Thursday, October 16, 2014

Painting a Busy Street Scene

How do you convey the bustling motion of a city street in a painting?

Jules Bastien-Lepage The London Bootblack, 52x35 inches, Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Jules Bastien-Lepage attempted the effect in the background of "The London Bootblack" from 1882. Bastien carefully observed the action on the street and sketched his impression. He told the Irish painter John Lavery,
"Always carry a sketchbook. Select a person—watch him—then put down as much as you remember. Never look twice. At first you will remember very little, but continue and you will soon get complete action."

In his book "The Realist Tradition," Gabriel Weisberg notes that:
"Bastien-Lepage seems to have been anxious in the bootblack picture to convey a sense of the movement and flashing color of the setting. Areas of white priming on the canvas were left exposed and others were scraped down 'according to a new method.'....'His idea was to lay on the colour rather more than an eight of an inch thick, and when it was quite dry he would shave off the surface, and thereby obtain beneath a delightful quality of surface."
For the figure, Bastien-Lepage found a suitable—but fidgety and reluctant—model on the streets of London, and prevailed on him to pose. He painted the figure with a premier coup method that observers likened more to Whistler or Sargent:
"I was much surprised to see how very near Bastien-Lepage stood to his model, who was not even raised on a platform. The boy was only six feet from the canvas. Bastien-Lepage walked backwards and forwards a great deal, using very long brushes, which he held at the extreme end."
Another painter who tried to capture the impression of a busy street scene was Giovanni Boldini in his large painting "A Night on Montmartre." More about Boldini and this painting at my previous post "Boldini at the Clark Institute."

From the book: The Realist Tradition: French Painting and Drawing 1830-1900 by Gabriel Weisberg
Book: Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1848-1884


Glenn said...

Weisberg's description would seem to indicate that Bastien was painting with sight-size methods. The description sounds similar to various accounts of John Singer Sargent.

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