One of my many indulgences is to pick up a huge number of fine art books, and as I live in Galway the best place to do this is at the wonderful Charlie Byrne’s bookshop on Middle Street, Galway. Recently I have renewed my interest in the preraphaelite art movement and also in Peter Paul Rubens through some old art history books I picked up. Rubens painted a lot of fantastic, energetic, colourful and utterly dramatic paintings, and also painted in those an awfully large number of cherubs. I have never looked into the reason for this, but assume it was the times he lived in and the artistic fashion of the time. What always interests me is the strange adult meets child appearance of cherubs. They are babies, but they are more similar to adults if you ignore the pink skin and baby-sized bodies. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that is so strange, so have decided to paint some and see if it brings any clarity to my understanding. I will let you know if it does.
While browsing my favourite bookshop (Charlie Byrnes in Galway city – http://charliebyrne.com/) I came across a lovely little book of paintings of children titled “Children of the Gilded Era: Portraits by Sargent, Renoir, Cassatt and their Contemporaries”. I have long admired Sargents’ pencil drawings, so that was enough to draw me in. The rest of it is a feast for the eyes, and great for someone like me who has a lot of child portraiture in my near future. The sketch above is based on a painting by Cecilia Beaux of her niece titled ‘Ernesta with Nurse’ which was exhibited in 1894 at the Society of American Artists.
Below is the sketch at an earlier stage, defini9ng the core areas in pencil. As the site is about bearing all I will always show these stages where I have then recorded.
I was making a series of drawings to explore the styles of the old masters, in this case one of Reuben’s cherubs. He was a wonderful painter. I used to find him really boring and overly soppy in his subject matter but when I started to explore the marks he made, the shadows, and the constant turning of his subjects in complex compositions I started to really respect his works as masterpieces. I am sure he would be very relieved to know that.