Sunday, January 13, 2013

13th January 2013 - Who's made a mark this week?

The big event of the week was the first formal portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge.  There's been more written about portraiture on the internet in the last couple of days than I've seen in a very, very long time!

However I find I've been getting more and more irritated by people who are making judgements on some less than wonderful photographs while at the same time making carping comments. I'm very sure most would be horrified if similar comments made in the same tenor were to be made about them and/or their paintings! Some of the comments left me wondering how artists could say such things about a fellow artist.

Here's my post - Paul Emsley and the Duchess of Cambridge - two videos and a drawing  which I recommend you view if only to see the videos and get an accurate perspective on the why/how it was painted as it was.  Most importantly the videos identified in the post highlight the reference photographs used for the portrait and provide a much better colouration than the photographs of the portrait.  The one I posted yesterday supplied by the NPG was completely drained of all colour.

Reference photo on the left and portrait on the right
a still from the video about The first portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge
Over and above what I said yesterday (see below), I do think people would do well to reflect on the fact that:
  • this is a woman in her 30s who is emphatically trying to be herself and is not trying to look like a supermodel or a fairytale princess
  • the bags under her eyes are genetic - they were not created by Paul Emsley.  
  • when she got married she was a decade older than Diana was when she got married - the two are in no way comparable in age ie she should look "older"
  • she has a degree in the history of art - and she knows what portraiture is about 
  • I think it highly unlikely that she was not aware of the type of paintings that Paul Emsley produces - he does not flatter people and he never paints them 'smiling with teeth' - this portrait will not have been unexpected or any sort of accident
  • her grandmother in law is probably the most painted person in history.  Many of her portraits look nothing like her - and she doubtless would have been a source of a few tips on the topic of how much the British love to criticise the latest Royal portrait!
  • Sandy Nairne, the Director of the National Portrait Gallery - which has 11,000 portraits in the Collection - was quoted as saying - presumably in response to a question as to why she wasn't smiling 'properly'
    There isn't a single open-mouthed portrait in the collection
James Gurney's post - Kate's Stifled Smile -  asks a relevant question which focuses on the pursed lips or closed smile depending on how you look at it (the Facebook entry about this post which has generated nearly 100 comments - some of which were really abusive in tone)

Below are the articles by the journalists
While by way of contrast
It's very human - when you look at it, the full face is in front of you, you look straight into the eyes and face. There are no airs and graces, there's no background context to allude to success or power - it's very much on a level of one to one with the viewer. It's quite natural, it's open, it's straightforward and very pure - it's immediate and not overly sentimental.
My conclusion?

  • First, people would do well to remember there's nothing media proprietors like more than the extra traffic caused by a bit of a controversy.  They're also not above contributing to the feeding frenzy in order to generate comments and traffic and sell more adverts!  
  • Second, I suspect this painting will become known as the "Mona Lisa painting" within the collection of contemporary royal portraits and will become extremely celebrated in time - with people remarking in puzzlement about what was all the fuss about at the time.  After all, it will remain in the NPG collection for centuries to come - unlike the articles written about it!
[UPDATE Monday morning: Paul Emsley has now written to me having heard about the views I was expressing about his painting of the Duchess and my comments on the photography.
He's sent me a photograph of his painting of The Duchess of Cambridge. I can confirm that it looks nothing like the one which has been circulating in the newspapers and on the Internet.

The one I'm looking at has much better colour and the transitions on tonal values are much more subtle and very much more like what I'm accustomed to seeing in Paul's work.

Which means that in the real painting she does NOT look old or drained or a vampire or a gothic horror or any of the other really nasty and mean-spirited remarks which have been made about this painting.

To me this new photo indicates that the problem with the image people have seen lies entirely with the photographer and NOT the artist. I hope as this fact becomes more apparent that some of those who made nasty remarks will have the good grace to apologise!

I don't have Paul's permission to post the image however I'm hoping I might be able to post it on my blog later this week - ideally after I've been able to see the painting for myself.]

Now on with the rest of this review

Art Blogs and Artists

I'm starting with those art bloggers who took time out to do a review of 2012.

Review of 2012 / Plan for 2013
Normal critical words of dismissal such as "leaden", "pretentious", "crass", "empty", do not do justice to Hirst's still-life paintings. All are applicable but none really captures the magnitude of failure we are talking about. Hirst has absolutely zero ability as a representational painter.
  • while Changes and Challenges brought sad news about what happened in 2012 to Maggie Price on Painting Partners.  I'm sure those who know Maggie will want to wish her success  with her plans for beating her challenge and better health in 2013.
Now for the other topics which normally crop up under this heading

Botanical art
A beginner looks at the landscape and asks " What does it look like", a more practiced hand asks "what can I do with this?"!

  • After the death of Lucian Freud there has been a degree of jockeying for position for the title of Britain's greatest living artist.  Jonathan Jones has now nominated Rachel Whiteread for that position - see Rachel Whiteread is Britain's greatest living artist.  (Mind you that probably says a fair bit about who Jonathan doesn't like!) I like to follow what Rachel is getting up to as her seminal work House was located very near to where I live and it was my art-hating Council which decided it had to be demolished.  I'm going to post a video about it this week.
Whiteread is abstract, serious and profound. She is the modern British artist who matters.
Who painted this
Art Books
I asked you about Your NEW Favourite Art Books and set up the January Making A Mark Poll to find out your attitude to ebooks for art.  The question asked (see right hand column) is Do you read art ebooks?

Art Business & Marketing

  • thanks to Barney Davey for highlighting this gem of a Forbes article on Facebook - 9 Things Businesses Shouldn't Do On Social Media.  While obviously not targeting artists and galleries, there's a few matters which both artists and galleries would do well to pay attention to.
  • Established art websites have been getting themselves new domains and new looks
    • is now I gather having a URL which identified the website with Syria was not the best business move for all sorts of reasons.  This blog post explains the reasons for the change
    • Artsy Shark has a new look.  I've got a big wide 27" screen and frankly I find it overwhelming.  The fact that a website can stretch to the full size of my 27" screen doesn't mean to say I want it to!  I guess this means responsive templates which automatically adjust to the size of your screen could make for some overwhelming experiences of websites.
Art Collectors & Art Economy

A couple of posts from ArtInfo:
Art Competitions

Art Exhibitions

Art Society Exhibitions
Upcoming exhibitions

In London we're in the funny season as exhibitions changeover.  Upcoming exhibitions include:
Exhibitions by artists
Pigeon by Ben Hendy
Hand coloured pigeon linocut
    Art Videos

    • You have nine days left on iPlayer to watch Richard E Grant on Painting Paradise an amazingly seductive account of the artists who painted on the Cote d'Azur in the south of France in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  On Tuesday, on Channel BBC4, we get Episode 2 The Golden Era How the Cote D'Azur became both playground and studio for the modern art masters.

    Art Studios

    A couple of accounts about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the art world of New York

    Art Supplies

    After five months, there were no inks that looked exactly the same as their control samples. However, some did extremely well, and changed very little.
    Making A Mark Art Blog Awards

    In case you were away over the festive season, here is a list of the posts associated with the Making A Mark Art Blog Awards.  You may see some blogs sporting their new blog shields listing the art award they got!
    and finally......

    The Guardian carried an a professional article for healthcare professionals Prescribing art for older people about the Dulwich Art Gallery outreach programme for older people called Good Times. The Gallery partners with 65 organisations to take art workshops into the community - with all sorts of positive benefits for those involved.  Worth a read - and it makes you think......


    1. It's disappointing to see that so many are programmed to expect a certain style of portrayal and therein I think lies the problem. Yes - Kate is beautiful, she is mostly seen smiling and on show and therefore glamorous and appealing.
      It's quite intimate in that she had a lot to do with the photographs and selection process and wanted to be reflected in a real way.
      I was surprised at first as it's not a familiar Kate but that's why I like it so much. There's a quiet knowing and a feeling of the thought process rather than a show face.
      It's beautifully painted ... it's all over the news and the word 'ghastly' was used. I thought of the artist and hope he is not terribly affected by this tsunami of outrage. Although - if you wait long enough - the pendulum swings back and the compliments will start to flow. The best thing is that it has started a dialogue with many people thinking more about art and what is beautiful art. This is beautiful ...

    2. It is hard to judge a painting without seeing it in person. I never meant to offend, Katherine, honest. In hindsight I can see my comment was rude. I am so sorry. As I said, this artist's work is much better than I could ever hope to do and I don't consider myself an artist. A wannabe maybe, but not an artist.

      1. No! Don't be silly.

        You haven't seen some of the remarks being made elsewhere - where people left their manners at the login to Facebook or the comments section of a newspaper! These are the ones I was referencing - nasty mean-spirited and downright offensive quips. If they were artists they should be ashamed of themselves.

    3. I love Paul Emsley's work - I think he has remarkable skill and I do hope that he will manage to forget all the silly comments that were made and articles that have been written. I think the question - "why isn't she smiling properly" sums it all up - we all smile differently, so if someone chooses not to show their teeth should we consider them as "improper", "abnormal", "odd"!? (or suspect tham as having fangs for that matter? - too many shallow books/films, folks...)

      So all I can say is that I will look forward to seeing this portrait as I'm sure that it is brilliant.

      1. She's not got an open-mouthed smile because the portrait is a gift to the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery

        As the Director has made clear, not one single portrait in the entire collection of over 11,000 portraits has an open mouth.

        So it appears the closed mouth was something that neither Kate nor the artist had any choice about!

    4. I enjoyed seeing both the videos you posted the other day Katherine and I'm looking forward to seeing the actual portrait this week. The thing that bemused me was that people were so certain that the portrait didn't do her justice, but how many of them have actually met her? How can we talk about likeness when we've never even seen the sitter in real life?

    5. Thank you, Katherine, for this blog and for the videos yesterday - I have found all very helpful. Marooned down here in deepest, darkest Devon I haven't a hope of getting to the NPG so have depended on photographs. I disliked the portrait initially because it seemed so lifeless and drained of colour. The videos corrected this mis-perception. I hope Paul Emsley is OK. Poor bloke, such a firestorm. I hope he remembers that all these papers will be lining the cat tray by the weekend.

    6. I have enjoyed looking at the Kate portrait via MAM. My opinion is the smile looks fine, and to me it shows quiet self-confidence.

      The decision to change Paint The Barn In Winter from a Page to a Group might be of interest to your readers. The Group is a better way to handle photos, by default, than at the Page, where photo posts were not easy to retrieve. This week we migrated the challenge from the one to the other.

    7. Katherine, thank you for posting the links. I think it's a beauty, period. The comments of others in the media bring to mind the Sargent definition of a portrait.


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