Oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches
Many years ago, when I first discovered that I wanted to paint portraits, I began studying the works of the Great Masters. I obtained permission and then copied a Joaquin Sorolla painting from life, not reproduction, at the Hispanic Society in New York. I copied Frans Hals at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the same way.
There is none greater than Velazquez when it comes to portraiture. I took my cue from John Singer Sargent, who also made studies from Velazquez's work, as have countless others. After obtaining permission from the Metropolitan, I began to copy the Juan de Pareja, set up just a few feet away from the original. It felt very much like having a cup of coffee with Velazquez! I've never had so much fun painting as I did that morning. Though I worked on it twice, it was copied in about 3 hours. After all, Velazquez did all the heavy lifting.
Triumphantly happy, I made plans to copy Velazquez's Supper at Emmaus.
This experience was quite different, however. I suspect the major difference was the paint used for each.
Before leaving New Orleans to copy at the Met, I casually told an artist friend of my plans. I knew that he was very familiar with Mr. Maroger's philosophy and thought he might offer some insights. After he told me a little bit about it, I went around the corner to a used book store and amazingly found an original 1948 edition of Mr. Maroger's book "The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Masters". My friend Paolo was so excited that I had found the book, that he offered to make some "Velazquez Medium" for me, as mentioned in Mr. Maroger's writings. A few days before I left, he handed me a small jar with an amber colored gel/solid inside. Paolo told me that it contained copper and to keep the jar capped as much as possible to prevent oxidation. He volunteered that the medium would be good for a month or two, as I remember. He also instructed me to bring small envelopes of ground pigment- cadmium red, gold ochre, naples yellow, burnt sienna, white lead and black. I was told to mix a small amount of medium using a palette knife with each small pile of pigment, except the white, fresh on my palette before painting each day. He suggested that I tone the canvas with flake white and a dark earth red.
It is truly a miracle that no one at the Metropolitan stopped the experiment. Today, I think it might be more difficult to bring unlabeled jars and toxic powders into the Museums galleries. Thanks to Paolo, Velazquez, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a very fruitful painting session transpired.
As wonderful as the experience was, I decided to try the next copy using regular Winsor and Newton oils, the finest commercially available to me. Stubbornly, I simply could not believe that any medium could make such a difference.
As hinted at earlier, the next copy did not go well. I felt at a disadvantage, as if one arm were tied behind my back or one eye was blinded. No matter what I tried, the viscosity of the tube paint prevented me from obtaining the same silky texture and values that more closely approximated the original painting.
As part of my renewed interest in portraiture, I plan to try the medium again. I've been reticent in the past to cook lead or verdigris, but no source of commercially available real Velazquez Medium, as described in Mr. Maroger's book, has turned up. I've found a source for verdisgris at Kremer Pigments. On a clear, sunny day in a month or two, I plan to cook the medium outside to avoid harmful vapors. Barring explosions, I 'll post about the results.