Monday, April 28, 2014


CAREL FABRITIUS (Dutch, 1622-54)
The Goldfinch
Signed and dated 1654
Oil on panel 33.5 x 22.8 cm
The Hague, Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis

A Goldfinch does tricks and sings beautiful songs.  This bird can fill a tiny cup with water from a container and pull it on a chain to his feeding box.
Pets were important in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.  People even brought them to church.
If you print the picture and pin it high on the wall you may think the bird is alive.  This is what Carel Fabritius wants us to feel.
The Sentry
Signed and dated lower left 1654
Oil on panel, 68 x 58 cm
Schwerin,  Staatliches Museum Schwerin
Is the Sentry (a soldier who keeps guard) asleep or cleaning his gun?
What is he guarding?
His dog is certainly wide awake and is watching his master's every move.
Can you see the lower half of a picture of a monk (Saint Anthony Abbott) with a pig?  
Please spot the legs of another soldier.  
Is he coming to wake, have a chat or change places with the guard?
The Sentry detail
Zoom in on the pictures and look at the quick, rich brushstrokes.
Only about twelve pictures by Fabritius exist today. Had he lived a longer life he might have become as famous as his teacher Rembrandt and Vermeer who also lived in Delft.  Fabritius died in an explosion of the Delft gunpowder magazine.  When The Goldfinch was restored they found tiny scratches.  Perhaps the picture had been pulled from the rubble of the artist's studio.
Circa 1645
Oil on panel, 65 x 49 cm
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


GUSTAVE COURBET (French, 1819-77)
Fox in the Snow-1860
Oil on canvas 85.7 x 128cm
Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation of the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O'Hara Fund, 1979.7.FA
Where does a fox find food in winter?
What time of the day is it?
Is it windy or still?
The fox uses his amazing hearing and the magnetic field of the earth to locate his prey. If he faces north he will find something to eat.
Watch this:

From where did the fox pounce?
Why did Courbet choose this moment of the hunt?
Why does the fox arch his back?
Does the scene look real to you?
Can you feel the fur and the snow?
Courbet is a bit like a wild animal with a paintbrush. He is quick and rough and goes for the canvas with a palette knife laden with paint.
Watch this to see how Courbet may have painted:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Look up at the sky.  If you look long enough you will start seeing things: creatures, animals and even monsters.
How do clouds form?
Can clouds be identical?
What causes clouds to change colors? 

Is the sky timeless?  Can you tell that these pictures were painted about 200 years ago?
At which time of the year does Constable paint these pictures?  

Hint: it rains a lot during the colder months in Britain!
What kinds of birds are in the second picture?

Constable looked at the sky for hours on end. Did he sit in a chair or lie on his back?  
He spent summers on the Heath in Hampstead, near London.
When Constable saw clouds he loved, he had to paint them fast.  The wind can move them so quickly that they change their shape in a split second.
Weather scientists called meteorologists say that Constable’s clouds are always accurate.  He never traveled abroad.  
Looking at these pictures is a bit like looking at abstract art.  You only find out what you see by taking your time and using your imagination! 
It would be fun if you shared what you saw in the sky on:  

1.     STUDY OF CUMULUS CLOUDS, “Sep. 21 1822 past one o’clock looking South wind very fresh at East, but warm.” Oil on paper laid on panel, 286 x 483mm. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon collection, B1981.25.116
2.      STRATOCUMULUS CLOUD, 1821, Oil on paper laid on board, 343 x 397mm.  YCBA, Paul Mellon Collection B1981.25.155
3.      STUDY OF ALTOCUMULUS CLOUDS: “Sept’r 13th one o’clock.  Silent wind at North West, which became tempestuous in the afternoon, with rain all the night following.”  Oil on paper on board, 248 x 302mm, YCBA, Paul Mellon Collection, B1981.25.156
4.      STUDY OF CUMULUS CLOUDS: “Augt 1 1822 II O clock A.M. very hot with large climbing clouds under the sun.  Wind Westerly.”  Oil on paper laid on canvas, 305 x 508mm, YCBA, Paul Mellon Collection.  B.1981.25.144
5.      A CLOUD STUDY, SUNSET.  Ca. 1821, 152 x 241mm.  Oil on paper on millboard.  YCBA, Paul Mellon Collection, B1981.25.128
6.      STONEHENGE, 1835, watercolor, 387 x 597 mm inscribed on the mount: “The mysterious monument of Stonehenge, standing remote on a bare and boundless heath, as much unconnected with the events of the past ages as it is with the uses of the present, carries you back beyond all historical records onto the obscurity of a totally unknown period”.   London, Victoria & Albert Museum, Isabel Constable Bequest.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Lights, camera, action...You are about to watch a Baroque action movie (rated PG).
A beautiful horse is rearing up in fright. Underneath a monster is on his back fighting for his life.  The dragon is having a bad nose bleed and is pulling out the stick. 
A Roman is about to strike the final blow. The picture is taller than your living room.
George was an officer in the Roman army. According to legend the dragon lived by a spring that gave water to the town.  Each day the people gave a sheep to the dragon to distract him. This way they could get their water.  When they ran out of sheep, young maidens were brought to the dragon.  One day even a princess was offered to the monster.  George came to her rescue, slayed the dragon and the princess was free.
A mythical creature sits on George's plumed helmet, ready to pounce. Who is it?
Which animal's skin is covering the horse's back?
A wild cat's head is holding up George's cool gladiator sandals. Name the animal!
A gold and blue silk tunic peeks out from underneath the shiny armor.
The horse is foaming at the mouth. Can you hear him snort?
Does the woman holding the lamb look worried?
How long would it take to curl and brush the horse's hair?  Zoom in and you will see that Rubens scratched the curls into the wet paint. For this he used the tip of the wooden paint brush.
Like George, Rubens was fearless.  No picture was too big and no story was too scary for him.  He was 30 years old when he made this picture in Genoa, Italy.  Back home in Antwerp he built a beautiful house with a studio that you can visit today.
Do you feel as though you are sitting in the front row of the movie theater?
Will you give Rubens the Oscar prize for Best Picture of 1608?  In his time Rubens was more famous than Steven Spielberg is today. His action pictures were shown in palaces, castles and churches.
For more Rubens look at The Lion Hunt below.   Careful, it's rated PG-13!
Can you spot an actor who is in both pictures?
Perhaps you could make your own movie of Saint George and the Dragon.


Saint George and the Dragon, 1606-8
Oil on canvas, 309 x 257 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, PO1644

The Lion Hunt, 1621
Oil on canvas, 248.7 x 377.3 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich