The great academies of art produced men and women capable of the highest pinnacle of achievement in oil painting and sculpture. Mythical and immortal status befell some of these Masters, producing our idea of them as being ordained by a higher being with talent beyond that of normal humans. True, some of us bend towards facility in some areas easier than others, such as art, science, business or sports for example. As it is said often though, talent will get you nowhere, therefore established academic training made those that excelled in painting even better and we now enjoy the fruit of their labors. This was true particularly from around the 1400s through about 1850. During the middle 1800’s, the so-called Impressionist movement revolutionized the way we make and appreciate pictures.
While resting from a little hike to do some landscape painting, I sat down with Roz to do this casual (and spontaneous) portrait of her sitting under a grand oak tree. I found us both thinking of just exactly where to be seated and how to pose. While I set up my kit and started placing colors, I noticed she was already seated on a boulder, waiting until we got started. I liked the casualness of it so I just started and Roz patiently remained in position with a few breaks in between. I began to realize a little bit that even in this most informal setting, a balance was being struck between so many considerations when it comes to making a painting.
When looking at early Impressionist or Barbizon paintings, it’s evident to me that the academic training is still under the surface of all that loose handling of painterly ease. It had to be! The composition, value relationship and range, color theory, harmony and tone, and the outdoor quality of light providing color in the shadows, form modeling and anatomy, the emotional content, the comfort of the sitter that requires fast work, all in the ever changing light due to the movement of the sun! No wonder outdoor figure painting is often considered the most difficult thing to do. It is also inspiring to pull out the full bag of tricks, take a deep breath and do one’s best to utilize them with at least the hope and attempt of that elusive mythical ease and virtuosity. I take comfort from a quote by the French painter Renoir, who at age 78 famously said, “I’m finally learning how to paint.”