Homage to Velazquez: Copying the Juan de Pareja

Copy after Velazquez's Juan de Pareja
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.


Alex said...

Beautiful work, Joan. I've always loved this painting and I think you've really done it justice here.

Joan DaGradi said...

Thanks, Alex.
There's SO much to love about Velazquez; I can never get enough of him.

Stephen Dell'Aria said...

Hi Joan,
This is amazing! What an accomplished piece of work as is the portrait of Terry in the 1/17/09 post. Portraiture is so difficult and you do such an excellent job of it. I'm glad I found your blog. Look forward to seeing the results after your lead cooking experiment is concluded.

Joan DaGradi said...

Thank, Stephen.
Yes, the cooking of lead will be interesting!

Linda Massey linda@spotfilmworks.com said...

Kindred Spirit!

I LOVE Velazquez... and Hals! The first time I met Juan I started crying! It is perfect. The next day I went to the red room and spent the majority of it there... I swear I saw Juan breathing at one point... I is wonderful that such a painterly portrait can be so full of life, expression and strength that I think would have been lost on a hyper realistic piece!


Joan DaGradi said...

Linda, I swear I saw Juan breathing, too!!!

I totally agree with you.
How on earth an artist can transmit such feeling with a small amount of pigment o canvas is truly magic. To think it was painted over 300 years ago- and yet is so fresh that it still looks like it breathes!

Linda said...

I was copying a piece in Chicago a year or so age and was totally immersed in my piece and not aware of the eyes over my shoulder (hey, I painted billboards for ten years and was used to having the public watching me paint) when I heard "That is beautiful." in a deep familiar voice I turned to face Tony Bennett! I thanked him and told him that meant a lot coming from such and accomplished artist as himself!

He stood with me and talked painting for a long time. Then we walked around the Impressionists rooms together discussing each piece. (It was strange walking around with a star and hearing, 'Hey, that is Tony Bennett' in whispers where ever we went... I'm sure he didn't even noticed. A while into our visit I said "Hey, I showed you mine, now you have to show me yours!" He pulled out a sketch book with nice little drawings of most of the paintings we had just seen, each broken into color ares and compositions. It was such a nice surprise to see he had taken the time to make these nice drawings. At the end of the day he signed my sketch book with "Great work! Keep Going! Tony Bennett!" How nice and inspiring! A message that I think about often!

Joan DaGradi said...

Linda, what a joyful experience!
Thanks for sharing it.
Wish that everyday could be like that.

That Tony Bennett also took the time to sketch the compositions and talk with you about them is very inspiring. He evidently is a very nice guy, as well as being an accomplished artist. Thank goodness for the Art Institute! What a great, world- class museum.

I just checked out his website/work and was happily surprised to see that he works frequently in watercolor, with a few pastels and oils also posted.
There was an exquisite watercolor at this link: http://www.benedettoarts.com/Artwork/U_S_Travel/W0902/Gondola,_Venice.html

Linda, what painting were you copying?

When I told my husband about your experience, he reminded me that he had also met Mr. Bennett once, in an elevator at the North Sea Jazz Festival. My husband was playing with his band Astral Project there a few years back. He walked into the elevator and rode with Mr. Bennett, alone for a while. They just shot the **** about learning Italian and being in Italy. My husband had played with him, as a sideman on saxaphone, some time earlier in New Orleans.

redchair said...

Hello Fair Artist of New Orleans that does such OUTSTANDING work,

We have been watching you. We are artist also. At least that's what they call us. You may even know us. We'd like to invite you to a member of our very Private Club. We're very selective and only an elite few are welcome on our hallowed grounds. We pick you.

We even have a little 'chit chat' room just for the likes of you. It's rightfully called Dante's Pub. But when your enter BEWARE! You are entering the abyss of the artist mind! You may not find your way out.

You're welcome to watch from afar while drinking your brew or pull up a chair and join us for a little chat. Be sure and register and then log in. After all, this is a very private club. We don't allow just any wanderer in our midst.

Don't dilly dally now! It wont cost you a pence. Check out The Artist Challenge and Dante's Pub- that is if your daring and think yourself worthy to be amongst the souls we've claimed?

Farewell...until we hear from you,
Master Mike and the Pub Wench

Artist Challenge- http://www.theartistchallenge.com/
Dante‘s Pub - http://www.theartistchallenge.com/art-forum/