Friday, April 27, 2007

Practical Creativity

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers."
Charles H. Eliot The Happy Life, 1896
I agree with Charles on his philosophy of books. The books I've been reading lately have more photos than words . . . I've been perusing books for painting/research purposes. So, I suppose these books are my "most patient teachers", because I love looking at and learning about 18th and 19th century portrait artist and their paintings.....okay, I know a few of you just left me and clicked over to the next blog! But for those who are still here......

One of my favorites is 19th century artist John Bradley. Not a lot is known about his personal life; some books say he came from Ireland in 1826, and his profession was listed as "unknown". His first portrait of note was dated 1832. Perhaps he discovered his talent within those 6 years.

The portraits accredited to him were dated from 1832 to 1847.
No one knows if he was an itinerant portrait artist traveling from house to house or if he had a studio, but most of his work was done in the New York and New Jersey areas. To me, his style gives attention to detail, but has elements of an untrained hand (for example, the unnatural poses of his subjects).

In my research of Bradley, I've found at least three portraits of different little girls each posed with the same background. There are probably more, but that is all I've found. Each of these portraits has a little girl standing next to the same potted rose bush with the same little kitty playing somewhere in the scene. The carpet or rugs are different in each, so I can only guess that he either pre-painted his canvas with the rose pot and kitty, had them in his studio with carpet choices for the customers, or traveled with his props!

One of my portraits, the Little Lavender Girl, (my profile photo) is my interpretation of one of these John Bradley portraits. I'm working on a second portrait that is based on another one of these little girls. And yes, she will have the potted rose bush and the little kitty.
John Bradley, as well as other portrait artist of his era, had to be resourceful during the winter months. If indeed he was commissioned to paint people in their homes, travel during the winter would have been tricky. Many artists painted backgrounds, and faceless bodies onto canvases in advance and then allowed customers to choose the background for their portrait. How would you like to choose your body type without having to diet or workout?!

This "practical creativity" was essential for the self-taught artists of that time . . . they had to paint and paint quickly!, all while pleasing the customer. Although I paint for pleasure, (my own and I hope for others as well) I admire this ingenuity and practical sense of creating wonderful works of art.


PAT said...

Suzanne, this is a wonderful post. Thanks so much for the history of John Bradley. And telling us how he has influenced your work.

Love the Charles H. Eliot quote.

Thanks, too, for stopping by the back porch. Hope to see you again soon!

Back Porch Musings

Southern Heart said...

I love that quote, too! I enjoyed hearing the history of both the artist, and of your craft. I learned something new today!

Have a wonderful weekend,


FrenchGardenHouse said...

Suzanne, thanks for the lesson! I love learning about artists and their lives.

Sign me up for the portrait with someone else's body! lol

Thanks for stopping by my garden house and your sweet comments.

Happy weekend! Lidy

The Feathered Nest said...

Hi, I came over from Rhoda's blog and enjoyed your post on John Bradley. I love that quote!


Jen said...

Hello! Thanks for "Keeping Up With the Jones'". I adore your paintings. I noticed Andrea from Southern Heart had written about some of your work. Very impressive. I look forward to seeing more of your work.