Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A little more about Romney and why we should know him

I got this comment the other day and I think I will see if I can answer it.

Hi Stape,
Besides the entertaining history, education and terrific art, could you expound on why we should know Romney or what can we glean and apply from these great master paintings from the past. ie, the great contrast in values, placement of the objects.

I don't know that it is more important to know Romney than a lot of other artists, but they are wonderful paintings. Romney is the least well known of the the "R's" of British portrait painting
Reynolds, Romney and Raeburn. But all three were very good, Britain at that time valued portraits highly and had a lot of fine head painters. These three were the best.

I have expounded before why I think it is important to know your art history so I will keep it short. If you told me you were learning to play the guitar and I asked you"whaddya think about Chuck Berry?" and you said "who?" I would suspect you were not too serious about your playing. There is no art without artists and what they made. Just as you cannot know rock and roll without hearing the music. If you want to make good pictures you need to be familiar with what they look like. Knowing your art history builds your taste, and it gives you a library of ideas of how other artists have conquered the problems with which you yourself will be faced in your own work.

I picked out the Romney above to look a little more closely at tonight. On the most obvious level, and the least artistic, is the subject itself. Anyone without a smidgen of art knowledge can see that this is a very lovely girl and that the picture is an upbeat charming evocation of her probably done by a man who found her enchanting. She also has a cute dog with her, who doesn't like a cute little dog? Most people who look at a painting see only its subject, this is a horse, that's a pig and that's a house. They don't "get" the art part at all. They see WHAT it is a picture of, but miss HOW it is a picture of. However this is a very charming painting if seen only in the most obvious way.

Below is the painting again with some lines drawn on it.

I could point out a lot of things about this picture but I think tonight I will start with the expression of form. The artist has chosen a very complex and difficult angle to show the head. The head is facing slightly downward at a three quarter angle and tipped slightly to the right. That is pitch, roll and yaw. So Romney had to put the head into a drawing that uses perspective. We have all seen the drawings explaining how to draw a house in perspective, however many folks don't realize that perspective is everywhere and it is necessary to use it to draw a head or a figure. Miss the perspective and the head looks grotesque or at least uncomfortable in some indefinable way.Romney though, has very effectively built the structure of the head. I drew some construction lines on the picture to show how the forms of the head are laid onto the spherical and receding planes of the skull. Like so many things in painting, this had to be thought out and installed. It can't be "observed or copied into a painting. Form is a construct, a human explanation of how an object sits in three dimensional space. This head has volume.

The line that indicates the chin and jaw for instance is picked up and continues around to the back of the head by the line to it's right in the hair. The planes of the head are simplified but well presented and understood. The lines are construction lines that wrap around the head, they are lines drawn around a sphere.
Tomorrow I will go after another quality of this painting.


Linda Tracey Brandon said...

Thanks for discussing these wonderful painters, Stapleton - so much to learn from them. As always, great post!

By the way, a show of Emma Hamilton art and collectibles starts today at the Grolier Club in Manhattan. Maybe some of your NY readers can see it, it looks like it's open to the public.

Silvio Silvestri said...

Hi Stape,
Very good analysis!!. Thankyou and I look forward to tomorrows post. Since your reviewing these great artist, is Nicholai Fechin too contemporary for your review now? ie is a looser, more abstract approach less valuable? Silvio

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! Do you suppose Romney did a detailed drawing on the canvas before he painted this?
He must have worked through all the 'demons' first to get such a refined painting.

Mark Heng said...

Great to hear formalist analysis on this kind of stuff- I think there was a tendency to pooh-pooh it in art history class for flattering the client, or suckin up to the ruling classes, etc...

While we're on the topic of this painting, can you talk about some of the background/compostional devices which characterize the grand style? I've tried doing it, and it's way harder than it looks!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.Do you mean bobble head dolls and Lady Hamilton themed sink strainers? or antiques that he once owned.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Fechin is a long way out in the future! I am still mucking around with the old masters.

Stapleton Kearns said...

He may have made a thumbnail first and maybe a drawing on paper, but I would guess that the painting was made pretty directly.Society portrait painters are often very facile and like to paint quickly and directly.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, the art schools pooh poohed everything I liked when I went. They are then spared having to compare what they do against the level of craftsmanship, art and hipness in the paintings of our history.They are vile crustaceans.

Linda Tracey Brandon said...

You're right, 'collectibles' is the wrong word. 'Artifacts' is better.

But a Lady Hamilton action figure is an interesting concept.