Gurney Journey | category: Academic Painters


Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

Illustration by Balliol Salmon

A.J. Balliol Salmon (1868-1953) was a British illustrator who painted high-society subjects using pencil, watercolor, gouache and pen. 

Illustration by Balliol Salmon

Various drawing and painting media were used in early 20th century illustration: "There are very few technical limitations in general illustration. You may use charcoal, chalk, pencil, wash, oil-colours, line and tone combined—practically anything which will reproduce effectively. The minor periodicals use pen and ink, chiefly because the paper on which they are printed isn't suitable for tone work, but your readers want, as far as possible, as complete a representation of a subject as they can get, and full tone or colour can of course be suggested more easily by the tone mediums than it can be by line."

—Percy Bradshaw, quoted in the Artist MagazineAug. 1932, p. 248. Thanks, James W.

Herbert Olivier's Spring Scene

Herbert Olivier's Spring Scene
Herbert Arnould Olivier, Summer is Icumen in, 1902, oil on canvas

In 1902, English painter Herbert Arnould Olivier painted a charming image of a young woman beside a flowering tree and exhibited it at the Royal Academy.

Herbert Olivier's Spring Scene

Sotheby's says: When the picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1902 it was given the title of "Summer is Icumen In," being the first line of a traditional English song known from a thirteenth century manuscript at Reading Abbey:

Summer is icumen in,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!

"The song describes the approach of summer and the glories of the reawakening of nature after the somnolence of winter. Olivier therefore used the symbolism to create a painting imbibed with the symbolism of abundance, fertility and rebirth. The subject of Primavera and of Persephone, the Greek Goddess of Spring was popular in the twentieth century as an allegory of rebirth, of the optimism for a new century."

More at Sotheby's. Thanks, James W. 

Gericault's Prelims for 'Raft of the Medusa'

 Gericault's Prelims for 'Raft of the Medusa'

Gericault's famous painting Raft of the Medusa is a complex composition, with a lot of figures in dramatic poses. How did he get there?

Gericault's Prelims for 'Raft of the Medusa'

His early sketches show the seed of the idea, with the figures in the group going in and out of shadow. 

Gericault's Prelims for 'Raft of the Medusa'
Another sketch shows the stricken mariner's making a more direct appeal to the rescuers.

Gericault's Prelims for 'Raft of the Medusa'
Jean Louis Théodore Géricault (1791–1824), Study for The Raft of the Medusa (1819), 
oil on canvas, 36 x 48 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. 

As he brought the idea along to a painted sketch stage he worked out some of the key figures, such as the man caring for the dead or dying figure in the lower left.

Gericault's Prelims for 'Raft of the Medusa'

Each figure needed careful study from models, and the ensemble had to work as a whole and parts.

Gericault's Prelims for 'Raft of the Medusa'
Finally, this drawing appears to be a record of the finished painting, made after the fact.
Read more online about the story the painting illustrates and how he developed the composition.

Observing How Sargent Painted

When Margaret Chanler was in London in 1893 with her sister Elizabeth, Margaret persuaded John Singer Sargent to paint her sister's portrait. 

Observing How Sargent Painted
Portrait of Elizabeth by John Singer Sargent, 1893

"It was his custom," said Margaret, "to admit callers, so that the sitting should not become too rigid. I was asked to keep the talk moving with those who came. I suggested that Mr. Kipling ought to fill the vacant poet laureate’s post. 'What an unpleasant American idea!' Mr. Sargent walked backwards to the wall of his studio, his brush held very high, then returned to the canvas. Lively conversation much amused but never distracted him. When the portrait was finished (he had painted the head in only twice), I overheard him: 'Miss Chanler, I have painted you la penserosa, I should like to begin all over again, and paint you l’allegra.'" According to Sargent, she had "the face of the Madonna and the eyes of a child."

This firsthand account confirms two observations about Sargent's working method:
1. He kept his models engaged and talking, not holding dead-still as is the custom now.
2. He used a form of the sight-size method, frequently backing up from the painting with the brush held aloft, presumably for evaluating slopes or measuring segments.

From Margaret Chanler Aldrich's memoir Family VistaAvailable on

Previously: Talking Models, Speaking Likeness, Setting Up a Sight-Size Portrait

Long Hours and Hard Labor: Recollections of Sorolla

"It has been said that Sorolla worked hurriedly, that he got tired or bored before he concluded or finished a work. This is not true. He painted two portraits of me: one indoors and another in his garden. For each one of them he took more than a month, in sessions of three hours a day. Yet, both paintings seem to have been made rapidly, with fortunate suddenness. The multitudinous quantity of his work must be attributed to his tireless laboriousness."

Long Hours and Hard Labor: Recollections of Sorolla
Self portrait by Joaquin Sorolla, 1904.

"He worked from the early hours of the day until twelve at night, in his studio, in the open air, with artificial light. At the same time that he was painting my portrait he had many others inn hand, and when he interposed an interval without a model, he made studies and sketches, or he painted landscapes, charming landscapes. For him the practice of art was a vital function, like breathing. If he had to stop painting, it was as if he were being asphyxiated."

Recollection of Pérez de Ayala in Quoted from the book  Joaquin Sorolla by Blanca Pons Sorolla , p. 318

Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) on Wikipedia.

Painting People in Rural France

Painting People in Rural France

Ohio-born artist Elizabeth Nourse painted directly from models in rural France. She was often "in villages with no inns or accommodations and lived either with members of a religious community or with the peasants, to an innate sympathy with women and children of the peasantry and enabled her to gain their confidence and observe them closely while living among them."

Painting People in Rural France

"Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942) had quite a different experience in Brittany. Writing about her unsuccessful efforts to get a Breton woman to pose for her, she observed, 'We found that the people, especially the country folk, did not really like les artistes.'"

Quotes from Elisabeth Nourse, 1859-1938, A Salon Career

Source: Wikipedia on Elizabeth Nourse and Cecilia Beaux

Sorolla's Working Method

Sorolla's Working Method

In the year 1904, Joaquín Sorolla (Spanish, 1863-1923) produced nearly 250 works, which included sketches and finished paintings. 

Sorolla's Working Method

His working method was documented by his friend Aureliano de Beruete:

Sorolla's Working Method

"The execution of each work was preceded by a period of preparation in which, by means of several drawings or studies in color, whether of the whole or a detail, he tried to familiarize himself with the subject he wanted to represent with all the contrasts of light and color, with the proportions, form, and foreshortening of each figure and, finally, with the effects and the relationship of some tones with others.

Sorolla's Working Method

"Once he had penetrated into all this, he placed his models in the right position and in the time and the light which the painting called for and he started working, without hesitation or changes.

Sorolla's Working Method

"This is what gives his works painted out of doors their freshness, their spontaneity and their imponderable vigor of execution."

Quoted from the book  Joaquin Sorolla by Blanca Pons Sorolla

Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) on Wikipedia

The Animal Art of Caroline Clowes

A group of cattle in a pastoral setting looks up, as if alarmed. What is bothering them?

The answer is visible at the far right of the composition, where a train fills the quiet landscape with noise and smoke. 

The painting was a response to the addition of an east-west train line through Dutchess County, New York. 

Caroline Clowes lived from 1838-1904, a life nearly coinciding with another animal painter, Rosa Bonheur. 

This exhibitor pass was what you needed to get into one of her exhibitions.

Now there's a free exhibition of original art by Caroline Clowes on view at the Samuel Morse estate in Poughkeepsie, New York through December 30, 2022.

Here's a video with more information.

More on Wikipedia.

Should We Change What We See?

Should We Change What We See?
Pine, 1892, by Ivan Shishkin

It's an age-old question: Should you as a plein-air painter try to capture exactly what you see, or should you deliberately make changes? 

Ivan Shishkin said: "The main thing for a landscape painter is a diligent study of nature. Because of this, the picture from life must be without imagination." John Ruskin said that the student should: “Go to Nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thought but how best to penetrate her meaning, rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing.”

I don't think Shishkin is really dumping on imagination. Instead of the word "imagination," we might substitute "conventionalism" or "idealization." 

I sympathize with what Shishkin and Ruskin are advocating. There is a real joy and challenge for trying to capture exactly what's in front of you without changing or editing or "improving" it. Of course attempting to copy a scene from nature in all its color and detail is not really possible. You have to make choices and simplify something, because you can't capture it all. 

Back in the studio, armed with these studies, the artist can assemble the raw material of plein-air studies to create a virtual world of imagination.

I like having a lot of different conceptual approaches ready, like arrows in a quiver, when I head out. Sometimes when I'm on location I want to hold a mirror to nature. But other times I like to exaggerate, elaborate, or invent a fantastical scene while looking at nature.

Illustration by Balliol SalmonLearning by SketchingHerbert Olivier's Spring SceneGericault's Prelims for 'Raft of the Medusa'Observing How Sargent PaintedLong Hours and Hard Labor: Recollections of SorollaPainting People in Rural FranceSorolla's Working MethodThe Animal Art of Caroline Clowes Should We Change What We See?

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