Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wilhelm Simmler's Paintings

Wilhelm Simmler (1840-1914) was a German illustrator and easel painter.

Wilhelm Simmler (1840–1914) Mountaineers.
Oil on canvas, 48 x 58 cm
Here, two hunters in the Alps pause for a smoke after shooting a deer. Simmler trained at the Düsseldorf Academy, which emphasized a theatrical, storytelling approach to picture-making.

Wilhelm Simmler, A Flower Seller in Cairo
He was known for military paintings, panoramas, storytelling illustrations, and exotic paintings of the Near East. This flower seller in Cairo wears a tight, striped dress and calls out her offer of flowers.

Wilhelm Simmler, A Sunny Day at the Beach, 1900
60.6 x 98.7 cm | 23 3/4 x 38 3/4 in.
Simmler was also a plein-air painter, and was skilled at capturing people in everyday situations. In this one a mother knits in the shade as her kids play in the sand.

Wilhelm Simmler, Poachers Surprised
Two mask-wearing poachers stop dragging a deer through the forest when they think they have been spotted.

Wilhelm Simmler, On the Tightrope, 1914, 11 x 11 cm.
This gem of a sketch, about 4.5 inches square, appears to have been done from life as a tightrope walker moves and dances in front of him.

The Crossing of the Curonian Lagoon, 1679. Fresco for the Ruhmeshalle Berlin
by Wilhelm Simmler, ca. 1891. 
Here's a mural painting of a sleigh ride across a frozen lake. Unfortunately, this painting and many of his murals and original works were destroyed by bombing in World War II.
Wilhelm Simmler on Wikipedia (German language)
Wikimedia Commons on Simmler, including engravings of his illustrations

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Dinosaur Art in International Artist

In the next issue of International Artist, I wrote an article on creating dinosaur art. Paleoart is really a branch of wildlife art. The challenge is not just to visualize what an extinct animal looks like, but to imagine how it behaved in a realistic setting.

Here's a YouTube video taking you behind the scenes. Watch on YouTube
International Artist Magazine, issue #125: Feb-March, 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019

What is "Poetic" in Art?

Ann asks: "I hear paintings described as “poetic.” What does that mean?"

Oscar Droege, woodblock print
Answer: I take "poetic" to mean that a picture expresses quiet and dignified emotions by means of understatement and suggestion. A picture is likely to be poetic if it leaves out detail or conceals information or conveys the passage of time or if it achieves a mood that is harmonious, delicate, elegant, majestic, or melancholy. 

Henry Ward Ranger, (1858-1916)
There's no pictorial formula to achieve a poetic feeling. You know you've got it by the result. The goal is that feeling of mood which Germans call "stimmung." A picture is not likely to be poetic if it's too literal, didactic, or obvious. 

John William Tristam
Studio Magazine in 1896 said: "To call a thing poetic is to state the feeling it evokes; there can be no praise beyond that, and perhaps no criticism....For the fact remains that the painter who can succeed in conveying to others the feeling that he himself has felt, must always be an artist of true power, and that is enough."
Previous posts about Oscar Droege and John William Tristam and Stimmung

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Paul Meyerheim

Paul Meyerheim (1842 - 1915) was a German artist known for his animal paintings, particularly lions and monkeys, as well as his paintings of humans interacting with them.

Paul Friedrich Meyerheim - 1891
Here, a performer does a sideshow trick of giving a treat from her mouth to a monkey. This painting will be sold at an upcoming Sotheby's auction in New York, and it can be previewed between January 25th and 31st.

Here's the preliminary study for the painting above. I did a previous post about how Meyerheim taught animal painting in Berlin.

Meyerheim was fascinated by interactions between humans and animals. Here he paints a woman reaching through the bars of a circus wagon to caresses the male lion as the lioness snarls in jealousy.

Friedrich Eduard Meyerheim "Guten Morgen, lieber Vater" (Good morning, dear Father) 1858
Meyerheim's father Friedrich was also a painter. The younger Meyerheim spent time in Paris studying the work of Courbet and the Barbizon painters, but his closest friend and mentor was Adolph Menzel, who excelled in capturing the realistic psychology of human interactions.

Meyerheim Menagerie/In der Tierbude,1894
In his painting Menagerie, a ragtag audience watches with fascination as an African stage performer shoulders a crocodile and the other man pries the jaws open. In the foreground, an older sister comforts a child who is frightened by the croc. Though this may seem inhumane to modern eyes, such traveling menageries raised awareness about exotic creatures among the general public. The painting won a gold medal at the Salon.

Wilhelm Kuhnert
Meyerheim's students included Wilhelm Kuhnert (above) and Heinrich von Zügel.
Biography of Meyerheim on Kunkel Fine Art Auctions

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Did Nuns Paint Medieval Illuminations?

Scivias, a 12th-century book written by the nun
Hildegard of Bingen and painted by two anonymous artists.
Who painted the illustrations on medieval manuscripts? According to new archaeological evidence, some of them may have been nuns rather than monks.

The evidence comes from deposits of ultramarine or lapis lazuli pigment in the tartar of the teeth of a female skeleton who was associated with the convent that produced medieval manuscripts.  

The suggestion is that she may have ingested some of the pigment into her mouth while licking her brush to give it a fine point, or perhaps she inhaled some of the pigment while grinding it.

Researcher Christina Warinner has "found everything from insect parts and the pollen of exotic ornamental flowers to opium, bits of wool, and milk proteins—all of which tell stories about what people ate and how they lived. The detritus of everyday life accumulates in the gunk that modern dentists are so vigilant about scrubbing off."

Friday, January 11, 2019

Controlling Light and Depth in Landscape

What makes me want to paint this scene is the way the light and atmosphere work together to create depth. Here's what I'm thinking as I paint it.

Farm in Harlem Valley, oil, 12 x 16
The cloudy sky has a low ceiling. The tops of some of the hills are lost in fog. Also the far horizon is enveloped by the low clouds, so the warm colors in the farthest fields are greyed down before they disappear.

The fields are illuminated in the lower left foreground. Then as you go back across the perspective of the plowed field, you travel through the shadow area and back into the light again.

The principal area of illumination is not on the farm buildings, but a little beyond them. The light is coming through a breach in the clouds with very subtle rays. 

Concealing both the source of light and the effect area adds to a sense of mystery. One way to make a striking light effect is to downplay and conceal most of the scene to set up for the accent area.  
For more on light and atmosphere in painting, check out my book Color and Light can be found on Amazon or signed at my website.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Road by the Far Hayfield

I take a walk alongside the far hayfields with my son's dog Smooth.

Church Bells, watercolor and gouache, 5 x 8 in.
There's a little snow left over in the tire tracks, but it's disappearing, since it's above freezing. I'm fascinated by the way the tractor tracks wind back and ascends the hill. The far sky is framed by the delicate branches and deep woods. 

Smooth sits by me quietly, listening to the sounds of the sparrows flitting in the bushes, the geese flying over, and the faraway noon sirens and church bells (link to video on FB).

I'm using a Pentalic Aqua Journal with a few tubes of gouache (M. GrahamUltramarine Blue, Titanium White, and Terra Rosa) to supplement my portable watercolor kit.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Setting up a Sight-Size Portrait

In this photo, an unidentified artist has set up a life-size portrait.

The canvas is approximately on the same plane as the model, so that when the artist backs up from both, he can compare the painting and the subject side by side in the same light. Note the planks of wood to protect the lawn from wear when the artist backs up from the painting or steps over to his taboret. Sight-size is good exercise.

The sight-size method, which is in common practice in many ateliers, is one practical way to achieve accuracy, and it makes sense when you want your painting to be the same size as the subject. That works for portraits and still life studies.

Sometimes people apply the term "sight-size" to landscape in the sense of matching the apparent visual size of the scene to the image on the canvas (link to video by Marc Dalessio).

It's worth pointing out that the method isn't strictly an "observational" method. When done with figure painting, it requires a good deal of short-term memory practice, and some of the leaders of the sight-size movement have written books about drawing from memory.

I'm not going to get into all the pros and cons of the sight-size method, because I don't practice the exact same method that's taught in the ateliers, but I should point out that various art teachers have criticized the way the sight-size method is held up as the only method that was taught in the 19th-century academies. Here's one free online pamphlet by Semyon Bilmes that addresses the issue.

And not all ateliers use the sight-size method in its absolute form. The Swedish Academy promote a comparative method, which they explain on their website.

What's your experience with sight-size method? Has anyone attempted a life-size outdoor portrait? If you use sight size, how has it helped you—or limited you—as an artist? Is the method oversold in modern ateliers, or is it presented as just one tool among many?
More info at
Books: Cast Drawing Using the Sight-Size Approach
Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall
The Sight-Size Method, a Critical Overview By Semyon Bilmes

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Sketchbook Project

The Brooklyn Art Library is a collection of 41,000 sketchbooks from over 130 countries. The library has the collection on shelves, but it's also digitally cross-referenced and available for free for the public to browse.

They have launched a project to encourage the creation and dissemination of sketchbooks. Participants order standard-sized blank sketchbooks and fill them up. The project is funded by a payment from the creator when they buy the sketchbook or pay an extra fee to have it digitized.

SANDWICHES By: Emily Pelka
The "sketches" can be anything: doodles, observational studies, photomontages, or imaginative works. The artist assigns keywords and search terms so that the content can be discovered online. You can visit the website and search by keyword or theme.

Like the internet itself, the Sketchbook Project appears to be uncurated and unfiltered, with no gatekeeper. That can be either attractive to you or not, depending on your point of view. Part of the appeal to people who visit the collection is the fun of randomly encountering someone else's point of view.

All the books are displayed on the shelves and available for browsing, and some are even brought around the neighborhood by bookmobile.
Sketchbook Project

Monday, January 7, 2019

A Museum for Stones with Faces

Photo courtesy Yukkawanet
Two hours north of Tokyo is a museum featuring rocks that appear to have human faces. It's called Chinsekikan, which translates as 'Hall of Curious Rocks.'

The collection was originally assembled by Yoshiko Hayama who discovered rocks that he compared to E.T., Elvis Presley, Jesus, Gorbachev, Nemo, and other personages. His only requirement is that every rock be formed by natural processes.
Via WebUrbanist 
More samples at This is Colossal and Kotaku
Previously: Apophenia and Pareidolia

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Gaston la Touche

Gaston la Touche (1854 - 1913) was a French painter whose creative approach to light, color, and composition was a big inspiration to his contemporaries.

Gaston la Touche
He was not a product of the Academy, but instead learned to paint independently. He made friends with Degas and Manet at the cafés in Paris. 

La Touche wanted Manet to teach him, but Manet declined, saying "he had nothing to teach him other than to paint what he saw and to use a variety of colors."

Gaston la Touche, The First Born, 1883. 
His early paintings represent a low-key realism in a traditional mode. This painting, "The First Born" is a rare survival, because he burned most of his early paintings in 1891.

Gaston la Touche, Pardon in Brittany, 1896
But before long he started to explore unusual compositions and brilliant ideas of light. A "Pardon" is a Breton form of penitential pilgrimage conducted at twilight with candles.

Gaston la Touche, The Joyous Festival, 1906
According to Wikipedia: "Félix Bracquemond, a friend and associate, suggested that he might be more successful if he brightened his color palette and chose different subjects, recommending Antoine Watteau and François Boucher as models."

Gaston la Touche, Nocturnal Spirits

The following quotes are from a 1921 museum publication: "Gaston La Touche was above all, the artist of imagination. Starting as a realist in his early days, he gradually worked towards a particular kind of idyllic subject which has become identified with him." 

"He was a modernist, in that he used all the tricks and subtleties of modern technique, but his subjects were generally phrased in the graceful idiom of the eighteenth century. He reconquered the charm of Watteau and Fragonard and reclothed the classic myths of Boucher in modern guise."

In his beloved Normandy, at Flers de L'Orne, where he spent many a summer, or at his home in St. Cloud, in surroundings where the spirit of the eighteenth century still lingers, he painted untiringly, a true product of his environment."

Henry Field said: “In the years I spent in Paris I never heard the Frenchmen discussing technique. Simon, Menard, Gaston La Touche, Fantin-Latour, indeed, all my French friends were intent on expression and never bothered about brushwork.”

"His subjects are always filled with intense vitality. He painted the world as he saw it and found it a fairyland. He rediscovered the poetry of existence for those who can and will see. In the woods and plains the satyr and nymph form part of a classic fantasy or a "Fête Galante" of modern life."

"Like Debussy in "L'apres-midi d'un faun" he has retold the ancient legend in the colloquial language of today. He was a decorative artist at all times, but he never lost his touch on reality."

"With that as a foundation he chose the same gay setting beloved by the eighteenth century artists and treated his subject with their unfailing grace and sense of decoration."
Quotes are from a bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1921, also available as a PDF
Obituary in American Art News, 1913
Book: Gaston la Touche
Wikipedia on Gaston la Touche
Online biography at

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Remembering Frank Duveneck

Frank Duveneck (October 9, 1848 – January 3, 1919) painted this oil portrait of a fellow artist. 

The portrait has some animation in the mouth and eyes, as if the subject was talking. The portrait is essentially made up of spots of tone, almost like pixels. But under the strokes is a careful arrangement of tone and edges, gradating down from the light area on the forehead.

A few days ago (January 3) marked the 100th anniversary of his death. Artists in Cincinnati, such as Linda Crank, Carl Samson, Jeff Morrow, and Richard Luschek, went through a scrapbook of Duveneck's paintings at the Mother of God Cemetery in Fort Wright Covington, Kentucky.

(Link to video) There were other commemorations at the Cincinnati Art Museum, including a group of artists doing master copies of Duveneck originals. Read more at Linda Crank's Facebook page.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Reading Rooms

Public libraries today offer a collection of books that you can borrow, as well as a place to read periodicals.

Reading room, Magnus Enckell 1899
In the 18th and 19th centuries, those functions were typically separated. A reading room, or cabinet de lecture, was a place where you could, for a small fee, read newspapers, magazines, novels, and pamphlets. 

Libraries didn't stock those publications, and most ordinary people didn't get them delivered to their homes.

Johann Peter Hasenclever's The Reading Room (1843)
Reading rooms were also open late, and they were well heated and well lit, so they were attractive places to hang out together.

Etching by Gustave Janet after Charles Yriarte
In France, cabinets de lecture were especially popular after the Revolution, as people became more interested in politics. According to Wikipedia:
"Often at the cabinets, as with at the clubs, coffee houses, salons and bookshops, serious discussions would break out. People argued, hurled abuse and fought one another over specific facts in order to attack or defend the public figures being discussed. Whether by the light of a lantern or a simple oil lamp, people came to feed their political appetite and to leave better prepared for the debates that took place in the street."
Wikipedia on Cabinet de lecture

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Did you make a New Year's Resolution?

Did you make an art-related New Year’s resolution? If you don’t mind, please share it in the comments, and I’ll try to address the topic in future videos.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Ron Lesser in Illustration #62

The new issue of Illustration magazine features the art of veteran illustrator Ron Lesser.

Ron Lesser cover for Curtains for a Lover, gouache
(I'm not sure why the colors are so different.)
Lesser, who is still active as an illustrator, started doing book covers in the late 1950s. He has done it all, from movie posters to advertising art to gallery work, but he's probably best known for painting sexy crime paperback covers.

Many of his early covers were painted in gouache. He says: "I was using water-based paint—casein white for body and then designers colors [gouache], which have more covering ability than watercolors, but less than casein."

Lesser used photographic reference from professional models in New York City. The models charged around $150 per hour in the 1970s, and all the costs—professional photographer, model, and print costs—were covered by the publisher.

The second article in the current Illustration magazine chronicles the art that was created for World War I, from recruitment posters to battlefield sketches by artist-reporters.