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Imitation and Imagination 3. Disclosure of Dutch Golden Age art theory

Imitation and Imagination 3. Disclosure of Dutch Golden Age art theory

Dürer-imitate-figures

Dürer, A Draftsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Woman

 

Before

In May 2018 I gave a lecture, Imitation and Imagination, at TRAC2018 (The Representational Art Conference) in The Netherlands. The lecture was on naturalistic realism, the area of tension between imitation and imagination. Naturalism has a very high degree of imitation. See for example a comment with regard to a pretty realistic painting, on Facebook (28-10-2014):

Huysman. Street in Utrecht i

Gerard Huysman. Utrecht, street in backlight, oil on panel, 2013

“I can’t understand why an artist would work so hard to make a painting like this that is so much like a photo. That’s what cameras are for. I can see the artist’s skill, but not the soul.”

Because really: isn’t imitation getting in the way of imagination? It is a widespread idea: naturalism lacks imagination. But, I will contest that opinion.
Part 1 of the lecture: earlier blog (archive, August 2017)
Part 2 in blog, August 2018
Part 3 is following now (elaborated)

Forgotten Dutch Golden Age art theories disclosed

Let us jump to the year 2000. Rembrandt. The Painter at Work is published. It’s a real art treasure from the Dutch Golden Age, expertly and fascinatingly revealed by Ernst van de Wetering. It is nothing less than the forgotten art theories about realism. These had been overlooked for about three centuries. The artists of those days proved to be theoretically very well grounded. This had sharpened their skills and insights. Their world fame was’t for nothing!
This was especially true for Rembrandt, who pondered, investigated and experimented a lot and developed new insights himself.

Rembrandt. The Painter at Work & Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking. Art theory Dutch Golden Age

Rembrandt. The Painter at Work & Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking.

That was an awareness that came to me when I read the book with increasing amazement. How could it be that those ideas weren’t known to us? I wrote to Ernst van de Wetering that I would very much like to learn more about those theories, but didn’t have the time to read the original texts in Old Dutch. I didn’t have to: he sent me more unpublished texts until he published Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking in 2016. Again, I was stunned: what a rich source for the visual arts, so many intelligent ideas in treatises on art theory were brought to light!
Professor Van de Wetering said to me that many people came to tell him that his books were a revelation to them, even if they believed themselves to be well versed in Rembrandt and seventeenth century art. Just like me!
Now let us jump back to that age, the seventeenth century.

Art treasure of the Dutch Golden Age

A new realism originated in Dutch painting, already in the sixteenth century, but especially in the seventeenth century, known as the Dutch Golden Age.
The artists of that age stressed the importance of imitation and observation. Of course they included classical elements such as perspective or anatomy.

Karel-van-Mander-Het-Schilder-Boeck

Karel van Mander, Het Schilder-Boeck, 1604

Painter-author Karel van Mander described a great many natural phenomena in Het Schilder-boeck. 3)

Samuel van Hoogstraeten: Art History Dutch Golgen Age

Samuel van Hoogstraeten: Art History Dutch Golgen Age

Rembrandt’s former pupil Samuel van Hoogstraeten also wrote an important manual, Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst: anders de zichtbaere werelt. 4) These books belonged to the cultural baggage of every self-respecting painter.
It makes for fascinating reading, certainly also for contemporary realists. It stimulates awareness of many aspects of observation and representation. You can read all about it in Rembrandt. The Painter at Work, and Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking, and other publications by Ernst van de Wetering.

Essential was to create space in order to get the illusion of reality.

Rembrandt, details Nightwatch

Rembrandt, details Nightwatch

Besides perspective, an important element was the ‘perceptibility’. It was found that putting a piece of sky-blue paper against a sky of the same color, you would still notice that the piece of paper is close to you, and the blue sky infinitely distant because of the relative roughness of the paper. The application of the discovery of perceptibility would contribute to three-dimensionality. 5) Imagine painters pondering that! The idea that air has substance, that it forms a body over a short distance, and that its presence should be suggested around every object to create spatiality is wonderful.

Rembrandt-Anatomy Lesson

Rembrandt, detail The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Van de Wetering: “The young Rembrandt had already applied this insight with great subtlety in the ‘Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”. He argues:

“It is only when one consciously takes notice of these extremely refined modulations of light and tone from one head and collar to the other, from front to back, that it becomes clear that this is one of the main reasons for the strikingly atmospheric effect of Rembrandt’s paintings.” 6)

Rembrandt applied this phenomenon quite often, see the details of his Night Watch. You can see it comparing when you compare his Night Watch with similar paintings nearby it, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Vermeer-Art-Painting

Vermeer, The Art of Painting

There was also a treatise on the degrees of shadows and what pigments should be used in painting them. Or the theory of the numerical diminution of a light beam falling into a room. 7) Vermeer was probably familiar with it, as is witnessed by the interior light in his paintings. He created a genial combination of spaciousness and intimacy.
These examples show the exceptional level of knowledge among the painters of that age. I don’t mean that we should copy these theories, but we can learn from them, and even improve our art.

Realism, banal, vulgar

Another writer on this period is Boudewijn Bakker. He tells that the extreme realism of the Dutch invited criticism by the Italians: imitation, okay, but what about imagination? After all, art should lift reality to a higher level, creating perfect beauty, idealize. The Dutch subject matter was deemed banal, vulgar.

Hals-Laughing-Boy

Hals, Laughing Boy

How this Dutch realism was seen even in the 18th century is shown in this caricature by the English artist Thomas Rowlandson: A Dutch Academy.

Rowlandson, Dutch Academy

Rowlandson, Dutch Academy

Classical art theory taught that students should draw after antique statues, since these had perfect proportions. Samuel Van Hoogstraten, who later turned to a more classicist style, complained that Rembrandt brought ugly models into his studio.

“Indeed, I bemoan my lot when I look over my old Academy drawings, that we were taught these so sparingly in our youth; since it is no more labor to imitate a graceful posture than an unpleasant and disgusting one.” 8)

Rembrandt really went far… In one of his self-portraits I detected a pimple on his left cheek. He must have had fun painting that ‘truth’.

Rembrandt-Self-Portrait-1659

Rembrandt Self Portrait, 1659, detail

 

I told this to my dear teacher Diederik Kraaijpoel. ‘Without style there is no art’, he had written in one of his books; that makes sense: reality itself has no style. So, such a pimple, such far-reaching realism, I asked, isn’t that going beyond style? Well, he could not believe that Rembrandt had actually painted a pimple on his cheek… And about this far-reaching naturalism he said: it’s never a copy, the artist always makes a selection, it is impossible to paint all.

Answer: a ‘find’

Karel van Mander answered the Italian criticism by stating: “In life one finds all”, there is no better textbook. In the ‘book of nature’ the visible creation is seen as the second or even first ‘book’ of divine revelation, next to the Holy Scriptures.

Intensive-Looking

Intensive Looking

Inventio, Imagination, can also be seen as ‘a find ‘, something that is found in nature after long and sharp observation. Intensive looking is the entrance key to beauty. Beauty is enclosed in reality. Reality is created by God. 9)

 

 

As soon as possible the painter should start to work after nature. And what about style, maniera? His advice: don’t make things up, “go from ornamentation towards truth!”. Fabrications could affect the illusion of reality. The painter should not stylize or idealize, but characterize. 10)

For Rembrandt, ‘truth’ was life, to be captured in its ‘most natural liveliness’.

Rembrandt-Girl-Pictureframe

Rembrandt, Girl in a Pictureframe

Van de Wetering remarks that the painting Young woman in a picture frame gives the impression that the young woman is about to place her right hand on the frame, even the earring seems to be moving, life is caught in the act.11)

Well, the Dutch diverged from current art theory. Imitation was highly appreciated. But invention or imagination was never far away. Beauty in truth, intensely observed by the artist, was transferred into the work of art.
For me, it was like homecoming. I had always felt that way.

Notes

1) Roodnat, Joyce. “Met drift geschilderde ‘kleine onderwerpen’ “. NRC, 2018-02-28.
2) Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artists. Volume 1. Introduction by George Bull. London, 1987. p. 19-20.
3) Mander, Karel van. Het Schilder-Boeck. Haarlem,1604.
4) Hoogstraten, Samuel van. Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst: anders de zichtbaere werelt. Davaco Publishers, s.l., 1969.
5) Wetering, Ernst van de. Rembrandt. The Painter at Work. Amsterdam, 2000. p. 183.
6) Id., p.187.
7) Wetering, Ernst van de. Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking. Amsterdam, 2016. p.157.
8) Emmens,  J.A.. Rembrandt en de regels van de kunst. Amsterdam, 1979. p.220.
9) Bakker, Boudewijn. “Natuur of kunst? Rembrandts esthetica en de Nederlandse traditie.” In: Christiaan Vogelaar e.a., Rembrandts landschappen. Zwolle, 2006. p.163.
10) Id., p.167, 166.
11) Wetering, Ernst van de. Rembrandt. The Painter Thinking. Amsterdam, 2016. p.263.

Translation NL-EN by Jeroen Strengers

Art history: A new chapter

By Gezien van de Riet
With a contribution by Joke Frima about the Da Vinci Initiative

FACE-TRAC 2017
FACE: Figurative Art Convention and Expo, together with
TRAC: The Representational Art Conference,
Miami, November, 8-11, 2017

FACE TRAC MIAMI

FACE TRAC 2017 opening

Continuum, my dream
A movement! Classical tradition cast in a modern mould, high notes for craftmanship, thinking about what you make –content and form– about your contribution to culture. Becoming stronger together. Moored in official art history. That was my dream, ever since the early 80’s, when I seriously started out drawing and painting.
The classical tradition has known many currents, ever since the Greek Antiquity. Now, a contemporary one is being added to it. Daniel Graves, founder of the Florence Academy of Art, also speaks of a continuum, in stead of a tradition. What all these currents have in common is the representation of the visual reality. That requires a great deal of craftmanship; only think of painting the sky or space: paint is something else… bronze is not the same as flesh…
Beauty, including that of the awe-inspiring or dramatic sort, is also part of that continuum. Not just technique, not just content, but a mutual influencing of both was and is the goal. Art with a capital A, why not?

Max Ginsburg

Max Ginsburg: Bus stop

TRAC2014 in California
In 2014 I first glimpsed that that dream could become reality. I saw a message on Facebook about TRAC2014 in California, The Representational Art Conference, aimed at laying a theoretical foundation for the contemporary classical tradition. I had to go there! Words like ‘Renaissance’ and ‘movement’ floated thru an enchanted conference room with more than 300 enthusiasts. Some-one next to me burst into tears spontaneously. Finally out of the isolation that so many had experienced, finally a broad appreciation for the figurative, for realism! Internationally. At the time it was already called ‘the most important movement in today’s art world’. Would it last?
Back in Holland I passed on the message to as many interested people as possible. Read more in my earlier blog ‘TRAC2014. Movement!’ I longed for a TRAC in the Netherlands, in Europe.

Steven Assael

Steven Assael

TRAC2015 in California
The message resounded among several colleagues. But tickets and hotel didn’t come cheap. It was great that Tom Hageman, Director of the Classical Academy in Groningen, and artist Joke Frima could attend TRAC in 2015. I was supposed to give a lecture on true to nature realism, but unfortunately I fell ill.
It was a pity that in 2016 TRAC couldn’t continue in the same way. A critical moment.

FACE-TRAC-2017 in Miami
But now there’s FACE, the world’s first Figurative Art Convention & Expo! The dream of a movement has come true, the founders say. FACE aims at the corner stones of representational (or figurative, or realist) art. During the event you could participate in model drawing and painting, under the guidance of internationally famed artists, like Max Ginsburg, Steven Assael or Daniel Gerhartz, who also gave demonstrations. And there were lectures.
I had a strange feeling sometimes. On the one hand the focus was on endeavor for quality and vision in connexion with the past, the grand masters of the classical tradition – a strengthening of your own endeavor. On the other hand there was a view at the future: how to connect to a younger generation with a completely different cultural luggage; what does it mean for art that the future human being will be much more artificial, that the latest reproduction techniques make ‘slow art’ obsolete.

Max Ginsburg and Juliette Aristides

Demo painting portrait Max Ginsburg and drawing model Juliette Aristides

Daniel Gerhartz

Demo painting portrait Daniel Gerhartz

What was interesting: FACE invites TRAC to be part of this event. TRAC can continue to build at the theoretical foundation of representational art.
Again there were more than 300 participants, among those Joke Frima and myself from Holland, who now may carry the honorary title of ‘Founding Members’.
It is not just painters and sculptors who participate in the movement. Especially in the U.S. there are all kinds of initiatives of art lovers and art historians, aimed at spreading and deepening the classical tradition, basing it in society and institutions, spreading consciousness to a broader audience, because –let’s face it– artists themselves just don’t have the time for all that!
FACE will be a yearly event now.

Founding fathers: Eric Rhoads, Peter Trippi and Michael Pearce

Eric Rhoads, Peter Trippi, Michael Pearce

Eric Rhoads, Peter Trippi, Michael Pearce

Eric Rhoads with me and my book

Eric Rhoads with me and my book

Eric Rhoads, founder of FACE, CEO of art magazines like Fine Art Connoisseur, Plein Air magazines, yearly Plein Air Conventions & Expos, and more. FACE selects the best artists who also have the gift to encourage and inspire others thru their demonstrations and lessons. See also Fine Art Connoisseur of December 2017.

Peter Trippi, co-founder of FACE, editor-in-chief of Fine Art Connoisseur and co-curator of the Alma Tadema exhibition earlier this year in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, and later in London and Vienna; curator of ‘The American Dream’ in the Drents Museum in Assen, the Netherlands, and more.

They started the magazine Fine Art Connoisseur in 2005. In 2011 they took the initiative for a movement. Some twenty-odd influential artist of world renown were invited to a secret meeting. Sadly enough it could not exceed the level of individual interests. Disappointed, Eric and Peter concluded that the time was not yet ripe.
Nonetheless, the idea trickled thru to:

Michael Pearce, painter and professor at the art faculty of the California Lutheran University. In 2012 he started TRAC, together with Michael Lynn Adams, who quit after 2015.
Pearce described the reason for producing the conference: “Until we did TRAC, there were literally no conferences at all about representational art – which is a strange absence, because there was then and is now a huge amount of representational art, and a very large community of people who are interested in representational art. It seemed like a big gap that needed filling.”

Themes at TRAC
Of the many themes touched upon by TRAC, I mention here: post-modernism and the contemporary classical tradition; the importance of beauty; neuro-esthetics; connexion to the younger generation; ethno-centrism in art critic; art education at school.

#FACE17

Our team had a fantastic time at the Figurative Art Convention & Expo and we can't wait until next year! Thank you to all of the faculty and attendees for making this possible. It was a memorable experience. 🙂 #FACE17

Geplaatst door Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine op Dinsdag 14 november 2017

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The Da Vinci Initiative: Changing the Culture of Art Education
A report of the lecture by Amanda Theis, TRAC2017

Joke Frima

Amanda Theis tells us passionately about her work at the Da Vinci Initiative (DVI), that aims at skill-based education. DVI makes up educuation programmes and the idea is to share and use these in secondary schools. It is aimed at the U.S. school system.

Da Vinci Initiative

Da Vinci Initiative

DVI has a YouTube channel with 30 movies of 5 minutes.
Free to watch at: http://www.davinciinitiative.org/

egg cup 1

egg cup 1

egg cup 2

egg cup 2

A Bargue drawing

A Bargue drawing

In Amanda’s experience, most art and manual skills teachers believe that drawing, if it has to do with art, cannot be taught. She gathered this wide-spread idea during weekend refreshment courses and summer schools (compulsory for U.S. teachers).
The most important criticism on DVI’s view is that skill-based education kills creativity. But Amanda points out that skills are just tools at the servicie of creativity.
She believes it’s prudent not to talk about modernism during work shops and courses. After being exposed to skill-based education, people are able to draw their own conclusions. Many people actually are visually illiterate, and skill-based eduction opens a new dimension for them.

Drawing perspective from life (self made robots)

Drawing perspective from life (self made robots)

Self-portrait by Ray Wanda Totanes, 15 year old

Self-portrait by Ray Wanda Totanes, 15 year old

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To parents of children who want to study this kind of art, and who may be concerned that there is no future in it, she says: “Skill-based education will not give you a degree, but it wil give you jobs.” Amanda herself has undergone training by Juliette Aristides in Seattle. These kind of ateliers don’t provide a teaching license in America. That can only be obtained at university. The problem is, that art faculties in universities don’t provide for skill-based education. Amanda would like to hear from the participants where she can refer children and young people to for a good atelier training.

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TRAC2018 in Leeuwarden

TRAC2018 in Leeuwarden

TRAC2018

TRAC2018 in the Netherlands, first country in Europe!
May 1-4, 2018, in Leeuwarden.
Website: www.trac2018.com
Follow also on internet and my blog.

 

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Next blog will continue with ‘Imitatio et Inventio’.

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Translation NL-EN by Jeroen Strengers

At great pains

“At great pains”
Museum Møhlmann invited me to participate in the exposition “Vee op stapel” (“Cattle in stock”). Great! I have always wanted to paint the horses and cows of the Pyrenees. They look gorgeous in that landscape. No litter there. Pure air, meadows ful of herbs. I love to walk there. The eye assumes its painter’s look as soon as these animals appear. Excitement surges at all kinds of painting opportunities. I run or steal about, clutching my camera, my eyes everywhere, except on the ground… Just a small hole, but I fell and sprained my ankle.

What are you doing here?

Nearby was a drinking trough, where I dipped in my painful foot. The cows gathered curiously and I somewhat feared their big bodies and large horns… They all stood around the other side of the trough, their eyes with their bigh lashes directed at me: “What are you doing here?”
How was I supposed to get back to base camp? My husband saw a jogger, far away. He took his emergency whistle and blew. The jogger ran on. After the third signal he turned. I waved my arms, signalling an emergency.
The man presented himself as an officer of the Guardia Civil. Well trained as he was, he said that, if necessary, he could carry me over the mountain streams we had to cross. Or should I stay back? No, I dragged myself on with my nordic walking sticks. Down in the village, the doctor reassured me. “If you were able to walk this far, it can’t be fractured.” X-rays weren’t available. Unfortunately, back home it turned out that my ankle was broken. Cow’s legs is what you need in the mountains!

Foal in the Pyrenees

Foal in the Pyrenees
No, this foal is neither a parade-horse nor a a wild one. Its legs are shorter than of its Dutch cousins. The young animal already has well developed muscles: running about among the rocks and ravines demands acrobatic skills. So far, I have not been able to ascertain what breed or race it is. The foal itself probably couldn’t care less. It will live its carefree life till it is fully grown. These horses are catlle, and are bred for their meat. No false romanticism here.

Mare with foal
For this image I would gladly suffer two broken ankles. Well, the suffering came anyway. Originally, the horses stood in the middle of the green, while I saw them before me in a spatious blue, a sort of horses’ paradise. Of course for the horses themselves that makes no sense at all, they prefer the green.
I photoshopped around: the blue could be the sky, but I preferred a mountain. A bluish mountain has to be far off: was my mountain not too high, and was there nothing between the horses and that far-off mountain top?

Mare with foal

While I was painting, the contours of the mountain changed continuously. Some mountains appeared, others went away. That’s rather nice work. Nicer than painting those manes, that’s not so exciting; it’s rather slow and tedious, especially where the hairs are entangled. In the past, I used to be less hung up on details, and the painting process was nice and quick. But the way to the end doesn’t have be smooth all the time, if the end result gives pleasure. There has to be room for the irregular, the non-schematic. The concrete is often in the details. When to stop detailing? When it grows rigid. But…

Upside down

The contours of the mountains: should they echo or contrast the forms of the horses? Maybe I should add some snowy mountain tops?
I turned the painting upside down to get insight into the composition, independently from its representation. All of a sudden I find there is too much green-yellow facing the blue. So I put in more rock, white rock painted with titanium white mixed with a litlle burnt sienna. That contrasts better with the blue.

The painting is still unfinished…

Galerie Petit

Sad news
Ton van Dijk, owner of Galerie Petit in Amsterdam, passed away in 2015. His widow Dobs followed him late 2016. The gallery is closed. I recently recovered my work in stock there.
How many good galleries for representational art are there left in Amsterdam? The can be counted on the fingers of one hand. That’s a shame, as one American art critic recently said, in the country that has seen a reflourishing of realism in our days.

stokpaardje

My hobbyhorse. Gezien van de Riet

Remarkable
Galerie Staphorsius, which also shows some of my work, got a lot of attention from the Dutch press this time. Part of the exhibit is dedicated to Rein Stuurman, illustrator of the birds’ guide in the Netherlands. For six weeks now, visitor numbers have doubled to an average of forty a day.
Mounting my hobby horse, I repeat: if the media would pay more attention to realist art, it would be in a much better position. For that, you need to educate the art journalists, and for that, you need to better the academic curricula, etc. etc.

Translation Jeroen Strengers