Monday Morning Art School: white on white

The color of white is the color of light. Mastering that will make all your paintings more exciting.

Girl Arranging Her Hair, 1886, Mary Cassatt, courtesy National Gallery of Art

Do you remember learning that “white is not a color; it’s the combination of all the colors”? That’s malarkey, although it’s based on a truth. Yes, Isaac Newton demonstrated that white light is a reflection of all the visible light spectrum. That doesn’t change the fact that white is a perceived color (as is black). Our perception is based not just on the physical light bouncing from the surface of an object, but on a whole host of contextual cues, which is why our brain is so easily fooled by optical illusions.

White is, in theory, a reflection of all the visible light spectrum. But that is never true in real life. Inevitably, all light shifts to either the cool (blue-violet) or warm (golden) side, depending on the time of day, season, and atmospheric conditions. Artificial light is even more limited in spectrum than sunlight, which is why it kills the colors in paintings, textiles, and human skin.

Sita and Sarita, 1896, Cecilia Beaux, courtesy National Gallery of Art

At the end of the 19th century, the Impressionist revolution in color had spread to painters like Anders ZornJoaquín Sorolla and John Singer Sargent. Nowhere does this show more than in their handling of white.

The colors in her gown.

Sorolla was painting in the brilliant light of his native Valencia. Zorn lived in Sweden, and many of his scenes have flat light. Sargent lived most of his life in western Europe. None were working in the same lighting conditions, but all of them adopted the same approach to color and light. It was a marriage of Impressionist color theory to more traditional brushwork. The combination still works today.

Helen Sears, 1895, John Singer Sargent, courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

By adding color to white, these painters were able to give their subject the sparkle and truth of natural light. To have painted their whites with just white or grey would have resulted in flat, dull canvases. This is because convincing whites, in the real world, are actually quite colorful.

The colors in her dress.

Sargent’s portrait of Helen Sears was painted under gaslight (and what a patient little child she must have been to tolerate all that primping and then all that standing). The little girl is thrown into stark relief by the dark interior, and the whole painting is drenched in warmth. What we perceive as blue is mostly a cool neutral. (Here is a photo of the girl taken by her mother, so that you can see Sargent’s liberal editing.) Even the blue-and-white hydrangeas are actually comprised of mostly warm tones. In this painting, the whites are influenced primarily by the light source.

Mending the Sail, 1896, Joaquín Sorolla courtesy Museo d’Arte Moderna di Ca’ Pesaro. This is a warm-light, cool-shadow combination.

Zorn’s portrait, on the other hand, is mostly influenced by reflected color. It is set against a rich orange floor that influences everything in the foreground. The older girl’s dress is washed in its pinkish tones. The younger daughter recedes in space because of the less-saturated color in her clothes and the grey drapes. Despite all the warmth in the painting, we understand it’s under natural light by the cool highlights. It’s a masterful composition, a brilliant use of color, and above all, an insightful glimpse into the childish mind.

The colors in Sorolla’s sail.

I’ve picked six random ‘whites’ from each painting to show you just how varied whites could be in the hands of accomplished painters. Had I used Impressionist paintings, the tints would have been clearer and brighter.

A Portrait of the Daughters of Ramón Subercaseaux, 1892, Anders Zorn, private collection

I strongly encourage my students to premix tints (the tube pigment plus white) of every color except black on their palette, and then to ignore pure white. Their assignment this week—and now it’s your assignment too—is to paint a white object without using any straight white paint at all. It should go without saying that your neutrals (greys) should not be mixed with black, either. Everything in this exercise should have color.

The colors in the older girl’s dress. It’s picking up the warmth from the carpet, which is in turn unifying the painting.

The addition of white makes any other pigment opaque and somewhat cooler, since titanium white is cool in its pure state. Add too much white, and you’ve got a bleached, dull image. When you start this exercise, it’s best to err on the side of too much color, rather than too little.

The tints in the second line drive this exercise. Graphic courtesy of Victoria Brzustowicz.

What are some good white objects to paint? Eggs, roses, china dishes, clothing or sheets on the line are all options.

This post was revised from one originally appearing in 2019.

Monday Morning Art School: painting evergreens

Your assignment this week is to paint an evergreen, using one of the great masters as your muse.
Herdsmaid, 1908, Anders Zorn. You could identify the species of trees in this painting, but it’s short on detail.

Last week, I wrotethat there are as many ways to paint water as there are moments in the day. The same is true of painting evergreens.

We can look to the painters of the great northern landscapes for guidance on evergreens. Swedes Bruno Liljefors and Anders Zorn, Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, the Russian Peredvizhniki, and the northeastern painters from Winslow Homer to Andrew Wyeth are all worth studying.
Winter landscape at dawn, 1900, Bruno Liljefors. If the evergreens are in a supporting role, they’re often painted as a single mass.
Spend an hour searching their work on the internet along with the key words “spruce,” “pine”, or “evergreen.” You’ll notice that most of these artists handled the subject differently depending on whether they were in the studio or painting en plein air, or if the trees were the main subject or incidental.
After the bath, 1895, Anders Zorn, courtesy Nationalmuseum. The evergreens are nothing more than a few brushstrokes, but they’re perfectly realized.
Anders Zorn often used evergreens behind his pulchritudinous nudes. The contrast between his perfectly-observed trees and cookie-cutter models is striking. The Herdsmaid (1908) is probably the best evergreen painting ever executed. It’s all about the young trees, but Zorn never overstates the detail. Instead, he allows his brush to wash softly over the darker background, suggesting the softness of pine needles.
That apparent artlessness rests on a solid ground of observation. Zorn (and Wyeth) were able to be specific but loose because they drew and observed endlessly from nature. Each species of tree has a specific design. There are no shortcuts to knowing and understanding them. If you want to be able to paint trees, you must first draw them—a lot. Observe their branching structure, their needles or leaves, their bark, and where they like to grow.
Spruce Gun, watercolor, 1973, Andrew Wyeth, private collection
But trees are also forgiving; when you understand their structure, you can fearlessly mess with their form. While Wyeth’s tree in Spruce Gun looks perfectly natural to us, it’s also stylized to give a dynamic boost to the gun.
North Woods Club, Adirondacks (The Interrupted Tete-a-Tete), watercolor, 1892, Winslow Homer, courtesy Art Institute of Chicago. The trees are simple silhouettes, but they work because they’re accurate.
Either watercolor or oil are perfect for the organic character of trees; they can be schooled into great detail or allowed to wash with great softness across the canvas or paper.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with detail in a tree, but it’s best, instead, to concentrate on overall values and colors instead. Start with the large shapes and concentrate on a few details at the end. After all, when we notice trees at all, we generally perceive them as masses, rather than as individual details. The exception is when someone is interacting with the tree, as in Mary Cassatt’s Child Picking a Fruit.
Isles of Spruce, silkscreen, c. 1943, Arthur Lismer. While the contrast between background and foreground is high, the values within individual trees are quite close.
How do we create form in trees? The same way we do with any other subject, by creating a pattern of light and dark. Our first question ought always be, “where is the light coming from?” The second question should be, “Is the light cool or warm?”
Start with a drawing. This is where you can get carried away with the gothic intricacies of the structure, and get them out of your system. Make sure that the height and width relationship is accurate. Also double-check that you have branches on all sides of the trunk, not just to the sides. Some will come directly towards you. While these are difficult to draw, they’re what anchor the tree in space.
Dusk, 1900, Isaac Levitan, courtesy State Tretyakov Gallery. Depending on the light, evergreens may be represented with no green at all.
I’ve written before about working with a green matrix; you can use it as successfully with evergreens as with deciduous trees. Let’s assume you’re drawing in early morning and the light is golden. Make the shadows cooler and darker and the highlights warm and light. It’s possible that the only true greens in your tree will be in the midtones or highlights. But avoid excessive value jumps; making the highlights too light can end in visual chaos. It’s usually what’s happened when someone complains that they’ve gotten lost in the detail.
Montreal River, c. 1920, Lawren S. Harris, courtesy McMichael Canadian Art Collection. The Group of Seven painters were interested in trees as screens.
Unless you’re painting a deciduous tree in the dead of winter, the branches and trunk are secondary to the masses of foliage. 
Your assignment this week is to paint an evergreen, either from life or a photograph. Before you start, find a masterpiece from one of the artists I’ve mentioned above, and study his paint application carefully. Try to emulate that in your painting.

Monday Morning Art School: Painting water

“Rivers are elemental and ambivalent. They are frontiers and highways, destroyers and fertilisers, fishing grounds and spiritual metaphors, power-givers and flushers of poisons.” (Derek Turner)

Port of Hamburg, Anders Zorn, watercolor, 1891, courtesy of Nationalmuseum, Sweden. Even in watercolor, Zorn goes for opacity and energy, not wispy translucency. 
It’s been said that we never stand in the same river twice. It is equally true that we never paint water the same way twice. There are as many answers to the question “how do you paint water?” as there are moments in the day. Water is as changeable as the sky. But there are still some general steps you can follow.
The purple noon’s transparent might, Arthur Streeton, 1896, courtesy National Gallery of Victoria. Streeton’s river is defined by value, and the depth of the painting by atmospheric perspective.
Start by noting the mechanics of the body of water in question. Is there a current? At what point is it in the tide cycle? What underwater obstacles are disrupting the surface? Is the surface smooth or choppy? Is the water silted or clear? What is it reflecting?
Water seeks a flat plane, but there are always light-and-dark contours.  The wind makes patterns on the surface. In watery depths are dark tones. The splash and movement of foam and surf are light and energetic. On a rocky headland, these may appear to be constantly shifting, but in fact they follow rhythmic rules. In rivers, standing waves may appear oddly immutable.  

Hudson River, Logging; Winslow Homer, watercolor, 1891-92, courtesy National Gallery of Art. The water is blocked in solid shapes of different values.
Just as you seek the contours in a still life or portrait, find them in the moving water. Mark them out, dark to light. It’s easy to get repetitive in this phase. Only by careful observation will you avoid that.
The grand canal of Venice (Blue Venice), Edouard Manet, 1875, courtesy Shelbourne Museum. It takes keen observation to paint the pattern of water without being dully repetitive.
Reflections always line up vertically with the object being reflected, but the length of reflections varies. This is liberating: if you get the widths right, you can be creative with the lengths. Generally, the valuesin reflections will be somewhat compressed; lights will be slightly darker than what’s being reflected, and the darks slightly lighter. But that doesn’t mean the chroma will be necessarily reduced—reflections can often surprise with their purity of color. And there’s no rule that says the ocean will be lightest at the horizon. The ocean does anything it wants.
San Cristoforo, San Michele, and Murano from the Fondamenta Nuove, Venice; Canaletto, 1722, courtesy Dallas Museum of Art. Even delicate Canaletto paints reflections more positively than simply dragging his brush through the verticals.
Depending on the surface of the water, a reflection can be mirror-like, or it can be in bands, or it can be almost lost in chop. But the overall scene won’t be a mirror image of what’s in the background. Mountains will appear farther away in the reflection. Observe what’s actually there, versus what you expect to see.
I usually block in reflections before I start worrying about the surface of the water. That lets me choose my markmaking at the last minute. It’s easy enough to build the reflections vertically and then drag a brush across them to give the sense of still water. But this is a party trick and can be overdone.
Falls, Montreal River, JEH MacDonald, 1920, courtesy Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s an unusual angle, looking down from the top, but we understand what we’re seeing because of the ferocity of MacDonald’s brushwork.
Instead, use brushwork to imply the vast energy of water. Long, fluent strokes can indicate ebb and flow. Short, energetic strokes will show chop. Opaque or impasto paint can indicate the dance and verve of crashing waves better than delicate transparency.
Lake Ladoga, Arkhip Kuindzhi, 1871, courtesy Russian Museum. We can see the underwater rocks along the shore.
Shallow water, where you can see to the bottom, is difficult to paint. The ground influences the color of the water, and you must balance underwater details with surface reflections. Shallow water running over rocks in a river can be very erratic; to get the sense of that requires careful, slow observation.
Your assignment this week is to paint water. If you’re lucky enough to live where you can paint outdoors without breaking your lockdown rules, please—by all means—avail yourself of that opportunity. For the rest of us (and those of you who are still locked down in winter) a photo is another option.
I can’t wait to see what you do!

White on white

The color of white is the color of light. Mastering that will make all your paintings more exciting.
Girl Arranging Her Hair, 1886, Mary Cassatt, courtesy National Gallery of Art
The colors in her chemise.
White is, in theory, a reflection of all the visible light spectrum. But that is never true in real life. Inevitably, all light shifts to either the cool (blue-violet) or warm (golden) side, depending on the time of day, season, and atmospheric conditions. Artificial light is even more limited in spectrum than sunlight.
At the end of the 19th century, the Impressionist revolution in color had spread to painters like Anders Zorn, Joaquín Sorollaand John Singer Sargent. Nowhere does this show more than in their handling of white. Sorolla was painting in the brilliant light of his native Valencia. Zorn lived in Sweden, and many of his scenes have flat light. Sargent lived most of his life in western Europe. None were working in the same lighting conditions, but all of them adopted the same approach to color and light. It was a marriage of Impressionist color theory to more traditional brushwork. The combination still works today.
Mending the Sail, 1896, Joaquín Sorolla courtesy Museo d’Arte Moderna di Ca’ Pesaro. This is a warm-light, cool-shadow combination.
The colors in Sorolla’s sail.
By adding color to white, these painters were able to give their subject the sparkle and truth of natural light. To have painted their whites with just white or grey would have resulted in flat, dull canvases. This is because convincing whites, in the real world, are actually quite colorful.
Helen Sears, 1895, John Singer Sargent, courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The colors in her dress.
Sargent’s portrait of Helen Sears was painted under gaslight. The little girl is thrown into stark relief by the dark interior, and the whole painting is drenched in warmth. What we perceive as blue is mostly a cool neutral. (Hereis a photo of the girl taken by her mother, so that you can see Sargent’s liberal editing.) Even the blue-and-white hydrangeas are actually comprised of mostly warm tones. In this painting, the whites are influenced primarily by the light source.
A Portrait of the Daughters of Ramón Subercaseaux, 1892, Anders Zorn, private collection
The colors in the older girl’s dress.
Zorn’s portrait, on the other hand, is mostly influenced by reflected color. It is set against a rich orange floor that influences everything in the foreground. The older girl’s dress is washed in its pinkish tones. The younger daughter recedes in space because of the less-saturated color in her clothes and the grey drapes. Despite all the warmth in the painting, we understand it’s under natural light by the cool highlights. It’s a masterful composition, a brilliant use of color, and above all, an insightful glimpse into the childish mind.
Sita and Sarita, 1896, Cecilia Beaux, courtesy National Gallery of Art
The colors in Sarah’s gown.
I’ve picked six random ‘whites’ from each painting to show you just how varied whites could be in the hands of accomplished painters. Had I used Impressionist paintings, the tints would have been clearer and brighter.
I strongly encourage my students to premix tints(the tube pigment plus white) of every color except black on their palette, and then to ignore pure white. Their assignment this week—and now it’s your assignment too—was to paint a white object without using any straight white paint at all. It should go without saying that your neutrals (greys) should not be mixed with black, either. Everything in this exercise should have color.
The tints in the second line drive this exercise. Graphic courtesy of Victoria Brzustowicz.
The addition of white makes any other pigment opaque and somewhat cooler, since titanium white is cool in its pure state. Add too much white, and you’ve got a bleached, dull image. When you start this exercise, it’s best to err on the side of too much color, rather than too little.
What are some good white objects to paint? Eggs, roses, china dishes, clothing or sheets on the line are all options.

Monday Morning Art School: Visual Harmony

Five classic techniques for organizing your picture plane.
Kaikroddare by Anders Zorn (watercolor) uses the principles of opposition and transition.
Arthur Wesley Dow was a painter, printmaker, photographer and well-known art teacher in the beginning of the 20th century. He felt that composition was largely a question of proportion. He identified five elements of spatial harmony:
  • Opposition
  • Transition
  • Subordination
  • Repetition
  • Symmetry
Examples of Opposition. The intersections of lines are raw and unadorned.
Opposition is a principle we see both in nature and human objects. It’s when two lines meet or cross to form a simple and severe pattern. These crossings are always abrupt, and can even be violent.
The beauty of a door lies in its unmediated opposition and symmetry.
Transition tries to mediate opposition. A line or object is added at the join, softening the moment of impact. This is a strong and ancient goal for human designers. The columns at Karnak, which were started more than 4000 years ago, are softened with decorative capitals at the ceiling. We’ve been doing it ever since, with brackets, corbels, and other architectural elements to soften stark architectural lines.
Examples of Transition. A bracket is probably the most common example we see in everyday life.
Transitions also occur in nature. A beautiful example is the overlapping, trailing silhouettes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are far less stark than mountains looming black against the sky.
Kaikroddare by Anders Zorn, top, uses the principles of opposition and transition. The cross of the oars and arms is unopposed in the closer figure, who seems vigorous to us. The burden in the far boat softens the sharp lines of the oars, making that figure seem less vital.
Different forms of subordination.
Subordination: To form a complete group, elements of the painting are attached or related to a single dominating focal point. This is the fastest way to create unity out of complexity and confusion.
Subordination can happens in three ways:
  • By grouping around an axis, (leaf to stem or branches to trunk).
  • By radiating from a central point, such as petals in flowers, or water splashing over a rock.
  • By size, as with a mountain within in a mountain range, or a cathedral around its steeple.
Our Maine houses and barnyards are excellent examples of repetition.
Repetition: In a sense, this is the opposite of subordination, since the objects are generally the same size. It is made by repeating lines in rhythmical order. The intervals may be equal as in a fish weir, or unequal, as in a grove of trees. Our long run-on houses in Maine are visually pleasing because of their repetition.
A Bust of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten in the Luxor Museum, Egypt.
Symmetry: This is a technique that we often avoid in contemporary western art, being more interested in balanced asymmetry (which is in itself a variation on the theme). However, the most obvious way to create balance is symmetry, where equal lines and shapes occur on either side of a central axis. I’ve included a portrait bust of Akhenaten as a demonstration of its effectiveness. Used carefully, it has the same severity and clarity as opposition.
None of these, of course, produce great art on their own. The skill lies in carefully using them to create harmonious outcomes. That requires practice.
Your homework.
The above illustration contains examples of each of the principles of design as identified by Dow. Your homework today is to identify which principle is at work and then draw your own version. Depending on your confidence, you can either copy his drawings or draw something of your own.
It takes a lot of trial and error to make something that’s visually harmonious, even for experienced artists. But the experiments are fun and easy. As always, I’d love to see you post your work on our Facebook page.
Interested in real-life learning? I’m teaching four plein air workshops in the coming year. Message me here for more information, or visit my website.
Today’s lesson and illustrations are from Composition, by Arthur Wesley Dow (Doubleday, Page and Company, 1920). Mr. Dow taught at the Art Students League, Pratt Institute, and Columbia University.

What is romanticism?

The next time I need to paint a nocturne, I’m going to a Ford dealership and painting F-150s.

Spruces and pines on the Barnum Brook Trail, by Carol L. Douglas.

Nocturnes are very popular right now, but I suspect I’m not romantic enough for them. I can’t exactly put my finger on what romance in painting means, but I think it involves thinking sensually vs. analytically. Anders Zorn is a romantic painter. Winslow Homeris not (even though he painted some brilliant nocturnes).

I’m not talking about the artistic movement of the 19thcentury here, but rather the response of the soul to paint. This isn’t a technical distinction or a matter of subject. It’s a question of how we see the world. My old pal Kari Ganoung Ruiz is a wonderful painter of nocturnes. She’s also a very romantic soul. I just keep thinking about how early I must get up in the morning.
Perhaps what I’ve been talking about, above, is sentimentality. Romanticism may be just a question of what we really love. The lonely light in the darkness is a painting of longing. It reminds me of Jay Gatsby staring at the green light at the end of Tom and Daisy’s dock. I’ve read it twice, and I still hate that book.
Young trees, by Carol L. Douglas
Earlier, I’d painted with Lisa Burger-Lentz and John Slivjakat Paul Smith’s VIC. They, like many other painters here at Adirondack Plein Air, are from the greater Philadelphia area. I started a large canvas of rocks, pines and spruces along the Barnum Brook trail. This is a very popular scene, but it’s not my favorite trail in the VIC. I’m usually drawn to the Boreal Life Trail, which runs through a bog. 
Vallkulla, 1908, by Anders Zorn (courtesy Wikiart)
I’ve been drawn to baby pines and spruces ever since seeing Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter in 2014. Zorn treats infant trees with the respect we usually give their towering elders. Tiny trees are everywhere in the forest. They are more than just punctuation marks. Without them, there would be no green at our eye level, because the canopy is far above our heads. Plus, baby trees are cute.
I edited reality to feature two eastern white pines in the foreground where two baby spruces were growing. It didn’t go well, so I stopped and did a small study of young trees. This helped enough that I could go back to my original painting. As in so many things, nature knows best. Spruces worked better there than the white pines, so I put them back where they belonged.
Unfinished, by Carol L. Douglas
As dusk fell, I drove to the local ice cream stand to do the small nocturne, above. This is a terrible photo of a half-finished painting, which possibly needs cropping with a radial arm saw. I hope to set up somewhere today where I have access to my car, so that I can finish it. Really, however, I’m more interested in the pines.

Comparing yourself to others

Romance of Autumn, 1916, by George Bellows. I’m leading with a painting that makes me squirm every time I see it, to make a point: if you judged Bellows by this single painting, you’d think he didn’t know how to mix or apply paint. But he knew exactly what he was doing, as his catalogue attests.
The other day Brad Marshall jokingly asked us whether he or Anders Zorn was better looking. We of course immediately said that Brad was. “Oh, well, Zorn was the better painter,” he replied.
“Not better, just different,” I answered.
As mature artists, most painters have achieved mastery over their materials.  What we react to isn’t their technical skill, but how they speak to us. When we don’t like their work, it’s usually more a question of not responding to their worldview than that they are technically deficient.
Illustration to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Hell, by William Blake. Blake was painting his edgy, uncomfortable, oddly-drafted work at a time when the highly-finished Grand Manner was in vogue. No wonder that his work was almost forgotten until he was rediscovered by Victorian England. Today he is widely recognized as one of the greatest artists England ever produced.
It’s only in the learning phase that one painter is ‘better’ than the next, and even that is transitory. Some of us are faster learners than others, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be better painters in the end.
Last weekend, one of my beginning students got very frustrated. She was having trouble understanding why I asked her to lay down paint in a specific way. It didn’t help that her classmates were sailing through the exercise.
“I feel like everyone is doing a great job except me,” she said.
Childhood’s Garden, 1917, by Charles Burchfield. His genius lies in his spirit and vision. He is often called the dark Edward Hopper, but many of his paintings radiate happiness.
Like most artists—experienced or not—she really has no idea where her strengths lie. She is emotionally transparent, so what she feels vibrates through her drawing. When she’s happy, her trees dance, the pavements sing. When she’s not happy, her canvas glowers.
That is a kind of talent that can’t be taught or bought, but can only be nurtured like a seedling set out in a garden bed. And it’s so easy to knock such a talent apart, because it comes from one’s inner vision, and that’s a fragile thing.


Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. My Belfast, ME, workshop is almost sold out. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Anders Zorn, redux

Yesterday I went with my pal Brad Marshall to see Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter at the National Academy. Yes, I loved it. Here are a few paintings that really impressed me.
Herdsmaid (Walk), 1908. The softness of the firs is quite incredible. It appears to be wet-on-dry but I wouldn’t stake my life on that. He feels no need to be didactic about his narrative; instead, the figure of the girl and the cows disappear into the background. There is no brown in the dirtscape; it’s all shades of mauve.
Summer Vacation, 1886, watercolor. Emma Zorn posed as a tourist in this painting along the Baltic Sea. I’m blown away by the perspective in the waves; it’s perfect. So too is the soft wet (light) modeling and the dry (dark) modeling of the waves. It could be the Maine landscape with that outcrop in the background.
Lapping Waves, 1887, watercolor. Again the reflections in the water are stunningly realized, both in terms of shape and color. The houses rising on the far hillside are in perfect counterpoint.
Reflections, 1889. The foreground reed or branch screen is a problem in the intimate landscape. Painting them in can be fey; leaving them out ruins the sense of closeness. Zorn deals with this by bringing the contrast between the reeds and the background way down. The colors in the water are magical, and the light and chroma are all in the far bank, not in the figure.
Man and Boy in Algiers, 1887. Joaquín Sorolla and John Singer Sargent were renowned for their handling of white-on-white; here Zorn proves he’s just as competent at it. More than that, I feel like I know this guy; he may have been part of the late 19th century mania for Orientalism, but he’s a fully realized person.
Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter runs until May 18, 2014 at the National Academy of Art, XX Park Avenue, New York, NY.


Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Belfast, Maine in August, 2014 or in Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Just a travelin’ man

Midsummer dance, Anders Zorn, 1903

This morning I’m off with my pal Brad Marshall to see Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter at the National Academy. Before Brad suggested this, I knew absolutely nothing about Zorn. That’s ironic, because at the turn of the last century he was one of the world’s most renowned painters. In fact, he painted three American presidents: Grover Cleveland (and his wife), William Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt, along with many other of the social luminati of the time.

Portrait of Hugo Reisinger, Anders Zorn, 1907
Anders Zorn was raised on the family farm in rural Sweden. He studied at local grammar schools before enrolling in the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts.  His painting and social skills must have been prodigious, because he rapidly became a luminary in the Stockholm art world. His wife, Emma, was from a wealthy and cultured family; they met through his work.
Not content to be a big fish in a small pond, Zorn traveled to the world’s major cultural centers.  He was feted internationally while still in his twenties. (He in turn became a notable art patron upon his return to Sweden.)
Sensitive to cold, Anders Zorn, 1894.
Like John Singer Sargent, Zorn was a highly-skilled watercolorist; like Sargent and Joachim Sorolla, he was known for his loose, lyrical paint handling. Unlike them, his fame has flamed out, at least here in the United States.  What will I think of his work? Only one way to find out.
Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter runs until May 18, 2014 at the National Academy of Art, XX Park Avenue, New York, NY.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Belfast, Maine in August, 2014 or in Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!