Thursday, June 21, 2012

Unmade Beds

When John Singer Sargent painted his friend Ambrogio Raffele in a cramped hotel room in the Italian Alps, he titled the picture "His Studio." He also called it "No Nonsense."

Along with the painting-within-a-painting, he featured the unmade bed. Never mind if it looks messy and there's wet oil paint everywhere: the morning light looks gorgeous on the linen sheets and on the white shirt thrown over the edge of the bed.

Sargent was in good company painting unmade beds. Pioneering realists loved to paint unmade beds for the very reason that they were so quotidian and so un-arranged. Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) painted this bed in watercolor in 1828.

Adolph Menzel drew this bed in 1845, using a stump to soften the folds of the bedclothes. Menzel himself never married, but that didn't stop him from infusing many of his drawings with a sensuous, animated feeling. Without sacrificing naturalism, Menzel's drawing seems almost alive. The pillows appear to be on the verge of waking up themselves, as if they are reaching over and nuzzling the duvet.

Menzel expert Michael Fried accounts for this quality by suggesting that Menzel projected his bodily memories of what it felt like "to rest his own head in the pillows, to to draw the duvet over his reclining body, to fall asleep, to wake, and so on, in combination, of course, with his unique ability to project those feelings back into the drawing taking shape under his hand."

Big collection of Sargent links at Making a Mark 
Book: Menzel's Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth-Century Berlin
Appreciation of the Sargent painting by Garin Baker


smileyginger said...

"The pillows appear to be on the verge of waking up themselves, as if they are reaching over and nuzzling the duvet." I LOVE this description - very evocative!!

Gregory Lee said...

the clothes were bundled up and twisted together in a most tortuous confusion.

Rumpled bedclothes are important in the great ghost story 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You My Lad' by M. R. James.

Jason Peck said...

Hey James,

Great post, I can relate, Ive painted my unmade bed several times. Usually, Ill wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, so Ill set my easel up and paint my bed.

Here's a Link to my most recent painting of my bed. I was focused on my pillows in this one. I was fascinated to see the indent from where my head had been.

Paint Well, Jason Peck

K_tigress said...

Yup definitely there a technique to that, creating convincing wrinkles in cloth. If not done correctly can look stiff like metal.

Ulrike Miesen-Schürmann said...

Hi James, have you ever seen Menzel's foot?- Old but simply great O:-)

Beth said...

I love these unmade bed paintings. I never would have thought of that for a subject.

Unknown said...

I've just now crawled out of bed, only to find this "Unmade Bed's" post ~ I think Sargent's painting drew me in, but for the moment, my own bed's state of disarray has me so distracted, I certainly couldn't draw it!

Unknown said...

I would love to paint the home stuff because i love to paint, it makes me immense happy, i love this unmade beds painting, we can paint it whatever color we like.