Friday, January 19, 2007

Sketching at the National Gallery: "Manet to Picasso"

Copy of Edgar Degas's "After the Bath" at the National Gallery
pencil and coloured pencil in Moleskine notebook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The National Gallery has displayed afresh its series of paintings by modern Masters in the basement gallery of the Sainsbury Wing in its exhibition "From Manet to Picasso". It's well worth seeing if you are fortunate to be in London before the end of May. It offers the opportunity to follow the sequence of changes in painting in Europe during the nineteenth and early twentieth century; see important paintings alongside ones associated with them which are normally in private collections plus the chance to see the working methods of Manet. For more about these paintings and the exhibition generally click here and here. The website also has National Gallery's Introduction to The Impressionists.

While waiting to get into the Velaquez exhibition yesterday (timed tickets only) I took the opportunity to go and revisit these works - and this time to sketch in colour (Regular readers may remember this "Drawing Monet" post from last year - which describes my technique for sketching works being viewed by others). Those who have my plan for this year know that I intend to study and draw the works of artists I find influential in order to understand both them and their works better. Today it was the turn of Monet and Degas. For more sketches done yesterday in the Velaquez exhibition see the previous post.

Copies of National Gallery paintings from Claud Monet's "Poplars on the Epte" series
oil on canvas
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I started with two of my favourite paintings from Monet's Poplars on the Epte series. This time I got the audio guide and learned that:
  • there are 24 paintings in the series depicting the poplars at different times of the day and in different weath
  • Monet painted them from a flat bottomed boat borrowed from his friend Caillebotte which had been specially adpated so that it could take canvases of different sizes. ( The painting from a boat habit reminded me of John Singer Sargent who used to sketch in Venice while sat in a gondola - I'm beginning to think about devising a boating expedition!)
  • He had to buy the land that the poplars stood on to avoid them being cut down before he had completed the series!
The one on the left does not compare well to the original due to lack of the right colours in my tiny pencil case. The one on the right worked rather better - but I could have done with my big sketchbook!

I then sketched the Degas pastel "After the Bath" and rather regretted not having a deep yellow with me - but have added that this morning, Interestingly when I looked at the reproduction on the website this seemed to be a much more washed out version which looked rather more yellow than the reality! However drawing in very subdued lighting might account for me thinking it's darker than it really is!

The Degas is interesting because it's actually done on five pieces of paper which have been mounted onto board. I also learned that Degas had his own recipe for fixative (he fixed between each layer and then worked again on top) which I now feel the urge to find out more about. His use of fixative makes some works - such as this one - look more like oil paintings than conventional pastels.
Tip: One of the ways I remember which colours need to be added in later if I don't have them with me is to actually work out and identify the precise colour by name. I find it's much easier to remember that way.
Have you ever sketched in a public gallery - as a child or as an adult - and , if you did, how did you find it?

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  1. Wow, Monet had to buy the land to keep painting the series...who would have guessed.

    it's funny, as a plein air painter, I'm used to people watching me paint, but there's something about painting in a museum that's intimidating. I'm a too messy a painter anyway. i'd probably end up flicking paint here and there and transform a Monet into a Jackson Pollack!

  2. No chance Ed!

    Here's the thing - on the whole galleries are mainly concerned about health and safety - of both their paintings and the visitors.

    To paint in a gallery like the National is possible but you need to get permission in advance and then jump through a few hoops (see here for more information). However, in most places, I've found that galleries on the whole tend to have fewer reservations about people who don't have brushes, water or solvent or anything that would mark a work (or their floor) easily! If you have a small set of coloured pencils, you can generally sketch and make a study and record of an artwork.

    I sat on the benches provided by the gallery for each of my sketches and hence was not causing health and safety concerns by being in the way of anybody else. In the main galleries where there is more space, I could have used a sketching stool provided by the gallery.

    As the educational aims of museums have come to the fore, you see children on school visits with a pad and pencils making studies of artwork all the time. They just seem to plonk themeselves on the floor and get on with it - they don't have nearly as many reservations as adults can do about being seen. I have been guilty of sometimes wishing that galleries would have at least one day a week which is free of school visits and tours!


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