May 14 - Birthdays of Painters

Posted on May 14, 2018

Thomas Gainsborough painted at a time when there was no such thing as photography. If a rich woman wanted a picture of herself, say, or a rich man wanted a picture of his son, she or he would commission a painter to come make one. And in most cases, the painter and his or her clients would want the portrait to actually look like the model, right? Maybe a flattering portrait, but recognizably a portrait of a particular person!

Here are a few Gainsborough portraits:

Robert Bechtle grew up in a world with photography, so most painters didn't run around painting portraits. Instead, during the twentieth century, many painters were into Minimalism: 

And yet...Bechtle and a few other artists of the mid-1960s started to explore something called photorealism. He started painting what most viewers thought of as commonplace, ordinary scenes. Families...suburbs... automobiles... His brush strokes were almost invisible, and his paintings almost seemed as if they could be photos!

Why, when we have actual photos, would we need photorealistic paintings? Is it just to be awesome at copying 

According to Peter Schjeldahl, a close look at one of Bechtle's paintings reveals "a feat of resourceful painterly artifice" that is beautiful. I would love to see one in real life, to see if an up-close inspection would reveal whatever "painterly artifice" means...

In the meantime, why not enjoy photorealistic paintings?

Certainly I enjoy seeing photos, which can reveal the world I know - but super close up, or colorized to evoke a mood, or framed in an unusual way, or from a different perspective... So why not enjoy photorealistic paintings to enjoy the scale and coloring and framing and perspective chosen by the painter?

Robert Bechtle was born on this date in 1932, in San Francisco, California. He attended the same college my daughter attended! I read that he has lived his entire life in the Bay Area, other than his military service in Berlin, in Germany.

Now, back to Thomas Gainsborough. He was born at a time when people didn't record birth dates, but rather baptism dates (the two dates were generally just a few days apart). So we do not know his birthdate but know he was baptized on this date in 1727, in Sudbury, England.

I grew up in Pasadena, California, and I often saw The Blue Boy, a Gainsborough portrait that hangs in The Huntington.

Also on this date:

Mathematician John C. Fields's birthday

Flag Day

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