Archive for the '4.2 The artist’s self-portrait' Category

UA1-WA:P4-p2-Exercise: Commission a portrait

This exercise asks for a personal memorandum for the commissioning of a portrait. The subject can be any person in history and possible portraitists likewise.

20120601_mumI would like a portrait of my mother. This photo was taken at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) a couple of years ago, and in the background is Ben Quilty’s portrait of Margaret Olley which has been mentioned in a couple of posts recently. I would like to celebrate mum and her life, and I think she would find the experience of having her portrait painted interesting and enjoyable, although possibly uncomfortable on a number of levels.

My first choice of possible portraitists would be Grace Cossington Smith (reiterating that there are no restrictions of space or time in the exercise).

Grace Cossington Smith The sock knitter

Grace Cossington Smith
The sock knitter
1915

Grace Cossington Smith Interior with wardrobe mirror (1955)

Grace Cossington Smith
Interior with wardrobe mirror
(1955)

To give a general idea of her work I’ve included thumbnails from some paintings at AGNSW – see www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/
collection/works/OA18.1960/
and www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au
/collection/works/OA11.1967/
. Although less common in her work, examples of portraits are Portrait of Mrs McGann (1944 http://www.charlesnodrumgallery.com.au/artwork.asp?id=43383) and Self portrait (1948 http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?&irn=460&acno=2002.65). Grace Cossington Smith painted some of mum’s favourite works. There is also a slight personal connection – Cossington Smith lived in Turramurra and worshiped at St James’ Anglican Church, whose interior she painted a number of times. For years members of my family have rung the bells at St James, and when mum was spearheading the drive to raise funds for additional bells Cossington Smith gave her a sizeable donation. Finally I am attracted to Cossington Smith’s use of colour and light to describe form, the deep affection shown in her portraits and sketches of family, and the sense of space, peace and home in her interiors.

For this exercise I don’t suppose I should stop with a short list of one, although I think the fit of subject and painter is very good. Another choice could be Jenny Sages. There are a lot of images and a lot of information about Sages on the National Portrait Gallery website, including a video at http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/exhibition_subsite_jenny_2.php. Sages portraits are about relationships, making connections. She has to know the person, care about them, have rapport with them. In the video Sales talks about her relationship with her mother, which also drew me to her. Like my mother Sages was born elsewhere and has developed a relationship with this land. Sages has painted strong women, courageous and brave women, and I think she could show the strength and courage I see in my mother.

The portrait is intended for a domestic setting, so should not be larger than around 125 cm in height or width. It should be suitable to hang on a wall. Those are really the only absolutes. Oil on canvas on board is suggested, or the pigment and encaustic wax Sages often uses.

I have chosen artists who work with connections and relationships. The only potential sticking point to accepting the final work would be if a rapport and mutual respect did not develop between sitter and painter. I also believe it’s important to be able to trust the artist in their judgement of what makes a good picture. While my notes below suggest a possible focus and items that could be included, they are a starting point not a shopping list. The work should develop in the relationship.

Like all of us mum is a complex person with different aspects of her personality more apparent at different times. I would like the portrait to focus on her loves of travel, people, and history. I’m very fond of the story that as a young woman in the early 1950s, coming from a very conservative family, she spent her first pay cheque on a suitcase. She has been expedition cook on a dig in western NSW and general helper on a dig in Turkmenistan. For her 70th birthday she wanted to walk on the Great Wall of China and to visit a series of historical and archaeological sites not on a standard tour route – so she organised her own tour and gathered her own group. That zest for life and exploration and openness to adventure is still very apparent in today’s woman of 85. My idea for the portrait is of mum sitting comfortably in her home, surrounded by “treasures” (emotional, not necessarily monetary value) that connect her to places and people from the past. At the same time she should look ready to get up and launch into her next travels.

Some items that could link into this: mum_01jcj_map

  • Maps – mum has a large collection of old maps
  • Some antique furniture handed down through the family, including this corner cabinet filled with curiosities
  • jcj_samplermum_02

  • A sampler stitched by a great, great aunt
  • A small rug she commissioned when travelling in Turkey
  • mum_03

  • textiles and nick nacks picked up from here, there and everywhere.

In the past few years mum and I have stood on the beaches of Flinders Island off Tasmania, walked through the tree canopy in Western Australia and gazed out across Fogg Dam in the Northern Territory. I would like a portrait that celebrates her spirit and that wide streak of stubborn.
mum_04mum_05mum_06

UA1-WA:P4-p2-Exercise: Commission a portrait
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
Project two: The artist’s self-portrait portrait
Exercise: Commission a portrait

UA1-WA:P4-p2-Annotation: A self-portrait

Margaret Olley Portrait in the mirror

Margaret Olley
Portrait in the mirror
1948 Oil on cardboard 56.3 x 72.0 cm board
http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/454.2001/


For this annotation I have chosen a work by Margaret Olley, an Australian painter best known for her still-life and interior paintings.

The artist is seen reflected in a mirror. This is of course the case in most self-portraits, but it is not often made so clear by showing the mirror itself. (Another more extreme example of showing the mirror is the Brett Whiteley self-portrait http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/1.1977/ which I mentioned 18-Apr-2014). We see part of the mirror’s frame, and reflections of the shell and postcards on the right-hand side. We understand that we are looking at a table strewn with fruit, flowers and other objects, and the reflection of Olley and the room behind.

Although there is a clutter of objects there is also a sense of space and calm. The curve created by the placement of fruit and so on reflects the curve of the necklace, framing the young woman’s face. Her head provides the classical triangular composition.

olley_02aI explored this further in gimp, first following the diagonals set in place with edges and shadow on the tabletop. The lines created correspond well to elements in the composition. They “happen” to cross directly on an orange flower that protrudes from the arrangement on the left.

olley_02bI copied and flipped the lines horizontally. Olley’s face emerges in the space created, and as I moved the lines around I found the diagonals repeated again and again throughout the picture.

olley_02cFinally I duplicated and flipped lines again, this time vertically. Every line seems to discover links and connections in the original picture, and above it all Olley’s face still looks out calmly. Every time I look at the picture I find more echoes – for example Olley’s necklace repeated in the postcard to the right, and the curves of the shells, and the petals of the yellow chrysanthemum, and even the curve in the body in the centre postcard.

olley_03None of the common visual clues of the artist as artist are included, no brushes, palette or easel, but the picture is filled with the objects and inspirations that fuelled Olley’s career. The fruit, flowers and shells are all seen in many of her works. I haven’t identified the works shown in the postcards, but her Homage to Manet (1987 http://www.artgallery.
nsw.gov.au/collection/works/458.2001/
), which includes still-life elements, is another example of her appreciation of and tributes to past masters. Even the idea of a mirrored self-portrait is revisited – see Self portrait with everlastings (1974 http://www.nag.org.au/collection/interpreting_
the_collection/poets_paint_words/artwork/margaret_olley_1974
).

This continuity could itself be a cause for concern. Olley is probably better known as an art celebrity than as an artist.

olley_01I took this photo in the NSW Art Gallery (AGNSW) a few weeks ago, and had to wait quite a while for the space to have so few visitors. On the left is the 2011 Archibald-winning portrait of Olley by Ben Quilty (see my analysis 13-Apr-2014). To its right is the 1948 Archibald-winning portrait of Olley by William Dobell. To its right, in the distance in the next gallery, can be seen Olley’s Portrait in the mirror. Olley is an Australian Art celebrity, who contributed in multiple ways. She mentored young artists such as Ben Quilty. Having made substantial amounts as a property developer, Olley was a philanthropist – a recent search of the Art Gallery of NSW website found 150 works with “Olley” in the credit line, either a direct gift or as a contributor through the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust (for example Vlaminck’s Sailing boats at Chatou – see my post 8-Dec-2013 and AGNSW website here). There are another six works “gift of the artist”, such as this post’s focus painting, plus major works where Olley was one of a group of donors, such as Cézanne’s Banks of the Marne (see my Assignment 3 study 28-Feb-2014). All that, and AGNSW is only one of the institutions Olley supported. Until researching this post I had no idea how much this one woman’s gifts had added to the richness of my current studies.

William Dobell Margaret Olley 1948

William Dobell
Margaret Olley
1948 oil on hardboard 114.3 x 85.7 cm board
http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/8164/

Olley’s awards included Officer of the Order of Australia (1991), Life governor, the Art Gallery of NSW (1992), official designation as an Australian National Treasure (1997), Centenary Medal (2001) and Companion of the Order of Australia (2006) ‘for service as one of Australia’s most distinguished artists, for support and philanthropy to the visual and performing arts, and for encouragement of young and emerging artists’. She was awarded honorary Doctorates from Macquarie University, the University of Sydney, the University of Newcastle, the University of Queensland, Southern Cross University, Lismore and Griffith University, Brisbane.

Olley was a gregarious person, enjoying visiting the galleries she loved, friends with many artists. Her home in Sydney was frequented by many involved in Australian arts. It was also visible to the general public through artworks by Olley herself and by other artists such as R. Ian Lloyd (see http://www.smh.com.au/news/arts-reviews/studio/2008/08/05/1217702008314.html) and Lewis Morely (http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?searchtype=&irn=544&acno=2003.50). It was the subject of an exhibition in 2012 (http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/exhibitions/margaret-olley-home). Three rooms from the house have had all their contents catalogued and moved, becoming part of a recreation in a new extension at the Tweed Regional Gallery (supported with a contribution from the Margaret Olley Art Trust) – see http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/MargaretOlleyArtCentre. Over 20,000 items are included – Olley’s home was filled with the subjects of her paintings, and a subject in itself.

All this visibility of the person makes it very difficult to see the art. Do an internet search on “Margaret Olley painting” and there is image after image full of colour, mainly still life and domestic interiors. Vibrant and beautiful, they invite you to spend time with them, to explore the world so lovingly shown. Yet given all the movements and schisms and explorations of art over the last 150 years the work appears like a charming cul-de-sac – very decorative, very pleasing, but not part of contemporary art nor part of the trajectory of art. Should this be seen as an indictment of Olley’s art, or of Art History and the emphasis on innovation and ‘progress’? There is a quest for new ground, new challenges (to the artist in processes, to society in themes explored and aesthetics), new ideas. Is there a place for integrity of vision, for a focus and intention that stays true? Olley was keenly aware of modern thought in art, but she was not distracted in her own artistic purpose.

Nelson (2011) wrote “Olley defied time, progress, change and innovation; yet even in an epoch impatient with orthodoxy and tradition, her work miraculously escaped the stigma of being labelled conservative… Each picture, though in some sense a bit like many others, has required the artist to make fresh and independent decisions about the logic of the colours that wrap around the volumes or spread themselves over the planes.”

I hadn’t spent much time looking at Olley’s work prior to researching this post. Her paintings seemed somehow too decorative, almost too visually appealing, not asking questions or challenging the viewer – and her personal celebrity made her art suspect. My mistake and my loss.

Resources

There is a huge amount of material about Margaret Olley available on the internet, including:

Masters, C. (2011) “Margaret Olley obituary” The Guardian 26-Aug-2011 [online] Available from http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/aug/25/margaret-olley-obituary (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

Maunder, P. (2011) “A colourful life, celebrated frame by frame” The Sydney Morning Herald 27-July-2011 [online] Available from http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/a-colourful-life-celebrated-frame-by-frame-20110726-1hyhw.html (Accessed 20-Apr-2014)

Nelson, R. (2011) “The Magic of Margaret Olley” The Age 29-Jul-2011 [online] Available from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/the-magic-of-margaret-olley-20110728-1i20h.html (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

Thomas, J. (2011) Australian stories: Margaret Olley Australia.gov.au [online] Available from http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/margaret-olley (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

Tweed Regional Gallery ([n.d.]) Margaret Olley Art Centre [online] Available from http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/MargaretOlleyArtCentre (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

UA1-WA:P4-p2-Annotation: A self-portrait
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
Project two: The artist’s self-portrait portrait
Annotation: A self-portrait

UA1-WA:P4-p2-Research Point: Artists’ self-portraits

This Research Point poses a number of questions about artists’ self-portraits.

1. Why might an artist choose to paint (or sculpt) a self-portrait?

My initial assumption here was cost and availability. Models may be hard to find and hard to afford. Only a limited number of sittings may be possible for a commissioned portrait. I’ve found there are many other reasons.

Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528) and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) each painted many self-portraits throughout their careers. Dr. Andrea Bubenik has suggested their motivations include “social ambition, pride in artistic profession, preparation for posterity, experimentation, medical diagnostics, and self fashioning” (Bubenik, 2011). Artists in their time were still regarded as any other craft workers, and showing themselves in rich costumes could enhance their prestige and social standing. The portraits could act as a form of advertising, displaying the artist’s virtuosity. In a self-portrait the artist could experiment with techniques or compositions in a way not possible within a commissioned work, for example by using a convex mirror. An example of “medical diagnostics” is a sketch by Dürer in which he points to where he was experiencing pain in his side (the work is held at the Kunsthalle, Bremen. A link to an image is https://www.museodelprado.es/en/exhibitions/exhibitions/at-the-museum/the-renaissance-portrait/the-exhibition/self-portraiture/).

Many of these motivations have remained relevant to artists through to the current day. However I think the two most common are the idea of a self fashioned or constructed persona, and the expression of the world view or personal concerns of the artist.

2 (a). How do artists explain themselves when portrayed as an artist? What visual clues do they give?

Information on the Museo Nacional Del Prado website (link above) suggests that it was not common for an artist to portray themselves as an artist until the late sixteenth century. Calling attention to their tools of trade could hurt their social position.

Judith Leyster’s work (c. 1630; http://www.nga.gov/content/
ngaweb/Collection/highlights/highlight37003.html
) shows the young woman turning away from her work to smile at the viewer. She appears confident and competent, dexterous with her brushes and palette. The canvas on her easel shows a unfinished genre painting of a musician, thus displaying the artist’s skills in both portraiture and genre painting. Leyster’s clothing shows fine lace and gleaming fabrics – not the most practical of outfits for painting, but further demonstrating her technical skills.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard Self–Portrait with Two Pupils http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/53.225.5

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard
Self–Portrait with Two Pupils
1785 Oil on canvas 210.8 x 151.1 cm)
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/53.225.5

In 1785 Labille-Guiard is seen at her easel. While the unfinished canvas cannot be seen, the portrait itself shows her command of composition and colour. She is confident with her tools – brushes and palette in hand, crayons and paper on the footstool nearby. All three women are shown in very fashionable attire and it has been suggested that this, together with the statue of the Vestal Virgin in the background, could display the artist’s feminist agenda, teaching and advancing women and seeking equal rights in the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Metropolitan Museum of Art [n.d.]).

Marie-Denise Villers

Marie-Denise Villers
Charlotte du Val d’Ognes
1801 Oil on canvas 161.3 x 128.6 cm
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/437903

It is not clear whether my next example is in fact a self-portrait. The catalogue entry presents a rather confusing sequence of attribution and re-attribution, but the work “may be a self-portrait”. I have included it because the artist’s tools shown are so much simpler than my earlier examples. A large sketchbook is propped in the young lady’s lap. She holds a brush, and another may be stuck in her hair, but there is no sign of paints or any other painting paraphernalia. The interior shown is also very simple, but there is a rather strange view through a cracked window, showing a couple in conversation in the distance. The artist is backlit, her face brightened by light reflected from her sketchbook. Her gaze is intense and serious. Could there be a questioning of the choices available – her art or marriage?

Nora Heysen’s 1932 selfportrait (http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=204031) pares the visual signs of the artist down to a minimum. She is seated and holds her palette (apparently gifted to her as a child by Dame Nellie Melba) and brushes. Her strong hands, her direct, searching expression, are all that are needed to show a modern, confident, independent artist. There is a blue curtain behind, the artist and her palette fill the frame. A few years after this painting Heysen became the first woman to win the Archibald Prize.

A great contrast to this is a more recent winner of the Archibald, Brett Whiteley’s Self portrait in the studio (1976 http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/1.1977/). Virtually the entire picture space is filled by the room and the view of the harbour outside. Whitely’s hands can be seen, one holding a small mirror, the other in the early stages of painting his head. His face is visible reflected in the mirror. The room is full of visual clues about the artist and his work, but the work as a whole challenges the concept of portraiture itself.

2 (b). How do artists explain themselves when portrayed in a role other than artist? What visual clues do they give?

I have found two self-portraits by Artemisia Gentileschi in which she shows herself in a different character. The first is Self-Portrait as a Lute Player c. 1615 was recently acquired by Wadsworth Atheneum (see http://nordonart.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/wadsworth-atheneum-acquires-an-artemisia-gentileschi-self-portrait/). The artist is playing a lute. The instrument itself is beautifully detailed. The artist’s hands with their long fingers are in the act of playing. She herself is voluptuous in a low-cut gown. She could be the personification of Music – or just possibly a courtesan.

The second work by Gentileschi has a odd twist because it shows her as the allegory of Painting – see http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/eGallery/object.asp?maker=12024&object=405551. The Royal Collection website explains “Artemisia follows the standard emblematic handbook of the period, the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa, where Painting is described as ‘a beautiful woman, with full black hair, dishevelled, and twisted in various ways, with arched eyebrows that show imaginative thought, the mouth covered with a cloth tied behind her ears, with a chain of gold at her throat from which hangs a mask, and has written in front ‘imitation’’” (Royal Collection [n.d.]). The only item missing is the gag – Painting may be dumb, but this artist has a voice – for of course as well as allegory this is also a self-portrait of the artist, complete with brushes and palette.

3. Can you find new insights in artists’ comments about their own self-portrait?

Nell, winner of The University of Queensland National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize 2013. Without her comments I would not have been able to interpret her work. A performance, a video, the destruction of one work in the creation of a new one – it defies my description, so I suggest you look at http://www.artmuseum.uq.edu.au/nell.

One of the things I particularly like about this prize is the associated UQ Art Museum’s Selfie Comp. The short list can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.747970175229375.1073741830.108507249175674&type=1. The “selfie” has become so common and normal – it seems so relevant, but I haven’t been able to frame any questions or challenges it may pose to portraiture.

While looking through the associated documentation I found “Judge Blair French said good portraiture was inextricably bound with a consciousness of time and transience, and could embrace its complexity and hold on our experience.” (University of Queensland, 2013) I’ve only ever done rough self-sketches, never attempted a self-portrait (another of the Research Point questions). I would like to think on French’s quote for a while, and perhaps make a later attempt.

References

Bubenik, A. (2011) “Dürer and Rembrant: The relevance of Early Modern Self-Portraiture” In Portraiture/Self Portraiture/Identity: UQ Art Museum Learning Resource [Seminar] University of Queensland [online] Available from http://asset.artmuseum.uq.edu.au/interpretive-resources/UQAM-Learning-Resource-CPD-Portraiture-2011.pdf (Accessed 17-Apr-2014)

Metropolitan Museum of Art [n.d.] Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788): Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (French, Paris 1749–1803 Paris) [online] Available from http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/436840 (Accessed 17-Apr-2014)

Royal Collection ([n.d.]) Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/3): Self-portrait as the allegory of Painting (La Pittura) [online] Available from http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/eGallery/object.asp?maker=12024&object=405551&row=0&detail=about (Accessed 18-Apr-2014).

University of Queensland (2013) Sydney artist Nell wins $50,000 UQ National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize [online] Available from http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2013/10/sydney-artist-nell-wins-50000-uq-national-artists-self-portrait-prize (Accessed 18-Apr-2014)

UA1-WA:P4-p2-Research Point: Artists’ self-portraits
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
Project two: The artist’s self-portrait portrait
Research point: Artists’ self-portraits


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Fabulous figure sculpting workshop with Kassandra Bossell!

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