A Fleur de Peau – Visiting Henri Fantin-Latour at Musée du Luxembourg

Oil Painting

2nd Year student and De Laszlo scholar Nneka Uzoigwe took the opportunity to visit the Fantin Latour Exhibition in Paris. It has now moved to Grenoble until 18th June. I remember taking a train to the Bowes Museum to see an exhibition of his work. It was definitely worth it.

 

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Coin de Table, 1872

This Spring I was lucky enough to make a day trip to Paris. It’s purpose was to go see, ‘A Fleur de Peau’, the first and rather monumental retrospective of Henri Fantin-Latour since 1982. As a favourite artist of mine the exhibition did not disappoint. Displayed at Musee du Luxembourg were over a hundred paintings and works on paper by Latour, as well a collection of rare private photos and lithographs displayed alongside working drawings, illustrating Fantin’s amazing imagination in translating reality through to mythology and symbolism.

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One of the things that surprised me the most, was the feel of optical illusion when viewing his work in person. I spent a lot of time in the exhibition walking back and forth in amazement. Fantin’s paintings are highly detailed but only more so from a distance and when flattened in photos. So this  made it hard to photograph certain area’s, when I wanted to take some personal visual notes on his possible processes of application and layering. Up-close a lot of the brush marks were broad and rough and built up in careful layers of thin to thick, which expertly brought to light what could be achieved by simply following the same processes we’ve been learning at the studio.

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A couple of notes I took –

Figures sketched in thin wash soft grisaille – then opaque mid tones brushed on showing form and brush marks – thick dry lightest lights then applied – then colourful glazes and thin opaque darks.

Warmth of background shown through leaves and stems.

If a cold background – a warm transparent umber wash applied first – before adding on opaque greens thinly and expressively for the leaves.

Background pre-prepared for still lives – flowers built up in thin colours and darks sketched in in rich glazes – lights dryly and thickly put in.

 

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8 Week Floral Still Life – Spring term

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Detail of final painting.
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Inspiration – A drooping marigold and other flowers spilling out of the vase (detail), Rachel Ruysch, Flower Still Life, c. 1726

This term I wanted to understand how to complete a longer more complicated still life. I planned to use a bountiful supply of spring flowers. Due to their short life, they would of course have to be replaced weekly. Here is a collection of images documenting these few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

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I started to build up the bouquet of flowers in my composition, a small bunch at a time. This meant I could concentrate on a small section of one or two flowers a session. This allowed time to finish each collection of flowers to the desired amount of finish and detail. The central poppy alone took me two full consecutive days in class.

 

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The most challenging part was designing of the composition. Not all the flowers I chose, worked in the set-up; when in the painting they sometimes clashed with the overall colour harmony, focal point, general feel and texture of the other flowers. So a lot of time was also spent editing in a variety of different flowers and painting over or wiping off what didn’t work.

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When adding in the flowers one by one, I had to be aware of keeping a natural flow and structure, to stop a staged feel. Paying special attention to creating natural overlaps and where light and shadows would consequently fall, helped do this. Near the end additional shadows were carefully glazed in, as well as reflected colours on some of the flowers to echo their surrounding environment.

 

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Final painting – Icelandic Poppies, oil on linen

 

Dorothea Tanning: notes from a student’s talk on the artist.

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Last term I had the opportunity to give an art lecture. My chosen artist was Dorothea Tanning.

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I first came across her work at the Alison Jacques Gallery on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition entitled Web of Dreams. It was named after one of her paintings and spanned the periods 1939-89. She has since become one of my most favourite artists, from whom I draw great inspiration. The title, Web of Dreams, really sums up what I love about her work: the jumble of fractured ethereal spaces, tangled bodies, prismatic surfaces and rich colours. Together, they deliver a deeper emotional richness and at times a dark eeriness that I really enjoy.

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Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) lived until she was 101. She was an American artist who, to begin with, was closely associated with surrealism; over time she developed a more individual style. In addition to her work as a painter, she wrote two autobiographies and several novels, launching a second career as a poet in her 80s. She won the Wallace Stevens Award of the Academy of American Poets. Dorothea Tanning was married to Max Ernst, the German painter and pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

‘Family Portrait’, oil on canvas, 1977

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An evening in Sedona, oil on canvas, 1976

To my mind, the series Insomnias, beginning in 1955, is amongst some of her most poignant work, described by her in unpublished notes: all of my pictures of this period I felt you should discover slowly and that they would almost be kaleidoscopes that would shimmer and that you would discover something new every time you looked at it.


57-1-01midietdemithumb‘Midi et demi’ (Half Past Noon), oil on canvas, 1957 –
Full of hidden forms, the colours in these paintings seem almost crystalized in their fragmentation.

 

 

 

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Alongside Insomnias, and bearing the same intensity are her ‘living sculptures’, completed towards the end of the 60s, and her matured paintings in the 70’s. The latter encompasses her series of flower paintings exhibited this year in London – the first time since 1999.

 

‘Asclepius formidabilis’ (Griefbane), oil on canvas, 1997 – Dorothea Tanning: Flower Paintings, September/October 2016, Alison Jacques Gallery

I prepared feverishly for the talk and in the end it paid off, I enjoyed sharing sharing, and in some cases introducing, the work of Dorothea Tanning to my peers. The time spent researching was beneficial in enriching my own knowledge and understanding of her journey as an artist. This was aided by the fact that Dorothea Tanning was a proloific writer as well as artist who left behind a wealth of fascinating and insightful material. It felt as if I were receiving a guided tour into her life.

For those keen to learn more I would recommend her autobiography, Between Lives: An Artist and Her World, 2001 and her novel, Chasm: A Weekend, 2004. A Public Space is a NY based literary and cultural magazine that this year featured a short story by Dorothea Tanning, Dream It Or Leave It, along with extracts from her personal journal, rough sketches and letters written to friends while she resided in Sedona. These can be found in Issue 24, Spring 2016.

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‘Pounding Strong’, oil on canvas, 1981