Portraits (again)

Early Dutch Portraits


I arrived in The Netherlands in 1982 and quickly painted some 50 portraits within three years. But the commissions represented more than just the painting of my patient sitters, they were also a doorway through which I entered into Dutch life and culture. I traveled the length and breadth of the country and intimately entered the homes of my clients.  In one case nearly living with my models: a family of five, a dog and three cats for an entire summer.

But I was getting restless, I wanted to PAINT. Everything. To experiment with composition, color and design. To develop my ability to hear my own voice, follow my artistic impulses. The demands of ‘likeness’ , of  ‘pleasing’ the client and a selection of canvas sizes ranging from ‘head’ to ‘full length’ were becoming too restrictive.

A painter


For years thereafter I painted almost no portraits. I concentrated solely on my painting: landscape, interiors and the occasional still life. When I did take a commission, or asked a friend to sit it was done on my terms (at least in my own mind) and I approached the canvas with a new attitude. It was no longer just: ‘Can I get this right? Will it please the client?’ But more a feeling of: ‘Is the composition strong? Is it interesting?’ ‘Are the colors relating to each other?’  But hey, enough of this reiterating of the past…..



The whole point of this blog was my amazement in the here and now, of a sudden proliferation of portrait commissions. And its OK. I’m enjoying it.

When I came across this rolled canvas in my storage unit in November (left image) the circumstances surrounding its unfinished state came flooding back to me. I was a scholarship student at the National Academy of Design, situated next to the Guggenheim and a stones throw from the Met. I had already copied Manet’s ’Lady with a Parrot’ at the museum and was busy with my next study, Rembrandt’s ‘Portrait of Herman Doomer’. The Met had very rigid rules concerning the copying of paintings in the collection. There had to be at least a 25% size difference in comparison to the original and easels, canvases and painting supplies had to be returned to the racks in the basement before a specific time. I arrived a few minutes late one day and lost my privileges.

The recently completed portrait on the right of my friend Christoph was in no conscious way a response to that unfinished copy of long ago but the resemblance is there.

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