The tutor that runs my local life drawing monthly meet up told me of a mysterious room at the National Gallery that only opens on a Wednesday. So on Wednesday afternoon, 9.7.14 I set out to find this room of hidden treasure. To add to the intrigue of the room a friendly guard escorted me through the back hall ways of the museum that are not accessible to the public as a short cut to the room. I felt very privileged as I tried to get a glimpse through the door ways housing restoration set ups and the likes as we marched through.
Once there after a chat with a curator I have found out the room has recently been updated and was once stuffed to the rafters with paintings. Now if holds a whistle stop tour through the centuries from 13th to 20th. The paintings are of no lesser qualities than the ones housed above in the main body of the gallery.
I had come with the intention of making some studies of works including animals. What a treat to find this exquisite large scale mater piece by 18th century artist Rosa Bonheur that was started by her friend Nathalie Micas as a copy of an even larger painting by Bonheur.
This pencil, similar to Sanguine, is soft and waxy making it easy to get different strengths of mark with pressure. A wider range can be achieved than with graphite. This is handy for on the spot sketching where chopping and changing pencil grades in a bit awkward. Any way, I allows forget to swap once I’m into a drawing unless set up at home over long period of time. I will be using this pencil again, very pleasing.
Intrigued by the painting and pleased by the fact a Female artist was allowed on the gallery walls, all be it in the basement, I feel compelled to do a little back ground research..
Rosalie (Rosa) Bonheur was born in Bordeaux, and moved to Paris in 1829. She was a famous animal painter. She exhibited the original version of ‘The Horse Fair’ (now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York) at the Salon of 1853, where it won great acclaim. The Gallery’s version was begun by Nathalie Micas and finished by Bonheur. – quote taken from National Gallery Web site
Now even for some one unaffected by the majesty of the horse in art this painting is sure to strike a cord. It is in my opinion at least, a master piece. Having had a quick goggle look through Boneurs back catalogue I think it is her grates achievement.
The composition flows beautiful from left to right. the artist has cleverly thought about the shape, a string of horses, and tailored the canvass accordingly. She uses this same shape in another fine work ‘Plowing in Nivernais’ (1850) . In this instance the canvas shape reenforces the hole shape made by a row of oxen puling a plough in a broad open landscape.
Both of these paintings take in to account the relationship between man and beast. They both document in a realist style the life of both working men and their animals. The scenes are slightly glamorised as there is no signs of the hardships faced by the men and there working live stock as we see with the 19th century French Realist movement.
There is also countess examples of her work where Bonheur makes studies of one, or a group of animals in their natural environment. Horse and cows are a common theme.
Back to ‘The Horse Fair’ it is clear to me (knowing horses pretty well) this artist has the anatomy spot on. She obviously spent a lot of time with the animals, this is also well documented. She has managed that trickiest of things, The painting although still, has real life. She shows the horses lively and jostling. The group of three with two rearing crates a sort of wave effect for the eye to follow. This brakes up the straight line going from left to right maybe slowing the eyes journey. As we reach the right side of the canvas the horses turn back towards the middle of the painting stopping our eye whizzing of the picture plane into oblivion.
She uses light fall in a masterful way to pick the two large grey draft type horse. This is the natural focal point of picture. They seem to glow through the dappled light caused by the above grey clouds. Their form is exquisite. Copying them was a good lesson in getting the barrel like form of the horse down on a 2D plane. Some thing I must remember when I get to making my own studies. I think I will copy my drawing in the brown and take it with me to the stable to remind myself.
She uses both atmospheric perspective and a cleaver use of light and shade to add depth of field. This emphasises the perfect scale she has achieved. Some thing I must take more care of in my own work. I notice my scale can get a little over looked when I am focusing on getting anatomy correct.
I hope to have a look at some of Rosa Bonheur studies as I progress through part 5. But for now, time is tight and lots to do. I’m really happy to have discover Rossa Bonheur and at just the right time too! There is no better way to lose yourself than in art.