Tuesday, December 7, 2010

About Boldini, seeing and edges

images courtesy of artrenewal.org.

Giovanni Boldini (1842 – 1931) Was an Italian painter who established himself as a successful portrait painter in Paris in the later 19th century.His portraits were stylish and he did many commissions for the high society of Europe. If I had to add a fourth name to the aforementioned triumvirate (thus making it a quadumvirate) it would be Boldini.

The painting above is in the Clark Gallery in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I stood before it in awe this summer. I had seen it before but it still amazed me. It has a delicate, refined suavity that
is charming.

I got this question in the comments yesterday.
When you say they are more like vision..so you mean the only thing in focus is what one is looking directly at and every thing else is out of focus and/or fuzzy? So only one part of the painting is in focus(with more hard edges, etc) and the rest is generally out of focus/soft or handled broadly with little detail?

I would say that was a symptom, rather than the thing itself. I think "seeing" in the artistic sense is the building of a painting or drawing based more closely on observation of the perceived than was common before this generation. It is a kind of visual draftsmanship less tethered to the formal approaches popular with previous academicians. These artists brought to the process not only the ability to express form and construction but the ability to see the thing flat, as abstract shapes devoid of meaning before their eyes. The successful marrying of these two systems is what made this group of painters so original.

,There is often a general tendency in this kind of work to blur the parts of a painting further from the point of greatest interest, but need not necessarily be. It is a result of the process employed, but not the seminal one.I think the greatest characteristic is the observation of edges, a besottment with the edge.

When I was studying with Ives Gammell, who had studied Sargent working methods and thoughts about painting extensively, he would say, "get the BIG look of nature!". What he meant by this is that the picture is perceived as a whole. Every part of it is seen in relationship to the whole. The hands in a portrait are painted the way they look when seeing the entirety of the pictures rather than the way they look when studied independently. Everything before you has this dual appearance. There is the way it looks when you look directly at it and the way it looks in the largeness of encompassing vision.


Tim said...

Boldini has some nice landscapes too Stape, check out this book if you dont have it already


mariandioguardi.com said...

Hi Stapleton, I know you are busy right now so from what was able to find, Cezanne is indeed credited with modulation of form...leaving all his values in a a narrow range and defining form by colors. Now that you mention it, I can see the square strokes and color modulations in Hibbard's work...along with your own. Cezanne was a very influential painter (though I still don't care for his paintings!)

My own work is constructed with all hard edges and I use colors close in value to " blur" my edges. But again, that's how I paint ( can't help myself for who I am) I actually really admire the virtuosity of painters bringing shapes in and out of the picture plane as well as the visual plane by manipulating those edges. A great lesson, once again.

billspaintingmn said...

I like his refinement. I like his stylizations. That last painting has a busy underpainting with drippy or runny paint. Yet he brings forth this beautiful nude that is presented to the viewer as if he painted her before your eyes.
That's class, that's entertainment.
Much energy and observation.
In another painting he might do just the opposite, and still leaves the viewer in "the moment" as if your there at that time.
Much wow going on!

Deborah Paris said...

"a besottment with the edge"

Another wonderful Stape-ism is born!

Seriously though, this is perhaps the best explanation of the two ways of seeing and how they can be merged that I have ever read.

Martha said...

I look forward every morning to seeing what you've posted. It's a great education for an economics major/lawyer who is completely self-taught in art history and appreciation. Thank you!

Mary Byrom said...

Stapleton, awesome explanation!

M said...

I love that first painting! His pictures are filled with joy and fun. They seem effortless. Something to aspire to, for sure! I am really taken with these.

willek said...

I think there are edge considerations that have not been mentioned. Consider a painting that is meant to be observed for a longer time as compared to one that is ment to be glanced at or seen in a sweep and left. Those old battle scenes, for example meant to record an historic event. The majestic Hudson River kind of landscape. Much more might be kept than lost. Not that there are not lost edges in such paintings. but there might be many points of interest in such a picture rather than one. Consider a picture in which the painter's intent is that things be discovered over time... or a picture in which it is the intent of the artist to connect action in the foreground with action in the distance, something a camera has difficulty doing. I am seeing a lot of work by recent grads of art schools in which all the edges are artfully blurred. It seems like a "thing" that is going on right now. I wonder about this.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Great set of posts Stape. Seeing BIG is the main thread you see running through all great painting.
Bigger is better!

Looking forward to your post on how to draw fingernails and eyelashes while seeing big.

Boldini has always reminded me of El Greco. Definitely a mannerist.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have not seen that. I have a little monologue.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I do think they have dated a little bit though.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

You are welcome.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Seem is the word. I am sure they were hard to make. Making it look effortless is part of the skill.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are the two treads that run through our painting.. Academic versus impressionistic.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bigger is indeed better.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments about Boldini. I 'discovered' for myself that painting of the woman knitting on the sofa and looked at it for some time in rapt attention.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it.

Wonderful stuff!