Alfred Stieglitz, well-known photographer of Georgia O'Keefe, believed in the fragmentary nature of the portrait, stating that a portrait must evoke the countless aspects of the self rather than capture likeness.
Abigail Inskeep Bradsford, by Rembrandt Peale, oil on canvas, 27"x22", 1803-8, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
In executing a portrait, getting to a likeness requires lots of skill and sensitivity to the person being drawn, painted or photographed. However, Stieglitz's thought makes portraiture painting an art, rather than a dead-end. Who we paint is more than the model's face we see. These following portraits were painted in a past time . Do we glean any meaning or prominent personality from these portraits? And does more expressiveness always capture the personal essence of the portrait?
Abigail Bradsford was from a well-respected family of Philadelphia. She married John Inskeep who ran a successful publishing business. Rembrandt Peale painted both of their portraits, but in Abigail's, her head is tilted away from the viewer as was custom in that era. Women in the public arena averted their eyes so as to remain aloof to the mundane affairs of the world. Peale painted Abigail to include more female subjects in his portraiture collection.
Matisse painted his wife Amelie in expressive colors and loose brushstrokes. The portrait was very controversial and marked a "stylistic change" from his earlier works. Woman with Hat also legitimized the burgeoning art movement: Fauvism. Fauve, meaning wild beast, may refer to the brightly colored paints used in their art.
Lilla Cabot Perry (1848-1933) painted with the Impressionists and became a close friend of Monet. She was married and a mother of three daughters. Perry also wrote poetry and published a collection of her poems : The Jar ofDreams. There is some mystery in the name of this portrait. For some thought the Lady was Lilla's sister as she resembles another women in Perry's paintings. Also, the violets referred to in the title are not the flowers in the painting. These flowers are pansies when looking closely. It has been conjectured that Perry may have used the scientific classification of the word violet as meaning a small flowering annual of the viola genus which includes pansies.!
Why study color? For instance, color combinations can add to our sense of beauty and wellness. Knowing how these color happenings occur is illuminating rather than mysterious. Color communicates, too. The Munsell Color System is a good start to study color but also realize that this system has been reworked for the 21st century by the Pantone color system.
Artists use color abundantly to describe the objects that are being drawn, painted, or printed. The Fauves, an art movement led by Matisse, made color the subject and object of all painting. In a sense, this may be when color really arrives on the scene. The colors used in painting are different from those used in the digital processes of various media and the internet. Color systems are explained according to the medium which is used. For instance, painting uses an oil based medium that is subtractive: meaning the color system
begins with white and ends darker and eventually with black after all colors are added. With digital media, the system is reversed: color begins with black, gets lighter and ends in white. The primary colors used by a painter are yellow, red, and blue while those of a printer are yellow, magenta, and cyan. Theories of color were made by giants like Isaac Newton and Wilhelm Goethe. Goethe’s nine part harmonic triangle of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors reveals how color works as a system. He wrote a book in 1810 Theory of Colours. However, his acute observations were contradicted by the scientific community of Isaac Newton who originated the wavelength theory of colors. One of the differences in theories involved the color of black which Newton understood to be the absence of light . While Goethe theorized black was the sum of all colors and an active agent in the color wheel.
When color expresses emotion through the English language, color study becomes broader and more creative. Examples include : once in a blue moon, the red carpet treatment, out of the blue, brown bagging, white as a ghost, green thumb, and many more descriptive phrases. Another reason to study color is for its symbolic meaning which evolves from political and cultural contexts. For instance, the symbolism of white is not the same from country to country. In the Western hemisphere, white means purity while white in Japan signifies death. Another example is how red means war but also romance and love. Geographical locations and historical periods reveal differences in what colors may symbolize. Christianity uses color symbolically and so does Buddhism in a different way. Experiencing the full sensual sense of color brings joy to the viewer and with the creation of synthetic colors, color choices are limitless.
“Color must not simply ‘clothe’ the form, it must constitute it...when I use paint, I have the feeling of quantity- a surface of color which is necessary to me, and I modify its contour in order to determine my feeling clearly in a definitive way.” Matisse
Reaching back to the 15th century, Leonardo de Vinci was one of the first painters to describe the four primaries: red, yellow, green, and blue. He also included black and white. Sir Isaac Newton discovers the color spectrum in the year 1666. He joined the ends of the spectrum to form a circle which became the familiar color wheel. A century later, Le Bon discovered the nature of primary pigments: red, yellow, and blue. He learned how to make pigments from minerals and rocks and recorded their properties. That is how artists know that red comes from cinnabar, yellow from opriment, and blue from the deeply blue lapis lazuli. In 1766 Moses Harris discussed the three tiers of colors in his published The Natural Systems of Color , one of the rarest manuscripts in the history of color. The primaries referred to as primitive, fundamental, basic, or principal while the secondary colors were defined as the mixtures of 2 primaries. Secondary mixtures could be referred to as compound, mediate, or intermediate.
By the 20th century, color classification becomes more sophisticated. Albert Munsell was responsible for the 3-D color tree in use today. The centennial celebration of Munsell's death in June 1918 took place this June in Boston at the Mass College of Art and Design. The 3-D color tree comprises a vertical scale of values from 1-9 (dark to light). The horizontal branch of this tree is the chroma of color at its neutral gray saturation. As the chroma of a particular hue moves outward from the value scale, the hue approaches its lightest saturation. The Munsell tree comprises 12 gradations and 10 hues. Each of these hues or colors were given numbers. The numbers indicating paint colors originate from the Munsell color tree. To know primary colors in a more general and less historical way, consider red, yellow, and blue as the raw colors: capable of high intensity and very pure chroma. Beware, though. Film using only primary colors produces a very, ugly movie. Filmmakers discovered that using a variety of less saturated raw color does not tire the eyes as easily or look as artificial. None-the-less, cartoons are notorious for using raw colors at full strength. In storytelling, to use a brightly,saturated primary color emphasizes significance or importance. For example, Saint Mary wears a blue robe. Saturated primaries are indeed mood changers, like a thunderstorm graying the sky’s horizon.
Because our brains seek closure, there is a tendency to see incomplete patterns as a completed whole. This applies to color also. Seeing color opposites by staring at one color, looking away and then staring at a blank,white surface. What appears is the opposite of the first color which is an example of how our brains seek closure and wholeness. This afterimage
phenomenon is explained further by the popular Trichomatic theorydeveloped by Edwald Hering, physiologist (1834-1918).
Two artists, Titian and Michelangelo, used contrasting colors to enhance their paintings. Titian aimed for tonal unity by subduing the foreground and background with blending and avoiding the sharp contrasts of a silhouette. Michelangelo used color brilliantly. He painted crisp contour edges on colors contrasting the background hues. Michelangelo also used white and black to maximize the range of color in his paintings. Cangiantismo was an art term used to describe the use of high color contrasts. In fact, Venetians in the 16th century, criticized Michelangelo for his use of such “licentious colors".
Sources on Color:
“Our experience is that we seem to simply see color, but it’s really much more like construction of our minds. (the receptor cones in the retina responsible for the perception of three colors) sensitive to overlapping distributions of long, medium, and short wavelengths of light all within a very narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum” Frank Durgin, p.25 Swarthmore College Bulletin Spring 2018
The definition of a badger is a hairy, gray, nocturnal carnivorous mammal of Europe, Asia, and North America. It’s cousins are weasels, however, note that a badger is bigger and chunkier. The verb is to tease, nag, or bait; and the white spot on the badger’s head is distinctive. The badger is also the mascot of the University of Wisconsin since before 1949. The live badger morphed into a character when a UW art student created a paper mache head of this animal. With others who dressed the part of a badger mascot, the paper mache head became symbolic for the spirit of the UW at games and academic competitions.
The unveiling of the Buckys around Madison, Wisconsin and Dane County took place May 7th, 2018. The Bucky Parade follows in the tradition of the cow parades in cities world-wide since the first cow parade took place in Zurich, Switzerland twenty years ago. The artistic director of Zurich Walter Knapp became inspired by a previous public display of lion statues. The lion is a symbol for the city of Zurich. Walter Knapp called this first cow parade “Land in Sicht”, translated “Countryside in View”.
The concept of cows on parade migrated to Chicago when a business man Peter Hanig coined the phrase “Cows on Parade” in 1999. The idea of using a parade of painted fiberglass animals for a philanthropic fundraising purpose caught on. In Glendale, Ohio for example, large fiberglass black squirrels were also on parade, while many other cities did the same with frogs, pigs, and guitars!
For Madison, Wisconsin, the most recent and first cow parade here was twelve years ago. American Family Children’s Hospital and Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board sponsered the parade of 101 cows. Best Western InnTowner and the Highland Club became the official “moootel” for visiting parade goers. This May, the Bucky parade comprises eighty four Buckys compared to the 101 cows of the cow parade twelve years ago. Sixty four artists spent 129 days(4.3 months) designing, painting, and finishing their Buckys with a protective coat of lacquer. This public event is free and started May 7th to continue through September 12th,2018.
The Madison Area Sports Commission , the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Best Western Inn Towner are some of the sponsors of this event while Channel 15 Madison is the media sponsor. The proceeds of a later auction of thirty Buckys will go to Garding Against Cancer, a new initiative in 2017 of coaches Greg and Michelle for advanced research in the cure for cancer.
Paintings may actually serve a purpose. Inspiration: looking at a beautiful painting does ignite those creative and disciplined urges. A creative looking for a mentor may find one in a particular painting or in a painterly style. People who like similar painters or a period of art history may form a community such as artists who favor the classical style.
Obama’s presidential portrait by Kehinde Wiley could serve some of these purposes for looking at art. First of all, he puts the former President outdoors away from the Oval Office and the White House. In an almost icon-fashion way, the painted Obama engages the viewer directly. The botanical, decorative background emerges behind Obama, at his sides, by his feet in front, and above climbing an invisible wall. The background of leaves and flowers emerges from behind to the foreground adding drama to the painting.
Like Kehinde Wiley’s other pieces, this one challenges the conventional views of power and status. This portrait painting is inspiring, shows mastery of painting technique and expressiveness, and for those who follow the recent development of Presidential portraiture, this one belongs to the canon. For the past fifty years of US electoral history, presidential portraits were collected to be kept in a collection. Several years into the making of this collection, the portraits of First Ladies were also included in order to be more equitable.
If there is a traditional objective to meet in these presidential portraits, it is to show the dignity and power of the office of the United States president. Reviewing past presidential portraits within the Smithsonian, Wiley was ready to have Obama carry a sword, riding his horse to the mountain top. Fortunately for everyone, Obama nixed this idea and asked Kehinde to bring the President’s portrait “down a knotch” in keeping with his vision of the government for the people and by the people. As portrait painters frequently do, they maintain a friendly and open rapport with their sitters. Indeed, Wiley and past President Obama were able to share their opinions about the portrait and had a good time together as painter and model.
At the finish of the painting, small details offer even more meaning to the piece. Obama is portrayed sitting in a chair recognizable to the style of antique chairs during the time in Black history when Sojourner Truth lived and became well-known. Being that Kehinde Wiley’s presidential painting was the first portrait of the first African-American president to be painted by an African American makes theses clues to black history within the painting more relevant and powerful. The botanicals represent in part, the contribution to this nation by our immigrants. They brought over to the New world plants unknown to American soil. These imported plants added so much to what was a very boring epicurean menu of the first settlers. Some of the plants in this painting include chrysanthemums that are the official flower of Chicago, jasmine the flower of Hawaii, and African blue lilies from Kenya to remember Obama’s father.
Because “racism cast a long shadow over art” the selection of Kehinde Wiley for the presidential portrait is even more significant. A landmark exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York city in 1971, featured black American artists who painted abstractly. It was a landmark show because previously most black artists were confined to a traditional norm, which burdened an artist to always being a a true representative of the whole black culture. Black representation in art was different than in literature. Blacks were painted as slaves and in servitude to white culture. There were no black heroes painted in the Western tradition of art. However, there are a few exceptions: Fuseli’s “The Negro Revenged”, Joshua Reynold’s “Study of a Black Man”, and Theodore Gericault’s “The Raft of Medusa”. Goya was another exception. He painted the reality of black suppression by a white society. Therefore, to have a black artist painting a black American as president of the United States is quite exceptional in the history of western art.
It is not only Kehinde Wiley who is affecting the rest of American culture. Contemporary, young, black women artists like Lynette Yiadom-Baakye, Kara Walker, and Michelle Obama’s portraitist Amy Sherod are also putting pressure on Americans to recognize their work and how African Americans are equal members of the mainstream culture.
How is it that the work of a Hollywood backdrop artist can still intrigue the computer driven global citizen of our modern fast times? While discovering Detlesfen, I kept asking this question. Upon looking further and longer, his paintings gradually worked their magic.
Paul Detlefsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1899, the son of a doctor. He lived for 87 year , a commercial artist educated at the Art Institute of Chicago and was a grandfather of two grandchildren. To start his career, he moved to Hollywood where he hoped to become a cartoonist. This fell through for him so he began painting backdrops for Hollywood films. For 20 years he worked for Warner Brothers Studios.
At the height of his time at Warner Brothers, he advanced to the head of the art department. Detlefsen created the background scenery of the film sets, referred to as matte paintings. In 1944, the film“The Adventures of Mark Twain” won an award at the 17th Academy Awards for special effects created by him and his colleagues. Other films of the 40’s that Detlefsen worked on were The Horn Blows as Midnight, Escape in the Desert, and Shadow of a Woman.
Even though Detlefsen was a realist painter, he did not paint from real life. His vast and catalogued file collection of 15,000 slides were his main source for imagery as well as his imagination. He could conjure up scenes from memory of his childhood spent in Illinois.
At Warner Brothers, Detlefsen integrated his realistic landscape paintings with the physical movie sets to create the “matte shot”. Rhapsody in Blue and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam were more films he took on. In Hollywood, stars like Walt Disney and Bette Davis worked and socialized with him.
By the 1950’s, a shift occurred in his career. He began to lithograph his art images on to calendars, playing cards, jigsaw puzzles, and placemats. His first calendar “The Good OldDays” was published in 1951 and was very successful. “The Good OLd Days” and Norman Rockwell’s “The Boy Scout” calendar led the competition in calendars . Though to “keep up with the changing modern times”, as Detlefsen said, he printed off calendars with mini-skirted go-go dancers.
The appeal of Detlefsen art seems to be how he purposefully represents nostalgia for the past but with restraint. His paintings compare iconic views of rustic, agrarian life with its barns, bridges, streams, trains, and always a small adventurous boy or girl placed interestingly in the landscape. It’s nostalgia without excess or regret and for some the best of a good joke!
More about Detlesfen:
Calendars, prints, and paintings can be found on Etsy.com,E-bay.com, and Flicker.com
As well as more paintings completed, several events have made 2017 at least significant if not very, very good. The “Faces of Incarceration” exhibit at the Playhouse Gallery of the Overture Center of the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin in July was a highlight undoubtedly.
The show at Badger Prairie Health was a success and had more art entries than in previous years.
C.Kung recently retired Vilas Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, paints in oils with a Chinese aesthetic. Landscapes, portraits, and still life paintings can be seen on his website: http://www.ching-kung-art.weebly.com
This working dog is known for it devotion to its owner and a popular guard or service breed because of its fearless disposition. They love to be mentally and physically challenged whether it is as a herder, a watchdog, an exercise partner, or police dog. Bi-color, black, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, black and tan, blue, gray, liver, sable, and white are the colors you will see on these dogs. (from Celebrating Dogs and All Their Colors)
Russian Impressionist masters were unknown to the West for a long time due to the Soviet block . Their time frame of 1930-1980 is becoming more in focus due to U.S. galleries and Japanese collectors. A US gallery:Thomas Kearns McCarthey Gallery is located in two places: Park City, Utah and St.Petersburg, Russia. McCarthey gallery collects dacha art: the great Russian Impressionist masters.
When looking at the paintings “The April”, “The Lilacs”, and “After Rain”, by artist Vladimir P. Krantz(1913-2003) , one is impressed by the soft brush strokes and lyrical interpretation of the landscape. Krantz’s work was not recognized until a Japanese collector began acquiring his pieces. Krantz, from a small town near St.Petersburg, joined the Russian Artist’s Union in 1973 and since then became a full-time painter. Krantz stressed that nature was his best teacher. His realist style and alla prima painting resulted in an art of lightness, color, and shade brought together in a unity which never descended into the roughness which nature and all its forms may include. https://goo.gl/images/gvd6Hv
Unlike American artists after World War II , Russian Impressionists continued to express the aspirations of Russian society. A Soviet phrase of that time expresses some optimism:
“Acceptance will come, because it is historically inevitable”
The heritage of Russian creativity is immense from Tolstoy to the Bolshoi Ballet. The period of Russian Impressionism 1930-1980 added positively to their tradition of art. Impressionist artists desired to express the lives, hopes, joys, and other emotions of the common folk in Russia. Keeping a strong preference for painting the land and people of Mother Russia, these painters did not adapt to Western art. Impressionism in Russia comprised three stylistic parts. The first was classical art dating to before 1950 . Most art originated from the Soviet academy and the approach to art was low-key and nothing too disruptive or shocking. There was not much of an inventory of paintings from this period.
“Fruit on a Platter” by Engels Vasilyevich Kozlov, oil on board, 1999, courtesy of McCarthey Gallery
The next phase was the impressionism of the working class. Art had a positive edge which was accessible to the masses. Subject matter included farms, landscapes, industry, portraits expressive of sensitive emotions, and interior still life paintings. This working class art peaked in 1950’s to the 1960’s. The third period was the rough and severe style . These paintings began to employ a modernist approach while still making a socialist statement.
Intellectually what characterizes the art of 20th century Russian impressionism? Freedom of expression, vibrancy, spontaneity, and honoring “the soul” of Russia’s people. Painting plein air and alla prima, using a light palette, full and heavy brushstrokes and bold colors are strategies used by these artists to achieve the goal of glorifying Russia and its unadorned everyday life with the resilience of its people. A comparison to the French Impressionist artists like Francois Millet, Gustave Courbet, or Edouard Manet may be close in similar style and intent.
In Russia these impressionist artists, especially those living, are treated like Hollywood stars. At the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow, works by Yuri Kugach, one of the oldest living masters , has paintings gracing the Institute’s walls. Kugach is a family of artists across generations similar to the Wyeths in the eastern US. Yuri Kugach maintains a studio or “dacha” in the middle of an apple orchard. He paints there on location everyday. Now collectors worldwide are saying that Russian art is “hot “ because the galleries have discovered “realism”. From Andrei Rublev and orthodox iconography to avant-garde painters K.Malevich and W.Kandinsky, much study, training, and work has occupied these “realist” artists who are becoming known in their own right.
When Nero, emperor of Rome during the first century, got tired of looking at the gory, bloody gladiator fights, he would avert his eyes to his jewelry and stare at the green in the emeralds. Romans were fans of green naming the word: veridis. In the chariot races, the Blues represented the stables of the senatorial patricians while the Greens were the stables of “the people”.
For the Hellenistic Greeks, green as becoming a color in its own right was more complicated. The ancient Greeks had names for the colors: white (leukos), black (melanos), and red (erthros) but not for green. The reason being that they thought colors of nature did not need to be signaled out and given a name. Secondly, a true color is a manufactured color. To mix a color like blue and yellow to create green is bad kharma. Otherwise , in the words of First century AD Plutarch:
“mixing produces conflict, blending pigments is deflowering…”
Bright Earth, Philip Ball, page 19
Although, these ancient Greek artists were not opposed to glazing translucent colors over opaque ones to make a variety of tones, it was
acceptable to mix black or white into another color. This practice of “glazing” continued into the Renaissance. Greens were created by glazing yellow over blue. One of the early pigments was from the organic compound malachite. Later in time, malachite green was replaced by a very poisonous emerald. Poisonous greens have an infamous history. Legend says that Napoleon Bonaparte died while in exile from being poisoned by the arsenic fumes of the painted green walls. Eventually, in 1859, a safer green was manufactured called “veridian”, a hydrated chromic oxide. Veridian was adored by the Impressionists especially Cezanne.
Before 1000 AD , the color green must work for its acceptance and status as a single, honest color. To explore this, it helps to understand the sense of morality given to colors in the Middle Ages. For the most part, green was considered to be bad and dishonest by Catholic saints, Roman officials , and later by Protestant reformers. First of all, although green was used abundantly in the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, there was very little mention of colors in the Bible and particularly green. Colors were identified with matter. Like gold is a color and the shiny metal gold. The Hebrews had a word for green: “yereq”. But for the Church fathers, green signified vegetation!
In the 13th century , Pope Innocent III codified the colors used in the Catholic liturgical mass. In this treatise on the mass, Pope Innocent III
included green as a liturgical color. No longer was green considered bad but became symbolically to mean the color of hope, life, abundance as in the green fields and forests of nature. Prior to this liturgical ordering, green meant sickness as when the human body turns green with disease. The “people” accepted this new status for green, ranking green higher than yellow, blue, or purple. For that matter, blue was even rarer than green to be found in the Bible if at all.
When the Germans in the 5th century, introduced and tested new dying methods for making clothes, the industry brought new colors to the people. Clothing on one side was a monochrome color of either white, red, or yellow ; and on the other side , there were vivid combinations of blue, green, and yellow. The Romans tended toward yellow-green, which in Latin is “galbinus“. Since the Germans knew the superior cloth dying techniques, their sense of color pervaded. Charlemagne wore green and red signifying his political power. The Vikings wore green tunics, as the Germanic green was equivalent to the Scandinavian green worn by these pirates. These northern European dyers found their greens from the natural order. Ferns, plantains, oak leaves and even birch bark were used for green dye. However the green dye was very unstable and not very vivid. This instability led to green’s tarnished reputation as a color.
Like the Bible, green was rarely mentioned in the Q’uran if at all.
Muhammed though favored green especially in fabrics. Upon his
death in 632 AD, green became the color of his family. This status was only a political one, not a sacred one. Various dynasties had their own symbolic color like the Abbasids’ color was black; the Almoravids were white; and Almohads were red. During the crusades, the Christians wore red and white, while Islam adopted green as a unifying color, This green became symbolic for paradise, happiness, water, sky, and hope.
By the 1000’s and 1200’s, green was very popular. The color was valued as a middle color with a soothing effect. Green emeralds were pulverized to make an eye balm. Competition between blue and green
furthered cemented the use and significance of green. Although not very evident in the heraldry of the European Middle Ages, green was symbolic of youthfulness, love and chivalry. The “orchard motif” popularized during this Romanesque period employed green generously. The orchard was the place for courtly romances, usually including an enclosed garden space with a gate. The orchard was thought of as a place of rest, harmony, and relaxation: a place full of trees, vineyard,meadow flowers, magical and mythical beasts like unicorns and phoenixes and what better color to use to paint or embroider this paradise than green!
Green, the History of Color, Michel Pastoureau ,Princeton University Press,2014
Bright Earth, Art and the Invention of Color,Philip Ball, The University of Chicago Press,2001
The Artist’s Magazine, June 2017,Vol.34 #5, “Brushing Up” by Michael C.Johnson, article: Going Green