My wife, Shari, surprised me on Valentine's Day with a road trip to Pepperdine University Malibu to view "The Epic and the Exotic" show at the Weisman Museum. The show was a selection of artwork from the Dahesh Museum. The show had some really wonderful paintings, including pieces from Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Frederick Leighton and William Bouguereau. Shari and I nearly had the entire museum to ourselves for the few hours that we were there. I think about 8 others came in while we were there and half of those in the last few minutes. Plenty of time to stand in front of the paintings and not feel as though we were obscuring the view. I was also able to take the time to get some good photographs (thank you Mister Nikon for your D7000).
The highlight of the show for me was the Bouguereau painting, The Water Girl. The colors, the restrained value range, the elegance of the pose and beauty of the painting are hard to convey in words and impossible in a photograph.
Click on most of the following images for a larger image:
Bouguereau used such a restrained value range in his skin. Look at the brightest value in the face, the subtle shifts in saturation and temperature.
The feet were remarkable as well. Be sure to click through to see the larger images here. Bouguereau's work reproduces as if he painted every minute detail, but really he didn't, he just chose what to paint and did so with a high degree of accuracy. The values are spot on, nothing feels amiss or overwrought. Some of the toenails are just a brushstroke, a small change in value, while the highlight on the bigger toenails creates the impression of a hard surface.
In this close up of the girl's left foot you can see the economy of brushwork, and the transparency of the paint in the shadows. Note the tones coming through the topmost layer. Look how he used a hard edge on the left of the big toe to create that form, but let it soften as it curved away into shadow. The single stroke for the highlight on the big toenail is perfect and descriptive. Look also at the nails on the next two toes, the single value, simple shapes still read as toenails. Again, there isn't an overwhelming amount of detail, it is just that the information that was chosen was all conveyed accurately. The real details are in the attention Bouguereau paid to the shifts in color and value and the accuracy of the drawing.
I wanted to include a shot of her left arm. Look at the difference in the flesh as it stretches over the bones in the forearm versus the more muscular parts. The diffuse specular light tightens up, the core shadow narrows and colors warm slightly where the skin is thinner. The back of the hand, receding from the viewer is rendered with wonderful care. The planes of the hand are all captured with small shifts in value and tone as the fingers transition into the back of the hand.
It is hard to describe this next hand. There is much that Bouguereau chose not to include when painting this hand, and that is almost as important as what he did paint. The foreshortening of the surface of the back of the hand is incredible. Look how that whole plane is compressed into about 3/4 of an inch, but it reads as solid and anatomically correct. You still have a sense of the hand inserting into the wrist, even in that shortened space.
Much is made of the surface of Bouguereau's work, but really, it isn't all smooth. In almost all of his paintings I have seen, he didn't attempt to obscure his brushwork at all, in fact, as you can see in the sleeve, he used the paint surface to aid in his rendering of texture and form. The cloth feels solid and the surface texture is believable. A sense of relief is created by this subtle impasto, contrasting with the smoother skin next to it.
Lastly, a shot of the bodice. The most notable part of this for me was the transparency of the paint here. The highlights were all painted with a very thin paint which helped to potray the texture of the weathered and worn fabric. The paint itself almost felt threadbare. Wispy highlights over the toned canvas underneath made for a beautiful illusion.
For scale and reference, a shot of myself by the painting.
Below is a study of Bouguereau's for the painting Charity. Look at the light work coming through. It was common practice at that time to sketch the drawing in and then using brush, go over the lines in ink. Once this was dry, you could be rather vigorous scrubbing in paint and not lose your lines. Bouguereau did, at least for part of his career, use the same techniques when starting his finals paintings.
Line drawing, ink the lines, ebauche or color lay-in as seen below, and then he would refine with further passes. This doesn't include all the studies and full-sized cartoons that he did before starting the final.
I also love, even in this simple sketch, how effectively he used the tone of the paint surface behind the leaves on the tree and just a few leaves were defined, leaving the viewer to create the rest of the leaves.
Corrodi, Hermann David Solomon - Campfire by the River, The Kiosk of Trajan at Philae. I was struck by the colors in this painting as well as the vibrancy. I love how the greens of the water in the foreground tint the reflections, while as the water recedes from view, it becomes more reflective of the sky.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Staircase. A quite small painting by Tadema.
I always love seeing how Tadema uses the paint surface to create texture. Tadema could paint miniature with the best of them, but I find his paint surface more interesting than most. Love it.
Rudolf Ernst - The Metal Workers. Another small painting, but with wonderful detail. It was interesting to see the tiles on the wall. You could see where he put down a layer of paint and then used a styles to carve out the shapes of the tiles. The subsequent highlights along the edges of paint created a wonderful sense of depth and the tiles felt very dimensional as a result.
Look at the use of impasto on the wall, with color rubbed into the paint surface and wiped off to create the wall texture.
Gustav Bauernfeind - Jaffa, Recruiting of Turkish Soldiers in Palestine. I was blown away by this painting when I saw it first in New York and was happy to see it again. There are so many great characters in this painting. The atmosphere is thick and the stones of the seawall are beautifully weathered. I love how the seawall undulates along the shore, the stones pushed up and down on the soft sand. The water looks as though it is just about to lap onto the shore. You can hear sea birds and smell the sea air standing in front of this piece... that might have been because the show was in Malibu.
It is a large painting. Standing a few feet in front of it, it will take up your peripheral.
I love this boy in the foreground of the painting in the lower right hand corner. I think he was longing to go with the men aboard the ships. He looks ready to run out to the boats if he had the chance.
Even better than the paintings in the show was this beauty. Thank you beautiful woman for the wonderful trip!