Diversion – copy for practice

Periodically, when I get stuck or frustrated at how things are going, I make a copy of a painting that’s caught my eye. It could be the colours, the style, the composition, anything really; and I have a go at making something similar with my own preferred media and maybe adding some that the original artist may not have had to hand or didn’t care to use.

This painting, the Gust of Wind by George Hendrik Breitner (1890), struck me with its simplicity in suggesting the wind and its effect. The two women are painted sparingly but with evident motion and they dominate not the centre of the canvas but almost the whole right third of it. The rest of the painting is subjugated to them and utterly still while at the same time seeming somehow fully constructed and real. A glance at wikipedia and I saw that Breitner, an impressionist, is reputed to have introduced the style of social realism to the Netherlands.

I took a piece of duck cotton roughly A2 size, prepared it with transparent primer and then washed it with dilute burnt sienna to give it a kick. The next step was to block in the biggest shapes and to get them in the right proportions. It’s easy to lose track of that, I’ve found, when I’m concentrating more on the shape than where it sits. The women were re-drawn three of four times.

T. white, Naples yellow, T. buff, Paynes grey, process magenta.
Same palette. I’ve used black charcoal and white conte to mark out some of the detail, then washed over the marks with plain water.

The painting, while indisputably Breitner’s, is becoming a little more mine by the addition of different media and a slightly different palette. I’m quite pleased with the movement in the women’s clothes and particularly with the head/hat angle of the woman furthest right.

The question now is where to stop. I’m never good at that although I like to think I’m improving. This is a leave-overnight moment.

8th October and after some pinkish washes to the sky, and a bit of line-making to the structures on the right I’ve decided to step away before I do it some damage.

Edges cleaned and image cropped in Paintshop Pro.

I think I’m happy with this; it met a need to feel a little bit more competent than I had been due to some of the challenges of this module, and it gave me an opportunity to duck temporarily out of the more contemporary material I’d been looking at to refresh my visual appreciation system. In particular I was able to replicate movement in fabric, the positioning of heads, hats, and shoes, and something of Breitner’s painting style in the big, imprecise brush strokes. This shows me how it’s possible to use imprecision to create a sense of familiar objects without resorting to detail.

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