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June 05, 2007

A 1933 Portrait Painting Lesson

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Want to paint a portrait? The way it was done just before Modernism kicked in?

Then click here to link to The World of Painting site where a 1933 portrait painting demonstration by Philip Alexius de László (1869-1937) from The Studio Publications (that appeared in 1934) is reproduced.

True, 1933 was nearly three decades after Cubism burst on the scene, so don't take my "just before Modernism kicked in" phrase literally. My justification is that László was trained in the immediate pre-Modern period and he did not adopt a Modernist style, unlike many artists of his generation. So what you'll see is pretty much year 1900 stuff.

Below are some photos from the demonstration to whet your appetite.

Preliminary sketch of actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies

Beginning to paint

Blocking in the background

The completed portrait

I offer no profound thoughts: just enjoy this opened time-capsule.



posted by Donald at June 5, 2007


Great post Donald! I happened on this site a while ago and loved this portrait. The modern artist David Hockney raised a stir a few years ago by suggesting that the masters used optical tracing aids in order to draw so well. Of course, that's all nonsense, as this portrait demo shows. Luckily there are movvements afloat to revive the gutted art curricula in our society, but it hasn't penetrated the iron curtain of the universites and high-falutin' "art" schools. Even though it isn't mainstream (yet) it is managing to make a dent all the same.

Posted by: BTM on June 5, 2007 9:52 PM

You guys gotta do a post on the London 2012 logo fiasco.

Posted by: Rodney King on June 5, 2007 11:12 PM

What a charming picture! And this actress, this Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, looks so interesting and beautiful in the photos. And what a name!! I see in IMDB that she played Juliette opposite Gielgud's Romeo back in the twenties, and was granted a title of nobility when she was 100 years old.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on June 6, 2007 1:15 AM

This is a great interview! It's full of really excellent advice (like the part about using a mirror to look at the painting over your shoulder). It's so hard to get a breakdown of the painting process like this in art history books. The authors have the annoying tendency to use the images as a starting point to talking about everything but how they were made.

Posted by: Rabia on June 6, 2007 9:45 AM

Charlie Russell, the cowboy artist, has a little anecdote about how some nice city lady came to watch him paint. Afterwards she commented to her hostess, "You know, that man is a good painter, but he's terribly vain. Did you notice how he kept looking in the mirror?"

This is such a lovely painting, a sort of fluid dance in golden tones. Watching this artist must have been a real Event.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on June 6, 2007 11:27 AM

Oh, what a painful pose!
That actress must've been a heroic woman.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 6, 2007 2:05 PM

I have to second Tatyana's opinion: that's one difficult pose to hold! I don't think I've ever met a life drawing model who would have agreed to hold it, especially long enough to be painted. I wonder if the artist or the subject chose it? Do you suppose there's some iconographic meaning to it, given the unusual costume she's wearing?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 6, 2007 7:48 PM

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