Friday, February 2, 2007

Old Masters and Vermeer

Oil on panel
16 x 14

I don't do as many master copies as I used to, but one slips in now and then. I'm sure you recognize this one as Vermeer's "Woman with a Scale," at least I hope you do.

I've always thought there were three reasons to do an old master copy. One, to learn everything possible about how a particular painting was made. To do this right, you really need to have the piece you're copying right in front of you because photography just doesn't give all the necessary information. This is probably the most worthwhile approach though and should result in the knowledge of how the paint was applied to get a particular effect. You'll get into materials used, mediums maybe, brushstrokes and transparency of layers among other things. Not easy to do right, but if you really want to learn how someone worked it can be worth the trouble.

Two, to practice a particular technique that would work well on the painting to be copied. This technique may or may not have been used in the original. That's closer to what I'm doing here. I tried to stay as close as possible to the original, but having never seen it, there was a lot of guesswork involved. On the other hand I did learn quite a bit about glazing over a monochrome underpainting. So why go to all the trouble of copying a masterpiece when using the technique on a painting of an apple would do just as well? I just liked the image.

Which brings us to number three, you just like the image and want to copy it using whatever materials and techniques you already know and are comfortable with. There's not much to say in favor of this other than if that's what you want to do, go ahead. I must admit there are a lot of paintings out there I would love to have, but I find myself a few million dollars short even if they were for sale. So I could either buy a print or do a copy. Personally, I'd rather have a copy.

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