Saturday, November 7, 2009

Searching for "Irene"

"Irene" is yet another of Adolf William Bouguereau's stunning works. Oil on canvas, 1897 18 x 15 inches (46 x 38.1 cm)  You can find a high resolution photo, and even order a quality print, at the Art Renewal Center (ARC) here

I discovered it in the Masters in Oil (MIO) October thread on WetCanvas.  They post a new masterwork each month for the members to copy. I've tried to copy a Bouguereau painting once before, so I am aware that it's pretty much folly. It would take a lifetime of study to even begin to understand how one manages to capture such subtly and light. But I also know there's nothing quite as eye opening as attempting to copy a masterwork.  It's a time honored assignment for art students.  So, with that in mind, I did the sketch and first block in the first two evenings.

I spent a little time trying to do a preliminary sketch in pencil on the linen canvas. I don't usually do that, preferring to sketch directly with the brush. I though I'd use the pencil to make a more careful start, but not sure it made a real difference. How did he ever get those exquisite features...and that bump in the nose????

The next evening, using primarily Burnt Sienna, white and a purple (all Utrecht brand oils) I blocked in the painting pretty quickly. I wasn't going for a traditional underpainting although I had considered that before starting. This was just a quick 'laying in" with a limited pallette. After finishing the block in I realized that I have the head shifted to the right relative to the original. (The canvas I am painting on is smaller but proportionally correct to the original size (the blue tape marks the lower boundary of the proportionally correct area). I considered wiping it out, but after thinking about it overnight, I decided to push on as is. It isn't really critical...the real challenge is the face....that's what I really need to worrying about. So here are my first two steps in trying to capture another of Mr. Bouguereau's incredible paintings. Talk about attempting the impossible!

A couple of evenings went by before I could return to Irene. By this time the block was pretty dry with the exception of some of the hair. I started to darken the background and the hair. I begin to add color to the face, neck and shoulders. It all went downhill.  At one point, I felt like I had completely lost the painting and using a rag and turp, I wiped out the entire face. Talk about frustrated! Fortunately the block in was clearly visible since it had dried, forming an underpainting. (I suddenly realized the value of an underpainting!) I spent another hour and re-established the face before quitting for the night. This picture was after the wipeout and a second blocking in of the face.

During the next two session, I contined bringing out the face and neck areas using glazing and scumbling and finger wiping and whatever else I could think of. How in the world did Bouguereau get those incredible flesh tones and subtle transitions??

I feel like I'm pretty close to calling it done. More work on the tiarra, the hair and the gown is needed, but it's getting to the point where my knowledge and abilities are exhausted and it's time to admit to the master that he wins again.

One more evening and Irene is finished.  I darkened the hair and some areas of the background.  I defined the Tiarra a litttle more, but stopped short of the detail in the original.  I follow the same idea with the gown, suggesting Bouguereau's work, but not including the detail.  I do just a very little more to the face.  Most of the work is around the eye, trying to lighten the values just slightly.  Finally, I cut the backgound into the chin just the tinest amount.  That's it.  I'm done.  I estimate the total time for this study at about 8 hours more or less. 

The statistics once again: Oil, 12" x 14 5/8" linen panel (WN), all paints Utrecht brand.  Medium: turps and Utrecht alkyd glazing medium.  Colors: yellow ochre, Utrecht white, burnt sienna, cad red lt., veridium, ultramarine blue, and touches of a few others like alizarin crimson and a diazanine (?) purple.

Thanks to the Master for this experience.  Once again, I've learned a lot, including just how much I don't know!

And here's the original painting once more.  It helps to be reminded of how far there is to go!

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