Until I actually went to the museum and looked at a painting up close, I never realized what an injustice the slides we see in class can do to a painting. I was so much more impressed when I could see the actual brushstrokes and get a sense for the feel of the texture. There were so many paintings to choose from, but Nicolaes Maes’, “Portrait of a Lady” finally captured my full attention. This painting was done in 1675 on canvas with oil. The thickness of paint that the artist used for differing affects is varied. The heavy black background was done thick while the brushstrokes to create the translucent sleeves on our Lady’s dress seem almost non-existent. To create the realistic look of drapery, Maes layered white over the vivid dark colors and similarly dulled the whites with grays.
I think this painting was done with very careful strokes, varying again in length and thickness. The skin tone of Lady, especially her bare chest and shoulders is done so effectively, you can’t detect even the slightest hint of a brush stroke. Although, the drapery and areas with more depth are thicker and visibly noticeable. The brushstrokes that I was most impressed by were the circular dots of white applied in the upper left hand corner of each pearl on her necklace. It gives such a realistic quality. It may look so simple on the postcard; however, when you see it up close it is so subtle and at the same time so detailed. I think each stroke was applied very carefully in order to get the over all realistic, lifelike look and feel of the painting.
The color on the postcard is nothing at all like the true coloration of the painting. The nape of Maes’ Lady is so white and fragile-looking. It gives her an angelic, innocent quality. She looks pure. The color of her shawl is a very rich blue/purple. It is a hard color to describe, but conveys a deep royal color. There is a dramatic light to dark effect among the very pale skin and the white blouse, to the rich purple drapery and then to the dark, almost foreboding background. The colors work very well with each other. One color doesn’t dominate or take away from another, instead they contrast and compliment each other. I don’t think this painting had any warm colors in it, except maybe the blush on Lady’s cheeks and the sky colors through the trees in the lower right handle middle corner of the painting. I’m not really sure how to judge the value of the colors. I don’t think they are varied in their relative lightness to darkness, but the effect is created more by layering lighter or darker colors on top of the original color (as opposed to being blended). I feel all the contrasts of color in this painting are controlled very effectively.
The colors are just as they would be in nature, very intense and realistic. I am therefore assuming they would be local. The dark colors in the background create an almost mysterious atmosphere. The time of day, I would guess to be around late evening. I think the structure of each area is first defined my an imaginary line and then filled in, but that is hard to say for sure because it is done so well that you don’t notice it.
I think the color almost bleeds off the canvas, in terms of containment; consequently, I would say the lines are merged into the background. I think the lines are very calm. They are done smoothly and are blended well, with few hard edges.
The space in this painting is created by both one-point perspective and the overlapping of a prominent light shape (i.e., the Lady), over a dark background. When I look at this painting, I realize that the Lady is on our picture plane, but I still feel as though I am in the painting, standing right in front of her. Maybe you could say that you are seeing her though the eyes of the artist himself. I think it takes a few seconds to take in the painting, even at first glance. I would say the space was measurable, but since it is outside, it is really never-ending, just as it would be to look through a patch of trees in a forest or at the sky towards the horizon. The major emphasis in on the solids contrasted by the voids.
The light source in this painting confuses me greatly. It is a dark painting done of the outdoors, which would lead you to believe it is nighttime, but the Lady is so outstandingly bright, you can’t help but wonder where the light is coming from. It would say it is an imaginary or artificial brightness cast upon her by the artist inside the painting from somewhere directly in front of her, because the shadows are equal on both sides. I think the light would be neutral with more soft tones. The shadow or dark portion of the painting is greatly vaster than the light, creating a framework for it. I think it is used to create a mood, because it doesn’t drastically alter the existence of the color. The shadows contribute to the painting dramatically. The use of light in the painting is very important to its success because it illuminates the Lady, which is the basic subject of the painting.
The composition is arranged extremely carefully. Although it may look simple, it is more complex. The forms are not contained within the painting. Your imagination creates the expansive feeling of the outdoors and the dept and vastness that go with it.
When your eyes enter the painting, I would say you begin at the lower right hand corner and work your way gradually higher on a leftward angle between the path created by her opposing arms. Once you reach her left hand, your eyes then work out of the painting either up through the center of the painting above her face or perhaps downwardly through the trees, where the vanishing point lies. I think it would be led by the lines of her arms and the diagonal pull rather than through space and color. I think the whole painting is formed simply by her presence in the painting (or upfront and center on the created “stage”). The balance is achieved easily by first the darkness, making it easier to camouflage, but also by the scenery behind.
This painting was a relatively average-sized painting. It wasn’t so small that you had to search for details, and yet, it wasn’t so large that the figures were made to look overpowering or massive.
I think that this painting is exceptional, maybe not from an artist’s perspective who would critically analyze each stroke and area, but the overall atmosphere and quality of the painting is fascinating to look at. What first caught my attention was the realistic sizing of her eyes, with one slightly smaller than the other. The skin tone created such an angelic quality, it was hard to tear my eyes away. I wondered what she was thinking, why she was there and who she was with. She seems to be looking right past you, the viewer, and at a person in front of her. I think Maes probably derived the Lady from reality. I really enjoyed viewing this painting.