Thursday, 7 April 2016

F = Flesh (the painting of)



Gérard de Lairesse - Groot schilderboek
Painting flesh, in Dutch "Koleur der Naakten," has always been and, among figurative painters, still is considered one of the most demanding and potentially rewarding tasks for the artist. Gérard de Lairesse, the Dutch artist and theoretician, wrote in his Groot Schilderboek, "Having extensively and carefully studied this matter I find there is so much to say about it [painting flesh] that it is impossible to fit in one chapter." Painting flesh was not only difficult, it was important. Willem Beur, an artist and art writer of Vermeer’s time, wrote, "Just as we humans consider ourselves the foremost amongst animals; so too, are we the foremost subject of the art of paintings, and it is in painting human flesh that its highest achievements are to be seen, whenever a painter succeeds in rendering the diversity of colours and strong hues found in human flesh and particularly in the faces, adequately depicting the intricacy of the diversity of people or their different emotions.

 
Painting flesh is difficult for many reasons. "The appearance of skin to obtain information about age, health or emotional state of another human being. Therefore, flaws in the representation of skin will easily be noticed. Secondly, skin is by its very nature a very complex substance. Skin colour seems monochrome, yet is actually composed of many subtle nuances, just like the texture of skin seems even, but at a close look, seamlessly joins soft and rough, wrinkled and smooth zones; skin moreover is neither opaque nor translucent, but both, which creates complex shadows and interreflections. Last but not least, skin can appear different in each individual person, depending on gender, race etc."

 
From a technical point of view, Vermeer’s faces appear to be adequately depicted in comparison to those of his contemporaries. A few, however, are decidedly are under par. While in the worst cases (Woman with a Lute) this may depend on the degradation of those paint layers most vulnerable to damage such as glazes and final touches applied during the final stages of the painting process, or by overzealous restoration, the artist seemed not to have been allured by the challenge of complex colouring of flesh tones which was the raison d'etre of Dutch portraitists and for which painters like Rembrandt and Frans Hals had become the most sought-after painters of their times. Never once do we encounter those healthy, full-blooded youths and fair little faces which populate Dutch genre painting. In most cases Vermeer’s colouring of flesh is conventional with no more indulgence than a bit of extra red in the lips and cheeks. However, Vermeer did later his palette for the flesh tones depending on the intensity of light and the overall colouring of the composition.

Although Vermeer’s women resonate with spirituality, it is drawn less from how their faces are depicted rather than by their posture and the obsessive care with which the overall composition is crafted.

6 comments:

  1. I agree...painting flesh is extremely difficult with the different tones, shading, blemishes, shadows along with the health of the skin which reflects light in different ways. Thanks for sharing, Han.

    Hugs and blessings...Cat

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    Replies
    1. We know how the skin looks like, but to recreate it in paint is indeed difficult as Vermeer found out.

      Thank you for your comment, Cat.

      Han

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  2. J here, stopping by from the #atozchallenge - where I am part of Arlee Bird's A to Z Ambassador Team.
    April is here and I'm excited about it. Best of luck to us both on meeting our goals of posting and hopping to other blogs.
    My blog has a giveaway. There's a bonus a to z challenge each day to encourage people to visit more stops.
    http://jlennidornerblog.what-are-they.com
    Fascinating post. I never knew about this. I suppose it would be difficult to get flesh just right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice of you to visit my blog J.
      Thank you for stopping by.

      Han

      Delete
  3. Never thought of it.
    During My paintings career at kindergartens , it was always ine colour for flesh.
    It was no difficulte..
    Smile.
    I have learn something new again.

    Mona Lisa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes it's much easier when you're a child, but unfortunately that applies for a number of things...

      Glad you liked it,
      Han

      Delete

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