Research point: Look at a range of paintings with particular attention to the way the paint was applied. For example, look at the paintings of Monet, Pissarro, Cezannne and van Gogh and the Expressionist painters. Look at some 20th century pastel paintings and make notes about the range of effects you find.
I postponed this research point because it didn’t feel suited to online study. In April a visit to the Ashmoleon Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford provided a good opportunity as the collection is eclectic and spans several centuries. I’ve diversified from the brief above in order to observe and comment on the paintings that were there.
Like an Open Book 1989-90 Sir Howard Hodgkin (1932-) British Painter and printermaker whose work is associated with abstraction)
Sweeping and stacato brush strokes. Wide strokes up to over the frame. Bold colours and huge confidence. Successive layers of colour with red and orange breaking through. I’m not familiar with Hodgkin’s work but a further look online tells me I ought to make time to explore this artist further.
Tea Party in America (1948), Sir Howard Hodgkin
In this gouache painting on board the paint is applied in an altogether more controlled way with precise lines, pointillist type techniques, linear marks and areas of one flat colour. Of course artists change their painting styles and techniques throughout their career.
Francis Bacon, Seated figure – Can’t find a link to this picture and of course he did many seated figures but I was struck by the way that the backbone of the figure had been painted with heavy impasto while the rest of the brushstrokes were relatively flat and smooth. An interesting mix.
L’ombre de l’herbe by Andre Mason (1896 – 1987) From around 1926 he experimented by throwing sand and glue onto canvas and making oil paintings based around the shapes that formed. His sand paintings were a form of automatic painting inspired by patterns on the beach caused by the ebb and flow of the tide.
Small Naked Portrait (1973-74) by Lucien Freud (1922-2011)
The best things come in small packages… The model is curled up in the foetal position. She looks uncomfortable; her feet are dirty. I notice that the brush strokes, which are quite neat, are all in line with the muscles and sinews of the body. Beautiful.
Cows at Cookham by Stanley Spencer 1936 – In this humorous painting Spencer’s first wife Hilda is on the grass in a field of cows with the children Unity and Shirin – toddlers desperately trying to get away from their mother’s grasp. The brush strokes (in oil) are so fine, and all in line with one another, as to be barely discernible. It is a very controlled painting in a technical sense but nonetheless communicates plenty of energy. The same is also true of Spencer’s “Hilda choosing a dress” (one of nine domestic scenes he painted 1935/6 recalling a period marital harmony in the 20s.
A Gloucester Landscape (1914) – John Nash (1893-1977) This rural landscape with fields, meadows and trees is interesting because it mixes textures and brush strokes. Dabbed on a in a kind of gentle impasto for the trees and smooth on the meadows. The palette is very limited, just green and blue and grey, and there are not huge varieties of tone within these three colours. This makes the texture an essential contributor to the overall impact of the work. The texture bounces the light around too. Interesting…
Les Sable d’Oone (1921) Albert Marquet (1875 to 1947) – thin sometimes transparent paint, large brush, sweeping gestural strokes. Lovely!
Murnau Staffelsee I, 1944, Wassily Kandinsky (1866 to 1944) Layered, thick and thin paint, dabbed brush strokes, pulled across the canvas with large brush, some much finer and flatter brushstrokes in contrast. Very vibrant, very moody… and very different to the Kandinsky I thought I knew.
Interior with nude figure, 1905, Pierre Bonnard. Lovely loose, swirling brushstrokes. Relatively thin paint has been quickly pulled around the canvas with a large brush. Alive and energetic. The brush strokes enliven what is a very subdued palette of grey, brown and beige, quite different to the vibrant colours that come to mind when I think of Bonnard.
Nude on a Sofa, 1999, Matisse (1869-1954)
A strong, gestural outline drawing in black with a large brush. Paint thin, brushstrokes neat for the remainder but expressive. Reduced palette of grey, green and pink (quite different from the vibrant Matisse we know so well).
Blue rooves, Paris 1901, Picasso 1881 – 1973
Long dabs with a large brush. Angle of brushstroke different in different parts of the painting, sky, roof tops, chimneys. Very few long strokes. This technique must have required a lot of control but the result is dynamic. It feels as if there is an ever changing sky and mood.
Ashmoleon Museum of Art and Archeology | www.ashmolean.org
www.artuk.org (this is a lovely Arts Council England website that I’m making a note to myself to use again)