48¼ X 38¼ in.

Peder Mørk Mønsted
Sleigh ride on a Sunny Winter Day, 1919
oil on canvas
37⅜ X 25½ in.

Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret
sur les cimes, 1903
oil on canvas
49⅜ X 41½ in.

Montague Dawson
Racing Home
oil on canvas
28 X 56 in.

Montague Dawson
Gay Dragons;  Dragon Class Yachts Jockeying for the Start on the River Clyde, Scotland
oil on canvas
28¼ X 42 in.