Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lime Rock Races

(Direct link to video) I made this little video about a sketching trip to the car races yesterday at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.

Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty closed out the Grand-Am road racing championship with a 2 3/4 hour sprint in their Gainsco Corvette, which I sketched on location in watercolor and colored pencil.

Here's the view we had of the track, painted in watercolor. The skid marks in the foreground were from incidents in the qualifying rounds, but the two yellow flag incidents that started the race happened right in front of us.

Alex led the race for a while near the end, so I painted his car out front. He finished in third place, the third straight podium finish for the team.

Before the race we enjoyed hanging out with Grand Marshall Sam Posey, a celebrated race driver, TV commentator, architect and artist.

Report on the race on the Gainsco site
Wikipedia on Sam Posey
Driver's eye video of Lime Rock passing strategy
Previously on GJ
Last year's race with Alex Gurney
The Delta Wing

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Trost Richards at PAFA

The exhibition "A Mine of Beauty: Landscapes of William Trost Richards" opens today at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts in Pennsylvania. (PAFA) in Philadelphia.

I had a chance to preview the exhibition, and it's a wonderful collection of the 19th century master's miniature watercolor landscapes, plus a few of his large oils.

Catalog: A Mine of Beauty: Landscapes by William Trost Richards

Solomon’s Book, Day 3

The Value of the Book Today
(We're finishing a discussion of: The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing by Solomon Solomon, first published in 1911, new intro by James Gurney)

Even a century ago, Solomon regretted the disappearance of the workmanlike skills of the Renaissance masters. The problem, he said, stemmed from the overuse of opaque pigments, the  fashion for impressionism, and the proliferation of art exhibitions. He also lamented the disservice of teachers who gave aesthetic advice alone without also sharing practical information.

Regrettably, few academic masters committed their knowledge to the printed word. Those who did, such as Harold Speed,  Daniel Parkhurst, and John Collier,  have bestowed to posterity valuable links in a chain leading back to a tradition of high accomplishment. With today’s resurgence of interest in academic realism, Solomon’s book has emerged as a valuable contribution to our understanding of French and British academic practices.

The value of Oil Painting and Drawing to today’s art student comes in part from Solomon’s ability to synthesize in practical terms the artistic currents swirling around him at the dawn of the twentieth century. He encouraged students to cultivate an open mind, and he expressed his appreciation for a wide range of older masters. “An old mansion can have many windows letting in the light,” he said. True enough. But as he shows us in this book, the mansion must first be built on a foundation of good craftsmanship.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Solomon’s Book, Day 2

How the Book is Organized 
The Practice of Oil Painting is divided into two parts. In the first, Solomon provides a series of  seful exercises to help the student progress from charcoal drawings to full-color oils. Drawing upon his long experience as an instructor, he proposes remedies for common faults in student work. He makes a point of explaining the materials he uses at each stage, such as grounds, palettes, brushes, and paints, and he offers sound methods for achieving accurate measurements of lines and shapes in drawing, and precise relationships of values in painting.

The second section, “The Methods of the Masters,” comprises more than half of the book. It extends the practical advice of the first section by applying the same principles to the work of great artists of the past, such as Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and Velázquez. He analyzes both the strengths and the shortcomings of composition in these works, but he leaves the usual iconographic interpretations to art historians. His is a tour by a working artist for other working artists.

The paintings he selects as examples come mainly from the collection of London’s National Gallery. The original editions of the book showed those works in black and white, but Dover's new edition includes a section with the old master works reproduced in color. 

Solomon’s approach to painting 
Solomon was a thorough and methodical craftsman, and he practiced what he preached. According to an eyewitness, he spent “an infinity of time over draughtsmanship and composition.”

Eternally dissatisfied, he painted, scraped off, and repainted key figures until they were right. He once destroyed a painting called "Sacred and Profane Love," even after it was accepted and exhibited at the Royal Academy. He was uncompromising in his quest for accuracy of historical detail or realistic lighting. Once, to properly observe the effects of theatrical footlights on a portrait of the actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell as “Paula Tanqueray,” he had a replica of the Saint James’s stage erected in his studio, complete with footlights. 

What Solomon taught in Oil Painting and Drawing was in some respects consistent with the tradition of academic instruction in Britain. Drawing instruction was based on careful observation of the figure, as well as the emulation of old masters and the study of Greek and Roman sculpture. The Elgin Marbles, removed from the Parthenon in the early 19th century, were available to art students of Solomon’s day. Together with other originals and casts they provided a standard of excellence for all figural work.
By observing classical sculpture, students learned not only to accurately measure proportions and to use tone to suggest three dimensional form, but they also came into contact with the ideals of classical art. Subjects for paintings sprang from the timeless stories of the Greek myths. Many of Solomon’s famous canvases were based on mythology: Niobe, Echo and Narcissus, Venus, and Judgment of Paris. He once said, “Art reached its highest expression in the hands of the Greeks. Their mythology, so rich in imagery, so inspiring for the artist, so beautiful from the aesthetic side, could not fail in the course of time, among a race so sensitive, to produce the wonders both of sculpture and architecture that are unsurpassed and unsurpassable.” 

At the same time, Solomon’s teaching methods were notable for their divergence from the practices current at the time in England.

A contemporary reviewer remarked on his “fine sense of drawing and harmonious colour, pitched, as a rule, in rather high keys, due no doubt to his French training.”

Instead of requiring the pupil to follow Solomon's own individual style, his strategy was to equip his students with universal scientific principles and practices that provided a basis by which an aspiring artist could pursue an individual vision. This flexibility and openness to varied styles was consistent with Solomon’s teacher Cabanel, who was said to resist fettering any temperaments or constraining any goals of dissimilar minds.

As Solomon says, “Many roads lead to Rome.”

Alla Prima versus Indirect Painting
Solomon’s British contemporaries Forbes and La Thangue also studied in Paris but they fell more heavily under the influence of the opaque, painterly manner of plein air work, an approach that Solomon refers to as “direct” or “à prima” painting, today more commonly called “alla prima” or “impressionist” handling. Although he was certainly capable of this method and sympathetic to it, he argued that in all but the most capable hands, it tends to lead to chalky, dead mixtures, particularly in skin tones. For his large-scale serious work, Solomon preferred the “prepared” or “indirect” painting method of Rubens, Van Dyck (below) or Titian rather than the bravura brushwork of Hals. 

This involved rendering the tones of the figure first in monochrome, and then bringing out the colors of the skin with semitransparent scumbles and glazes. In keeping with the preoccupation with aestheticism in his time, he refers several times to the “decorative” qualities of a painting, by which he means the abstract design, seen apart from the subject matter. 

He also acknowledges a method of painting commonly practiced at the École, where the figure is rendered to a finished effect from the top of the canvas to the bottom, area by area, a practice today often called “window shading.” For today’s students weighing the benefits of many different ways of painting, each of which shares a claim to be “academic,” his well reasoned insights into the pros and cons of each approach will be especially valuable. 

Tomorrow: Final thoughts on Solomon's book.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Solomon's book, Day 1

For the next three days, I’ll be spotlighting Solomon Solomon, the artist who was so nice they named him twice. 

At my suggestion, his classic book on painting has just been republished by Dover Publications, and I was honored to write the introduction. Excerpts of that essay follows:

Solomon Joseph Solomon (1860-1927) was a Victorian painter of Biblical and mythological scenes.

Although he is not widely known today, in his time he was regarded as a leading artist and respected teacher at the Royal Academy. He was an important part of the artistic life of his generation and his works were “known to everyone who takes an interest in art.”

Today his two most famous paintings are the muscular and dramatic compositions “Samson and Delilah” (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and “Ajax and Cassandra” (Ballarat Art Gallery, Australia).

Solomon Solomon (not to be confused with a contemporaneous painter named Simeon Solomon) was born in London, the fourth son of a leather dealer. His mother was from a cultured family of Prague in Bohemia. Seeing that her son had taken an early interest in drawing, she encouraged him to pursue artwork. It was from her that he “inherited his artistic taste, as well as his spirit of joie de vivre.”

  His father resisted his career aspirations at first, given that a Jewish artist in nineteenth century Britain faced considerable obstacles, both religious and social. Nevertheless, at the age of sixteen, he entered Heathersley’s Art School. A year later he moved on to the Royal Academy Schools, where his classmates were Stanhope Forbes, Henry La Thangue, and Arthur Hacker. There he fell under the influence of prominent Victorian artists, such as Sir John Everett Millais and Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema.   

But the training at the Royal Academy was limited. According to an 1885 article in The Magazine of Art, the R.A. had “little or nothing to teach; its students, as soon as they have passed the curriculum it imposes on them then make haste to betake themselves to France to learn, not only how to paint and draw, but to forget as much as they can of the practice and theory acquired at its schools.”

Therefore he continued his studies on the continent in France at the École des Beaux-Arts under Alexandre Cabanel (1824-1889) and in Germany at the Munich Academy. Travel to Italy, Holland, Germany and Spain sharpened his appreciation for the working methods of the old masters. Returning to England, he first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881, debuting one year before another French-trained artist, John Singer Sargent. From 1887 to 1897, he lived on Holland Park Road, among a colony of artists known as the Holland Park circle, the most prominent of whom was Frederic Leighton, President of the Royal Academy. 

Solomon became an Associate member of that body in 1896, then was elected as a full member in 1906, the second Jew to be so honored. In 1919 he replaced Frank Brangwyn as President of the Royal Society of British Artists. As part of his service in World War I, he became one of the pioneers of camouflage, publishing Strategic Camouflage in 1920. Right: "Laus Deo,"

Like many of his academically trained contemporaries after the turn of the century, Solomon came to realize that the market was evaporating for epic mythological scenes based on literary themes. Instead he focused more and more on portraiture. His sitters included royals such as King George V, Queen Mary, Prince Edward, the architect Sir Aston Webb, and prominent members of the Jewish community such as Israel Zangwill.
Tomorrow: More about the book and how it's organized.

More about Solomon on the blog Underpaintings

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fresco Botch Job

(Watch on YouTube) The botched restoration job on the Spanish fresco gets a review from Stephen Colbert.

Looking forward to IMC 2013

I'm pleased to announce that I'll be participating in Illustration Master Class again. IMC will take place June 10-16, 2013. I will be there for two days of the class. This is the week-long fantasy art workshop that happens every June on the Amherst College campus in Massachusetts.

I'll be joining the core faculty of Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Rebecca Guay, Donato Giancola, Greg Manchess, Dan DosSantos, Scott Fischer, Irene Gallo and special guest Mike Mignola.

The 80-90 students come from all over the world, and with all levels of ability, but all come with a thirst for hard work and pushing the boundaries. I'll be lecturing, demoing, signing books, and circulating to see what people are doing. It's a great learning environment because it's task-based, so everyone is in the middle of creating a new image, including most of the instructors.

Be sure to sign up early, because the spaces fill quickly.
Illustration Master Class 2013

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Satire on the side

Pier Francesco Mola (Italian, 1612-1666) drew these pen and ink caricatures of priests and clerics to amuse himself and his friends.

His unguarded satirical humor has a special edge, since Mola owed much of his success to important portrait commissions from members of the Church, including the pope.

From the exhibition: The McCrindle Gift: A Distinguished Collection of Drawings and Watercolors, at the National Gallery of Art, through November 25.

Mola on Wikipedia

Monday, September 24, 2012

Article on Vehicle Maquettes

The new edition of International Artist magazine, on the newsstands now, has a special article that I wrote about building materials for scratchbuilding vehicle maquettes.
I show several examples made from polymer clay (Sculpey), cardboard, and kitbashed plastic model parts.
More kitbashed models by Juliano Redigolo

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Caricaturing Conan

(Video link) In this video produced by the National Portrait Gallery, artist John Kascht shares the thinking behind his caricature of Conan O' Brien.

"I don't think about caricature as distortion. It's magnification. There's a big difference. It's precisely because I am going to amplify someone's features that I do care about clarity."

Thanks, Peaceartist.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Maquette Magic

(Video link) Here's a new video which features some of the original reference maquettes that I've built for Dinotopia. I shot them so that they line up with the final paintings.

Many of these maquettes—and the resulting paintings—can be seen in the Lyman Allyn Art Museum exhibition, which opens today in New London, Connecticut.

Photos of the maquettes also appear in the behind-the-scenes supplement that's part of the new edition of Dinotopia: The World Beneath, published this month by Dover/Calla.

The long pull-back shot was done with the motorized Lego dolly on an 8-foot run of PVC pipes.

I'll be at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum on October 13. The exhibition will continue through February 2, 2013. Preview more art from the show at the blogs Lines and Colors or Underpaintings.

You can order a signed copy of The World Beneath at
Previous book trailer about writing with dip pens.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Kids Riding Dinosaurs

In 1996, Storyworks magazine sponsored a national poster contest inviting school kids to portray an answer to the question "If the residents of Dinotopia came to your hometown, how would you welcome them?"

I selected the six winning posters out of hundreds that were submitted. The grand prize winners, it turned out, came from all across the USA.

The prize for each of the six winners was not only a signed book, but a chance to pose for a new Dinotopia painting. My original idea was to show the six kids riding around in a dinosaur version of a merry-go-round or carousel, maybe flying through the air with a blue sky background. That's my concept sketch above.

From the beginning, I knew that the logistics of transporting each of the winners and their parents to my studio would be impossible, so I would have to take the risk of working from reference that they provided.

I asked them to find a parent or helper to set them up with a "Dinotopian" costume and to take a few dozen photos, facing to the right, and not looking at the camera. The photos were even better than I expected, and the costumes and expressions were really fun to work from.

It dawned on me, though, that it made more sense to show them on real dinosaurs instead of on a carousel. So I switched the concept when I did the final painting, a large oil panorama.

• Read about the experience of Kathryn Noel of Utah, who appears on the left
• Some of the reference photos, as well as the final painting will be part of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum exhibition "Dinotopia: Art, Science, and Imagination" on September 22.
• More about the exhibition on the blogs Lines and Colors and Underpaintings
• The final painting appears in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
• The art also appeared as an accordion-fold greeting card, but I'll show that in a future post.

Nina's Alaska Sketchbook

Earlier this year, Nina Khashchina read on this blog about a unique artist residency opportunity in the Alaskan wilderness.

Her application was accepted —Go Nina!— and she undertook the adventure earlier this month. She sketched from sea kayaks, hiked on remote trails, and braved hungry mosquitoes and pounding rain for rapturous visual encounters with bears, salmon, and wild forests.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Plein Air Painter Brian Stewart

(Video link) Brian Stewart of Minnesota left a career in advertising to focus on plein-air painting and guitar playing. The short video is by Steve Niedorf, part of a series he's doing called "By Hand," about people who do things with their hands.

Via, PleinAir magazine
If you live in Georgia, I'll be speaking at SCAD Atlanta today (Thursday, 9-20). The illustrated talk is at 11am, Event Space 4-C

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lectures in Atlanta

If you live near Atlanta, Georgia, please come to my free lecture and demo today at Kennesaw State University at 1:00. And tomorrow I'll be at SCAD Atlanta.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

ImagineFX on Sketching Buildings

The new ImagineFX magazine is on the newsstands in Britain, and soon will be in the States. It has an article that I wrote on sketching architecture on location.

Since ImagineFX specializes in fantasy, science fiction, and concept art, I emphasized how on-the-spot work fits into my imaginative painting, and how I sometimes give a surrealistic twist to what I observe.

The article has quite a few images that haven't been published before, and I hope it will be inspiring both to digital and traditional artists, whether you do fantasy or not.

The magazine includes work by the 2011 Rising Stars winners, Marta Nael, Jean-Sebastien Rossbach, David Gaillet, Eric Deschamps. And one more extra: The magazine comes with a free DVD with one of my painting videos on it. By the way, when you're at the bookstore or newsstand, look for the magazine in the computer section, not in the art section.
ImagineFX magazine
Video produced by IFX about the entire issue,

Monday, September 17, 2012

Savannah Sketchers

Blog reader Cale says: "If you have time to do any watercolor sketches please post them. I'd love to see your rendition of Savannah, also I have questions on pushing value range in wc!"

Here you go, Cale!

Jeanette and I walked through Forsyth Park and saw the mermen fountain, and I also sketched the Daniel Chester French statue in Chippewa Square. Then we set up on the corner of Bull Street and West Park Alley.

The sun was setting just to the left of the alley. As far as pushing values, I saved darkest and lightest accents to the end. There are some white, blue, and brown watercolor-pencil touches, and a few gouache touches here and there.

Hope to see you today at 5:00 at the SCAD Museum of Art Theater.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Technique for Atmospheric Maquettes

How do you suppose this landscape image was created?

Kim Keever sculpts miniature scenes, immerses them in a 200 gallon tank, disperses pigment in the water, and lights them with colored lights.
Thanks, Stephen Henderson-Grady.
From DesignBoom.
Kim Keever's Website

SCAD Lecture Tomorrow

Looking forward to spending a full day tomorrow at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD Savannah). Here's more.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Art Crit Generator

If you're in need of a pretentious sounding art critique, try the Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator." 

It produces whoppers like, "With regard to the issue of content, the mechanical mark-making of the spatial relationships verges on codifying the essentially transitional quality." 
All you do is type in five random numbers. For example, "54321" yields: "Although I am not a painter, I think that the reductive quality of the spatial relationships contextualize a participation in the critical dialogue of the 90s."
From BoingBoing. Art by Moebius 
Previously on GurneyJourney: Artist Statement Generator

Friday, September 14, 2012

Career Connections

On Wednesday I gave an illustrated lecture at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland.

The topic was "imaginative realism," and I use the term to include not just fantasy or science fiction art, but any kind of picture-making that visualizes something that can't be observed directly.

That imaginary scene could come from from history, paleontology, archaeology, mythology, or from a movie screenplay.

Since the theme was "Careers in the Visual Arts," I ended the talk the with some suggestions for annual association meetings or conventions that students might try to attend. At these gatherings you can meet many of the top people in the field and learn techniques and business insights.

I promised I'd give you the list, so here it is:

7. Fantasy art conventions or masterclasses (Spectrum Live, Illuxcon, IMC)
8. Animation (CTN Animation Expo)

Each group varies with respect to rules for membership and attendance, but most of them go out of their way to reach out to students interested in breaking into the field. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bracht Mountainscape

Here’s a dramatic landscape called "The Shores of Oblivion" by Eugene Bracht (1842-1921). The lighting makes the shot here, but what’s especially noteworthy is what he did with the chiaroscuro. 

The obvious approach would have been to set the illuminated tops against a dark sky, and to place a lighter sky behind the shadowed bases, using counterchange.

Instead he did the opposite, placing light-against-light and dark-against-dark. One might think this would make the scene confusing or harder to read. But what it does is lend “bigness” to the picture, and draw attention to the shadow edge. And somehow it lends a sense of mysterious, foreboding gloom to the distant, dark reaches of space near the horizon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Teaching Art in Malawi

Freelance illustrator Jessica Casner sent me this inspiring email:

"My name is Jessica Casner, and I recently traveled to Malawi for two months to teach the process of storyboarding and illustration to a wonderful group of students. My professor, Ron Mazellan, said that you would be encouraged to know that I left "Imaginative Realism" and "Color and Light" with the teachers due to the fact that their library had insufficient examples on understanding art and the process of its making."
"The Chichewa word for car is "gallimoto", and needless to say there were many shrieks of delight as they understood that some "gallimotos" could fly. Please know that the teachers and students are overjoyed to be able to learn even after I have left, and that you have given them hope and inspiration to create beyond our understanding."

Thanks, Jessica! I have a special feeling for your gift because my own interest in becoming an artist came from art instruction books I found when I was young. 

If anyone else would like to share my books in a special teaching setting, or with their local community center, teen hangout, retirement home, or hobby group, you can order directly from me, and I would be happy to sign it specially for your group.  

New Horse-like Robot

(Video link) Boston Dynamics has introduced a new walking vehicle that is designed to carry heavy payloads through rough terrain. Powered by an internal combustion engine, it can stand up and navigate through heavy brush. The head is packed with terrain sensors that allow it to follow a person walking in front of it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ludgate’s strutter models

Dinotopia enthusiast Glenn Ludgate of Australia has been working for a while now on a whole fleet of Dinotopian strutters.

These maquettes are all scratch built, and are based on the biologically based vehicles that appear in Dinotopia: The World Beneath.

Go Glenn!

Many of my own original reference maquettes will be exhibited at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum show, which opens September 22.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chimp (and Elephant) Art

When he served as curator of mammals at the London Zoo, animal behavior expert Desmond Morris studied a chimpanzee named Congo, who loved to paint.
According to Wikipedia, Morris “observed that the chimp would draw circles, and had a basic sense of composition in his drawings. He also showed the ability of symmetrical consistency between two sides of a sketch; when Morris drew a shape at one side of a piece of paper, Congo would balance the structure by making marks on the other half of the paper. Similarly, if a color on one side contained blue for example, he would add blue to the other side as well to keep balance.

"(Congo) soon began painting; the patterns he made were never distinguished, pictorial images, but usually of a vague "radiating fan pattern" in the abstract impressionism style. Between the ages of two and four, he produced about 400 drawings and paintings.

"Through that time, Congo developed a familiarity with his routine painting sessions with Morris. When a picture was taken away that he didn't consider complete, Congo would reportedly begin to scream and 'throw fits'. Also, if the ape considered one of his drawings to be finished, he would refuse to continue painting even if someone tried to persuade him to do so. 

(Video link)  "In the late 1950s, Congo made appearances on the British television show Zootime, which was presented live from the London Zoo by Desmond Morris. He died at ten years of age in 1964 of tuberculosis.” 

(Video link) Other zookeepers since have worked with orangutans and elephants in addition to chimpanzees. In this video, one keeper says that  “different species are encouraged to paint in different ways.”

With elephants, the handler holds onto the ear and uses it like a joystick to steer the trunk remotely for painting a pot of flowers. Above is a painting by a "guided" elephant named Boon Mee. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ginsburg and Gurney next Wednesday

If you live in the mid-Atlantic area of the USA, there will be two free presentations this coming Wednesday, September 12, in two different places at more or less the same time—so you'll have to choose!

The first is a portrait painting demonstration by Max Ginsburg at the Baum School of Art in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I've painted with Max, and it's a treat to watch him work, and to listen to him talk about his decisions at each stage.

I hung out with Max last night at Garin Baker's studio in Newburgh, New York, where Max is teaching a three day workshop on figure painting. Max showed us his portrait painting video, which documents one of his portrait demos in three hours of real time.

The other event this Wednesday is a talk that I'll be giving at the Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, starting at 2:30. I'll be talking about creating realistic paintings of imaginary worlds, and my presentation will be followed by a book signing.

If you live in Savannah, Georgia, I'll be speaking at SCAD, Savannah on the 17th.
Max Ginsburg Demo
Ginsburg video website
Gurney talk at Montgomery College

Saturday, September 8, 2012

End of the Song

Here is a classic love story, painted by E. Blair Leighton, called "The End of the Song." 

A handsome harpist woos a fair young princess on the balcony of a palace. She has set aside her embroidery and listens shyly to his songs and overtures. A coil of honeysuckle, symbolizing love, happiness, and new opportunities, ascends the column at left. 

Unseen to them, a crowned figure returns from a walk in the forest. Evidently her father, he strokes his beard as he considers what to do about this turn of events. 

But that's not how E. Blair Leighton originally painted the picture in 1902.

An earlier version shows the girl's father with a more stern countenance. His hand is ready to unsheathe his sword. Will he slay the young man, or at least to chase him off by threat of violence?

When E. Blair Leighton was still a student, a piece of advice he took to heart was, “In art it is never too late to alter your work if it is wrong.” The change of the king's face and hand makes a huge difference. But is it an improvement? Which version do you prefer? (Assuming both were in full color)
ADDENDUM Sept. 10: The poll closed with 190 votes in favor of the artist's first conception (hand on sword) versus 200 votes in favor of the revised version, seen in color with the man stroking his beard.

Several blog readers noted that the scene is unmistakably from Tristan and Iseult. As Matthew Mattin pointed out, the Wikipedia article "mentions several elements of the legend that appear in the painting, most notably an episode in which King Mark attacks Tristan while he is playing the harp for Iseult. But it is also part of the story that King Mark and Tristan, his nephew, love and revere each other, and that the love between T and I was induced by a love potion, resolving them responsibility to some extent and complicating Mark's options in response. So both the violent episode and the ambiguous context are true to the story. "

Biography on ArtMagick
Thanks, Barry Klugerman