The Superiority of Simplicity


Armand Cabrera
(Images from top to bottom
Emile Calsen, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Anders Zorn, Dennis Miller Bunker, Peder Severin Kroyer)

While I think everyone must follow their own voice and style, I prefer a broader handling of effect and I think this way of painting is superior to too much rendering. In my view the best realist and impressionist paintings are handled with a facile economy of effort. There is no effort towards trompe l’oeil finish; rather the effort is placed in leaving the appearance of a painting intact while simultaneously making it believable.

My old calculus teacher gave extra points to people who could solve their problems in fewer steps not more. His reason being the smaller equation was the more elegant solution to a problem as long as the answer was correct. I think the same applies to painting.

Paintings are meant to be viewed indoors at a reasonable distance. If you are putting in brushwork that effectively disappears at two feet from the canvas I would say you are over rendering the passages of your painting. Rendering takes time and many times the detail is an attempt to cover a weakness in drawing, color and tone. Design requires a point of view It is always easier to copy things as they are than it is to design. When good paintings do have detail it reflects the personality of the painter not a lack of good painting structure.

There is much talk about what is simplification in painting. I am not advocating for the slap dash approach where sensitivity and subtlety are thrown out for a sloppy artistic short hand. Those types of paintings may have interest to the artist painting them as studies but will never stand the test of time as art.

There is a broad area between the two extremes I just mentioned that allows for great personal expression and sensitivity to subject. It is the art of controlled simplification as a means of expression. It can contain alla prima painting but does not require single sitting impressions to be effective. Instead its power comes from acute observation and understanding of the character of the things depicted, edited for the most amount of emotional impact and delivered in the most economical way possible visually. This is the heart of all great painting.

Merry Christmas

This time of year is steeped in obligation, tradition and religion. It has also been commercialized and commoditized to extremes.
I hope everyone reading this is enjoying themselves for the holidays. We seem to forget to do that in the middle of buying presents, making ends meet and fulfilling whatever extra obligations we have taken on this time of year. Whether Christmas is a deeply religious time for you, a reason to reconnect with family or friends or just another excuse to party till the New Year… I wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Jean Leon Gerome

Armand Cabrera

Jean Leon Gerome was born in Vesoul, France in 1824. He was the son of a wealthy goldsmith. Gerome studied Greek, Latin and history at Vesoul College before enrolling in the Paris School of Fine Arts under Paul Delaroche. In his third year there the Atelier was closed after an incident of hazing resulted in a student’s death.

Gerome travelled to Italy for a year and after returning to Paris enrolled in Charles Gleyre’s studio. Gerome only stayed with Gleyre for three months but by all account learned a great deal from the master, although Gerome never acknowledged Gleyre’s influence on him.
In 1847 Gerome had his first salon entry, a painting of young Greeks holding a cock fight. Although the painting was skied it received favorable attention for its quality, attention to detail and subject matter.

Gerome would build his artistic career on subjects from antiquity and the Middle East. According to his biographer Gerald Ackerman, nearly half of Gerome’s paintings were orientalist in nature.
Gerome also had commissions from the government that helped build his career. Gerome also married Marie Goupil the daughter of Adolphe Goupil, one of the most influential art dealers of the time.

Gerome’s first trip to Egypt was in 1857, there were to be many more through his lifetime. His paintings were very popular at the salons and he commanded high prices for his work. He eventually stopped taking commissions because of his success. This freed the artist to pursue themes important to him as opposed to his patrons.

In 1863 the government sponsored Ecole des Beauxs Arts appointed Gerome as head of one of its ateliers. Gerome would continue to teach for the next 40 years. He influenced thousands of young artists and was a highly respected teacher. His American pupils included Thomas Eakins, Kenyon Cox, Julian Alden Weir, George DeForest Brush, Abbott Handerson Thayer, George Bridgman, Dennis Miller Bunker, and William MacGregor Paxton to name just a few.

In the 1870’s Gerome was an outspoken opponent of the impressionists and what he saw as a lowering of artistic standards. The fights were very public and as the shift to the new art style took hold he was continuously vilified by critics and younger artists.
Another issue Gerome was on the wrong side of was allowing women to the Ecole. Beginning in the late 1880’s the matter became heated with constant petitions for women to be allowed into the Ecole and to be able to attend the life drawing classes. Gerome who was on the council for the Ecole at the time voted against both changes.

Although the world had passed him by Gerome had been successful enough to live comfortably his whole life. Gerome died five months before his 80th birthday. At the time of his death in 1904 his estate was worth 1.7 million francs not including real estate.
In the ensuing years he was nearly forgotten in France and in the 1950’s his paintings were almost worthless. Recently though, important Gerome paintings regularly command prices of 2 million pounds at auction.

The life and work of Jean Leon Gerome
A catalogue Raisonne

Gerald Ackerman
ACR Publishing

The Orientalists: Painters Travelers
Lynne Thornton
ACR Publishing

The American Pupils of Jean Leon GeromeH. Barbara Weinberg
Amon Carter Museum Press

I hate imitators, people who put works together out of older works, these men are blind unless they are looking with someone else’s eyes, and who produce only the mistakes of the master they draw from. These, one doesn’t even want to talk about; one must simply call them ‘Eunuchs’ ~ Jean Leon Gerome

John Duncan

Armand Cabrera

John Duncan was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1866. At 11 years old he attended the Dundee school of art. In two years he began illustrating for local paper in Dundee. These assignments gave him an opportunity to go to London and work as a book illustrator. After three years in London Duncan felt he needed more training and wanted to leave illustration to pursue painting. He studied drawing and painting at the Antwerp School of Art in Belgium. After his instruction in Belgium Duncan toured France and Italy and viewed the great artists of the past. It was in Italy that he was most inspired by the Italian painters Botticelli and Fra Angelico.

Returning to Scotland Duncan met Patrick Geddes a biologist and educator. Geddes hired Duncan to paint his home and offered him a teaching position at a new art school Geddes was starting. When the school eventually closed Geddes secured a position in America for Duncan at the Chicago Institute starting in 1900 and lasting three years.
Duncan returned to Edinburgh and opened a studio and began working to create a unique voice with his work. He decided to incorporate Celtic themes and strive for better color and handling. He struggled to have his canvases reflect the images he saw in his mind. He disliked oil paints, which led him to experiment with other media. By 1910 he thought he had found his medium with tempera. His first large work with tempera was The Riders of the Sidhe, 45 x 69 inches.
Duncan was elected to the Scottish Royal Academy and began exhibiting in their annual shows. His studio became a gathering place for artists, writers and other Celtic Revivalists. In 1912 he married Christine Allen and the couple had two children.
At the outbreak of WW1 created financial difficulties for the artist and his family as his commissions dried up and Duncan struggled to make ends meet. His financial problems never recovered after the war and had a debilitating effect on his marriage and in 1925 his wife took his two children and left.
Duncan continued to struggle with his process and was never satisfied with the work he was producing. At times he would think his earlier work better and would go off and change his methods, only to be disappointed again.
Sales and commissions were few and his large tempera paintings were labor intensive and took him many months to complete. Geddes still gave him commissions and he still received some mural work for religious subjects but his popularity dwindled. In the 1930’s he worked with stained glass as well as his painting. In 1941 the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh put on a retrospective of his work; a first for a living artist. John Duncan died in his home at the age of 79 in 1945.
The paintings of John Duncan A Scottish Symbolist
John Kemplay
Pomegranate Art Books 1994

I often Despair, because my work does not improve. What I gain in one way I lose in another. Does one grow wiser with time or do some doors close as others open?
~John Duncan

Merry Christmas from Art and Influence.

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I also want to thank everyone for their support and encouragement. This blog is a labor of love for me and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

I specifically want to thank Jim Gurney, Matthew Innis, Stapleton Kearns and Frank Ordaz, who according to my stats, send me the bulk of my readers; I am truly humbled by their generosity.

I also want to thank my lovely partner Diane who has supported all my artistic endeavors all these years; I couldn’t do it without her help.