10 March 2013

Two portraits

The works chosen for the National Gallery's "Talk and draw" on International Women's Day were two portraits of women - one a self-portrait. (Well done Jo in the introductory talk for bringing "gender issues" into the discussion so firmly but tactfully. As she said, they are a necessary part of looking at and thinking about paintings.)

First, Rubens' painting (1622 or so) of his future sister-in-law, Susanna Lunden - often known, through mistranslation, as The Straw Hat -
Sumptuous clothing, a degree of decollte that even today we would find daring, the shadow cast by the (felt) hat, her demure(?) look, the slightly open mouth as though she were talking to you; the clearing sky indicating perhaps a happier future after widowhood ... and note the earrings. We made one drawing with pen on photocopier paper, and another with pencil on tracing paper, then picked up our chairs and drawing boards and coats and bags and everything else and moved to a different room, to Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun's self portrait (1782 or later) - (another of her self-portraits is shown in this post) -
Having seen the Rubens in Antwerp, where it was a much-loved and indeed revered work of art, she used it as the basis of her self-portrait - and an advertisement of her skill. Again, the clothing, as sumptuous as that of her aristocratic sitters, and the trend-setting unpowdered hair - as well as the tools of her trade: "I have used these colours to make this painting" ... and earrings.

As this is a self-portrait, it's a mirror image of the Rubens - so we turned our papers over and used pen on the tracing paper, pencil on the photocopier paper, where pen had seeped through - 

Faces are definitely not my strong point - in fact I've shied away from drawing faces all my life, for a variety of reasons including not being able to "read" anything from (into?) faces in portraits. These drawing sessions are therefore a bit of a challenge, and all the more valuable for that!

Afterward the session I went round the "old pictures" looking closely at how the artists painted the silks, the wool fabrics, the linen, the lace.

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