Exploring ConceptsAssignment 3 – Landscape
Research – Painting from Photographs
(Maurice Utrillo – 1183-1955)
Interestingly this artist’s name came to me back in about 1970 when a friend found a painting with his name on it and hadn’t heard of him. I am not sure what happened as a consequence but I remember telling my friend that he was a French artist of some renown.
Like many artists, it seems, the story of Utrillo is sad in that in the first instance he was illegitimate and didn’t really know who his father was, it could have been one of several, Boissy, Degas, Renoir and the Spaniard who gave him the name is supposed to have quipped, “I would be glad to give my name to any work by Degas or Renoir.” Utrillo was taught by his mother who had been a model to many of the Impressionist painters and who was eventually instructed by Degas. It seems that Suzanne Valadon, as she was known, learned a lot from the artists she worked for, and became a talented artist in her own right. She was eventually admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts as the first female member. Indeed when she died, amongst the mourners were Picasso, Braque and Derain.
Maurice Utrillo was an Alcoholic and made no progress in his life as a bank clerk. In order to help her son she taught him to paint and his eventual success eclipsed her own. Between 1909-1904 was the”White Period” of Utrillo’s work, which is now so sort after, although he did produce colourful paintings before and after this period. He featured the streets and buildings of Monmartre and his style is distinctive and individual, not falling into any particular school of painting. He had an intuitive ability with the use of colour and in his later years used postcards as the basis of his work. This lead at one stage the American Customs declaring his work dutiable because his work had been done with the aid of a postcard. He was the victim of excessive drinking throughout his life, but in his late fifties he married and his wife then took on the role from his mother of becoming his virtual “jailer” to prevent his alcoholism from overwhelming him.
Maurice Utrillo with his mother Suzanne Valadon © Bridgeman Library
This is a painting from Utrillo’s White Period and is typical of his style.
Utrillo’s style is very loose in these two examples but occasionally he produced much tighter work and it is said he found it difficult to discern from his own work, paintings which were good and those less so. I think it is quite likely that the looser paintings were possibly produced at a time when he was drinking whereas perhaps the more controlled (and in my view less interesting) work was produced on a more normal day. I am basing this on the assumption that one is less inhibited after having imbibed alcohol and is more likely to produce less controlled more free work.
Utillo, Quai d'Anjour and Hotel Lambert, ©Bridgeman Library
It is interesting to look at a brief time-line of artists around the period of the development of Photography. It occurs mainly around the time of the Imressionists and it is well known that Degas not only painted but was a keen photographer. His paintings often depict the cropped look of a photograph.
If one were painting a realistic picture from a photograph the factor that would need to be taken into account is the colour difference. For a start the light colour wheel is different from the pigment wheel and incorporates magenta and cyan in addition to red, yellow green and blue, producing white, so hues will appear different. However, with the move towards expressionist colour I don’t see this as a factor of great importance, as one tends to transpose and become creative with colour rather than imitate it in a representational way.
The need to produce sketches is therefore minimized by the use of photography, providing one uses the photograph as a source of inspiration or a starting point.
Other Artists who have used photographs: Walter Sickert, George Clausen, Degas, Peter Doig, Chuck Close, Gerhardt Richter, Richard Estes, Malcolm Morley and many other Photorealist painters.