Thursday, June 27, 2013

Copying at the Met

I recently had the opportunity to copy paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. After a bit of paperwork and a long wait, I was invited to copy the artist of my choice, mainly in the European Masters collection.

The painting I chose was Velazquez's Juan de Pareja. One of his best portraits at the museum. It was an exciting opportunity. I have almost admired the work of Velazquez. Having spent so much time researching traditional materials, mixing my own paint, trying to decipher old techniques, I had a chance to work in front of the real thing.

I entered the room, set up and got to work with a bit of trepidation. I wanted my copy to do justice to the real thing, in a way that I never felt working from reproductions. After awhile, I settled down, and realized that the work ahead would be just like painting a regular portrait. This is testament to the grounded realism of the painting.  I would undergo the normal challenges of accurately representing shape and proportion. the final result is close, but not perfect.

Museum rules dictated that I maintain a bit of distance between myself and the painting, so that museum goers could still view the painting. I could not close enough to view the intricate details of the painting. This was one big reason I signed up to copy in the first place. The result was a more holistic summary of what I saw. What was most interesting to me: the portrait when seen from reproductions shows a man with a blank expression. Standing in front of the real picture a subtle phantom smile appears.

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