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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Even great painters have bad days

The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot
This morning I came across Tissot’s The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies, above. Tissot was a fine painter, but one has to wonder what he was thinking to portray Rahab as a man in drag, with a 5 o’clock shadow. (For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Rahab was the original ‘hooker with a heart of gold.’ Joshua sent two spies into Jericho, and Rahab hid them on her roof, in exchange for which her family was spared during the sack of the city.)

Seascape, Calm Weather, 1864-65, Édouard Manet
I’m pretty uncomfortable on the days I share my ‘fails’ with you, but it helps to remember that even great artists have bad days. Consider Édouard Manet, who surely must rank as one of the most incisive painters who ever lived. He was capable of wonderfully complex compositions articulating wonderfully complex commentaries. Yet his seascapes range from mediocre to terrible; still, he painted a lot of them.

Sunset at Montmajour, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh’s Sunset at Montmajour was misattributed for a long time, although it was once owned by Theo Van Gogh. Art historians simply didn’t believe he could have painted something that pretty, that bland. It has taken modern paint analysis to prove that the pigments came from the master’s palette.

I think I’ve mentioned before: there is no secret gnosis to painting. There is only hard work.

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

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