Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Art Appreciation 101

A few days ago I needed a break from packing and picked a favorite video, Girl With A Pearl Earring. Of course the combination of Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson is electrifying, but I was more entranced by the art of Johannes Vermeer.

While current artists can purchase their oils in a multitude of colors, this 17th Century Dutch Master had to hand grind and mix his own colors for each day's work. Vermeer had limited sources for the colors he produced and probably employed no more than 15 different pigments in his entire lifetime. This makes the vibrant color schemes of his paintings all the more amazing. These pigments would come from grinding semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli to create Ultramarine Blue, pounding charcoal until it was a powder for Black and heating the poisonous element mercury with sulfur to create Vermilion. Vermeer even painted his patron's wife in "cow piss" or Indian Yellow that came directly from the urine of cattle in the Bengali province, where it is said, farmers fed their cows only mango leaves and water. Vermeer was a perfectionist and it often took him three or more months to finish a painting.

Although we do not own any originals from the Dutch Masters, we have a significant number of original paintings and drawings in our home that will be a joy to hang when we move to our new house.

I loved art as a child and remember spending hours watching my brother draw imaginative Superhero's. His craft matured when he began his meticulously detailed pen and ink drawings. I am still searching for The Clockwise Orange he created at my request.

Rembrandt - a master of light and shade.
Although I can draw, it has never been with the free-flowing ease of my brother. In my Grade 10 art class, one assignment had us creating a reproduction of a Renaissance artist. I picked Rembrandt and decided to do a still life with a lit candle. But I had no idea how difficult it would be to replicate such a masterful painter of light and shade. After spending weeks in frustration, I handed the painting in and begged my instructor to mark me on the one-square inch of candle flame, the only section I was happy with. Amazingly she did.

Peter's mother studied art and we have a number of Gudrun's original pieces in our house, including a pencil sketch she made of Peter sleeping, when he was just a year old. We also have a painting of an orange tree from Peter's sister Elinor. But now she is following in her older sister's footsteps and creating beautiful ceramics.

Our niece, Marcia Harris, gave us one of her earliest pieces as a gift and now her amazing paintings sell-out almost as fast as they are created. As a landscape artist she creates thought-provoking pieces that challenge our pristine view of nature. She often paints a more modern landscape where natural surroundings are forced to co-exist with mankind.

Lynn Kingham's "A Whale of a Pod."
One of my Fat-5 friends, Lynn Kingham, did a charcoal sketch of "Boy" for me in university and did a pencil portrait of Pokey that we treasure. She regularly participates in the "Night of Artists" murals and also in creating unique paintings on the animal sculptures that grace the streets of downtown Victoria.

As we go on a treasure search through our basement, I know we will uncover more of Gudrun's paintings, and possibly some of my brother's as well. Now, if only Michelangelo's statue of David was down there somewhere among the boxes and rubble, I would be truly happy!


  1. LOVE Rembrandt. Also love "Boy" hanging in your office and your niece's art. Stunning pieces!

  2. Thanks Heidi. I've had "Boy" for almost 30 years now and he still looks as young and fresh as ever. You still haven't told me what your favorite painting is!?

  3. I don't remember the name of it, but I saw it when we were at a Rembrandt museum in Amsterdam. It was a simple, uncluttered painting, but the play of light and shadow was amazing.

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