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The Greatness of Erasmus

The Birth of the Virgin, ca.1660

Born on November 19, 1607 in Antwerp, Erasmus Quellinus II was a Flemish painter and engraver who worked under Peter Paul Rubens. Erasmus came from a family of artists that profoundly influenced Flemish Baroque in the 1600's. Unlike Rubens, Erasmus had never been to Italy and so his style evolved from the influence of Rubens and others around him, including his brother, sculptor Artus Quellinus II. Although the influence of Rubens is very strong—sometimes easy to mistake—Erasmus developed into a deeper Baroque sensibility with less emphasis on color and sensuality and more on chiaroscuro and architecture. Today little is mentioned about Erasmus, especially in that he worked with Rubens for less than ten years yet became a major painter in the years after Rubens' death in 1640.

In The Birth of the Virgin above, we can see here that the cluttered confusion of this composition doesn't quite have the flow and grace of his Master, Rubens. The fi…
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Tarbell, The Quiet Master

A Girl Crocheting, 1904

Edmund Charles Tarbell was born on April 26, 1862 in northern Massachusetts. Tarbell studied in Boston and trained in Paris under Jules Joseph Lefebvre where he learned the Academic rigors of Classicism in the late 1800's, and while studying in the museums he was also inspired by the French painters of Impressionism. This new approach to color and light would have a profound influence on his work. Tarbell would synthesize this soft brushwork with his Classical training into his own distinctive aesthetic of mood, light and silence while capturing his American era. While most of his contemporaries painted both in plein air and interiors, Tarbell painted mostly quiet interiors with pensive women that is unique in that his brushwork is breathtaking.

In A Girl Crocheting above, Tarbell uses a dimly-lit window as his light source for a woman crocheting. Note the loose copy of Velázquez's Portrait of Innocent X on the wall. Her chair seems to echo similar ornat…

Joseph DeCamp, Impressionist Poet

The Cellist, 1908

Joseph DeCamp was an American painter born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 5, 1858. Having studied in Europe he returned to America where he worked under the Boston School with artists such as William McGregor Paxton, Edmund C. Tarbell and John Joseph Enneking among others. Later on he would form a group of American Impressionists known as the Ten American Painters, including artists such as Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, John Henry Twachtman, and once again Edmund C. Tarbell. DeCamp's work is characterized by the Tonalism of predominantly women in deep shadows, vibrant color, elegant body language and pensive mood.

In The Cellist above, DeCamp's palette is monochromatic yet he makes effective use of highlight and texture to convey his mood. Dry brush and warms illuminate the wall behind her, where the shadow side has traces of violet scumbled on top of grey and yellow tones while the bright side is smoky white. This technique continues along the shoulder an…

William McGregor Paxton, American Master

In the Studio, 1905



Born on June 22, 1869, William McGregor Paxton was an American painter from Baltimore. Paxton was a founding member of the Boston School from the early 1900's, which drew its inspiration from Impressionism with an emphasis on both the landscape and the upper-class society of Boston. Paxton's prestigious training included working under Jean-Léon Gérôme and Joseph DeCamp, leading him to teach at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, where he met a student and future wife, Elizabeth Okie Paxton. His style was deeply influenced by Vermeer and he often paints interiors with soft, dramatic light. Paxton was a poet in the way he captured the elegance and grace of women in his era.

Looking at In the Studio above, Paxton portrays himself and the model as subjects bathed in warm afternoon sunlight coming from a window. I love the reflection of the glowing fireplace shimmering across the floor. Paxton creates depth by composing the model in the foreground with him…

The Polish Classicist

Christian Dirce, 1897

Henryk Siemiradzki was a Polish Academic painter born on October 24, 1843. After studying painting in Russia and Munich he moved to Rome in his late twenties, where he would be known for his very large-scale paintings that rival Rubens in terms of sheer size. Siemiradzki (pronounced ShimiRADski) like many of his Russian-educated contemporaries, had a genius for multiple figure arrangement and use of natural light. Siemiradzki's attention to architectural and natural detail appears astounding from a distance, yet the way he paints detail is actually suggestive and emphasizes the appearance of texture over intricate detail.

In Christian Dirce above, Siemiradzki depicts a scene from Greek mythology portrayed in the Roman arena about Dirce, wife of the ancient ruler of Thebes, martyred by being tied to the horns of a bull. In this instance, by the title of the painting, it is a Christian woman being martyred in the same fashion as Dirce. Note the elaborate costume…

Frederic Leighton

The Garden of the Hesperides‎, 1892

Sir Frederic Leighton was born in Scarborough, England on December 3, 1830. He is one of Britain's most well-known artists from the Victorian Age, typifying a style of Romantic sensual Academic Classicism that foreshadows Art Nouveau. Leighton gives all his figures an elegance and grace—sometimes forced— yet somehow musical to watch, a visual poetry. He has a similar sensibility to the Dutch artist of the same era: Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Leighton also has a strong sense for colour that is more organic than his contemporaries. His use of reds, oranges, yellows, greens and blues are never garish or unnatural. Portraiture was also something he was easily well-versed in, capturing his sitters with a dignity and poise that was distinctive. He often used a lovely female actress of the day as his model whose beauty still inspires today.



In The Garden of the Hesperides‎ above, Leighton's feminine side dominates the composition and tone. In Greek mytho…

Claude-Joseph Vernet, French Painter of Views

A Calm at a Mediterranean Port, 1770



Born on August 14, 1714, Claude-Joseph Vernet was a French Romantic painter from Avignon. Vernet's vedute are strongly influenced by painters such as Giovanni Paolo Panini and Claude Lorrain, whom both worked in Rome. Vernet distinguished himself from his contemporaries by seeking more dramatic light effects, particularly moonlight, and early dawn as well as experimenting with weather itself including fog and rain as subjects to reinforce his Romantic themes, something foreign in most landscape painting at that time. Vernet also worked mainly from imagination, using sketches as reference and incorporating some known landmarks from Rome but combining them into his own capricci but with fishermen and marine subject matter as his main themes.

In A Calm at a Mediterranean Port above, Vernet's use of light and clouds is mesmerizing. Look up close and that beautiful golden yellow glaze on the sky against the blue is superb, which he continues wit…

Leonardo Da Vinci's Drawing Materials

In this fascinating video from the Royal Collection in Windsor, Leonardo's materials are recreated using similar pigments and organic materials to give an idea of how he worked. This curator is someone whose brain I could pick for hours!


Leonardo's Drawing Materials



source Vimeo

Copenhagen's Painter

A Fire on Kultorvet, 1900




Born in Copenhagen on July 22, 1860, Paul Gustav Fischer was a Danish Naturalist painter. Fischer has a palette and tone that is more British than many of his fellow countrymen, although his depiction of everyday life in pure Naturalist form is definitely Danish. His work has an atmosphere, a narrative that asks questions more than it illustrates—in short, he conveys presence.

I love A Fire on Kultorvet above. Look at how we are placed right in the middle of the action, without explanation, as if happening right in front of us. This painting works on so many levels: historically, compositionally, atmospherically, and of course visually in terms of palette and texture. Off to the right a firefighter feeds coal into a steam-powered fire engine, a complex and very heavy machine...revolutionary for its time. Note off to the far left a firefighter operates what was back then a modern invention, the fire hydrant. The huge crowd watching is conveyed brilliantly wit…