I'll present Speed's main points in boldface type either verbatim or paraphrased, followed by my comments. If you want to add a comment, please use the numbered points to refer to the relevant section of the chapter.
Today we'll cover pages 173-180 of the chapter on "Painting from the Life," where he talks about Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, Frans Hals, and Rembrandt van Rijn.
|Sir Joshua Reynolds unfinished portrait|
1. Reynolds executed his portraits in monochrome and then glazed the color over it.
The unfinished portrait above shows how his portraits must have looked in progress.
2. Reynolds' business approach for portraits
He'd charge half on commencement and the second half on satisfaction. But "he had a room full of rejected portraits in his house when he died." According to Speed, he produced 150 portraits per year.
3. "The smaller the source of light, the less half-tones you get."
Sharp, small lights create a sharp division of light and shadow. Soft light, which comes from large light sources (large windows or exposure of sky) leads to a more gradual shift from light to shadow.
Speed argues that smaller sources are more flattering, but that's generally not the consensus among portrait painters and photographers. Photographers of women in particular routinely use softer or more diffused lights, that is lights that emanate from a larger area. This soft light downplays highlights and unwanted lines and texture in the halftones.
4. Simplifying the modeling will flatter a face, even without changing the features or proportions at all. Powdering has the same effect by reducing highlights.
"The artist is not obliged to catalogue all these details." He says that a "mean vision," (meaning one that focuses on small, trivial forms) misses out on the larger, nobler vision.
I think what Speed is recommending is using a relatively smaller source of light, but ignoring or downplaying the minor details of wrinkles and highlights.
|Gainsborough The Painter's Daughters (with ghost cat)|
5. Method: paint thinned with turps and linseed oil. Commenced by rubbing in with burnt umber cooled with terra vert (green).
This produces cool half-tones, into which reds and yellows are added into the lights, followed by darker accents. Note the drawing with the brush on the toned canvas. Also note the ghost cat.
In ateliers, the coloring of the first painting is called "dead coloring," and it is brought to life with warm glazes later.
6. "Swift unity of impression is one of the secrets of the charm, a thing that must always be caught on the wing."
Painting children is always improvisational, even in Gainsborough's day.
|Hals 30 Year Old Man with a Ruff, London|
7. Spontaneous handling, painted with a simple palette. Painted with soft brushes, not hog hair (bristle). Speed speculates that a painting like the one above was accomplished in one sitting.
8. Blacks: thin painting over a warm ground.
Note the brushwork in the ruff. Speed notes that it was painted with a gradated middle tone into which he has flicked lights and darks.
|Rembrandt Head of an Old Man|
9. Analyzing R. is more difficult because of his variety of handling.
Paint laid in with broken color and glazes, and sometimes with direct opaque handling. Generally Rembrandt reserves the thick paint for the lights, and keeps his darks smooth and transparent.
10. Color: "Rembrandt was a great master of getting the utmost variety out of a few earth colors."
That was true of most of the old masters. Ultramarine blue, so common today because it has been chemically synthesized, was more expensive than gold, and was usually reserved for the cloak of the Virgin Mary.
Next week— Tone and Color Design
In its original edition, the book is called "The Science and Practice of Oil Painting." Unfortunately it's not available in a free edition, but there's an inexpensive print edition that Dover publishes under a different title "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials (with a Sargent cover)," and there's also a Kindle edition.----
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