“The Harbor at Lorient” after Berthe Morisot

Copy in progress
Copy in progress

I’m back in the Impressionist gallery, #85, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.  I spent a couple of months in the American Gallery painting “Right and Left” after Winslow Homer.  I love the excitement and activity of the Impressionist Galleries.  It’s a bit noisier than other galleries but even some of the guards like it best for the same reasons I do.

The “Harbor at Lorient” is a little jewel that I’ve wanted to paint since it came into the gallery.  But because paintings are often sent out on loan to museums around the world, I had to wait for it to come back from tour even though I had previous approval on availability.

Berthe Morisot is the first female artist whose work I have copied, although we have many wonderful paintings by women artists. The “Harbor at Lorient” was painted when Berthe visited her newly married sister, Edma Pontillon, in the summer of 1869 while she was living in Lorient, France.  Edma was married to a navy man and did not have children.  Since both girls were interested in painting they were free to spend their time painting outside.  During this period Berthe was experimenting with a highly Impressionist style.

The “Harbor at Lorient” draws the eye to the sky’s refection in the water and expresses both movement and the future.  The boats in the background are leaving from the port and moving to another location,  a symbolic reason to create this work as she moved into Impressionism.  The harbor is lit from the right hand side which is clear from the line of shading that runs across Edma’s body.  Her parasol protects her face from the sunlight but the bottom of her dress is radiant in sunlight.  The tone of this work is merry and positive.

When Berthe returned home she anxiously showed her painting to artist friends and colleagues and it was declared as one of her best works.  It found it’s way to the first Impressionists showcase. Unfortunately, the  “Harbor at Lorient” received a critical reception, deemed painted too spontaneously and casually for the time period and with an unfinished feel.   However, after her death, the painting was displayed in a large number of countries and has been well-received by its many viewers who today acknowledge it as one of her foremost Impressionist paintings.

Berthe was influenced by Carot, Manet and Monet.  She was very close to her sister Edma, who was the model in many of her paintings.  Berthe Morisot was a copyist at the Louvre.  She is fast becoming my favorite female artist.

The Needlewoman – Diego Velazquez

The Needlewoman, in copy
The Needlewoman, in copy

The Needlewoman by Diego Rodriquez de Silva y Velazquez (1566-1660), Spanish, was the second project attempted in the Copyist program.  Because The Needlewoman was an unfinished portrait with little detail, the copying process took only 4 Tuesdays to complete, about 20 hours.  The head of The Needlewoman was modeled in light and shadow and is the most fully realized part of this painting as opposed to the remainder of the painting including the arms, hands, etc., which are sketched in only briefly.  The resulting painting displays the Velazquez facility to portray gesture and his ability to suggest the subject melding into the background.  It is believed that The Needlewoman was not completed by Velazquez.  The painting was found upon examination of the inventory in his home at the time of his death.  The Needlewoman is very similar to several of his other works.

The Needlewoman, after D. Velazquez
The Needlewoman, after D. Velazquez

I participated in a workshop entitled “Painting in the Manner of Velazquez” with Robert Liberace in the summer of 2011 at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia. I was intrigued by the Velazquez style and therefore welcomed the opportunity to copy an original at the National Gallery of Art.  During the workshop I used authentic paints as were used in Velazquez’s time.  I prepared my linen canvas according to conventions of the period.  I felt transformed back in time.  Many of Velazquez’s paintings were dark compared to other more colorful painters of his time.  However, he put down paint beautifully, very thin paint, almost nothing at times and yet in chiaroscuro style achieved a luminosity that made his work glow.

I learned a great deal from the study of Velazquez.  How much? You be the judge.