All posts by Judith Reeve

Baudelaire’s Rockets

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Rockets: Never despise any person’s sensibility. His sensibility is his genius.

Charles Baudelaire

This statement should give every artist and poet hope. This is a statement of real support and encouragement to be true to one’s particular gift, one’s unique tendency and voice called up from deep interior meditation. In regards to visual  rendering, it allows for one’s particular envisioning of phenomena and the intuitive insight that comes to those that meditate on the material and immaterial nature of our being. This role that the artist plays in society is crucial to the maturation of all its members.

The judgement of artistic works lies then in whether what is rendered is conveyed with truth and sensitivity and whether it inherently evokes an emotional response that reflects that singular image. There then is no place for a verdict of whether it is right or wrong according to the norms of society but more importantly, whether it fulfills its own destiny.

Although, all visual works contain an ineffable quality, there should always be an attempt by the artist to qualify the language of paint verbally. Not that this will ever be a summation of the image and its visual language, but it will provide a bridge to understanding the work. I say this because many times an image is created prior to society being able to grasp the full meaning of a works significance. Words, however inadequate, can provide that necessary path to understanding and also, an openness to the meaning conveyed in the image. This paves the way for the unique sensitivity of the artist to be transferred and felt by society.

In my periodic fatalistic frame of mind, I am often forced to believe that society has become totally disinterested in painting and drawing. You noticed, I did not say the ‘visual arts’ because that is constantly touted around by society but it has very little to do with the person who is the artist struggling to render a unique and prophetic vision. The power of an image to magnify our thoughts both those that are conscious as well as unconscious, has been weakened. Through advertising as well as the prevalent use of photography, we have become over-stimulated and therefore desensitized to image and meaning.

But Baudelaire’s statement from his personal journal speaks of another kind of world where one trusts one’s unique sensibilities as a necessary dynamic for a thriving society. These sensibilities will one day bear the fruit of understanding which is genius itself.

Delacroix’s Drawing Method

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This winter I have engaged in a practice of drawing figures from memory. This ability to draw from one’s mind’s eye is a skill that was practiced by artists until the 20th century. It subsequently, has fallen out of use with, I believe, the advent of photography. In the 19th century artists engaged in both working from life or “imitative” drawing and memory drawing. The artist, Paul-Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran, in the 19th century, taught a method of memory drawing that was meant to liberate the artist from strictly working imitatively. He found that memory only retains those things that have produced an effect on the mind and the emotions.

Delacroix worked from both methods and felt that both poles were necessary to create great work. Delacroix avidly sketched from life in order to refine his eye and gather a deep understanding of natural phenomena. But conversely, he also felt that all great work of genius derived from the imaginative force that dwells within the artist. It was this subjective force that had the capacity to express the intangible. So his practice entailed sketching from memory fortified by observation and an understanding of nature.

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In his practice as described in his Journal, Delacroix would sketch freely from memory seeking to manifest the imaginative force and energy of the image as well as the emotional content through multiple rapid sketches. The energy of the action and the heightened emotion are always captured in the initial engagement with the idea. Delacroix fed on that furious passion and sought to maintain that force even in his larger work. Although the larger paintings called for immense preparation and craftsmanship over long periods of time, he desired that they should maintain the feeling of the “larger effect” that a sketch visualizes so acutely while suppressing the details.

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In the Journal, Delacroix describes his method to get the best of both worlds- the dynamism of the initial sketch heightened with the accuracy and understanding of natural phenomena necessary to carry a larger piece to completion. So to begin with, Delacroix would choose a theme to activate his imagination. This was the “visioning” process. Next, he would then sketch freely and spontaneously, not concerning himself with accuracy but with the emotionally charged interplay of figure, objects and space.  After rendering multiple sketches based on his subject, he would select a sketch that contained all the elements that he was searching for. He would then take this sketch and place a sheet of tracing paper over it. Next came the process of “refining”. Using the tracing paper on top, he would re-work the figure and bring it into context, taking exaggerations and inaccuracies and bring them into a harmonized relationship that reflected nature. If he was not satisfied with the re-visioning of the figure, he was in a position to begin again from the initial sketch.

I found this process surprisingly easy to do. When one draws from one’s memory, one is apt to exaggerate the action to try to elicit an emotional response. This is a necessary step and is key to amplifying the image. But it also needs to be tempered by truthfulness to nature. By containing some of the energy through refining the drawing, one actually allows the figure to hold some of that exaggerated energy within. By holding power in reserve, one adds force to the image that is not obvious. It is analogous to a ‘boiling pot with the lid on’. And this is what you want- not all the energy spilled out at once, but seething just below the surface. Delacroix’s ‘Jacob Wrestling the Angel’ is the culmination of years of practice in this method.

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The images in this blog post follow Delacroix’s practice. The red sketch is the initial rapid drawing. The green sketch is on the tracing paper. You can see how I tempered some of my exaggerations and redefined the drawing. In the last image, I have placed my tracing paper on the canvas to align it with the rabatment lines to give it extra force and a relationship to the outside edges of the canvas. One could then transfer it, but I tend to redraw in paint as this is a more fluid method for me to work.

 

 

Delacroix’s Palette for the “Nymph”

Copy of Delacroix's "Nymph" from the Apollo Ceiling
Copy of Delacroix’s “Nymph” from the Apollo Ceiling

I have re-immersed myself in the Journal of  Eugene Delacroix.  This work has always been a part of my aesthetic inquiry since I first delved into it as a student. Unfortunately, many of his color notes on his paintings are missing from the English translation of the Journal and the complete Journal is in French only after all this time. But there are stil some color notes in the Phaidon edition that are worth exploring.

This past week, I have been experimenting with the palette that Delacroix used on the Apollo Ceiling in the Louvre. This is really a masterpiece and exhibits all of those qualities that Delacroix pushed himself to achieve- mastery of color; the suppression of details; and a largeness of effect. In the journal he lays out his process of laying in the color on the Venus, the children and the Nymph. All of the colors of the palette are inter-related between the various figures. It is not a simple palette by far yet it is one where Delacroix expends his energy achieving form through the use of a wide range of color temperature. Color temperature more than a change in value allows the forms to be felt. Therefore he expresses this color temperature change in very subtle ways. One way that he acheives this is by mixing a  key color, such as violet, and creating that mixture in three different intensities with three different blues but using the same red-orange. So the red-orange ties the three different blues together. Here is an example of the violet with three different hues, in three intensities moving toward a near neutral:

Prussian Blue + Vermilion = violet (this carries the highest intensity)

Cobalt Blue + Vermilion= violet ( slightly less intense and more towards a deep violet brown)

Cassel Earth + Vermilion=  violet (least intense- nuetral)

Delacroix often spoke to the colorist, Michel-Eugene Chevreul and through these conversations about color, Delacroix came to understand the idea of  “simultaneous contrast of colors“. He notes in his journal how he observed this phenomena in nature and how he began to apply it in his painting. In the figure of the “Nymph”, Delacroix applies this idea of contrast in a very subtle and modern way.

Delacroix develops a palette that is much like Robert Henri’s. Both developed the subtle contrast between tertiaries such as OY to BV or a contrast of near complements such as OY to V. But what is different about the two artist is that Henri strove for an underlying unity and simplicity of color through a palette based on sets of triads whereas, Delacroix strove for diversity of hue held in balance by complements or near complements. So this combined with a hierarchy of intensity allows Delacroix a full range of color temperature on which to model the figure. As Delacroix paints more and more murals, which require a composition to have less contrast and lighter values but a more compelling sense of color, this becomes his primary mode of working.

Here is Delacroix’s Palette:

Vermillion    Cadmuim Yellow (or Antimony)    Naples Yellow(this was only used with a viridian mix)    Viridian       Prussian Blue    Cobalt Blue      Cassel Earth    White

"Nymph" first lay-in
“Nymph” first lay-in

These are the mixes he describes:

Lay-in of the Flesh:

Vermilion + White; Cadmuim Yellow + white; to these mixes is added Viridian+ Naples yellow +white; so one achieves an orange flesh color that is slightly neutralized by a yellow green.

He then creates a series of violets in several states of neutralization:

Prussian blue + vermilion: This is the primary violet he uses and it is mixed into the shadow area to cool it off

Cobalt+ vermilion: This is used for cast shadows and to render the drawing at the end

Cassel earth + vermilion (this is the most nuetralized): This is used along the dark shadow edge

Vermilion + white: This is thickly applied to the brightest lights

Cadmium yellow + white: Highlight

Viridian + naples + white: green half-tones

Prussian blue + vermilion +white: cool blue half-tones; This combination is also used as a glaze over the shadow side to unify it and also before applying the reflected lights

Vermilion + Cadmium yellow + white: a darker value used for the reflected light. The viridian + naples can also be added here

I found these combinations produced very surprising results that were colorful yet unified. I also found that the violets did not compete against one another and that the subtle variations between the blues added variety within the shadow area that might have otherwise appeared to unified. I also found that the constant juxtaposition of the warms and cools added a sinctillating effect. I also found that the yellow highlight worked exceptionally well in areas where the violet predominated. Delacroix took this technique from Rubens who used it constantly, although he could not identify why since one is apt to make the highlight violet.

Experimenting with color combinations is a practice that I use to enhance my feeling for color as well as my sense of color memory. With such a practice, whether it has a practical side or not, allows one to develop a heightened sensitivity to color increasing one’s awareness to color in the natural world. But more importantly, I am drawn to color and am fascinated by the effects of juxtaposed combinations. Delacroix states that color is the most important factor in painting because it affects the viewer immediately and unconsciously before the subject itself is understood. It is the musical quality of paint.

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