Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Master Copy

A copy of Arthur Hoeber's Golden Twilight

A month or so ago, I wrapped up teaching a painting class titled Landscape Painting in the Studio at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago. One of the final tasks I set before my students was to execute a master copy. I don't know if doing this sort of thing is somewhat out of date, but I have done a number over the years, and they have done me a lot of good. The effort of very carefully observing the original and then exercising your own technical abilities to render the same effects is a wonderful challenge with real rewards.

My copy after Arthur Hoeber's Golden Twilight

You get deep into aspects of painting such as:

Palette / Colors
You may go as far as researching what colors the artist used and replicating his or her palette, but I think assessing what colors you have that can mix the desired resultant hues is fine. You may find yourself getting only so far with 4 colors and realizing you need a 5th (as I did), but that's part of the learning. (I list my pallet below)

Overall value structure is key. You can mix the right color, but it's essential to put the right value and value relationships down. More important, even.

I think looking at good work and allowing yourself to be influenced by it can help an artist absorb good compositional structures. What then could be better than making a copy of a work with strong composition?

Brushwork / Edges
How do you think the artist applied paint? How do areas of differing color and/or value transition to each other? All that good stuff.

I planned to do a copy along with my students, and brought along one of my favorite and most personally inspiring art books: David Cleveland's A History of American Tonalism.

I thumbed through and somewhat randomly chose a painting by Arthur Hoeber (1854-1915) titled Golden Twilight. I just liked it, that's all. It's moody, with a kind of contre-jour effect of the light of the recently-set sun facing the viewer and giving the shadowy trees a warm halo. He wasn't an artist I was at all familiar with prior to choosing this image. I thought it best to work from the image in the book, as I figured it would be reasonably well color-corrected and it can be nice to get one's eyes off a lit screen. Also, a printed image in a book works in a reflective light model as does paint on a canvas (as opposed to transmissive light from a digital device's screen). It can help for comparisons to keep things within one realm.

My Palette
After looking the painting over, I figured I could mix the necessary colors with Yellow Ochre, Terra Rosa, Cobalt Blue, and Burnt Umber. (Later on, I added Indian Yellow.) Not sure what he used exactly, but I'll bet an umber would have been on his palette. I would say the one color I didn't quite nail was the green in the middle- and foreground.

What did I learn?
Most of his colors are quite neutralized. The blue in the sky - when I had gotten it mixed satisfactorily close to the original - looked just like a grey sitting on my pallete. The power of context when it's placed by the warm areas of the trees and the warmer clouds make all the difference, and heighten the apparent saturation of both.

The areas of greatest contrast are right along the horizon where the golden area of sky shines behind the dark tree trunks. Clearly, right where he wants you to look. Everywhere else is softer edges. The line of clouds in the sky and the water in the foreground all lead to the large tree left of center.

I think he may have done a warm, orange underpainting, or just had his canvas toned. I feel like it peeks through in some areas. I would of course, love to see the original. I think there's some thick impasto in the foreground grasses.

Here is an image of the original I found online. It differs from the one in the Cleveland book in a few ways. It has a less saturated green in the lower half and more extreme light values. I think the way it was lit for photographing exaggerates the surface texture. Possibly the photo online is before a cleaning and re-varnishing? (I tried to tweak this a little to better match the book version with some success.)

Golden Twilight
Arthur Hoeber c. 1895

In conclusion, master copies are good for you. Do one once in a while. That is all.

You can see some lovely Hoeber paintings here:

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