Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mr. Gammell's Departure

Today I received a very special photo. It is a picture of an artist's studio the day he died. It belonged to Mr. R.H. Ives Gammell, a champion of classical art. He focused much his life on passing on the techniques and values that were used in creating the masterpieces of the past. Mr. Gammell determined that he was going to be a bridge spanning those years when modern art spat on classical training and paintings.

Mr. R.H. Ives Gammell's Studio
The gentleman and fine artist that passed this photo on to me was one of his students, Mr. Tom Dunlay, a longtime student of Mr. Gammell, and was the last person to be with him before he died. He wrote of the photo:

"This was the morning after he passed away. Except for the landscape on the chair this was exactly the way he left the studio the day before. The previous evening there was an exhibition of DeCamp's work at the St. Botolph Club on Commonwealth Avenue. At the end of the opening he asked me if I would walk him home just down the street. As it turned out, I was the last person to see him alive. He passed away in his sleep." 

This reminds me a lot of the way my father died. He was on his way back from wintering in Florida and was coming to visit our family in Cincinnati the next day. I spoke with him on the phone the night before making plans to pick up our youngest son from school together. The next morning before 6 a.m. I received a phone call saying that he had died in his sleep. It was devastating.

This studio was left by a man who had expectations of returning to it the next day. How neat it looks: the brushes lined up on palette and table, the book opened up on a stool, paintings set out for observation, studies on the easel - and the gentle north light washing over the artist's workplace.

I think that perhaps this was just the way Mr. Gammell would have wanted it. A day at work in the studio followed by an evening at the St. Botolph Club, a beloved haunt of artists and intellectuals, seeing Joseph DeCamp's work, and walking home with a favorite student. Very Providential...a gracious way to leave...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chapter review: “Instilling the Painter’s Craft”

Chapter review: “Instilling the Painter’s Craft”
Adolphe William Bouguereau,
 A Nude Study for Venus, c. 1865.
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (1578).  (;;doc.view=print)

            In the sixth chapter of “Realism in Revolution: The Art of the Boston School,” Kirk Richards writes about current critical problems in art school training a student must face if he desires to create representational pictures of merit.  Richard echoes the sentiments of a Boston School Style artist R. H. Ives Gammell on the same subject, quoting from Gammell’s “The Twilight of Painting,” when he describes the insufficiencies found in art schools today.  In this chapter these insufficiencies are discussed - even listed numerically - which confound the training an artist needs if they wish to study traditional methods of painting.
For example, the apprentice or atelier methods of training traditional painters are not offered in elementary or high schools therefore its students cannot pursue serious traditional representational art training until college. Once in college they cannot be trained in an apprentice or atelier method either, due to the semester classroom and teacher changes –with teachers who usually own vastly differing approaches to art.  If a traditional representational painting teacher is found there, the student most likely will be shifted away from him or her to another teacher at the end of that semester with only a taste of tradition.   
A smattering of traditional training is not enough to produce a good representational painter. Richard’s metaphoric description of the arduous training a music student must take to become proficient in his calling helps put into perspective the task a visual artist must also take to develop into an equally proficient producer of representational painting.  Why do we accept that the artist of music must endure years of study and practice to please the sense of hearing yet assume a visual artist can merely “spit” and make art?  Richards writes, 
An artist is more than a creative, talented person.  An artist is one who takes whatever talent the Lord bestows upon him, develops and polishes this talent into serviceable skills, and then adds his creative perspective to produce works of art with sincerity and integrity. Desire alone will not produce an artist if the intensity of that desire is not matched by the quality and intensity of training.[1]
            The near complete loss of the historic and traditional methods of training artists in the apprentice/atelier environment left us with the current state of art training found in colleges. This loss was incurred by the adoption of modern art ideologies, styles, and the inability of college semesters to give a steady, consistent training to students once found in the previous centuries’ ateliers and apprentice methods.  Despite the near loss, the language of painting transferred from master to student since the Renaissance is being revived.  The desire to develop the skills to carry on the tradition of representational painting is on the upswing and with it growing numbers of ateliers.  Richard believes there will be adequate training available to produce the painters of the future.  He offers his own experience as a testimony, writing,

I discovered what was eventually to become the foundation of my artistic life.  As a full-time student for four years under Richard Lack at his atelier in Minneapolis, I became part of the Boston School, the longest continuing tradition of painting in American art.  Its roots, going back to R. H. Ives Gammell, Edmund Tarbell, William McGregor Paxton, Jean-Leon Gerome, Paul Delaroche, and eventually, Jacques Louis David, were profound. It was here that I found my place and my profession.[2]

            Richards explains that an atelier program develops several skills.  First is drawing from life --not quick, three minute college-program gesture drawings; but nine to twelve hour pencil drawings and hundred hour charcoal drawings.  Life drawing is the backbone of this system of training with three or more hours of drawing five days a week. Rendering form, anatomy, and modeling light and shadow, is emphasized, teaching the student to see with accuracy.  In this rigorous training, creativity plays no more important part than it does when a music student is learning to read music.  To overcome amateurism, dues must be paid.  In addition, plaster cast drawings of ancient statues and busts are part of the students first year of drawing, until he is competent in seeing and drawing light, shadow, and shapes.  Many ateliers then begin painting a cast in black and white oil paint—a transition from drawing to painting.  Next is oil painting in color and still life, then head studies in oil.  After this, the full figure in its environment is painted in full oil color and finally, the execution of interior paintings.
A minimum of four years in an atelier teaches serious students the craft of picture making, including how to draw and paint what they see. The author states that this traditional method of training representational painting will keep alive our great Western traditions in art and pass them on to the next generation.  “The importance of the atelier system of training is that the master of each successive atelier teaches his students all that he knows in order to produce competent painters who will then, in turn, teach a succeeding generation of students.”[3]
--review by Sandra Galda July 28, 2011

[1] Kirk Richards, “The Art Student’s Dilemma,” Realism in Revolution: The Art of the Boston School, ed. Richard Lack (Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1985) 55.
[2] Richards 60.
[3] Richards 60.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Chapter Review

Review of  "Painting: Understanding the Craft," Realism In Revolution: The Art of the Boston School.

  In his chapter in Realism In Revolution: The Art of the Boston School, Richard Lack writes about the current revival of representational art.  He explains that the rediscovered craft of picture making is not fully understood by today's average art viewer.  The Modernism movement has left current art viewers ill-informed of the craft which the salons of Europe once promoted with their hugely attended events.  These huge art shows drew up to 50,000 visitors on a Sunday at the Paris Salon, offering opportunities for viewers to participate in the side by side comparisons, appreciations, and critiques of all the art--good and bad-- being produced. He contrasts this kind of public art education with today's small one man shows, small group shows by similar flavor artists, and museum shows, in which the displayed art follows a theme or shares aesthetic sensibilities.  He explains these small shows limit and short change art appreciation because they offer a biased, slanted, limited art experience.

   "The best route to connoisseurship is an aroused and genuine interest in art (Lack, 78)."  Once this interest is aroused, a viewer must gain "visual fluency" by persistent self education (museum visits, study of reproductions, researching the lives of the artists, reading and attending lectures on art, comparing various art styles and artists, and finally and most important according to Lack, is the understanding of the craft of making pictures.  Lack then contrasts the foundational difference between modern and traditional picture making.  According to Lack, modern art tends to depend on self-expression, passion, sincerity and "creative frenzy," where as traditional painting must, in addition to conception, style, and taste, be judged by skill of execution. 

  This is where the chapter gets interesting for me.  He outlines in the following pages the difficult, laborious and painstakingly careful approach a traditional artist takes in each stage of a traditional painting process. From arranging the interior, rugs, furniture, models, color scheme, lighting, each element is scrutinized carefully and planned in minutia. His process in creating his beautiful painting, "The Concert," is detailed step by step and he explains the complexities of the craft that an artist endures for the sake of creating a traditional realistic image whose beauty and quality will engage the viewer for hundreds of years.   

Richard Lack (American, 1928–2009)
The Concert, 1961.
Oil on board, 26” x 24” .
Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Washington.

  Planning and executing a studio painting such as Lack did in his The Concert, is one way a realist artist works. He adds that there are other traditional approaches, such as becoming adept at what he calls a "...bold path of painting his motif directly on the spot (Lack 83). "  Sargent often painted his patrons in their environment and Monet of course who painted so many of his great works; both artists known for their "...quick eye and great dexterity." Lack says this type of approach produces works that are more like sketches and states that most landscape painters use this method. "Pictures painted in this fashion, while successfully capturing the immediacy of the subject, have a tendency to be less accomplished in design, a fault in many of the works of the French Impressionists (Lack 84)."  He finishes his chapter describing the process involved in a traditional imaginative painting, one for example that could be a large painting or wall mural which depicts a great moment in history, myth, story, or literature. This type of imaginative  painting requires preparations and design considerations to pull together its complex number of image parts into a convincing realist image of imagination. Take time to read this informative chapter and you will increase your appreciation of the traditional realist craft of painting, and increase your visual fluency. 
---Sandra Galda

Richard Lack,"Painting: Understanding the Craft," Realism In Revolution: The Art of the Boston School (Dallas, Taylor Publishing Company,1985) 77-89.

After graduation from high school, Lack enrolled in the Minneapolis School of Art, where he studied for two and one-half years on a partial scholarship. But his heart was set on learning to paint in the tradition of the Old Masters, a knowledge that none of his teachers could provide. He then traveled to New York looking for an appropriate school, but could not find what he yearned for. He started copying paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where one day a young man stopped to talk to him. He was from Boston and was studying with a man named R. H. Ives Gammell. Gammell, he said, was running a small studio based on the European atelier system of training painters and was accepting students as apprentices. Excited by the prospect of at last finding a teacher "who could lead him out of the wilderness," Lack left New York for Boston and met Gammell. This initial meeting led to a teacher-pupil relationship that was to last more than five years. Gammell had authored numerous books and articles including Twilight of Painting, perhaps the most important book to date on the loss of our Western painting tradition. In Gammell, Lack found what he was so ardently seeking: an artist who could not only teach the basic skills of picture making, but who could also provide a living link to the great traditions of the past (Gandy Gallery "Richard F. Lack  (1928-2009)"<>).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Beauty in Art : Four part video

Here is a four part video created by Scott Burdick on the subject of BEAUTY in art. Beauty is one of the main aims of the Boston School style of painting. This series was posted in many blogs a number of months ago, it really explains a lot about what is going on in the world of fine art regarding a return to the beautiful in art.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Secret Self-Portrait of Lilian Hale

Black-Eyed Susans

"There is a real sadness to her work," someone commented after viewing some of Lilian Wescott Hale's paintings. It is true...not only a certain sadness but a feeling of isolation. Thus I was particularly interested when the subject of Lilian's coldness came up in her daughter Nancy's biography, The Life in the Studio:

"After my mother died, I felt I should go through my mother's drawings; there had been inquiries from would-be purchasers. I needed to see which, if any, I felt ready to part with. In addition to drawings glassed and framed with cards from old exhibitions still pasted to the backing, there were big black French portfolios full of drawings, some of which I hadn't seen for years and years, many only partly finished. As I drew out each sheet of Strathmore board, propped it against a chair, and viewed it, all the pictures seemed to have taken on a curious new dimension that at first baffled me.

Here was the shed behind our house in Dedham. Tortuous black branches on which a few black berries cling are shown in relation to its slanting, white-laden roof, the whole vignetted on the white paper so that the scene seems drowned in winter. Here was the house across the road seen from the windows of our upstairs hall. Upon the boughs of the hemlock on the front lawn, bent down by snow, snow is still falling; but inside the window, in the foreground, blossoms of a bowl of freesias are touched faintly with sanguine chalk, giving a sense at once of inwardness and of warmth. Next came the profile of a little Irish girl my mother used often as a model: tiptilted, naive, sharp black against the strong light from the window where she is sitting.

Spring Morning, 1908

What seemed so new? Looking at the old, familiar scenes and faces made me long for something, but it wasn't the past. It was something here in the pictures themselves. What I was discovering, throughout the long series of drawings, was a likeness: a self-portrait that my mother had not the least awareness she was making.

The unconscious revelation about herself that I began to take in as I viewed my mother's drawings right after her death had to do with the choice of subjects - those little girls, like flowers; those interiors, snug, sheltering, unpeopled; and everywhere those repeatedly pictured, exquisite falls of snow. It was all true, especially the snow.

On Christmas Day in the Morning, 1924

Coldness was puzzling, coming from that tall, beautiful, glowing creature who enchanted all who met her in warm moods. She was a loving mother, an adoring wife, yet all my life I had known the change that could take place in her and, as a child, I would be stricken with fear. It was as if she had gone away and forgotten me. She wasn't merely thinking about something else; she had ceased to feel my presence.

She herself never would admit she was cold. 'No I'm not!' she'd protest. 'I was being very cordial!" I used to talk it over with my Aunt Nancy. 'I know," my aunt said. 'Lily's always been that way, even when she was little. Your grandmother was deeply hurt when she asked Lily whom she loved best and Lily said Annie Langer...Of course, the reason for that,' Aunt Nancy said, hastening as ever to absolve her sister of blame, 'was that your grandmother was utterly prostrated during the years Lily was little, so it fell to Annie to take the care of her. Lily was actually the most sensitive of us all.'"

Lilian had grown up in the shadow of the gray cloud that hovered over her family. It was not a happy situation. Her nine year old sister, Dolly, had died while visiting relatives. Her mother was often "prostrated." Her father had been deeply hurt in business and had become an invalid with his daughters helping to care for him. In their minds, the idea of suffering was looked upon approvingly; it deserved high praise in that Victorian household. "'So-and-so is a great sufferer,' Grandmother would announce approvingly, and even my mother looked respectful.'

Boy by the Ocean

In the core of anguish, ice. Out of ice, art - starting up again like perpetually blooming roses from an old, winter grave. The private, interior world in which my mother hid was at the same time just what, in her pictures, she set forth for display.

Coldness was not a moral question in my mother, neither good nor bad. It was more the basis for survival." *

*The Life in the Studio by Nancy Hale . Little, Brown and Company, 1957

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lilian Wescott Hale . The Eyes Have It!

Home Lessons

Never look into the shadows: Artist Lilian Wescott Hale never looked into the shadows. In her drawings and paintings you will not find details in the darks. Not only was this a tenet of her Boston art school training [part of which included classes with the man who would become her husband], but it seemed as if her eyes and mind really could not see into the shadows. As her daughter, Nancy Hale, records in her mother's biography The Life in the Studio:

"On dark days she always called off a portrait sitting. She said she couldn't see anything when it was dark. Her eyes were certainly very different from lay eyes. When she and went out shopping together, I could peer into the dark recesses behind a shop window and make out all sorts of objects - loaves of bread or garden rakes or magazines or whatever we might be looking for - while my mother, confronted by anything in deep shadow, would all her life simply say, 'I can't see a thing.'

In his class in life drawing at the Museum School, moreover, my father taught his students to render the nude in strict light and shade. Some pupils seemed never to be able to learn to find the edge of the shadow, on one side of which all was visible and to be shown, on the other side of which all was considered invisible.

I can see my father now, standing under the stark atelier skylight in his rumpled old gray suit, backing up from some student's smudgy charcoal drawing and coming up to it again, making gestures with his thumb (he never touched a pupil's drawing) and wearing a pained expression.

'Where the light falls is the light. Where the light does not fall is the shadow. Chiaroscuro, the clear and the obscure. Don't go mucking your drawing up with half-light.' Half-lights were the snare that seduced the undertrained; the greatest sin was to go peering into the shadow."

See things with wonder: "When my mother looked at things (and her life was given over to looking at things; in any unfamiliar house she used to keep crying, 'Look at that! Look at that!' about a chair, a picture, a china bowl of flowers, until she became embarrassed by the realization that nobody else joined her), she looked with a kind of innocent stare. I can see that now, too. She held her eyes very wide open and simply stared, as though confronted by the first day of creation."

Perceive the color that is actually there: "Often she saw things quite differently from other people. Colors, for instance, appeared differently to her from what they seemed to me to be. She would keep talking about a blue house on the road to Gloucester, and couldn't imagine what she was talking about, and then one day we would be driving that road together and she would cry, 'There's the blue house! Look at that!' I would look, and it would be white.

'You're so literal,' my father and mother used to complain to me. This was in no sense a compliment but referred to the instantaneous reflex of reading into color what I figured it had to be, instead of seeing it for what - in that light - it was.

I remember a dress my mother owned in the latter part of her life. She called it her black dress. Although it was a very dark dress, I couldn't help knowing that it was really navy blue. It did take peering to see that, though, and my mother never peered. She just stared, and her vision and the image met for what they were."
  1. Never look into the shadows
  2. Look at the world with wonder
  3. Let your eyes see the color that is actually there

to be continued...

Hint on Finding the Shadow: It's not always easy to see where the shadow begins or even if something is actually a part of the shadow. If in doubt, take your brush, pencil or charcoal and set it on the subject so that it casts a shadow into the area in question. If you can see the implement's shadow, then that area is not a part of the shadow. If you can't see the implement's shadow, then the area in question is definitely in shadow.

* The Life in the Studio by Nancy Hale

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Making It More Like" Edmund Tarbell

Edmund Tarbell . Reverie, 1913

RH Ives Gammell, who wrote The Boston Painters ( 1900-1930) had high regard both personally and artistically for Edmund Tarbell, a man who was considered by many to be the finest painter of his time. He writes:

"The last time I talked with Ned Tarbell we were standing side by side during the preprandial* ceremonies of a club dinner. His face was ravaged by the illness which would soon carry him off, but his mind was alert and, as we raised our cocktail glasses together he toasted, "Well, here's hoping I can make one that really looks like it before I'm through." Those words from the lips of a dying painter attest his untiring struggle to communicate the delight he took in aspects of the visible world and his deep-seated conviction that a painter's function was to 'draw the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are."** In fact, these words were read at Tarbell's funeral a few months later.

Edmund Tarbell
Three Sisters, A Study in June Sunlight

Although he was not literary, he had a rare perception of beauty, which is the poetry of painting. It was this indefinable quality which caused his fellow painters to regard Edmund C. Tarbell as the head of the Boston School, even to name him the most eminent American painter of his generation - which not a few proclaimed him to be. Edmund Tarbell at the top of his form painted pictures which are permeated by a unique blend of rare qualities in which carefully ordered composition, lovely color schemes exquisitely rendered and subtle depictions of the interplay of light and atmosphere combine to delight the eye. These visual impressions are put on canvas with a personal touch which makes every inch of the painted surface treasurable. He loved to reiterate that he was only trying to "make it like," an oversimplification which takes account of neither his initial selection nor his individual way of seeing "it," a way which was no one else's.

Oh, the little more, and how much it is!
And the little less, and what worlds away!
~ Robert Browning, By the Fireside

A Short Bio
Edmund C. Tarbell (called Ned as a boy), was born at West Groton, Massachusetts in 1868 and raised by his paternal grandparents. As a youth, Tarbell took evening art lessons from George H. Bartlett at the Massachusetts Normal Art School. Between 1877 and 1880, he apprenticed at the Forbes Lithographic Company in Boston and because of his natural talent entered the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, studying under Otto Grundmann. He matriculated in the same class with two other future members of the Ten American Painters, Robert Reid and Frank Weston Benson.

In 1883, his fellow student Benson and Edmund Tarbell continued their studies in Paris as pupils of Lefebvre and Boulanger. What this exactly means is that Lefebvre and Boulanger would come in once a week, pause momentarily at each student's easel to say a few words, and then rattle away in their carriage till the following week.

The most valuable painting instruction which Tarbell received in Paris was in an afternoon painting class taught by William Dannat who had first studied in Munich then under Bastien-Lepage.

Tarbell studied in Europe about five years, then returned to Boston where he married and joined the teaching staff of the Museum School in Boston along with his friend Frank Benson. When the director, Otto Grundmann, died unexpectedly the following summer, Tarbell and Benson took full charge of what had become a nationally renowned art school. It was to flourish under their direction for twenty-three years.

My Daughter Josephine

Tarbell was a popular teacher. He gave his pupils a solid academic art training. Before they learned to paint, they had to render plaster casts of classical statues. So pervasive was his influence on Boston painting that his followers were dubbed "The Tarbellites."

After he left the school in 1913, he co-founded The Guild of Boston Artists, and served as its first president through 1924. In 1919, he was selected as principal of the art school at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC which he led until 1926. In 1927, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In his latter years, he and his wife spent their summers in New Castle, New Hampshire and their winters in Boston. He regularly went to the Tavern Club for lunch, capping the meal with a game of billiards, at which he excelled. Exalted by virtually every award in the bestowal of his fellow artists, well remunerated by the sale of his pictures, represented in the leading art museums of the United States, Edmund Tarbell's sundown was splendid and serene. When the Depression reduced the pressure of his portrait commissions, he told me how glad he was at long last to paint the pictures he had never found time to carry out. He had the satisfaction of knowing that those whose opinion he valued most, which is to say of the painters most knowledgeable in their art, placed him at the very summit of contemporary painting."

"Making It More Like"
This phrase was Edmund Tarbell's motto and one of the sayings passed down to the students of RH Ives Gammell. It refers to part of the methodology used by Boston School painters. As they begin their work, they make the drawing and painting as correct as possible the first time, then as the work proceeds, continue to make it more like...and more like...and more like until it's right!

* Mr. Gammell's Vocab Word of the Day: "Preprandial" - Done or taken before dinner or before the main course, ex. a preprandial glass of sherry. Mr. Gammell kept a stack of vocabulary cards handy to work on regularly.

** When Earth's Last Picture Is Painted, 1892 by Rudyard Kipling

When Earth's last picture is painted, and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it -- lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy; they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets' hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from -- Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only The Master shall praise us, and only The Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star
Will draw the thing as he sees it. For the God of things as they are!

Learning To See: Article review by Sandra Galda

          Lindesay Harness’s Journal article is immensely interesting to me for its description of the challenges presented to an artist due to the biological structure of the eye.  Her article helped me to understand more fully what I was up against when trying to "see" in order to produce the best kind of art (in my opinion) which is the Boston Style of painting. My study in Ingbretson Studios has impressed upon me that learning to make beautiful art is, in a large part, learning to see.  In her article Harkness writes, "The fundamental design of the human visual system causes great confusion to the artist attempting to render accurately from nature (Harkness, Lindesay, "Values: When Seeing Isn't Necessarily Believing," Classical Realism Journal 2.1 (1995) 10-17).   Along with some great visuals, she explains that when an image falls on the back of the eye, the retina, nerve receptors wired to the brain pick up the image as it falls on a mosaic of rod and cone structures.  The mosaic becomes increasingly more crude in detailed information as it moves from the center back of the eye where both rods and cones are located, (the foveal receptors) to the surrounding areas where only rods are found (peripheral receptors). 

          In Tobii Technology's Blog, an article about the function of the eye explains:   "The retina is a light sensitive structure inside of the eye responsible for transforming light into signals, which are later converted into an image by the visual cortex in the brain. The fovea is a section of the retina that contains a high density of both kinds of light receptor cells found in the eye, i.e. Cone and Rod cells. Rod cells, which are mostly located in the outer retina, have low spatial resolution, support vision in low light conditions, do not discriminate colors, are sensitive to object movement and are responsible for the peripheral vision. Cone cells, which are densely packed within the central visual field, function best in bright light, process acute images and discriminate colors. ("An Introduction to Eye Tracking: Part 1-How does the eye work?" 2010, Tobii Technology's Blog 2.12.2010, <>.).
          I have learned that it is important for an artist interested in more accurately depicting nature to be aware of the strategies needed to work around the natural functioning of the eyeball. When giving in to the natural tendency to "look in" directly using his most sensitive nerve-wired foveal receptors, the abundance of information confounds the observance of the unity of values and colors.  Therefore viewing the subject with a less direct gaze helps the artist see and paint a better whole, unified impression of his subject.  This awareness will help the artist see one consistent set of value calibrations instead of giving into the eye's tendency to recalibrate the value settings each time he looks directly at an area of the subject being painted with his most piercing, nerve sensitive, direct sight----using the eye's foveal receptors. By learning to "defocus," "get the big picture," "half-closing his eyes," and  "looking at the whole picture simultaneously," among other strategies, the artist can get a better idea of the value and color relationships he is trying to convey in his artwork.  ----until next time,  Sandra Galda

Saturday, June 11, 2011

William McGregor Paxton

William McGregor Paxton
R. H. Ives Gammell

Les Poetes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Que j'ai l'air d'emprunter aux plus fiers monuments,
Consummeront leurs jours en d'austeres etudes,

Baudelaire, La Beaute

Introductory Essay on Impressionism

In 1977, as I write this introduction to a biography of William Paxton, a resurgence of interest in the American painters who were prominent during the closing decades of the nineteenth century and the first two of the twentieth is already under way. This entirely predictable revival conforms to a general pattern which has repeated itself again and again throughout the history of European art. When a succession of painters carried a particular interpretation of visual experience to a high level over a period of years, usually approximating three generations, there occurs a shift in esthetic values sufficiently marked to deflect the oncoming young into paths differing sharply from those followed by their immediate predecessors. The painters recently most admired are banished, contemned for a while and soon forgotten. Then, with the passing of another sixty years or so, the momentarily discredited school is brought out for reappraisal, their pictures are seen in a fresh light and each artist's reputation stands or falls in accordance with the actual merit of his work as that becomes apparent in the perspective of time.

The Crystal, 1900
Estate of the Artist

When the current manifestation of this familiar cycle runs it course Paxton will emerge as an arresting and significant figure. Historically his pictures will be seen as the ultimate and most uncompromising expression of the concept of painting which was reanimated in France during the last third of the nineteenth century. By the time Paxton returned from Paris in 1893 this pictorial orientation, now quite universally called impressionism by a usage which simply broadens the implications of a singularly felicitous word coined to ridicule the painters of Claude Monet's circle who were also working for similar objectives, was widely regarded by painters as the culmination of the art they practiced. Given its most complete expression in the art of Velasquez, who is still its greatest exemplar, its aim has ever been to convey on canvas the impression made on the painter by the subject he elects to depict. To the impressionist the splendor of the visible world as it appears to his sensitized vision surpasses in aesthetic significance and beauty anything that man can invent. His creed by no means belittles the essential role played by the artist in the making of a work of art, a role which is perceptible throughout in his selection, arrangement, emphasis and handling, but he never ceases to feel that the visible world before his eyes provides the surest guidance and criterion. From which it follows that the ability to see and to render truthfully the appearance of things is the prime qualification of the impressionist painter. After he has acquired the ability to do these things well, his stature as an artist will ultimately be determined by his personality. The training of painters in the western tradition was based on this principle from the time of Masaccio and Van Eyck until the twentieth century.

An aim of this book is to point out the role played by the impressionist attitude throughout the history of Western painting and in Paxton's relation to its last great flowering. For the art of painting can no more be divorced from its impressionist factor and survive than literature could continue deprived of the descriptive uses of language. When a vital element of a great art is momentarily abandoned because of some passing freak of esthetic fashion there is grave danger of its being irrecoverably lost before a reverse trend demonstrates its indispensability. Such losses have occurred in the past with lasting injury to the art of painting. And now today, in the nineteen-seventies the disciplined thinking whereby an artist is enabled to analyze his visual impressions and the complex procedures required to render those impressions on canvas are things known only to a handful of painters, and imperfectly known at that. It is reasonable to suppose that when painters of a future generation seek to rediscover, as they will certainly wish to do, the lore which made nineteenth-century painting possible, they will prize any information susceptible of facilitating their difficult task. To these searchers Paxton's pictures, and especially the thinking and the methods which produced them, should be of outstanding interest, for they represent the summing up of a movement which he understood with exceptional lucidity.

After all, the element in painting which we call impressionism is simply the pictorial expression of an artist's reaction to his visual impressions. The dominant characteristic of the painter, the trait marking him out from other men, has always been an exceptional sensitivity to such impressions. Whenever any painter transcribes a visual impression to paper or canvas, to that extent he is an impressionist. Obviously, then, all painters who have made representation a part of their aim have been, to some degree, impressionists. For many, rendering visual impressions was a minor part of their art or at most it remained ancillary to some other esthetic purpose. But others found the phenomena of the visible world so surpassingly beautiful and fascinating that they devoted their lives to rendering with paint or pencil what they saw, as they saw it, using the other elements of their craft to enhance their portrayal. Painters of this latter sort have now been designated impressionists because no other tide is so descriptive of their aims. To ignore or to belittle the esthetic value of impressionist painting is to reverse judgments which have prevailed over a very long period. To discard the working methods evolved by the impressionist masters is to greatly reduce the scope of painting as an art.

The essential characteristic of the impressionist painter is his attitude to what, in studio parlance, is often called nature. The word "nature" has long been in common use among painters to designate objectively observed aspects of the visible world. These aspects may be compared with an artist's representation of them and, when the representation differs from the thing represented, the divergence may safely be attributed to the artist's defective powers of observation, to the inadequacy of his rendering or to his intentional alteration. Nature provides the starting point of the rendering as well as a criterion by which the truth of the finished product may be judged. The general validity of this criterion has been accepted by virtually all painters of the Western tradition from Giotto to Cezanne. But the impressionist tends to place visual truth ahead of all other pictorial qualities. He does this because the beauty he perceives in nature seems to him of a higher order and of a more deeply satisfying kind than any other. Consequently nature remains his chief source of inspiration and his dominant purpose is to render as faithfully as possible, those aspects which stir him most. He realizes that an aspect is necessarily conditioned by its beholder, without whom it could have no existence at all. He is perfectly aware, too, that this subjective factor modifies his own observation and introduces an element into his rendering which is largely responsible for its artistic validity. So he strives to render his impression of reality, not to create a facsimile of it. But the true impressionist remains humble before nature. And the great practitioners have proclaimed that the more completely they gave themselves to the study of nature the finer were their results, as is attested by a considerable body of tradition based on letters, precepts, anecdotes and studio gossip, as well as by the published writings of painters.

Students of Western painting have observed that periods during which artists were greatly preoccupied with the direct study of nature have alternated with periods when artists fell back upon formulas of representation derived from the work of their predecessors. The nineteenth century, by and large, belongs in the former category. During its first half intensive study of form was carried to a high pitch under the leadership of Ingres and the academic painters of France. This academic art has been so frequently labelled artificial that few people today realize that the idealized forms which its practitioners introduced, when it suited their pictorial purpose, were arrived at by stressing typical structural shapes underlying the idiosyncrasies of the individual model and that this can be done effectively only by a painter who has acquired both a thorough grasp of structure and the ability to set down accurately what he sees. The best nineteenth-century drawing was based on the study of nature and it reached a very high level of draftsmanship. To appreciate this one has but to compare it with the draftsmanship of the late seventeenth and the entire eighteenth centuries until David.

But the chief contribution of nineteenth century painting was the renewed study of color which got under way in the sixties. Landscape painting and the study of color relationships observable in nature out of doors, as demonstrated by the group exhibiting with Claude Monet, brought a new element to the art of painting, an element which actually revolutionized that art and seemed at the time destined to expand its scope immeasurably. We have now so completely assimilated the discoveries of that era that people have forgotten their once revolutionary character. The change which they brought about in our perception of color remains especially evident, of course, in the painting of landscape. More subtle and therefore less perceptible to the untrained eye, but perhaps even more important in its effect on the art of painting, was the change in the painter's perception of flesh-tints. Because the human body, and especially the head, furnishes the most important theme for the painter's art, rendering the subtle and elusive character of flesh has ever been his central problem, the one which has generally been considered the supreme test of his craftsmanship. So a brief examination of the development of flesh painting should lead to a better understanding of the impressionist attitude and of its esthetic contribution.
Painters working before the fifteenth century were content to fill in the outlines of their figures with a conventional tint which could be identified as indicating flesh. Presently the Van Eycks and their followers in Flanders and men like Piero della Francesca in Italy made great advances in this direction. These painters evidently mixed their tones to match actual flesh in light, adding brown or black to suggest the shadows. A little later Leonardo contributed to the understanding of visual impressions by demonstrating that the shadowed parts of an object were those which did not receive direct rays from the main source of light and furthermore that the points at which those rays ceased to illuminate always formed a perceptible line of demarcation between the lighted parts and the shadows. This seemingly self-evident observation constituted probably the greatest single step ever taken in the slow development of man's perception of how things appear to him.

For a time painters merely assimilated Leonardo's discovery with their established practice of coloring flesh. They now set down the shadow area in its full degree of darkness and differentiation, but they made it with a brown or blackish tone which Varied with the individual painter rather than with the lighting conditions of the particular - painting. Indeed, it is notable that very little advance was made in observing the true color of flesh in shadow until the late nineteenth century. But certain colorists began to note the subtle shifts of color observable in flesh in light. The evolution of their observation edged away from a warm tonality toward the balance of cool, pearly tones which we now recognize as the characteristic color of flesh in ordinary daylight. It is fascinating to trace this evolution in the work of the great colorist-innovators, Titian, Veronese, Velasquez, Vermeer and Chardin. The extraordinary distinction of color attained by these painters, of which their treatment of flesh is an outstanding factor, is sufficient proof of the esthetic value of their achievement

The great change in perception of color which took place in the nineteenth century was primarily due, as I have already indicated, to the vogue of plein-air painting. The effort to render brilliant light effects, and especially sunlight, forced painters working out of doors to study color relations as they had never been studied before. Their researches led to the adoption of methods now familiar to all, such as the use of more or less pure tones in juxtaposed touches. Although the more extreme of these methods soon fell into disuse they served to make painters aware of color variations to which they had formerly been blind and this awareness came to be partially shared by the public. Plein-air painting became a necessary part of the professional painter's training and the acuity of vision which he developed out of doors affected the work he did indoors as well. He saw that things were colored very differently from the way they had previously been depicted and that they looked vastly more beautiful and exciting to the eye. Small wonder that the painters who were young during the eighties and nineties felt that a new world of painting had opened before them in whose untrodden paths they were destined for great adventures. Yet in less than sixty years the movement engendered by the new perception had petered out. A new generation of painters repudiated its objectives and dismissed the great traditions, visual and technical, from which those of nineteenth-century impressionism had been derived.

Why did this happen? It is sometimes argued that nineteenth-century impressionism destroyed more than it came to fulfill. For reasons inherent in the social and artistic conditions of the times, impressionism developed in opposition to the so-called academic painting, whose erudition and traditional craftsmanship the impressionists attacked and eventually discredited. By so doing the innovators cut themselves off from a vast body of knowledge which some few of them could afford to ignore as individuals but which the art of painting could not dispense with without serious injury to its development. Another causative factor of its early decline lay in certain characteristics of the movement itself. Absorbed as they were in the study of color, of light and of atmospheric effect, the impressionists tended to neglect the study of form, a neglect which resulted in the rapid deterioration of their standards of draftsmanship. Moreover, their emphasis on the immediate impression, on direct notation in the presence of nature, often under uncomfortable working conditions, led them to improvise the composition of their pictures, thereby discarding the carefully considered preliminary studies of their predecessors. Furthermore, this art of observation and interpretation turned its back on the imaginative side of painting. A movement which should have greatly increased the resources of painting, enlarging the scope and possibilities of the art, by cutting itself off from the central tradition of which it was an offshoot, brought about its own decline. The painters who grew up during the earlier years of impressionism and who therefore still benefited by the broad and sound training of the old schools produced fine pictures, but each succeeding generation gave evidence of an ever narrowing outlook and of a weaker technical equipment. By the nineteen-twenties the prevailing concept of painting had become so limited and its techniques so feeble that a violent reaction of some sort was inevitable. It gave us Modern Art.

Nineteenth-century impressionism will always be studied for the great pictures that came out of it. When the sterile representational conventions in vogue at the present moment are outworn, painters will turn to the great protagonists of impressionism in an endeavor to rediscover the lost art of painting. They will study the nineteenth-century painters for the skills which were their special province. But .the painters of the future will also study nineteenth-century impressionism as a step towards understanding the still greater impressionism of the seventeenth century. It is a hopeless task to emulate the great masters of that time without first acquiring the more readily accessible knowledge of the recent painters who best understood the objectives of their great predecessors. This has been abundantly demonstrated in our time by the persons who profess to paint "in the manner of' one or another old master but who are quite incapable of making a passable rendering direct from nature. Their would-be pastiches of the old masters are acceptable only to themselves and to their disciples.

The pictures, ideas and methods of William Paxton should be of exceptional interest to future students. In several respects his position was unique. He received his early training at a time when drawing was still insisted upon and he was well taught. His first teachers were Dennis Bunker and Jean-Leon Gerome. Their training, superimposed upon his remarkable natural gift for drawing, enabled Paxton to retain a sure grasp of form while pursuing the most subtle color effects. He thus escaped the major defect which too often mars the pictures of his contemporaries. By temperament an impressionist and living in a period when the impressionist ideal was universally accepted, Paxton dedicated his powers to setting down on canvas the beauty he found so stirring in nature, which he looked at with eyes of very exceptional sensitiveness and accuracy. It is not an exaggeration to say that he accomplished his object more completely and faultlessly than any other painter who worked in the color-scale evolved in the late nineteenth century. Paxton's pictures may be taken as examples of the ultimate limit to which that kind of painting can be carried.
Cherry or The Gay Nineties, 1906
Estate of the Artist

As a conclusion to and a commentary on the great impressionist movement of the nineteenth century Paxton's pictures are eminently worth studying. But they will also be highly prized as paintings. When an artist has been deeply moved by some aspect of life and has devoted his energies with undeviating sincerity to expressing his reaction to that aspect and when such a man also succeeds in giving to his expression an artistic form of great technical perfection his pictures are sure to hold the enduring interest of posterity. The principle will hold in William Paxton's case as it has in others throughout the history of painting.

A Reading List for the Aspiring Boston Painter

William Paxton (1869-1941) . The Morning Paper

I like to derive my posts from whatever I am reading at the time. No doubt this would receive the approbation of both Sir Joshua Reynolds and RH Ives Gammell themselves. Their students were actively encouraged to fill up on culture and wisdom. So I set aside a little time each evening as I ride my reclining bike (stationary) or on lazy, hazy weekend afternoons while lying on the sunlit carpeted artroom floor.

Along the way, I have been making up a book list that may interest you. Tom Dunlay discovered a site online which has free downloadable publications. and has also passed on some of Mr. Gammell's required reading along with other favorites. Carl Samson, Richard Luschek and Mark Norseth have passed on other great reads. I'm always open to suggestions:

  1. Velasquez: R. A. M. Stevenson . Author: R. A. M. StevensonPublisher: G.BELL & SONS, LTD.

  2. The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist . Author: Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, translated by L. D. Luard . (teacher of Rodin, L'Hermitte and other famed French artists)

  3. The Classic Point of View, Six Lectures on Painting (1911) . Author: Kenyon Cox (1856-1919) . Required reading in the classes of RH Ives Gammell

  4. Eugene Fromentin, Painter and Writer, 1883 . Author: Gonse, Louis . Required Reading in the classes of RH Ives Gammell

  5. Frank Duveneck (1918) . Author: Heermann, Norbert

  6. The American Magazine of Art . 1916

  7. Background with Figures, Autobiography of Cecilia Beaux

  8. The Boston Painters . Author: RH Ives Gammell

  9. Life in the Studio (Lilian and Philip Hale) . Author: Nancy Hale

  10. Oil Painting Techniques and Materials . Author: Harold Speed

  11. The Practice and Science of Drawing . Author: Harold Speed

  12. Old Masters and New: Essays in Art Criticism (1908, c[1905]) . Author: Kenyan Cox

  13. W. Bouguereau (1900) . Author: Marius Vachon, 1850-1928 .

  14. An Article by Sumner Well: Sumner was a very important figure in FDRs administration and a best friend of Mr Gammell. A tremendous insight into the world in which Mr. Gammell traveled prior to WWI.

  15. Conversations on Art Methods by Thomas Couture

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Boston School

William Paxton William MacGregor Paxton (American painter, 1869-1941)
 The Album 1920

This blog is created to promote The Boston School style of painting and become a site in which a number of blog authors to this site---artists painting and learning this style, or nearly this style--- can promote their own art.  I hope in future posts that not only I but a choice number of blog authors will put down their brushes for a few minutes now and then and will contribute to this blog in order to promote information and images about this historic American realism art style and also display examples their own artwork. Should these contributing artists wish to sell some of their works on this site, they must inset their own pay pal buttons and eBay links in their posts as they create them, I will not assist directly in any sale. The individual artist posting will handle and be responsible for any sale and delivery of any artwork he presents for sale at this site, using the information provided him by the purchaser, or his ebay or paypal service.  I hope each post can be informative concerning the Boston School style, offer images and discussion of paintings by its popular masters of the past and promote and even help to sell the artwork of those currently learning and painting in the Boston School style. Blog posts can be as long or short as the artist choses. It can be informative about this style, or just an update on his or her current artwork with a link to their website or to a pay option for selling their art.

Song of Lamentation
 by Robert Hale Ives Gammell (1893 – 1981)
 In this first post of this blog I will try to present a definition of the style of art called the "Boston School" of painting.   "The "Boston School" sought to combine the truth of impressionist color with good draughtsmanship, sound composition and skillful paint handling. Its leading exponents included Edmund Tarbell, Frank Benson, William Paxton, Joseph Decamp, Philip Hale and Leslie Thompsom. R.H. Ives Gammell (with whom Ingbretson studied) was a turn-of-the-century Boston Museum School pupil of the first three men and later consulted extensively with Paxton who was himself a product of the French Beaux Arts training (from Paul Ingbretson's web site ( )."

From the Friends of Fenway Studios ( ), we learn that, "Historically, the Fenway Studios building is closely associated with the Boston School of painting. It came to be built because early in the 1900s, many of Boston's best-known artists lost their studios and life's works in a disastrous fire at the Harcourt Studios on Irvington Street in Boston, and many barely escaped with their lives. Fenway Studios was designed so that every one of the 46 studios would have north-facing windows, 12 feet high. The interior plan, with 14-foot high ceilings, was inspired by the 19th century atelier studios in Paris, where many of the original artists had studied. The building, of classic Arts & Crafts design with clinker brick exterior, is located on Ipswich Street in the Back Bay."

 The Guild of Boston Artists (  ) is closely associated with the Boston School style of painting. On their webiste, they write,  "[The Guild was] Established in 1914 by the prominent painters of the day, including Edmund Tarbell, William Paxton and Frank Benson, the Guild of Boston Artists was created to be an artist owned and operated gallery. With the mission of promoting both emerging and established artists living in the region, the Guild developed a reputation for excellence in quality and presentation."

 The Boston School style of painting has a very abbreviated listing on wikipedia (
"The Boston School is both a historic group of painters and an ongoing tradition of painting centered around the city of Boston, Massachusetts, United States. Beginning with artists such as Edmund C. Tarbell and William Paxton, a combination of detail, full-range vibrant color, and painting outdoors characterizes this style. Moving beyond French and American Impressionism, this style seeks to evoke more than a sensation of color, action scene from modern life, or fleeting effect of weather condition and time of day. A sense of space is created in these works using color realism mixed with traditional oil paint handling and technique."

Joseph DeCamp (1858-1923) The Blue Cup 1909
This is all the posting this busy artist had time for today, hope more posts will follow! -Sandra Galda