A Day Out at the National Gallery

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in the National Gallery in London and made two drawings. I normally head to Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus and draw the guy on the right with his arms outstretched, but it was very busy so I headed off to see some other favourites. On the way to the room that contains Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage (1434) I stopped to draw Giovanni Bellini’s The Doge, Leonardo Loredan (1501). It’s a captivating painting (and used by the National Gallery on the cover of the official guide), but a little cold. The drawing I made reflects this. The subject is a bit ‘blank’ in my copy. The painting is incredibly subtle. There are some lines the indicate something more than a mask-like indifference but not much more. The result is a portrait of a powerful but calculating figure. He was Doge of Venice from 1501 until his death twenty years later, so I suspect he was a smart politician. There’s a short Wikipedia page about him, should you want read more.

Bellini - Final
After Giovanni Bellini, The Doge, Leonardo Loredan (1501)

After making this drawing (which I have subsequently worked on as it was a little underdone), I headed to the Van Eyck. It’s always a little congested around the Arnolfini Marriage as every tour group stops there. Hanging next to it is a portrait of a man with a turban that I’ve admired for years. It’s believed to be a self-portrait of Van Eyck, but look like an excuse to paint the turban to me.

I started my drawing by roughing the turban details in and gradually locked down more and more of the cloth. Only when I finished it did I start on the face. I had blocked in some areas of shade but deliberately left it undone as I wanted to focus my efforts on the headgear. As I worked I became aware of Van Eyck looking back at me. It became clearer and clearer that the look in the work was so different from the one by Leonardo Loredan and fixed by Bellini. Van Eyck’s gaze is more quizzical, less relaxed. It is the face of someone working, which would of course make sense if it is a self-portrait. All this led to me tackling the extremely subtle shading of the face. The painting is only 260 mm x 190 mm, a little smaller than A4, which is the size of sheet I worked on.

img290.jpg
After Jan Van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man (Self-Portrait?) (1433)

While I worked (on both drawings but especially on the Van Eyck) small scrums of people gather behind me to watch me. I was listening to a long playlist of punk records on my iPod, so can’t really relate what they may have said. A woman did take some photographs and has said that she’ll send some to me. As and when they appear, I’ll post them here.

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4 thoughts on “A Day Out at the National Gallery”

  1. Can you do this sort of drawing standing up holding the sketchbook? I can’t, but would like to be able to. My standing-up drawing is all of the super-free and a bit scribbly sort.

    1. I did make both of these drawings stood up. They are too small and hung at head height, so sitting wouldn’t have worked. For larger subjects (like when I’ve drawn Supper at Emmaus for example) I do tend to sit on the couches / benches in the gallery.

      I work on an A4 sheet that is clipped to an A4 notebook. Generally I’m holding a propelling pencil (0.5mm, 2B), a couple of rubbers that resemble pens, and a couple of tortillon. Generally something is in my mouth. It’s a bit fiddly and I ache after a while but there isn’t really any other way. Hopefully the photograph of me doing this (when they appear) will show this.

      Mu other (slight) issues is that I wear glasses to correct an astigmatism. I wear them for driving, reading powerpoints in lectures, at the cinema, and so on. This means that if I’m more than about three feet away from what I’m looking at it’s a bit blurred. However, for reading and drawing the glasses make it worse. Getting close to the subject helps me in that I don’t have to continuously put on / take off my specs.

      1. I love the description of the eyesight / glasses problem! There are all sorts of variations on this. And I look forward to seeing the photos – I need to just practice and work with the wobble.

      2. And of course you’ve just spend heaven knows how many years doing this sort of drawing on a daily basis!

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