Tuesday, September 28, 2010

nocturnes/dusk/Whistler and my struggles

 Whistler, Nocturne in Blue and Silver: The Lagoon Venice
Lately I have been studying the light of the early evening hours. It's always good to go and look at inspiring works as well. Who  better to look to than the man himself?...Whistler. Downtown in the Freer Gallery of Art there is a wonderful selection of his gorgeous nocturnes.
My special interest is in his blue nocturnes of Venice and the Battersea bridge. For these he painted on a deep red or mahogany panel. It glows through the thinly layered blue/gray paint. That's what makes the blues sing. Whistler painted with sweeps of color..just the perfect sweep..no more no less. If it wasn't just right he would wipe it off. Because of the beautiful "simplicity" In his time Whistler's nocturnes were not considered "real art." They just seemed too easy... Oh to be that good!
Whistler said that his palette was where the painting took place. He felt that once all the colors were mixed on the palette the painting was almost done.  So much precise thought went into making a beautiful harmony. He pre-mixed all his colors.  For what I understand his colors included: raw sienna, raw umber, yellow ochre, cobalt blue and then 3 reds, an orange red- I think - vermilion, Venetian red (cooler, bluer red), white and black.
Below was my first try three layers, all wiped away...already!
Below that is the second start. I felt more burnt sienna was necessary before putting the blue/grays on top. It was too light and there was no glow. Never be satisfied with OK, it must be right.
More as it develops.


Caroline Bray Art said...

I saw a Whistler nocturne in the Philadelphia Museum of Art just the other day and was captivated by it. So much so I took a photo of it for inspiration, something I very rarely do. I'll be really interested to see how your piece progresses, you're certainly learning from the right guy ;)

Casey Klahn said...

I like third composition, Loriann. Why three layers? By your description, JMW did 2 - or am I reading into it? Just wondered.

When you wipe off a layer, do you leave some residual color?

This is a very inspiring report on Whistler.

Casey Klahn said...

Duh. I meant to say "I like this composition."

B Boylan said...

Your writing on Whistler makes me want to consider his work more seriously than before. I'll have to look him up at my local museum to see more. (if they have any of his work! My curiosity is the same as Casey's, do you leave residual color?

loriann said...

Hi Caroline, Those Whistler nocturnes can blow you away...they were so far ahead of his time. I will have to go up to Philly I know the one they have there...beautiful.!

Hi Casey, I hope I am understanding the question. Whistler did just two layers- one that was a tone, that seems to vary in value. The second layer looks like a single swipe of color..just right. His darks are often the color underneath, no more. He may have done more I can't tell for sure. I have read that people considered them "too easy", not noticing the brilliance that makes it appear that way. You probably know the famous "Ruskin trial"...crazy, eh?

Hi Brenda, Oh, yes look at his work, especially his nocturnes. Love his etchings too!

Brian McGurgan said...

Hi Loriann - it's great seeing you work through this process. As you know, I've struggled with trying to absorb lessons from Whistler's beautiful Venice pastels into my own work. Far ahead of his time without a doubt. The pastels he did in Venice received a much warmer reception than his nocturnes had, it seems. I'm reading Whistler and His Circle in Venice and am just amazed at what he achieved. Like Inness, his strong persona is really fascinating. I saw three of the Venice pastels last year at the Frick Collection here in New York and was blown away by them in person. As wonderful as my books are, they just don't convey the magic like seeing the work in person. The Met also has some Whistler oils on displays - no nocturnes, though, if I recall correctly.

Nika said...

I know exactly what you mean - the nocturnes at Freer are magical little paintings.
I like your last attempt, the contours of your river look like a pregnant belly, complete with a belly button:)

Double "D" said...


I really like the second start. I know that this will be painted over as you go but I like it the way it is.
It has a very old quality feel to it as if it were painted 100 years ago. OK, I know this comes from my watercolor background. It reminds me how much your watercolor under paintings excite me.

Later B,

loriann said...

Hi Brian,
yes Whistler's pastels form Venice are gorgeous. What have you learned about his technique? Looking at them in books is nice, but it's really hard to "see" in a book. I agree his strong persona is fascinating. I read one book about his life, right now i can't remember the name. I will check out the one you suggest. thanks!

Hi Nika, a pregnant belly!!! When I look back I see you are right. maybe not a good sign for a river...or maybe a great sign. We will see!

Hey PB, how is your shoulder? I see you pecked out a full comment complete with caps! An old world quality...hmmmmmm....except for the belly button.
I really do like doing the washy underpainting step. Take care!

Brian McGurgan said...

With his Venice pastels, Whistler seems to have generally started with a sketch in charcoal, black pastel, or dark chalk to give a sense of structure - usually starting from the center and working outwards while eliminating any extraneous detail. Most of his use of color seems to have been on the higher end of the value scale and was used to give a feel for shimmering light in the sky and on the surface of water, building facades, etc. He relied heavily on the tone of the paper to serve as a dark midtone. In some of his later pastels from his 14 months in Venice, much of the paper is left untouched. These spare pastels are some of my favorites. To my eye, they feel remarkably complete and finished despite his very light touch and all that bare paper. I think it was his excellent sense of composition and knowing just where to place his color "notes" (as he called them) that makes them feel so complete. Some of his contemporary critics commented that the pastels would benefit from a bit more finish, but to me - and to many at his time - they seem quite perfect.

loriann said...

Great description Brian!!!! Your thoughtful review is appreciated.