Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun — Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, queen of France, and her children (1787)

June 28: MousterWork #26

My Changes:

Changed the story (I think they’re done having their portrait taken!), added a baby to the bed (I didn’t want her baby to die), gave them a pet, toned down the darkest values, and altered the color palette.

If this looks familiar, it is! Back in 2018 I participated in an intensive where we interpreted a masterpiece in our own style. I updated it to be a MousterWork (which took longer than I anticipated—I had no idea how much my illustration had changed over the last 3 years!).

Things I thought/Questions I asked:

It was so much fun imagining the personalities behind each individual here. It makes me wonder how long it took Le Brun to paint the original. As a woman, I love how Le Brun added a feminine interpretation to this piece—the adoration the oldest daughter has for her mom, how grown up the son seems to be, how ready to be done the toddler is as he leans away.

What was life like in the castle? Did they have a favorite room (I like how this one has nice lighting)? rooms that spooked them? Could the children run? shout? play? eat whatever they wanted? What games did they play? What toys did they have? Did they have any friends? Did they read books together? Go outside whenever they liked?

What I noticed or learned from Le Brun’s techniques:

Le Brun does an amazing job with anatomy and realism, and the way she portrays the velvets, silks, laces, and brocades is lovely. She also ensures that Marie Antoinette dominates the picture through the amount of space she takes up, along with her billowing, vibrant red dress. The juxtaposition of her power beside her role as mother (to children who loved her) is fascinating.

And in case you’re counting, this illustration marks the halfway point in my MousterWorks series! Only 26 more to go . . .

Sofonisba Anguissola — The Chess Game (1555)

June 25: Bonus MousterWork

My Changes:

I couldn’t quite tell if the oldest sister in the original looked triumphant or defeated, so I thought it would be fun to hand the medal over to the middle sister. (Turns out I was wrong . . .) I also changed the season to fall, tinkered with the color palette (I wasn’t happy when I used the original), and simplified the background, chess pieces, and patterns.

Things I thought/Questions I asked:

I love that Anguissola painted a scene from the life she knew in 1555, and that it was her sisters playing chess! I wish I knew more about them. They seem like they have a lot of fun together, and the way Anguissola captured the personalities and sibling dynamics is just like what I know today. In my research, Anguissola’s father encouraged his daughters to learn and develop talents—like painting and chess. I think it’s awesome that they met outside in this magical area. How often did they play chess? Who usually won? Did they have any brothers? What other interests did they have? They look so comfortable around each other; were they shy around people outside of their family?

What I noticed or learned from Anguisolla’s techniques:

What I love most is the snapshot of time Anguissola captured linking our day with the past. Those expressions are wonderful! Although our clothing is different, and although most of us don’t live in a setting like this, most of us know what it feels like to win and lose—especially to a sibling. Anguissola is also adept at value structure and expression, and she showed so much patience in her willingness to include details like the embroidered dresses, the braided hair, and the background.

George Romney — Portrait of Lady Anne Barbara Russell (1786-7)

June 21: MousterWork #25

My Changes:

As usual, I lightened the contrast (especially in the shadows) and chose brighter colors. I also opted to have Lady Anne looking at her son than at the viewer, and for her son to look livelier.

Things I thought/Questions I asked:

After finishing this painting, I discovered that Lady Anne’s child is not a girl as I had supposed (I assumed the same last week, too)—but her son, Henry. It’s interesting how time and fashion has changed so much. During this time, a boy wore petticoats until he was about four years old, when he was ‘‘breeched.’’

In my research, I learned that Romney had come to dine at the Russell’s. He found Lady Anne holding onto Henry by the mirror and thought it would make a great painting. It really is quite brilliant: we not only see Henry’s face, but we almost see him in 360 degrees and we have insight into his personality. (What kid doesn’t like to look at themselves in the mirror?) It’s harder for me to read Lady Anne’s expression, however. In a sense, she feels distant—perhaps resigned to having an active child? or maybe she doesn’t really like having her portrait taken! or that the focus is on Henry? The fact that she holds onto Henry’s sash (which they used because of the color it added) and allows him to do something fun that isn’t maybe as fun for her is one of the only clues we have about her personality.

What I noticed or learned from Romney’s techniques:

Although I worked to give this painting a lighter touch than the original, Romney’s value structure pushed me to push my values. (You can see that in the shadow under the table, and in the curtains.) I also appreciated learning how Romney created all the clothing folds, and how to make Lady Anne’s dress feel satiny. Above all, the concept is what I love most about this painting. I love how the mirror gives us added information not only about Henry, but also about the house’s interior. Reading that Romney found an idea because of a moment he walked into shows how artists can find inspiration everywhere.

George Romney — Portrait of Mrs. Anne Carwardine and her Eldest (1775)

June 14: MousterWork #24

My Changes:

George Romney’s original depicts Mrs. Carwardine with her oldest son, Thomas. I opted to take the story in a different direction by making her child an adopted Asian daughter. I also added in color, and lightened the shadows. Further, I gave the little girl some candy to hold as a treat for having her picture painted. This is inspired from the time my parents and I had our picture taken in a professional studio. I wasn’t thrilled to be there and quite shy, so they gave me a penny (which you can see me clutching) to buy penny gum once we finished.

Things I thought/Questions I asked:

Even though the original was painted in 1775, it feels much more modern to me. I’m not sure if it’s the hat and choker or if it’s how real Romney captures their emotions. The love and relationship they have is palpable. I’d love to know more about both of them. What did Mrs. Carwardine do in her free time? Did she spend a lot of time caring for her child, or did she have a nanny? How many children did she have? Was this child loud and boisterous under most circumstances, or quiet and shy like we see here? What did they do together? read books? play games? go on walks?

What I noticed or learned from Romney’s techniques:

I also appreciate how Romney pushed me to use white that’s not a pure white, and to create gauzy/filmy textures. But what I love most, beyond Romney’s perfect understanding of composition, lighting, and anatomy is his ability to capture a moment of pure emotion. It’s impossible not to look at the child’s eyes and think about his/her shyness and wariness (and sleepiness?). And Mrs. Carwardine holds him/her with the tender love of a mother.

Thomas Gainsborough — Mr. and Mrs. Andrews (1750)

June 7: MousterWork #23

My Changes:

Along with altering glances and replacing Mr. Andrews’s gun with a fishing pole, I couldn’t help adding in a little girl! I also brightened the colors, especially in the sky, to help it feel light and friendly. And because it isn’t clear or known what Gainsborough intended Mrs. Andrews to hold in her lap, my husband suggested she write a letter—to her mother? sister? a friend?

Things I thought/Questions I asked:

In the original, the Andrews are newly married in that church you see in the background to the left of the girl. Who isn’t envious that this family lives in the rolling countryside? And I adore Mrs. Andrews’s wonderful dress! Although she appears dressy to our eyes, her clothing choices are actually less formal for the time—as is Mr. Andrews’s choice of attire, with his open coat. And one can’t help but wonder if hats like his will become fashionable again?

At the time of this painting, Mrs. Andrews was only 16 (!). This was an arranged marriage, and I often wonder what that would be like. I learned that they eventually had nine children, but she passed away relatively young. What was life like for this family and their dog? It’s easy to assume that they were quiet and reserved; being the recipients of an arranged marriage could certainly lead to a lot of silence—but maybe they enjoyed each other’s company, or they enjoyed large, boisterous parties?! (A house with nine kids is bound to be boisterous, after all!)

Did the Andrews allow their children to explore these grounds? climb the trees? swing (I looked it up: swings have been around since 1450!)? Or did they discourage such things? Mr. Andrews obviously went hunting with his dog (what was its name?); did he go fishing too?

What I noticed or learned from Gainsborough’s techniques:

Like many of the master copies I’ve done, it’s the details that make this so wonderful. I love the variances of color in the grasses, the patches of dirt, the roots of the tree. And although I don’t especially like to paint trees, adding in all the leaves and bark variances really makes a difference. I also tend to lean toward similar color palettes, and so I appreciated how this one pushed me to experiment with shades of greens, blues, and and yellows that I don’t often use.

Judith Leyster — Boy Playing the Flute (1630s)

June 1: Bonus MousterWork

Someone pointed out that I didn’t have many masterpieces by women in my MousterWork collection. Although I made a concerted effort to include both women and diverse ethnicities in my planned schedule, I chose to look more deliberately to see how many women artists I’d missed. Sure enough, I found quite a few! As time allows, I plan to supplement what is already scheduled with these additional paintings (not necessarily chronologically).

My Changes:

I love so much about Leyster’s masterpiece that I didn’t change much. In addition to adding in linework, I altered the color palate a touch to make it feel more alive. I opted to make him more jovial with slightly upturned lips, omitted the violin bow, and gave him freckles. Just because.

Things I thought/Questions I asked:

I’d love to meet this boy. I’ll call him Dicken, since that’s who he reminds me of (The Secret Garden). He seems like a friend I would enjoy—someone content with a simple life, someone who is kind to other people and animals, and someone who thinks a lot. I’m pretty sure it’s either morning or late afternoon judging by the window’s light, and probably approaching wintertime since he’s wearing a coat. What does he do every day? Who is his family? Is he alone, or are they listening to him play? Is his flute performance proficient, or is he a beginner? Who taught him to play? What song is he playing? Is it happy or sad?

It wasn’t intentional, but this piece juxtaposes nicely with Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, which I posted yesterday.

What I noticed or learned from Leyster’s techniques:

There’s so much to enjoy about this painting in its simplicity, composition, and lighting. What I perhaps love most is how deftly Leyster makes us want to know about this boy in his pose, his expression, his clothing, and his surroundings. In the original, his expression makes me wonder if he’s simply thinking about the music he’s playing, or if he’s using the music to cheer up a solemn mood. Because Leyster’s piece is so realistic, mine turned out more realistic than what I typically do. Not sure if that’s good or bad—but it was a fun challenge!

If you’d like to own a print of this MousterWork, I’ve added it to my Etsy shop.

Missed my May MousterWorks? Find them here.

About Me

My name is Angela, and I love how Masterpieces make me think about people painted in time. Hopefully MousterWorks will get you thinking too!

All original images © Angela C. Hawkins

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