Research: Look at more recent figure sculptures

For this exercise I was fortunate that Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space was on display at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, being on loan for a limited period.  I learnt a lot more from being able to see it and examine it closely’ far more than would have been possible from a photograph in a book. Being able to see the sculpture made me realize that it was all about portraying movement in a 3D object – something you don’t appreciate with a two dimensional photo of a sculpture.

My notes on the sculpture are here: Boccioni

Annotate a female nude

I enjoyed researching this painting, it brought home to me the different ways the female nude can be portrayed – the difference between the portrayal by Hayez and by Gentileschi is striking. It is very interesting though, to consider Hayez’s exclusion of the elders from the scene. In some ways the viewer takes their place and this can lead to uncomfortable consideration of what you are looking at and why.

My report on the painting, minus photos for copyright reasons, is here: Susanna No Pics

Research: Does the female nude exploit women for male gratification?

This was a very thought-provoking exercise – I had seen nude paintings and statues in galleries before, but had never really questioned the gender roles behind them.

It was good to research contemporary women artists as I came across quite a number that I had not heard of before and I enjoyed researching their work.

For this exercise I came across an excellent research resource at the Brooklyn Museum, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base.

My thoughts on the exercise are here, with the photos removed for copyright purposes as usual: Research Female Nude No Pics

Visit a Cast Gallery

For this exercise I visited the Cast Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum; only to find that it was partially closed!!

The main part of the gallery that I wanted to see, the area with the casts of Greek and Roman sculpture was shut.

It wasn’t a complete failure though as as one of the galleries was open. This had casts of Trajan’s column from Rome. This was a good opportunity to appreciate the scale and detail of this column. I has seen photos of it in World History of Art but it is not until you can get close to a cast or replica that you can appreciate

  1. the scale of the column
  2. the detail and beauty of the carvings/decorations

There were other casts there of door carvings, tombs and sculptures

which made the trip worthwhile after the initial disappointment of finding that one of the galleries was closed. I will definitely make a trip to the other gallery once it is reopened.

Annotate a Classical Sculpture

I chose to annotate a sculpture of Aphrodite (Venus) that is in the British Museum with a much later copy in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

This is the first time that I have tried a full annotation of a sculpture and I didn’t find it easy. With paintings there is always the style, background, subject, period, colour, brush strokes etc to comment upon. I found that I needed to approach this annotation in a different way, I learned that the three dimensional naturre of sculpture is a hugely important part to fully appreciating it. It seems obvious to say now, but until I tried this annotation I hadn’t fully recognised that aspect.

The annotation is here: Marble Statue of a Naked Aphrodite Crouching at her Bath

Research: Accuracy of representation of the human figure

Is there any tension between art based on the classical ideal and art pursuing anatomical accuracy?

Some thoughts:

  • Art based on the classical ideal is based not just on individuals or anatomical renditions but also on the proportions and balances between them.
  • portrayals can be anatomically accurate but are they as aesthetically pleasing as those described above.
  • which is more important and aesthetically pleasing portrayal or an anatomically accurate on? Arguments can be made from both sides.
  • portrayal of the ideal can lead to suggestions that there is an ultimate beauty or form for all to look like or aspire to
  • anatomical accuracy can be representative of all types of body, accurately represented – does this avoid putting a certain type of beauty on a pedestal?
  • if you strive fro accuracy, there cannot be exaggerations for effect, noone would describe the sculptures of Giacometti as anatomically accurate


Exercise: Commission a portrait

I found this exercise a bit tricky initially. Eventually I thought it would be a good idea to commission a portrait of my wife. I wasn’t too sure how to approach it at first, so I looked at a number of fairly recent portraits from the NPG website. This gave me some ideas of the different ways that artists have approached such commissions. From then on it became a little easier as I tried to work out the characteristics that I would want an artist to portray.

The exercise was a bit different, for once I wasn’t starting with a finished product, rather trying to influence what the final portrait would look like. This caused me to think a lot more deeply about producing a portrait than I had ever thought would have been needed!

The final result is here with photos removed for copyright reasons: Exercise Commission a portrait no pics

Annotate a self-portrait

When visiting the “Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia” exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts I saw a painting by Maggie Hambling called ‘Drawing the Sea – Self-Portrait’.

I thought that it would be an ideal subject for this exercise. It is certainly very different from many self-portraits that I could have chosen. I’m really pleased that I selected it as I got a lot out of studying this painting:

  • the way she has painted the waves with thick paint and strong brushstrokes
  • how she has painted the sea and incorporated colour into what seems like a grey swirling mass
  • how she has portrayed herself as part of the sea

I learned a lot from this exercise, not just from her technical skills but also from her concept of how to portray the sea as her obsession, almost enveloping her.

The annotation can be seen here: Drawing the Sea No Pics

Research: Self-portraits

This was a good exercise that taught me a lot about self-portraits. I had seen them before, obviously, but I hadn’t realised how widespread they were, nor had I ever considered why an artist would paint a self-portrait.

Two really useful books I read were Self Portraits by Liz Rideal and A Face to the World by Laura Cumming.

I was really grateful to have discovered the work of Felix Nussbaum in this exercise. I had not heard of him before now but I found his self-portrait incredibly haunting.

The exercise can be found here: Research Self Portraits No Pics

Analyse a Formal Portrait

To select a painting for this exercise I visited the National Portrait Gallery. I had already researched a number of options as part of the previous exercise.

I chose the portrait of Sir John Tavener to analyse as it immediately struck me when I saw it in the gallery. Therte seemed so many points to write about in the painting, whether it be the style of the artist, which is very distinctive, or details of how it was painted.

What I think that I like most about this painting is the way in which it seems to have frozen a moment in time. Not only is it a good likeness of the subject, doing what he is famous for (composing) but the artist has captured a moment where Tavener seems to be seeking inspiration and committed it to canvas.

There is a lot I could learn from studying portraits such as this to take into my photography portrait efforts.

Poignantly, on the evening that I returned home from my visit to the National Portrait Gallery I learned that Sir John Tavener had died that day.

The analysis can be found here:Tavener portrait no pics