Category: Art history & contemporary painting

salvator mundi by leonardo da vinci_veronica winters blog, fake orb

The Salvator Mundi painting of Leonardo da Vinci: is it real or fake? da Vinci’s orb is not his.


The Salvator Mundi oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452-1519)

After reviewing all available information online, images and other literature I’ve found about this work, I believe that the Salvator Mundi is not pure da Vinci. If not a skillful forgery, this painting has passages painted by Leonardo with the rest filled in by his student at best. The more I study this painting, the more inconsistencies appear in the entire image of the Salvator Mundi. In the following text you’ll find why the authentication process of da Vinci’s work is so speculative.

da vinci salvator mundi after restoration
“Salvator Mundi” Oil on walnut panel, 25 13/16 x 17 7/8 inches (65.6 x 45.4 cm), Private Collection

The last artwork authenticated as Leonardo’s – the Benois Madonna (the Hermitage, St. Petersburg) was over 100 years ago. With just about 15 paintings coming down to us, finding a new da Vinci is extremely rare, which partially explains its price. Now we know that it’s the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. Salvator Mundi  or Savior of the World sold for the astronomical $450,312,500 (that includes buyer’s premium) at Christie’s New York. While you can find plenty of information online about the artwork’s ownership and how the Salvator Mundi arrived at Christie’s, I’d like to talk about this painting from the artistic point of view and what inconsistencies I see in it, despite the fact that I’m not a Leonardo’s expert. When art sells for millions we want to question its origin from the get go. We can also say that when art sells for millions, every expert would agree on its provenance, right? I’ve changed my mind after listening to the interview with an art dealer Robert Simon who made me believe it’s the real Leonardo because of a very slow process of discoveries he outlines in his story (Suggested Donation podcast: After listening to the podcast, I got interested in researching the available documentation and imagery, and therefore the more I looked, the more doubtful I became of its origin once again. Here is why.

The over painted version of Salvator Mundi is on the left, while the restored version is on the right.

In his story Robert Simon describes the terrible condition he found the artwork in. Although he saw the beautiful hand immediately that didn’t correspond stylistically to a harshly overprinted face, Mr. Simon had no idea it would be art by da Vinci when he got this artwork. In the interview you’ll learn how slow the process of discovery actually was, working closely with the restorer Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Senior Research Fellow and Conservator of the Kress Program in Paintings Conservation at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Both of them found clues to the fact that this artwork may be by Leonardo, and eventually Robert Simon introduced this painting to the Leonardo’s experts in London to see if it were his indeed.


The strongest references leading to the existence of the Salvator Mundi by da Vinci

In the scholarly article by Joanne Snow-Smith she traces the whereabouts of the artist by looking at the trail of paperwork registered in royal courts. She concludes that Louis XII, the king of France, ordered a direct commission to Leonardo da Vinci in 1507, made payments for it between 1507-11, and demanded its completion and turn over in 1513. So the artwork was painted between 1507-1513 (painting on and off for years is a lot like da Vinci). And the artist turned it in in 1513 to the king’s intermediaries. Next year the king’s wife died and he donated the artwork to a convent in 1514 where it remained for over a century until it got to Charles I royal collection. Below you’ll find images with dates that don’t quite correspond to this timeline. For instance, Leonardo’s studies of clothed arms and chest were done between 1504-8 and many paintings with similar composition are dated before 1507. Joanne Snow-Smith proposes that Leonardo painted two copies of the Salvator Mundi based on similarities and differences in the etching, copy paintings and the Windsor castle drawings. ( Source: “The Salvator Mundi of Leonardo da Vinci” by Joanne Snow-Smith, Arte Lombarda Nuova Serie, No. 50 (1978), pp. 69-81).

So the Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi painting existed for sure,  maybe even in two versions, which is also possible because the artist painted two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks. What raises questions if the etching was done from that da Vinci’ painting hidden in the convent for a century. The etching by Hollar becomes important because it’s one of the strongest visual references to the proposed original, or perhaps, it served as a prototype for a beautiful forgery. I’ll explain why.


Wenceslaus Hollar’s etching, 1650 | Before the modern printing process ever came to existence, it was common practice to produce etchings of masterworks for wider distribution among the royalty, wealthy and public. It’s definite that Leonardo worked on the concept of this painting because he gave it to Louis XII in 1513, and one etching (3 versions of the etching) completed by Wenceslaus Hollar after the original were registered in the royal collection of Charles I of England. Hollar signs and dates his etching, with Latin inscription that ‘Leonardo da Vinci painted it.’ This etching was done from Hollar’s previous drawing that he could have sketched while on a visit to the convent.  According to Robert Simon the etching has a large jewel in the clothing that was painted over and then re-discovered in the original painting during the restoration. Yet, there is no clear evidence that the Leonardo’s painting was indeed the prototype for this etching.

(What is etching? Intaglio or etching is one of the oldest forms of printmaking where an artist would draw an image with a needle on a metal plate, engrave it with an acid, then charge with ink to impress the picture on paper with the press.  A single image could have many stages or states in its development when the artist increases contrast by building up strokes in the shadows. Every new state goes through the same process of acid corrosion, inking and printing.  Because the artist hand-inks the plate and decides how much ink to remove from it, the final image may appear much lighter or darker. Not a single stroke can be removed, so artists exercised great control over the quality and quantity of their strokes. Master etchers among the old masters to check out are Rembrandt and Durer.)

If we begin to compare this etching to the discovered Salvator Mundi we can observe three things. The eyes look in different direction. Christ has a definite beard in the Hollar’s etching unlike in the presented painting, and the depiction of the orb’s reflection is not what the scientist artist would actually see but is repetitive in both etching and da Vinci’s painting, and even copy paintings. If the etching was done from the original da Vinci, it raises questions how the artist could have ignored the effects of optics he studied so carefully. (Below you’ll find my photos of the orb and how it appears placed in a hand).

The second strongest visual reference to the existence of the Salvator Mundi are da Vinci’s studies located in Windsor castle collection.

two drapery studies for salvator Mundi by da Vanci
Two drapery studies – preparatory drawings for the Salvator Mundi by da Vanci  in the royal collections at Windsor Castle, England, 1504-1508. These two drawings is a clear evidence that Leonardo studied the folds and disposition of Christ’s tunic and its sleeves. The drawings are modeled in two colors in chalk characteristic for the classical method of drawing in that period.  These studies of drapery show that Leonardo’s was influenced by Greco-Roman art and must have studied classical sculpture during his travels in Rome and wanted the clothing look natural and graceful. It also proves that he worked on the concept of the painting. 

We can also see that the drawings show two different positions of the arms with folds falling differently. One of the hand positions is captured fairly closely to the original drawing in the etching and painting. This serves as evidence to connecting the painting to these prep studies for the Salvator Mundi. (Images: |


Albrecht_Dürer and school of da vinci_mundi
1. Albrecht Dürer, c.1505, (unfinished), The Met        2.   School of Leonardo da Vinci, c.1503           3.  Cesare da Sesto, 1516, Wilanow Palace, Poland (Images source: )

There are also many copy paintings made from either the original or the etching, letting us believe that the artists were familiar with the original composition of the Salvator Mundi and painted either copies or their interpretations on the theme. By looking at these painted copies we can see striking similarities to the etching and the da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in the depiction of both hands, the orb, and the figure positioning painted by various artists. However, based on the existing documents and style, the da Vinci painting was painted between 1507 and 1513, while he was in the service of king Louis XII, which places some of the copies before  da Vinci finished working on his painting. Unless da Vinci had conceived and began working on this composition before 1503 (Mona Lisa was begun between 1503-6), and other artists had already seen it, it’s difficult to believe that this composition is original Leonardo.  Leonardo’s drawings of clothed arms are dated 1504-8. Therefore it’s either the fact that these paintings were done after a different painting (and not from the da Vinci’s), or Leonardo borrowed the composition and its elements for his work from the Flemish painters and the Vera Icon (Head of Christ) by van Eyck (now lost and existing in contemporary copies of his workshop). Or Leonardo made the first version of his painting before working on the Louis XII commission, which is less likely.

Salvator Mundi, Workshop of Hans Memling, Flemish, 1475-99, the Met. “Christ is shown here as the Savior of the World, holding in his left hand a cross-topped globe representing the earth, while his right hand is raised in blessing. This was a popular type of image in fifteenth-century Flemish painting and merged the themes of the Holy Face (Christ’s features miraculously imprinted on a cloth) and Christ in Majesty.” (Source:
Vera Icon (Head of Christ), Jan van Eyck workshop


Hans_Memling veronica holding her veil, 1470 and christ in turin
Hans Memling, Veronica holding her veil,” 1470, early Flemish painting (left) | Veronica’s Veil with the image of Christ on display in, Turin, Italy


What looks like Leonardo?

His Face

By looking at some copy paintings above it’s easy to see that these artists were able to copy the beautiful hand, orb and delicate pattern of the clothing. However, none of them could copy the same glowing face of the da Vinci painting. The ambiguous face in the Salvator Mundi is so much like Leonardo. Illusive. Ethereal. Glowing. The artist achieved such appearance by glazing very thin layers of oil paint mixed with the medium (walnut oil) to produce this effect – the sfumato technique, the very style we see in the Mona Lisa, the Saint John the Baptist, and in the Virgin and Child with St. Anne. And by looking at the painting for the first time without studying it carefully, it’s easy to conclude that it’s by Leonardo because the painting style is so similar to other works of this period by the artist.

da Vinci faces taken from his paintings from left to right: 1. Angel from the Madonna of the Rocks 2. Salvator Mundi 3. The St. John the Baptist 4. Virgin of the Rocks 5. The Virgin and Child with St. Anne (bottom) 6. Mona Lisa 7. La Belle Ferronniere 8. drawing for The Virgin and Child with St. Anne .

In traditional way of painting the artist sketches out the form in a warm brown paint on panel or canvas, and develops color and volume in subsequent layering. In the technique of the old masters multiple layers were very thin to achieve the desired atmospheric effect. The da Vinci’s sfumato technique involves multiple glazing of thin paint, so thin that some areas don’t even show up in the X-ray examinations. In his podcast interview Robert Simon describes how they took a probe on the face of the Salvator Mundi to reveal 17 layers of paint.

However, while the painting style is so Leonardonesque, the crooked tip of the nose and the cross-eyed appearance of Christ raise questions for me as an artist. Being a scientist, Leonardo’s anatomy drawings show exquisite understanding and perfection of human form of that period, so these anatomical discrepancies look like obvious flaws. Why would the artist paint the body of Christ with such symmetry and ignore the symmetry of the eyes and nose? One explanation is that the panel has cracked and warped so much in five centuries that it changed the appearance of the drawing in the nose and chipped off some paint in the eyes (which is hard to believe because the pupils look so uneven, and the shape of the eyes is different).   I would like to hear the restorer’s explanation to understand this. If you look at this picture where I overlay straight lines over his face, you can see how really crooked the nose is, which lines up with the mouth but not with the top part of the face. The eyes don’t line up either, each having a different shape. In other Leonardo’s drawings and paintings you can see a more complicated rotations of the head that demand a perfect line up of facial features.

Moreover, In the Hollar’s etching we can observe that the Christ’s eyes look in a different direction compared to the painting. The man also wears a definite beard in the etching unlike in the da Vinci’s painting that looks illusive.

The face has a beard. The eyes look in a different direction than the found da Vinci.

On top of that the presented Salvator Mundi has a non-existent neck. When you look at the line up of faces from da Vinci paintings above, you see a different style of handling neck painting by the artist. All of them are cylinder-like and quite definite.

His Hand

The Salvator Mundi blessing hand is the most realistic, da Vinci-like element in the entire painting. It’s elegant design and unbelievably well-painted anatomy make it the best hand by Leonardo I’ve seen in comparison to his other paintings.

The Salvator Mundi’s hand is the most beautiful element in the entire painting.
Details of hands painted by da Vinci.

His Hair

Details of the curly hair painted by da Vinci.

While we can see the Leonardonesque hair in this portrait where every strand is observed, this visual element is actually prone to copying well by other artists (see the image above of Salvator Mundi, School of Leonardo da Vinci, c.1503 ). And it was a popular element in Italian painting too that makes it much harder to make a statement that Leonardo was the only artist painting these beautiful curls in this manner. Leonardo got his initial training in the Andrea del Verrocchio’s workshop in Florence where he assisted the master artist in completion of art, working among many other students.

Here is first known work where da Vinci painted the angel to the left.

Verrocchio,_Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Battesimo_di_Cristo sm
Verrocchio with the assistance of Leonardo da Vinci, the Baptism of Christ.


Verrocchio, Tobias and the Angel | This painting shows how Verrocchio himself painted the curly hair.


These are examples of other artists painting the curly hair before and after da Vinci. They have similar style that makes it fairly possible to copy da Vinci’s hair. | From left to right: Italian painting details, Turin and Durer’s self-portraits.

How the painting gets cleaned

1. The removed overpainting reveals the image beneath it.      2. Overpainted version                                              3. The restored painting


In general, paintings get cleaned by removing the varnish, which is a protective coating that traps the dirt and UV light, and protects the oil paint from damage. Usually the removal of old varnish, reveals a much lighter and brighter painting with the original, beautiful colors painted by the artist. High-quality paints wouldn’t fade as much, rather would become more transparent with age. What we see in the first image is the removal of the overpainted image that reveals the original painting underneath it. White lines look like gesso marks crudely painted over the cracks of the original painting trying to fill them in. Oil paint is applied over the gesso to create a painting. By comparing the first and the last image we can see how much restoration was done. In the interview Mr.Simon says that the Salvator Mundi came to him in terrible condition: the walnut panel had a big vertical crack that was poorly repaired and repainted multiple times over. Smaller cracks and hastily repairs damaged the surface to a great degree.

Dianne Modestini made an incredible job cleaning and restoring the artwork. She didn’t just create a new version of Christ like we see in the overpainted image in the center. Rather, she stripped the painting down to its original state, fixing the “scratches.” The Da Vinci’s signature style – sfumato and the ethereal appearance of the face, are present after 500 years from its creation. The original color of clothing may have been different, however, probably having brighter blues in the beginning. Here is what the restorer says about the painting on Christie’s website.

“Dianne Modestini explains that the original walnut panel on which Leonardo, who was known for his use of experimental material, executed Salvator Mundi contained a knot which had split early in its history. However, she concludes that important parts of the painting are remarkably well-preserved, and close to their original state. These include both of Christ’s hands, the exquisitely rendered curls of his hair, the orb, and much of his drapery. The magnificently executed blessing hand, Modestini notes, is intact. With regards to the face, Modestini comments, ‘Fortunately, apart from the discrete losses, the flesh tones of the face retain their entire layer structure, including the final scumbles and glazes. These passages have not suffered from abrasion; if they had I wouldn’t have been able to reconstruct the losses.’

During the conservation process, pentimenti — preliminary compositional ideas, subsequently changed by the artist in the finished painting, but not reflected in the etching or painted copies — are observed through infrared imaging, and duly photographed. The most prominent is a first position for the thumb in the blessing hand, more upright than in the finished picture. IRR imagery also reveals distinct handprints, especially evident on the proper left side of Christ’s forehead, where the artist smoothed and blotted the paint with his palm. This kneading of the paint in order to create soft and amorphous effects of shadow and light is typical of the artist’s technique in the latter part of Leonardo’s career. ” (source: )

da Vinci’s materials and the preparatory ground

Because the artwork’s creation is placed close to the Mona Lisa painting in its style and dates, one of the clues to the authentication of the Salvator Mundi  would be the examination and analysis under a microscope of preparatory ground (gesso) underneath the oil paint. It’s known that Leonardo tinted the ground in two colors: blue under the top/ landscape area; red under the bottom area in Mona Lisa, La Belle Ferronniere, The Musician, and St. Anne. ( Pietro C. Marani, Leonardo da Vinci, the complete paintings, Harry N. Abrams, inc. publishers, p. 198). Such examination would also reveal marks of an underlying drawing traced in the ground. Christie’s website mentions spolveri — pouncing — can be seen running along the line of the upper lip. “The rest of the body has a much looser, brushy underdrawing, with further small changes of mind. This combination of careful preparation for the head and much greater improvisation for the body is characteristic of Leonardo.” The X-rays would show different positions or variations of features from the finished painting. Because da Vinci painted in very thin glazes, some elements like an illusive smile or hair may not show up in the X-rayed images.

On the Christie’s website you’ll find this statement. “Powerfully convincing evidence of Leonardo’s authorship was provided by the discovery of numerous pentimenti — preliminary composition ideas, subsequently changed by the artist in the finished painting, but not reflected in the etching or painted copies. The most prominent of these — a first position for the thumb in the blessing hand, more upright than in the finished picture — was uncovered and photographed during the conservation process.” Further examination with infrared imaging would show additional pentimenti- changes in the drawing, which are recorded on the Christie’s website as subtle changes found in the contour of the hand holding the orb.

While these discoveries of pentimenti and spolveri are good indications of the old master work, they are not exclusive to Leonardo’s method of work. And if we think of a careful forgery, this method of working on a painting could have been forged after reading a comprehensive book on Leonardo.

Da Vinci was famous for his experimentation with materials and techniques (Look at the terrible condition of the Last Supper mural). While most artists of his time painted on poplar panels, he chose the walnut one. (Half of his paintings are on poplar wood). He also was one of the first painters to use the walnut oil, which slows down the drying time of oil paint and thus allows for a prolonged painting period. While the walnut oil doesn’t yellow unlike the linseed oil, it’s less stable and may contribute to a weaker bond between many layers of paint and thus makes the painting more susceptible to damage in the long run.

“Technical examinations and analyses have demonstrated the consistency of the pigments, media, and technique discovered in Salvator Mundi  with those known to have been used by Leonardo. Syson notes particularly the use of precious lapis lazuli in the Christ’s celestial blue clothes, a practice that was unusual at this date, suggestive of the opulence of the commission.”

Da Vinci was not the only artist to use precious pigments in his art.  Florentine artist Giotto (c. 1266-1337) comes to mind. Therefore it can’t be a strong argument to authenticate the painting based on the precious pigments used, in my opinion.

What’s fake? (or added after Leonardo)

The da Vinci’s orb is not by da Vinci

The orb’s reflection makes this painting the hardest thing to believe that it’s by da Vinci. It’s painted with transparency of glass that’s impossible to achieve, considering the shape and properties of the orb, regardless its material. da Vinci was a scientist who studied the effects of optics and light extensively. His knowledge of optics is shown in his atmospheric quality of layering paint on figures and landscape backgrounds. There are many scientific drawings made by Leonardo that show his curiosity and understanding of nature. As an artist he was exceptional at perfecting every aspect of a painting: composition, atmosphere, color, anatomy, etc. While in the following pictures you’ll see how the orb’s reflection actually looks like, I want to speculate that Da Vinci’s original was unfinished at the time he needed to give it to the king Louis XII, and it was hastily completed by one of his students. Leonardo was notorious for not finishing his projects (and not just paintings), and like in the Mona Lisa case, it’s presumed the painting traveled with the artist, and he worked on it on and off for about 5 years.


da vinci orb a fake?
I took these pictures of the orb under different lighting conditions and points of view to illustrate the essence of a problem we see in the painting. The orb’s real reflection is very different from the painting’s. The orb can reflect in three ways. 1. The image of the surroundings turns upside down in the orb when you partially hold it or place it on a stand. 2. The orb reflects the surroundings without turning them upside down. In the second row you see my studio and me reflected in the orb. 3. The orb magnifies the palm of the hand big time (the last row). Depending on the viewer’s point of view, you may also see a weak reflection of the surroundings besides the reflected hand. But in no circumstances the orb can be as transparent as you see in the Salvator Mundi painting.

Isaacson believes that this was “a conscious decision on Leonardo’s part”,[33] and speculates that either Leonardo felt a more accurate portrayal would be distracting, or “he was subtly trying to impart a miraculous quality to Christ and his orb”.[32] Kemp, on the other hand, says the doubled outline of the heel of the hand holding the sphere—which the restorer described as a pentimento—is an accurate rendering of the refraction produced by a calcite sphere.[27] 

Both of these statements are weak on substance because a change in material of the orb wouldn’t make it glass-like, and it seems close to impossible that Leonardo would override his scientific side in favor of creative interpretation. ( da Vinci considered himself a scientist, not a painter by writing a letter to L. Sforza of Milan offering his services to the court as a military engineer.)

Composition and background

Many are concerned with the provenance of artwork due to its tight, so-unlike-da-Vinci composition and a dark, empty background. While the background itself is of a lesser concern here because da Vinci painted several artworks with similar, dark background, what’s unclear why the figure is so frontal and sits so close to the edge.

The_Lady_with_an_Ermine and st john the baptist by da vinci
The Lady with an Ermine, 1489 and St. John the Baptist by da Vinci | These two works are attributed to da Vinci. They both have a single figure placed in a very dark background. The rotation of the figures is characteristic of Leonardo as well as the 3/4 view unlike what we see in the Salvator Mundi.


No realist artist would allow himself to place a figure so tight to the edge of the frame like we see in the Salvator Mundi. While this is a common mistake for a beginner, artists like da Vinci just couldn’t afford sacrificing composition to this degree. When the form is so close to the edge, it creates tension, which every good artist tries to avoid making. If the sleeve or hand get cropped, it should look intentional and more definite (like we see in the Impressionists). In this painting we observe Christ’s hands and arms sitting so unbelievably close to the edge of the painting, the figure barely fits in the frame. The only explanation of such positioning is cropping of a wood panel at a later stage in history of the painting. But we can see the same cropping of the figure in the Hollar’s etching and copy paintings! How would this be possible? Was the original painting cropped within the first 100 years of storage in a convent? What would be the reason for doing so? No adequate frame was found around to fit it in? Was the etching done not from the original da Vinci, which makes this painting forged from the etching itself?

In his art Leonardo rotated the figures to get a more dynamic position of a sitter. He either twisted the figures or used three-quarters view in portraiture art.  Was it his intention to reverse to the iconic imagery of the Medieval art to create a more universal image of Christ? There is a long history of iconography with frontal depiction of Christ that makes me think if Leonardo could make himself skip on his innovations in composition, reverting to this Medieval, symmetrical image of Christ.

Some argue that it’s work by Leonardo because of the triangular composition (hands and head form a triangle). However, triangles were widely used by many artists as a design element in painting. We can also argue that the Salvator Mundi is either a forgery or an inspiration for other artists by comparing its composition to the Durer’s self-portrait at 28. What’s interesting here is that although Durer was German, he traveled to Italy around that time and may have seen the da Vinci’s work-in-progress in person, because this self-portrait is drastically different from his previous two. Or we can argue that the forger tried to create this universal, frontal image of Christ basing it off of the etching and Durer’s portrait.


Durer, self-portrait at 28, 1500, oil on wood



The more I study the Salvator Mundi, the more questions it raises. And the deeper I go, the more puzzling the inconsistencies become, placing a veil of serious doubt over this painting. Despite my first impression that the portrait has this da Vinci signature look where every detail is carefully observed and the skin has his glow, all the problems I’ve listed above make me think that it’s either Leonardo’s underpainting finished by his student (considered the Old Master’s work), or it’s a complete forgery.  What’s clear is that it’s not enough to compare da Vinci artworks visually. Only a thorough examination of all written documents as well as modern chemical analysis of the painting (and the etching) could authenticate the present Salvator Mundi by giving us the original dates. No matter how much time the experts would spend comparing this work to others done by da Vinci, there is still a lot of doubt in place if it’s his. And if it’s not a skillful forgery, the Leonardo’s style is most definite in the face and the blessing hand, not in the orb, hair or fabric, which are fairly easy to forge.

Of course, this painting and its origin may deserve the criticism it receives from people working in the field that includes many experts on da Vinci’s art. Perhaps it may receive some criticism from art critics like we see here by Jerry Saltz. However, if someone is not an artist, hasn’t held a brush long enough to understand how hard realist painting is, or has meager knowledge of art history should refrain from posting negative comments about the artwork and moreover about the restorer herself on social media, which I’ve seen a lot. Please don’t troll without substance.


Scholarly papers database | Snow-Smith, J. (1978). The Salvator Mundi of Leonardo da Vinci. Arte Lombarda, (50), nuova serie, 69-81. Retrieved from

Pietro C. Marani, Leonardo da Vinci, the complete paintings, Harry N. Abrams, inc. publishers

Windsor Castle royal collection:

Christie’s timeline:


Suggested Donation:

19th century Russian portrait painting by veronica winters

19th century Russian Art & Portrait Painting: eyes are the window to the soul

Russian Portrait Painting

In this blog post I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite 18th and 19th- century Russian portrait paintings that I fell in love with when I was a child. These portrait paintings made a considerable influence on my aesthetic and desire to learn traditional oil painting techniques in adulthood. Some of these paintings represent the collision of classical ideals with Romanticism that is obvious in artists’ choice of subject and color schemes.

Art became a source of inspiration early in my life. Many oil paintings were printed in public school textbooks. Russian art occupied the last few pages in those textbooks that were printed in color and on thick paper unlike the rest of the material (the 1980s Soviet Union). Besides one art class in the elementary school, we didn’t have art as a subject back then, so those color reproductions and my parents’ art book collection became my first introduction to Russian art.

Ilya Repin (1844-1930)

Ilya Repin is one of the most well-known Russian artists of his generation. Excellent figurative painter, he is one of my favorites for his moral views and social purpose he channeled through his art. His portraits depict a variety of characters that all share the enormous artistic power and thoughtfulness.

Ilya Repin, Portrait of Garshin, 35×27,” 1884, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This portrait is one of several that Repin made of Russian artists and intellectuals following his return from graduate study in France. The artist begged the Academy to let him return home, so he could work on the national themes in his painting.

Here is an excerpt from the Met about this painting. “Russian author Vsevolod Garshin specialized in short stories expressing his pacifist beliefs, love of beauty, and aversion to evil. In the early 1880s he became friends with Repin, a leading progressive painter who shared his concern for contemporary political and social problems. Four years after it was created, Garshin, scarred by the suicides of his father and brother and his own mental illness, threw himself down a stairwell and died.” )

Vladimir Borovikovsky (1757-1826)

Russian artist Borovikovsky
Vladimir Borovikovsky,  Portrait of Maria Lopukhina, 1797, 72×53 cm, State Tretyakov gallery, Moscow

Created at the end of the 18th century, this painting reflects the sentiment of the epoch where a man is part of nature. The artist fuses the model with a natural, but decorative landscape behind her where Russian landscape becomes more prominent than it used to be shown in Russian painting. This oil painting has a through balance of color. The blues of tiny cornflowers in the background are reflected in her beautiful blue sash, and the gold of the rye mingles with her jewelry and the golden sash accents. The color of a dull pink shawl wrapping around her figure is similar to the quiet roses blooming by her side. Her white gown finds similar tones with a couple of trees, repeating the diagonal of the figure.

Otherwise standard, diagonal three-quarter view of the woman depicts the beauty of a young Princess Lopukhina (1779-1803) who belonged to the Russian royal family of Tolstoy and died of tuberculosis in her early twenties. Her masterfully painted face shows beautiful restraint. Soft transitions between warm and cool tones, light pinks on the cheeks, greenish shadows, the riveting depth of the eyes, and gentle, rosy colors of the mouth – everything breathes with life. I love this portrait for its quietness, elegant confidence and a masterful balance between colors and shapes.

Borovikovsky created numerous portraits after his work in the military, and then graduation from the Academy in St. Petersburg. He found fame among the imperial court including Catherine II.

Karl Briullov (1799-1852)

Karl Briullov, The Last Day of Pompeii, 183 x 256 inches, 1830-33

Karl Briullov was the last great classical portraitist in the 19th century Russia. Trained in the Academy in St. Petersburg, the artist was influenced by the classical ideals of Rome. Painter of royalty, Briullov had a tremendous skill set that he showed off in his most famous historical artwork titled “The last day of Pompeii, 1830-33” that brought him a widespread fame throughout Europe. Realism and idealism, classical and neoclassical ideals collide on a huge canvas that depicts people in action, running for their lives during the eruption of Vesuvius. After receiving the highest honors at the Academy, Karl Briullov won a golden medal to travel to Italy. Immersed in the classical tradition of painting, the artist had spent three years studying each figure for the Last day of Pompeii, completing numerous drawings. There is movement and balance in every figure, buildings and horses. Every element is painted with great detail and mastery of the form.

Russian artist also produced many paintings featuring royalty as well as idealized Italian themes with lighthearted women doing regular tasks, like picking up grapes or washing clothes. Although those paintings were painted masterfully, they lacked vision and the reflection of some important societal changes happening in the country. Those changes were painted soon thereafter by the Itinerants.

Detail from “The last day of Pompeii”

Detail from “the last day of Pompeii”


Karl Briullov, Portrait of the princess Elizabeth Saltykov, 1841, The State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg.


veronica winters colored pencil drawing
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Nikolay Pimonenko (1862-1912)

Nikolay Pimonenko, Yule fortune telling, detail, 1888

This painting has such a bold use of color! Strong, single light source illuminates two peasant girls who read the fortune. In the old tradition, girls placed the melting wax into a cup with cold water to capture the “frozen” profile of a future husband. Here they look at the wall projection cast from the melted wax, trying to figure out who the man is. I love how spontaneous and fresh the brushwork is and how vivid colors harmonize to depict festive mood.

Ivan Kramskoy (1837-1887)

Ivan Kramskoy, a leader in the Itinerants movement, was one of the strongest portraitists in his generation of artists. Like other artists in the movement, he believed in public duty and service to people through his art. He was interested in painting national themes, but Kramskoy was also a great portraitist. In 1869 he exhibited his portraits at the Academy for which he won a rank of an Academician. One of his famous artworks depicts a woman who could be either decent or not, but her facial expression is captivating. Every texture is richly painted: the feathers, silk, fur, and velvet. Light yellow light envelops the distant buildings and describes the contours of the figure. The artist puts the same color into the hat’s feather and her face to carefully harmonize the painting.

Ivan Kramskoy, Stranger, 1883, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Russian art
Kramskoy, the forester,  1874 (84×62 cm or 33×24,5 inches), The Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow

The gaze of this peasant man is just riveting! Tragedy, disturbance and hidden force reside in his enigmatic eyes. The artist shows a specific type of a man who doesn’t like to settle or to tolerate the abuse of the forest by men. Or perhaps the painting is about poor villagers  who are tired of their endless suffering and are getting ready to revolt against their wealthy masters.

Russian artist Ivan Kramskoy
Ivan Kramskoy portr. of artist’s daughter Sofia 1882

This portrait was painted in the end of the 19th century that marked the transition between the classical and modern art. The artist depicts his daughter in less controlled manner with loose strokes and colorful shadows that show the classical mastery of the anatomy and oil painting techniques. Her thoughtful face possesses no classical idealization, but expresses inner strength and depth of character that’s so hard to reach in a painting. The restrained position of her hands and mouth depicts a very young woman wrapped up in thoughts. Trained by her father, Sofia became a professional artist as well. She received recognition for her artistic skills but had a very complicated life after the revolution.

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy, Portrait of Ivan Shishkin

Ivan Shishkin was a great landscape painter who posed for this masterful portrait by Kramskoy. The background and the pose are so simple that all our attention goes to the face of the artist, which channels so much humanity and life that seems impossible to describe in paint.

Vasily Tropinin (1776-1857)

Vasily Tropinin came from a family of the serfs and received his freedom only at the age of 47. He often depicted scenes of ordinary peasant life that feature women doing hard or meticulous work. Those paintings have jovial mood, celebrating ordinary, domestic life.

Russian art, Tropinin
Tropinin, the lace-maker, 1823 , The Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow

I’m fond of this painting because it shows the old Russian tradition of lace-making, something I learned how to do in my teenage years, taking a class for a year. A pretty, peasant girl creates intricate pattern with numerous bobbins and thin threads. Captivated by her task, she quickly glances at the viewer only to return to her work. I love the gentleness in her face and a hint of a smile that’s subtle and kind.


To Read about Russian genre painting, click on the image below.

19th Century Russian Artists and Genre Art: the Itinerants movement







Learn what makes a painting great Video #1 Part 2: Composition, Color, Lines and Emotion

In this video in the series you’ll learn about composition, color, emotion, painting techniques, use of lines, and other artistic elements artists used to produce their greatest works of art. This video will help you understand the qualities of great art, especially painting created before the 20th century.

Feel free to share the video with your friends on Facebook!

You’ll find my video notes below!


Jacques-Louis_David_madame recamier
Jacques-Louis David, madame Recamier, 5’9″x7’4″, 1800, the Louvre


All beauty is the result of fine proportions. – Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), architect

Greeks were the first to invent and to use the mathematical proportion, linear perspective and the concept of divine proportion and scale in art and architecture (the Pantheon). Because of a conversion to Christianity, these postulates were abandoned in the Middle Age Europe only to reappear in the Italian Renaissance art several centuries later.

Man is the measure of all things becomes the mantra of the Renaissance artists in the 1400-1500s as they explore the concept of rational thought by creating art that’s three-dimensional, visually balanced, mathematically proportioned and color unified. (The principles of the mathematical perspective were devised by Filippo Brunelleschi).

Composition becomes central to the creation of representational art.

pentagon and decagon in a circle veronica winters video series
Pentagram and decagon in a circle

In this diagram you see the fundamental principle of geometric division of space or the divine proportion. A symbol of unity, the circle holds a pentagon inside with the 5-pointed star of Pythagoras drawn inside it. Renaissance artists used this model to place their figures in a visually pleasing composition. (Source: Rhythmic Form in Art by Irma Richter, Dover Publications)

Raphael Ansidei Madonna pentagon composition, veronica winters video series
Raphael, Ansidei Madonna, 1505-1507 | pentagon composition


The school of Athens, Raphael, veronica winters video series
The school of Athens, Raphael, 1510, fresco in Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican, Rome | pentagon composition

This painting represents the exaltation of rational thought. The artist paints his contemporaries as models to represent ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle standing right in the center of the composition. We see Leonardo as Plato, Bramante as Euclid, Raphael as Apelles and Michelangelo as Heraclitus. Raphael incorporates the architecture of the room by creating a balanced composition that proportionally relates to the interior. The fresco has 5 circles. The height of figures and their placement corresponds to the mathematical divisions seen in the picture.

Also see:

Poussin (French), “A dance to the music of time” (pentagon composition)

Besides using pentagons, artists create symmetrical and unsymmetrical balance with triangular compositions, the golden section rule, and several other devices.

Masaccio_ the holy trinity perspective
Masaccio (Italian), The Holy Trinity, fresco in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, 1428  | perfect linear perspective

In this painting while the iconography is standard, the unusual part is its perfect linear perspective. It marks Masaccio as the first Renaissance painter who achieved visual realism of the figures receding in space naturally with correct foreshortening.

Adam's Creation, Sistine Chapel_ceiling'_by_Michelangelo
Michelangelo (Italian), “The creation of Man,” Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome

In this artwork, the curving S-shape creates an equal movement and balance of shapes on both sides of the painting.

Also see:

Caravaggio (Italian), “The inspiration of St. Matthew” 1602. This painting features the S-shape design as well.


rogier_van_der_weyden_descent from the cross composition
Rogier van der Weyden, “Descent from the cross”


We can see examples of triangular compositions in religious art where a cross divides the space in half or is placed at a diagonal. In this painting the artist arranges the figures in a way that mimic the shape of the cross. The diagonal of Christ repeats itself in Mary’s shape.

virgin and child van eyck composition
Jan van Eyck, “The Virgin and Child” | triangular composition

The triangular shape was a popular element to design a composition. It creates balance with a line falling from the apex of the pyramid diving the picture in half.

claude lorraine_the embarcation of st. ursula golden section
Claude Lorraine (French), “Embarkation of St. Ursula,” National Gallery, London | the golden section

Lorraine consciously designed his paintings following the rules of thirds or the “golden section,” which is widely used today by photographers and artists alike.

Also see:

“Landscape with Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia,” 1682.

The artist also “framed” his landscapes with trees placed on both sides of a painting to create a circular motion, so a viewer never leaves his picture. He was also a master, creating a complete balance between the light and dark masses of trees, buildings, water and sky.

The Arnolfini marriage
Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini wedding” 1434, National Gallery, London

The artist strikes an equal balance of shapes around the middle where we see the joint hands.



Canova, Venus and Adonis, sculpture detail
Canova, Venus and Adonis, sculpture detail

Emotion is the strongest reason for artists to create art and for people to look at it to own it. Art is a visual expression of our soul. We respond to a painting or a sculpture instantly using our feelings as opposed to logic, and that’s what makes us human. Meaningful art helps us connect with our inner life. It confirms a record of our emotions dwelling within our memories. Art is not only a cultural and historical object, but also a remedy that speaks universal language. Artists have a vast emotional landscape to reach deep to convey a story in a meaningful way.  It’s the feeling that draws us into the picture. Because we all have a unique set of experiences, we respond to the art in different ways. Some paintings leave us untouched, while others haunt us with their beauty, melancholy, joy or fear. Painting is a record of  artist’s interior life, and his/her ability to see beauty in both the beautiful and the ugly.

Because feelings can’t be quantified in immediate dollars and cents unlike brand named stuff, many don’t see value in art, think it’s useless, and try to cut funding for school art programs and art organizations. As a consumer driven society we are conditioned to ignore craftsmanship, uniqueness and beauty produced in singular products because a cheaper version of artistic creation is all around us for free on social media, TV, magazines, shop posters, book covers, pillow designs and so on. We see art but we don’t really study it. Only our encounter with the original artwork has that immediate impact, raw emotion that enriches us as human beings.


Caravaggio, Head of Medusa, oil on canvas, 24×22”, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

(In Greek mythology, the terrible Medusa had the power to turn anyone who looked at her into stone: a power she retained after being killed by Perseus.)

Frans Hals, The Jolly Toper, 1628-30, oil on canvas, 32×26”, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Flaming June, Frederic_Lord_Leighton_(1830-1896)
Sir Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896), Flaming June, 47” square, 1895, Puerto Rico


Vasnezov Sirin and Alkonost. The song of happiness and sadness
Vasnetzov, The song of joy and sorrow, oil on canvas, 133×250 cm, 1896, The Tretyakov gallery, Moscow
Russian painting vasili perov
Vasily Perov, Trine (Troyka), oil on canvas, 1866

Also see:

Isaak Levitan, Over the Eternal Peace, 1894, oil on canvas, 150x206cm, the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Ivan Shishkin, Winter, 1890, oil on canvas, 125 x 204 cm, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Ivan Shishkin, In the Wild North, 1890, oil on canvas, 161 x 118 cm, Museum of Russian Museum, Kyiv

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893, tempera and casein on cardboard, 36×29” (91x74cm), Oslo, Norway



Friedrich, two men contemplating the moon
Caspar David Friedrich, two men contemplating the moon | The Met |

In this section I’d like to mention the 19th century Romantic Movement. Romanticism grew as a rebellion against the static, cold ideals of the Greco-Roman art, against religion and social order. Romantics were liberals who produced art that excited viewers with emotions, especially the fear and the power of wild, changing Nature as the source of the sublime. Romantics channeled these ideals via painterly movement and color. They wanted to reflect on real life, not some distant ideals. Artists celebrated freedom of creativity that found its support from new patronage of successful entrepreneurs and business class.

The funeral of Atala,1808,Girodet_de_Roussy-Trioson
Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, The Funeral of Atala, 1808, oil on canvas, 5’6”x6’10” (1.67×2.10 m), the Louvre, Paris


Caspar_David_Friedrich_-the polar sea
German Romantic, Caspar David Friedrich, the Polar Sea (The Wreck of Hope), 1824, oil on canvas, 38×50” Hamburg, Germany

Also see:

Spanish artist Goya (1746-1828), The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, Los Caprichos, 1798, etching and aquatint, 8×6”, the Met, New York.

He creates horror scenes with monsters and owls, depicts his nightmares that’s said to criticize Spanish society as corrupt and demented. The artist was for the French revolution and against the king of Spain, yet was very popular as a court painter to Charles IV. Late Goya shows highly emotional art, already being a thought after portraitist, painting royalty as individuals with psychological insight into their personalities that lacked idealization on purpose.

Goya, The Family of Charles IV, oil on canvas, 9’2”x11’, Prado Museum, Madrid & the Third of May, 1808, oil on canvas, 8’9”x 13’4”, 1814-15. (In this painting the artist shows the execution of Madrid citizens dying for Liberty).

Swiss painter, Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) painted somewhat erotic, moody and supernatural pictures of dramatic Shakespearean scenes and dreams that ignited fear. In his painting the skill of drawing is given away in favor of emotions and imagination. He painted several variations of the painting The Nightmare, oil on canvas, 102x127cm, Detroit institute of arts

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) The nightmare. 1790-91 version

Another Neo-Baroque French painter, Gericault (1791-1824) explored human extremes and violent action in his art. He painted people in action with the exuberance and energy of Baroque artists.

Mounted Officer of the Imperial Guard, 1812, oil on canvas, 9’7”x6’4”, the Louvre, Paris. He completed this artwork at just 21 years of age.

Other Romantic artists to check out are Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) and J.M.W. Turner.



Sir Frederic Leighton, Self-portrait, 1880

We can divide representational art into two opposing groups. One is dominated by the composition design (Michelangelo), and the other by the use of color and light. While thoughtful design stands for rational thought in art, beautiful play of light and color evokes strong feelings.

Those of you who have tried oil painting know how hard it is to achieve color unity. It’s not only the skill of color mixing, but also the artistic vision and sensibility to color. In masterpieces we see hues that interact and support each other. The complexity of a color comes with deliberate color mixing, dragging or glazing of the paint, overlaying, and letting one hue dominate and complement the rest. (Ingres, David, Simon Vouet). The tradition of color descends from Titian to Rubens, to Van Gogh and Picasso. Seurat developed his own scientific color system – pointillism that didn’t get traction among artists, however.

Jacques-Louis_David death of marat
Jacques-Louis David (French), The death of Marat, 1793, neoclassicism  


Mary Cassatt, Sleepy baby, pastels on paper, 1910, impressionism 

The Impressionists redefined the use of color, not painting with black in the shadows. Unlike the majority of artists who worked in the studio, the impressionists painted outdoors, capturing the weather conditions at different times of the day. That’s why you see numerous paintings done of the same subject but in various lighting conditions. We can look at Claude Monet’s waterlilies and Edgar Degas’ dancers to understand how artists were interested in atmospheric and light perception of places and people – the impression, rather than the actual copying of details. The impressionists revolted against the Academism and its annual Salon painting competitions to organize their independent shows that exhibited unconventional, colorful art.

In Russia we see a rise of national landscape painting with artists like Shishkin and Kuindzhi who depicted vast, luscious and vivid landscapes of the countryside. Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Gauguin become the post-impressionism artists who focus on the spiritual in painting channeling it through color and symbols.

kuindzhi birch grove 1879
Kuindzhi, birch grove, 1879
Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842-1910), the moon night | Impressionism & realism


Use of shapes, lines and negative space

michelangelo drawing of Libyan Sibyl
Michelangelo, drawing of Libyan Sibyl

Line is the most vital element in visual art. Contour lines describe form and the initial drawing design. Drawings exist as personal records of artist’s idea and thoughts, having unique handwriting, gesture and energy. Line drawings can be very expressive if an artist varies shape, thickness and completion of the line. Rembrandt’s drawings capture everyday activities in sketchy but confident, almost child-like lines. Drawings of Michelangelo are beautiful studies of models where the lines define the physical anatomy and monumentality of male figures frozen in action. Da Vinci’s drawings perfectly describe the subject with soft, gentle lines reminiscent of the softness we see in his paintings. It’s amazing to see how Ingres describes figures in his hollow drawings of just contour lines with minimal shading. Japanese printmakers, Hiroshige and Hokusai became the two masters of woodblock printing in the country. They exercised great influence onto the Impressionists with their approach to composition design and the simplification of shapes. Hiroshige’s artwork is very linear and creates simplified shapes and patterns with the lines of varied quality.

Hiroshige, “Travelers passing Mount Fuji” woodblock print, 1831, Honolulu
Alphonse Mucha, The precious stones: Topaz, Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, details, 1900, color lithograph, 26×11” each

The leading Art Nouveau designer and painter, Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) used geometric shapes, mosaics, and diagonals to create beautiful lithographs of women as idyllic symbols. Czech artist gave birth to his unique “Style Mucha” with his posters of a famed actress Sarah Bernhardt that made him prominent in French Art Nouveau. His use of definitive, contour line is central to his illustrative style.

Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) employs lines, patterns and shapes to create a unique visual experience. His figures are made of patterns with contour and geometric lines defining form.

Gustav Klimt, Tree of Life, 1909


As spectators we often don’t pay attention to the artistic use of negative space. Negative space is simply the background you see behind an object. It often affects how we perceive what’s in front of us by carefully controlling the tone, color and shapes in the background space. Let’s look at one of the Spanish realist artists – Cotan who uses the negative space to his advantage.

Juan Sanchez Cotan, Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, 1602, oil on canvas, 27×33”, San Diego Museum of Art

Because the Spanish court and the Catholic church employed foreign painters (Titian) in the 16th century Spain, native artists were not popular among the two major patrons, and therefore they were able to develop their still life painting that was nonexistent before the 1590s. Cotan (1561-1627) becomes a pioneer in still life painting. A deeply religious man, he painstakingly arranged simple objects at a curve, juxtaposing bright objects against the dark tones, where rich background reinforces the realism of foreground shapes.

Similarly Caravaggio used the dark background to bring his subjects forward. He defined and mastered chiaroscuro – the balance of light and dark in his paintings. So much so that when a viewer stands in a dark interior of a church he sees abstracted patterns of light and shade. When the light is turned on, the entire painting changes to a story we see in a design. His mastery of color, negative space and contrast play with our perception of reality. (David and Youth bitten by a lizard).


Texture, paint and brushwork quality

Jan van Eyck (Dutch), painting detail that shows glazing techniques with seamless brushwork.
Caravaggio, St. John the Baptist. | This painting shows the effect of glazing where color (red) is built up in many layers of thin paint (glazing).

Our eyes travel across canvas to notice the unusual texture and brushwork, or purposefully to see none. Strokes of paint can describe the textures and shapes of fabric, skin and space. They can also generate an emotional response to the subject itself. The artistic ability to do it freely takes years of experimentation and practice, like we see in Sargent’s painting. Sargent’s art has spontaneous brushwork quality that’s actually deliberate and skilled. He was masterful at hitting the right ‘note’ in a single stroke, and when he was not, the artist wiped it off with a rag, and did it again. His paint strokes have relaxed elegance and fluidity.

Traditional methods involve several painting techniques. Here I’d like to mention the glazing techniques used by Ingres and David as well as the impasto method of painting perfected by Rembrandt. Glazing creates depth and sophistication of a color by using thin, transparent layers of paint. The impasto technique creates texture in thick, opaque strokes. These two seemingly opposing methods are often combined together in a single work of art, like we see in the Rembrandt’s paintings that create the glow in his portraits. The Jewish bride.

Jan Van Eyck (Dutch, 1390-1441) was a fundamental figure in northern Europe, the first to perfect the oil painting technique. He had strong interest in optics and light effects to create painstakingly detailed realism. (Ghent Altarpiece, oil on panel, detail). In this kind of art you don’t see any brushwork to convey realism. The artist uses lots of glazes to build up the color.

Rembrandt, the Jewish bride, oil painting detail showing the impasto technique.

Impasto (to put in paste, Italian) is applied thickly on a canvas or panel with a brush or a palette knife that raises the paint surface and makes the strokes visible. Impasto creates textures in clothes, jewelry, and skin that looks like a suggestion of the fabric or skin rather than a direct representation of it. The relief-like surface makes the lights pop more to attract our attention to the focal point. Rembrandt, Velazquez, Titian and Goya used this technique.

A lot of artists use a combination of techniques that include glazing, impasto, scumbling and more that produce different effects like you can see here.

Detail of a painted gown
Alexander Roslin: Marie Suzanne Giroust, 1734-1772, konstnär, gift
Alexander Roslin: Marie Suzanne Giroust, 1734-1772, konstnär, gift med Alexander Roslin.

Action step:

Pick an artwork that you really like, and try to explain why you enjoy looking at it in terms of composition, color, and subject. Practice your understanding of paintings, and your art appreciation will grow exponentially!  Have fun with it!

I hope you’ve enjoyed watching my video and discovered how story, composition, emotion and texture – all contribute to and influence on our perception of the masterpieces. A great painting offers a lot more more than a good composition, realism, or a vibrant color. A great painting gives you an emotional experience, something poetic and spiritual that transcends time and place, and allows you to understand yourself and the world around you!

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Coming up next: Video #2 Contemporary Painting

In my next video you’ll learn what to look for in contemporary art.

Complete video series:

Video #1 Part 1 – Learn what makes a painting great

Video #1 Part 2 – you are here!

Video #2 Contemporary Art – coming soon!

Video #3 How to take care of your art collection – coming soon!

Video #4 How to frame art – coming soon!

Video # 5 Why you don’t need an interior designer to buy and display art in your home – coming soon!


The Metropolitan Museum of art,

History of Art, 5th edition, H.W. Janson

The gilded age, E. Prelinger

Rhythmic Form in Art by Irma Richter, Dover Publications

Wikipedia & tons of art history classes in college! 🙂


Click on the image to subscribe to my art notes and receive a FREE download with my art, inspiration and demonstrations!




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art appreciation: understanding the qualities of great art

Learn what makes a painting great: Video #1 Part 1

In this first video in the series you’ll learn about some of the greatest works of art, art movements, ideas and artistic elements. This video will help you understand and appreciate the qualities of great art, especially painting created before the 20th century. Feel free to share the video with your friends on Facebook!

Video Notes:

Art Movements 0:42

Art Patrons 1:49

Art Education & female artists 2:21

Why do artists create art? 3:26

Artistic Elements : Story & Subject

Story & Subject 4:29

Biblical Scenes 5:16

Historical & Mythological Painting 9:03

Formal Portraiture 14:42

Landscape art 20:33

Genre art & Dutch still life 23:13

Kramskoy, portrait of a stranger, 1883

Join the art collector’s circle to receive a FREE notebook with inspiration, demonstrations & more! Click here:

Next video: Video #1 | Part 2

In my next video you’ll learn about major artistic elements that artists use to design their paintings. They include composition, emotion, color, and the use of shapes, space and some painting techniques.

Painting detail of angels, art in Turin, Italy

Complete video series:

Video #1 Part 1 – Learn what makes a painting great – you’re here!

Video #1 Part 2 – Learn what makes a painting great, part 2

Video #2 Contemporary Art – coming soon!

Video #3 How to take care of your art collection – coming soon!

Video #4 How to frame art – coming soon!

Video # 5 Why you don’t need an interior designer to buy and display art in your home – coming soon!

Hand, painting detail, art in Turin, Italy

The Metropolitan Museum of art,

History of Art, 5th edition, H.W. Janson

The gilded age, E. Prelinger

Rhythmic Form in Art by Irma Richter, Dover Publications

Wikipedia & tons of art history classes in college! 🙂

Click on the image to subscribe to my art notes and receive a FREE download with my art, inspiration and demonstrations!

contemporary women artists

17 contemporary women artists: the best of real and surreal in painting

Contemporary women artists

Realism is coming back! Lost to decades of abstract art, contemporary figurative painting is experiencing a rebirth in a variety of styles. Contemporary figurative artists are becoming more popular among the gallerists and collectors alike, and with that the female artists rise and take part in more art shows than ever. Let’s look at the roundup of some female painters who continue the tradition of classical painting, yet are subjected to modern times and revelations.

Every artist wants to achieve a unique voice in art that becomes a record of emotions, experiences and history. Many are influenced by baroque painting, wish to find purpose or to depict the duality in everyday life. Yet, the approaches to painting are vastly different. In this interview every painter answers a single question. What they want others to see in their art. Let’s look at their answers!

(Please note that all artwork is copyrighted by these female artists painters. Contact them directly. In the following posts I’d be adding more representational artists to this colorful array of contemporary women artists).


Margo Selski

By using a safe and familiar composition, my goal is to lull the viewer into a false sense of comfort and familiarity, where they are drawn to images which, upon further viewing, become curious, uncomfortable and perhaps even dangerous.

Margo Selski, il and Beeswax on Canvas, 40 × 30 in, RJD gallery

Margo Selski creates a fairy tale universe depicting her family secrets in the surreal paintings. These are tightly balanced, emotional riddles often starring her children dressed in elaborate clothing. While the narratives seem fantastical, they are autobiographical since every artist depicts parts of herself in art. Every painting shows duality that creates tension. Every painting is a world of fragile self-exploration and heightened emotions. There is a sense of passing time that flows through fantasy that becomes a hidden reality. Influenced by Flemish painting, the artist also plays with the medium, creating false craquelure where lines look like cracks in old paint.

Artist’s talk:

Anne-Marie Kornachuk

I want people to see a real figure, in a moment of intimacy, surrounded by the abstracted beauty of the fabric.

Anne-Marie Kornachuk, oil painting

Canadian artist Anne-Marie Kornachuk paints women in swirling gowns where colorful fabric shimmers around the figure to seduce us with visual beauty. Influenced by Baroque painting, the artist creates a dynamic flow between the silky fabric and dark background. Her female figures seem to be confined within the boundaries of canvas, yet they are free to jump, making beautiful patterns of light and dark.

The artist’s striking paintings and oil painting techniques are featured in the art inspiration book titled Art Lessons in Realist Drawing, Painting & Beyond. 

To learn more:

Roos van der Vliet

What I want to happen between a viewer and my work is not really up to me. It is something personal between the two of them, it goes beyond me. I do tend to influence this moment of course by always trying to let my portraits stare directly at the viewer, by letting them tell a non verbal story, solely by their eyes. It can’t be heard but you can sense some of it by watching them closely. People often walk by art without really looking. I hope that my paintings almost force the viewer to stand still and look back.

female artists 21st century, women painters
Storytellers xvi, acrylic on canvas, 2016

Female artist painter from the Netherlands, Roos creates realistic portraits of women with soulful eyes who are also constricted by their own hair. The enigmatic gaze of every Storyteller acrylic painting almost forces us to stare back at the model. Just like in the Margo Selski’s paintings, we can sense polar duality in the images. It’s a mental struggle between the invisibility and popularity, the known and unknown, the outer appearance and inner world. Interested in representing the world realistically, Roos makes every effort to depict the soft flow of hair and the honesty in the model’s eyes as human as possible.

Kelsey Beckett

Little lives

Kelsey Beckett is an upcoming, talented artist-illustrator who stylizes the female form to reveal romantic fragility in her contemporary figurative painting. Influenced by Manga, her oil and acrylic paintings are beautiful expressions of color, form and composition.


Yuka Sakuma

Yuka Sakuma, natural mineral pigments, Japanese ink, acrylic paint on hemp paper

Yuka utilizes traditional materials like natural mineral pigments and Japanese ink to create paintings of women in Japanese style. To be more precise, these are artworks of beautiful, little girls that project innocence, playfulness and immaturity that usually gets lost with age. The artist creates a world of innocent childhood in her drawings where images of little girls often express emotional duality. Yuka is one of contemporary female painters who utilizes muted palette and flowing hair to express ethereal feelings.


Marina Dieul

I want others to see “joy” in my art. Joy of creating, joy of seeing beauty in little things, joy of inventing possible stories and meanings… It looks like people can feel it, I have an endless number of testimonies from collectors and followers saying that my art make them smile.

Marina Dieul, female artists painters
Marina Dieul, MORPHOGENESE 3, 8x 8 inches, oil painting

Marina Dieul was born in France but moved to Montreal, Canada almost two decades ago where she paints playful images of cats, mice and other animals. Her trompe l’oeil paintings express curiosity and amusement and we can’t help it but smile looking at paintings of cats chasing mice. Marina’s dramatically lit portrait paintings often depict children that give us a sense of wonder and innocence as well as show incredible artistic skill. The female artist won many prestigious awards with her figurative paintings. To learn more:


Kei Meguro

Kei Meguro, pencil drawing and digital manipulation

Japanese female artist, Kei Meguro creates pencil drawings of women she calls ‘babes.’ A lot of them are drawn from famous models or celebrities but exemplify her unique style that’s influenced by traditional Japanese art. The simplification of form and a near absence of any color are balanced with incredible details in the eyes and hair. The artist’s anatomical accuracy as well as fragility of the faces mesmerizes viewers. Unlike other contemporary female artists painters, Kei processes her drawings in Photoshop, cleaning up the smudges and adding layers of textures and color.

The artist graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York where she developed her illustrative style and now works for major fashion and design companies. To learn more:

June Stratton

My paintings are imagined blends of beauty and nature. These paintings are often intentionally idealized representations of emotional impressions from my dreams – entwined with elements of the earth, sky and water that surround my real world. I use symbols and my feminine viewpoint to tell a very loose, abstracted narrative. As in my dreams, my muses cannot see all things, are sometimes unable to speak and frequently appear to be floating.

Resemblance, oil, silver, arches paper mounted on panel

June Stratton’s art is ethereal. These are paintings of young women depicted in soft hues of blue and silver that resemble water. While not always anatomically correct, her beautiful figurative paintings project magic and fragility. These paintings are visual stories where figures melt into the background only to reappear in a new dimension. The silver-leafed fractions add specks of light to her images. Connect:


Audrey Kawasaki

The girls/women I paint are fictitious characters. They are all a manifestation of this one imagined person. Through her, I’d like the viewers to feel her confidence, strength, and independence. But she is also fragile and vulnerable and has all the weaknesses we all have. I like to play with that juxtaposition and balance. Things are never black and white. There’s a whole array of greys in between, and I like to explore that complexity.

It Was You, oil, graphite, and ink on wood panel 24″x24″, 2014

Audrey Kawasaki’s figurative paintings are beautiful renderings of female form and landscape. Art-Nouveau-elegant, sensual curves flow one into another to depict innocence and eroticism, seductiveness and melancholy, passion and coolness. Her use of patterns and shapes is reminiscent of Gustav Klimt, while manga-influenced figures show beautiful renderings of women who live in a magical universe.

To learn more:


Mary Jane Ansell

Mary Jane Ansell, study of a white hat, oil painting

Based in the U.K., Mary Jane works on hyper-realistic paintings of women that look fashionable and modern, yet fall back onto classical ideals in portraiture. These are figures lost in quietness and self-reflection. Mary Jane paints indirectly, meaning that the artist layers paint to achieve gradual likeness, depth and detail. Her female figures have luminosity and rich subtlety in skin tones pared with some simplification in clothing and background space.

 The artist exhibits internationally. To learn more:


Teresa Oaxaca

I would like for viewers to get more interested in learning about aesthetics.

women painters
“Somnambulant Clown”, 32×48 inches, oil on canvas

Dolls, dolls, dolls! A beautiful obsession, a dream, a collision of past and present. The Washington D.C. based artist Teresa Oaxaca creates large paintings that inherit the exuberance of the Baroque and Rococo periods. Her oil paintings become records of lush compositions with clowns, women, fabric, and dolls reminiscent of rich artistic history, especially Italy. Classically trained at the Florence Academy in Italy, the female artist mesmerizes us with her skillful drawings and vivid oil paintings that depict figures talking, crying or smiling at us. Dressed like a beautiful doll herself, Theresa embodies her paintings visually during the artist receptions and workshops held internationally.

To learn more:


Anna Wypych

What intrigues me the most is inner strength. My main goal is to make people – viewers of my works, feel and see their own inner strength.

Leaving toxic habits.” oil on canvas, 100/80cm 39,5/31,5 inch, 2015

Anna Wypych is a Polish figurative realism artist who paints women as allegories of human condition. Sensitive to her environment, she employs gentle color palette to convey her thoughts and psychology of people around her with undeniable sincerity.  Sometimes she paints multiple figures in a single painting like in a photography that dance, jump or interact with each other.  Semi-nude figures seem to be variations of one person that moves across space.

To learn more:


Julie Heffernan

Julie Heffernan’s oil painting

Julie Heffernan’s imaginative painting is a mix of history, allegory, figurative and still life – all combined in numerous self-portraits. Presented as a tall, skinny, half-nude woman in the elaborate skirts or without them, she is surrounded by the forest, animals or shiny palace rooms. Her most recent artwork-magical landscapes addresses the climate change and how humanity slowly kills the planet that’s different in mission from her older artwork.

Katherine Stone

When I look at my favorite artists (or read my favorite authors, or listen to my favorite musicians), what appeals to me is that they have created a little universe with its own laws of aesthetics, its  own language, its own habits and forms.  The artists have plunged deeply into their vision.  So I guess what I want people to see when they look at my art is a recognizable voice.

A Certain Slant of Light, 20×13″, oil on panel, 2015

Katherine Stone is a Canadian realist artist who paints children and still lifes. In her figurative paintings you won’t find excessive cuteness or sweetness usually captured in children. We rather see peaceful and subdued colors with a careful observation of light. A truly amazing craftsman, the artist often uses dramatic light (chiaroscuro), glazes and other traditional painting techniques to convey realism. Her still life paintings are often symbolic of life and death, and the irreversible passing of time.

In this painting we look at a portrait of Maddie, Katherine’s visual inspiration and model since her cousin’s daughter was a toddler.  The artist’s literal inspiration for the painting comes from the Emily Dickinson poem. Soon we see how both the artist and the poet become sensitive to a short presence of daylight in winter.



Kerry Simmons

When people look at my art, I’d like them to see beauty, to experience the work as something that enhances and adds to life’s experience.

Kerry Simmons, The Graduate, oil on panel, private collection

Kerry Simmons is one of few female artists painters who works and illustrates in colored pencil, pencil or oil paint, living and working in New York. Some of her drawings depict women as allegories, or the Barbie dolls that evoke a sense of melancholia, isolation and abandonment. They are intense self-portraits even when the physical model is different from the artist but somehow carries the resemblance to Kerry’s beautiful face. A very talented figurative painter, her paintings are heavy with quietness and mystery.

To learn more:


Tanja Gant

I’m hoping that when people look at my work they see beyond the technical part. Sometimes my portraits are “snapshots” of people I’ve met and who have inspired me and other times my work tells a deeper, personal story. I would like my work to leave an impression and make people question the reasons behind each drawing.   

Tanja Gant, Noesis, 12×22″, colored pencil drawing

Tanja is an amazing talent. Self-taught, her colored pencil drawings is not a plain exercise in skill, rather an amazing ability to capture every person’s character from a unique vantage point. She often draws her family members and weaves her personal experiences into her colored pencil drawings. The artist makes work that encourages asking questions. You can marvel at her drawings here:

She is also one of the artists explaining her techniques at Art Lessons in Realist Drawing, Painting & Beyond. 

Victoria Herrera

I strive to serve as a reminder to the viewer of the beauty that exists in nature, which we often take for granted. Also, the piece should serve as a vehicle for the viewer to pause, observe and find solace in it.

femaile artists 21st century, women artists
Victoria Herrera, Frances Hope, 40 x 40 inches, oil on linen

Victoria Herrera is one of female artists’ painters who creates large-scale artwork to entice the viewer to pause, step in, and to self-reflect on the emotions and the meaning of life. Every new oil painting is a masterful fit in capturing gentle yet seductive petals with high-contrast design and a controlled color palette. The artist often incorporates semitransparent shapes and circles into the backgrounds as a record of her near death experience. Her oil paintings of flowers serve as transformative experiences to capture simplicity, nature and God.

To learn more:

With such wonderful roundup of contemporary female painters American art scene is destined to flourish and thrive. Stay tuned for more contemporary figurative artists to come! Meanwhile check out my other art show reviews and posts.

King Woman art show in New York 

19th century Russian Art & Portrait Painting

10 Contemporary Male Artists Painting Women

Figurative Realism at Miami Art Week 2017


Check out prints and art gifts at

mona lisa art supplies, how to take care of art

Reasons why da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is still here: use your art supplies wisely

Technical reasons why Mona Lisa is still here

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a scientist and an inventor. In his mind, his remarkable abilities to perfect the technique of painting took a back seat in favor of many other interests he devoted most of his time to. Therefore, very few of his artworks exist today, and the artist’s mindset about art remains as elusive as his paintings. Tall, handsome, and charming Leonardo was great at finding patrons for his military, scientific, theatre and art projects, projects that had never ended in his creative mind, and most he had never finished.

As an inventor, he also loved to experiment with his art materials, using new, untested methods and processes that led to a number of disasters. His greatest surviving achievement, the “Last Supper” mural painted inside a church in Milan began to chip off the wall during his lifetime. He abandoned the traditional fresco technique and painted the picture on a dry wall instead of a wet plaster, and experimented with oil and tempera and other materials that Leonardo combined in a new, untested method, flaking off his deliberate, masterful composition to dust almost as soon as he painted it. The mural has endured a number of renovations since then, but only restored and computer-generated models can show us his genius: perfectly sculptured figures in triangular sub-compositions.


It’s not a surprise that da Vinci experimented with “Mona Lisa” (started in 1503) as well.  Obviously, this artwork had held a very special place in Leonardo’s heart since it had never left his hands until his death. Da Vinci’s drawing of the figure was absolutely perfect, and his creation of a soft landscape behind her, (the sfumato technique) was his signature invention. I’m not going to talk about the mystery of the sitter, the beauty of this composition, or the artist’s preoccupation with the painting. There is numerous literature written about these topics. Rather I’d like to illustrate the importance of art materials used in the process of painting.

The artist played with the technical aspects of the painting itself that deteriorated its surface at a much faster pace than it normally would. The exposure to light and humidity darkened and discolored the pigments. Fine details in the face got lost as dyes mixed with the paint faded. Her brightly colored attire changed to shades of browns and black that we see today. Further applied varnishes during the early restorations darkened the painting even more, and today it has a rather colorless appearance of yellowed browns.

Italian painter, Giorgio Vasari was the first to write a comprehensive book about famous artists preceding his generation that he titled “lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors, and architects.” In his notes he reviewed the “Mona Lisa” as follows:

“The eyes had that luster and watery sheen always seen in life … the nostrils, rosy and tender, seemed to be alive … The opening of the mouth seemed to be not colored but living flesh.”

These are the words that describe the mastery of the artist that we sort of see here, only if we could take the sunglasses off to see the real colors.

So what happened to the painting? Because the artist painted on a poplar panel (soft, non-durable and susceptible to insect attack wood) that was removed from its original frame, the surface couldn’t withstand the changes in humidity, it warped and cracked. In the 18th century the braces were added in the back of the painting to stabilize the crack, and later the added frame and cross braces helped to stop the continuous warping of the panel. Over the years the panel has actually shrunk!

Today you can see the painting in the Louvre that’s kept in a bulletproof glass case. It’s rather small (21×30”) and it’s hard to enjoy the beauty of it, jumping over the heads of so many tourists surrounding it with the selfie sticks. To preserve the priceless artwork, this painting is kept in a climate-controlled room with a 50% (+\-10%) humidity and 18-21C (68-70F) temperature. To compensate for fluctuations in relative humidity, the case is supplemented with a bed of silica gel treated to provide 55% relative humidity (Wikipedia)

These are computer-generated models of the famous painting showing us true colors it probably had when Leonardo had just painted it. In these models we can see the pinks and the blues that Vasari mentioned and that have faded over the centuries.



Source for the images: World Mysteries at

Other sources: Art history lessons | the Natural Pigments at | Wikipedia at

Mona Lisa in the Louvre

If you’re interested to learn more, the Louvre museum website is a great source. Here you can see Mona Lisa up-close and personal going through the digitized images completed by the Louvre museum:

Close ups:


Scientific tests:

If you paint

Here you’ll find some good information relevant to the process of painting that affects conservation. The longevity of your artwork greatly depends on the environment you place it in. The best conditions you can set in your home or office include constant room temperature and low humidity levels. Don’t expose your artwork to the extreme sunlight, heat, oxidation, or humidity (water) – these are the main causes for the artwork’s deterioration. Don’t wash the surface with water.

1.     Don’t paint on glossy surfaces.

2.     Don’t use a lot of medium, it dilutes and weakens the paint. Use just a little bit of oil to help the paint flow.

3.     Paint with lead white, not titanium white, or worse flake white.  Lead white holds up everything together like a glue and minimizes cracking.

4.     If you don’t paint large, stick to painting on professional panels, the surface of which doesn’t fluctuate as much as the canvas does.

5.     Have strong stretcher bars and frames that keep the painted surface flat and unchanged.

6.     Use linseed oil to form the most durable oil paint film, although it yellows more than the walnut oil. (The walnut oil is your second best option. It yellows less but dries much slower).

7.     Always paint on a previously dried layer!

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Hope you enjoyed the read!





10 contemporary male artists painting women realistically

10 Contemporary male artists painting women in classical tradition: the best in figurative art

10 Contemporary male artists painting women

Today I’d like to feature some of the best contemporary male artists painting women in classical tradition. After decades of abstract art dominating the American culture, figurative painting sees a gentle come back that is becoming stronger and more popular year after year. While contemporary art is an amalgam of so many subjects and styles, it’s often subjective to the viewer’s personal taste to determine who is the best in painting. Therefore, I don’t aim to say that the following artists deserve more attention than others, but I’d like to highlight the ones who show both technical and creative mastery in the depiction of women, finding their inspiration in the female form.

1. Pino

Pino Daeni (1939-2010) was an Italian artist who painted women in fresh pastel colors that evoked feelings of love, admiration, and family warmth. Women dance, read or take a stroll in a field of flowers or at the beach. Sweet and lighthearted, the figures are painted in colorful, loose strokes, using the sophisticated color schemes that overlay and harmonize with each other like notes in music. Long skirts, comfy white shirts, and summer dresses get lost in the soft edges of the surroundings. To see the artist’s work, visit:

2. Serge Marshennikov

Russian artist, Serge Marshennikov is the representational painter who solely focuses on painting women. His youthful, semi-nude models rest on a couch in swirls of delicate fabric. The elaborate lace and cotton alike, it feels so gentle and real, the viewer feels tempted to reach out and touch it. Like the 19th-century French artist David, Serge plays with complex fabric folds and the luminous skin tones to create stunning contrast in his paintings.

Besides exhibiting a tremendous technical skill in oil painting, the artist possesses true talent composing his images with honest admiration and sensitivity to his models that transcend time and place. Follow the artist here:

3. Joshua LaRock

Joshua La’Rock

American artist, Joshua LaRock is a classical realist who studied with Jacob Collins to nurture his talents. Deeply rooted in classical painting, his portraits and still lifes are carefully planned and executed in classical tradition. Joshua describes his models in soft, slightly loose brushwork that breath with life. The award-winning artist works and teaches in New York. Connect with the artist here:

4. Emanuele Dascanio

Italian artist, Emanuele Dascanio draws and paints in the hyperrealism style with the models occupying huge surfaces. His subjects vary from women to old men, to still life. He often controls the light with a single light source (the Rembrandt lighting) to create dramatic charcoal drawings and paintings. To see the artist’s work, go here:

5. Jeremy Mann

The first time I encountered Jeremy Mann’s work I was blown away by his loose style of painting that seemed totally real nevertheless. Painting cityscapes and women in thick, bold strokes of ink brayers and brushes, the artist creates a universe of harmonious, often monochromatic color relationships. Views of Manhattan and reposed models alike, his paintings make us contemplate a moment of beautiful silence that doesn’t scream with melancholy.

6. Gregory Mortenson

Gregory Mortenson is a classically trained artist whose recent body of work features Haitian children, who were painted by the artist after the devastating earthquake hit the country. His subdued color palettes show a beautiful restraint. To see the artist’s work:

7. Goyo Dominquez

Goyo Dominguez is a Spanish artist who paints women and still life, combining traditional painting techniques with the loose brushwork of the Impressionists. Influenced by Renaissance, his romantic artwork is colorful and pure with a sense of lightness and tranquility. Early in life he studied for priesthood and was encouraged to pursue the artistic career. His upbringing led the artist to create numerous murals and commissions for the church and more. To see his work:

8. Brad Kunkle

American artist, Brad Kunkle paints women on the silver-leafed panels. He employs monochromatic grays and browns to describe his models. Brad often places women against the patterned background or lets the flying leaves revolve around the models like tiny birds. His figures could be the nymphs of magical forests that strike us with primal physical presence. To connect with the artist:

9. Adrian Gottlieb 

Adrian Gottlieb is a classical portraitist working from his studio in LA. In his paintings he explores the relationship between color and poetry that unifies in timeless elements of beauty. Inspired by Rembrandt, the artist reigns supreme at capturing the luminosity of skin tones and fabric set against dark backgrounds. The amazing life-like appearance of his models is astonishing in all of his museum-quality paintings. He runs workshops from his studio and around the country.

10. Louis Treserras

French artist and photographer, Louis Treserras paints fragile, young women with intense gaze in restrained, carefully controlled color schemes. Unlike Gottlieb, the artist always sets his figures against the light background. His female models possess the enigmatic and intense gaze that show character and thoughtfulness.  

Here you have it. Check out my post about the contemporary women artists here:

Shop for art prints and more – Society6

Paintings of Women art gallery 




19th Century Russian Artists and Genre Art the Itinerants movement

19th Century Russian Artists and Genre Art: the Itinerants movement

19th-century Russian Genre Art

As Russian art is not studied in most art history classes in the U.S., I’d like to introduce you to Peredvizhniki movement, a group of realist painters. 19th century is a fascinating time period in art history of Western Europe, because the Church and the State lost their former influence in the patronage of the arts, which allowed for the birth and development of several artistic movements in Europe. While Russian art remained quite reserved, developing new ideas slowly in comparison to the Western Europe, it did break away from cold Academic painting in its depiction of common people and the countryside.

Peredvizhniki (the itinerants) appeared in 1863. It was the group of male artists who organized traveling shows and painted common folk, Russian landscape, and portraits. Their aim was to bring the arts to its people. Russian artists refused to depict the Bible scenes and Greek mythology, and focused on painting the world around them instead. They often showed inequality between the rich and the poor, the noble men and the inferior women. They also brought to people’s attention a widespread abuse of children, who often engaged in hard manual labor.  As a result of such movement, Russian art preserved its traditional approach to painting in terms of the technique but changed its themes drastically.

Here are a few great Russian genre paintings completed by the Peredvizhniki.

Ilya Repin (1844-1930)

Russian art, Repin
Ilya Repin, They Did Not Expect Him, 1884-88, The State Tretyakov Gallery

Ilya Repin grew up in poverty and hardship, living among the military. (His father served in the military). He showed passion for art at 13 and began to take art classes at a studio of a local artist. Soon, he became so good that he received commissions to paint the icons, which gave him financial freedom to fulfill his dream. In 1863 the artist travels to St. Petersburg to study art at the Academy. Not admitted the same year, he works on his drawing to get admission next year. Repin becomes quick at gathering medals and awards for his studies and achieves great success with his final Academic project. At the same time he completes a commissioned piece – “Barge haulers.” After his travels in France, he comes back home to paint with the Itinerants.

Repin believed in moral and social purpose in his art and painted peasant life like no other artist of his time. He depicted daily struggles and overwhelming poverty of workers and peasants who lived in stark contrast to well-dressed high society. In this painting of Barge Haulers we see the never-ending bank of the Volga river where the blinding sun  is as strong as the people below it.

Russian art_Repin
Repin, Barge haulers on the Volga river, 1870-1873


Pavel Fedotov (1815-1852)

Pavel Fedotov was born in a large and poor family in Moscow and spent his childhood years among his neighbors. His parents put him into the cadet corps at eleven years of age where the artist showed himself as a brilliant student. He began to sketch the caricatures of his teachers and teacher aids on the pages of his notebooks as well. When he graduated as the ensign of the Finnish regiment, he was found of music and poetry, translated articles from German and sketched his friends. Being very poor, he couldn’t participate in his friends’ parties and continued to work on portraiture and caricature. After a considerable conviction of his friends, he left the service and entered the Academy to study art.

His art instructors doubted his talent because Fedotov ignored the academic principles of battle painting composing horses and soldiers, and spent his evenings painting genre scenes remembered from his childhood. Poor, the artist lived very modestly, sending part of his service pension to his family back home. However, his sense of humor never let him give up on himself and eventually his talent got noticed by a famous Russian fabulist Ivan Krylov, who wrote him a letter asking to give up the Academy and work on his genre painting.

Pavel Fedotov left the Art Academy, and in 1847 showed his first painting “Just knighted. Morning of the official who received his first cross.” The artist loughs at a proud clerk who is shown after his party, living in devastating poverty. The second painting “The Picky Bride” followed the same year to impress his former teachers from the Academy.

Russian art, Fedotov
Just knighted. Morning of the official who received his first cross, 1848, oil on canvas, 48x42cm, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


Fedotov, Widow, 1851

Fedotov, choosy bride, Russian art
Picky Bride, oil on canvas, 37x45cm, TheState Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 1847
Pavel Fedotov, Matchmaking of a major, oil on canvas, 58 x 75 cm, 1848, The Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow

The artist exhibited his masterpiece titled “The Matchmaking of a Major” in 1848 that prompted him an honor award of the Academician.  He depicts a beautiful bride running out of the living room as soon as she saw her future groom appear in a doorway. Richly dressed, her mother catches the bride by her gown. This paining brought the artist fame and financial success. Fedotov wished to travel to England to study genre art, but his friends noticed a change in the artist in 1852. Soon, he was placed in the asylum where he died the same year.

In his short life, the artist left tremendous legacy in Russian art by opening a new direction in Russian genre painting. Most of his oil paintings, sketches and portraits can be seen at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.


Vasily Perov (1834-1882)

Vasily Perov  received his school education from a local deacon, who taught the boy math, language and the Bible. The boy showed great success in calligraphy and his teacher named him Perov (‘Pero’ sounds similar to a ‘feather’ in Russian).  Perov’s parents didn’t allow their son to enter a local art school, but let him take some art lessons privately nevertheless. Thanks to one of his relatives, Perov enters the art school later in 1852 and studies there to receive awards. After his graduation, he spends two years in Paris but ‘unable to paint anything worthwhile’ in his words, he begs the Academy to let him come back home. (Best artists received scholarships to spend 1-2 years in Western Europe after their graduation at the Academy).

Besides masterful portraits, Perov paints great genre paintings that capture the reality of Russian life and its people. His art explores the disparity between the rich and the poor as well as hypocrisy of the church clergy. Despite his fantastic abilities and successful exhibitions, the artist didn’t consider himself worthy of attention. He lived modestly and died in poverty. Most of his paintings can be found at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

russian art, perov
Vasily Persov, Easter rural procession, 1861
Perov, Three students carrying water, 1866

Here the artist depicts children carrying water in freezing conditions of Russian winter.

Russian painting
Perov, The drowned woman, oil on canvas, 68 x 106 cm, 1867, The State Tretyakov Gallery

In this painting, the artist shows an indifferent policeman sitting and smoking over a dead body of a poor woman (presumably a prostitute) that happened so often that the officials expressed no interest in the lives of the disadvantaged.

Makovsky, to the marriage, 1894

There are more Russian artists who contributed to the legacy of Russian art in the Itinerants movement that included Ivan Kramskoy, Vasiliy Polenov, Vasiliy Surikov,  Vladimir Makovsky, Mikhael Klodt, etc. Female painters were nonexistent until the 20th century in Russia.

veronica winters

To read about the 19th-century Russian portrait painting, please click on the image.


19th century Russian Art & Portrait Painting: eyes are the window to the soul

The infamous fate of some famous artists

card players by Cezanne

All artists strive for acceptance and appreciation. However, the meaning of appreciation may be unique to each artist. Most of us want our artwork to win in shows or receive recognition via sales as a fair validation of our talent and hard work. I don’t think anyone wishes to perish in obscurity without the proper acknowledgment of his or her gift.

It’s interesting to learn that numerous artists famous today often struggled riveted by poverty and seclusion back then. Studied in art history classes, admired in art museums, and owned by few wealthy collectors today, many were virtually unknown during their lifetime, and only after their death they found proper recognition.

A. Gros, Napoleon in the Pesthouse at Jaffa, 1804

Before the 19-th century, some male artists and virtually two or three female painters got immortalized on the pages of art history books. Those artists worked on public works, commissioned by either the Church, the State, or the wealthy.

In the 19-th century Paris, the Salon was the most prestigious official outlet to exhibit contemporary art. Sponsored by the French authorities, the Salon became the annual event since 1737. It was the only important exhibition held in the country. Receiving acceptance into its annual show was crucial to the artist’s success and career. The Salon’s jury process was controlled by the Academicians and thus resisted innovation. The Impressionists broke from that tradition and became the first modern movement to organize their own, separate shows in Paris.

As the importance of getting commissions from the Church and the State vanned around that time, it catapulted the artistic creativity and freedom of expression. That’s the reason why during this time the art world exploded with so many different styles and movements. The traditional, academic style of painting was suddenly losing its ground to the impressionism, post-impressionism, neoclassicism, romanticism, social realism, American realism, the pre-Raphaelites, pointillism, symbolism, art nouveau, and even photography. The freedom of artistic expression flourished in the 20-th century with fauvism, cubism, expressionism, European avant-garde, surrealism, futurism, dada, collage, fantasy, abstract expressionism, and so on.

Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women

Although artists became independent from the State and the Church, which dramatically changed the subject matter and the painting style, many lived in extreme poverty. The amateur painter, Vincent Van Gogh struggled both financially and emotionally throughout his life and only his brother Theo recognized his talent. Classically trained Antoine-Jean Gros started out brilliantly with his painting Napoleon in the Pesthouse at Jaffa, 1804, but drowned himself in a river after 30 years of haunting criticism and artistic failure. An engraver, painter, and poet, William Blake was discovered only a century later after his death. Honore Daumier painted most of his life, but received recognition as a painter during his first solo show at the age of 70.

Driven by the need to paint, Paul Gauguin abandoned his family, left France, and spent his last years in Tahiti. A cocktail of poverty, alcoholism, and syphilis brought him death at the age of 55. His fusion of symbolic imagery with the post-impressionist style became influential only after his death, discovered and promoted by the influential art critic in Paris.

William Blake, Urizen, the Ancient of Days

One of the most influential painters of modernity, Cézanne (1839-1906) had submitted his artwork to the Salon in Paris for 20 consecutive years. His paintings were not accepted into a single show even once. Self-taught, the post-impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne enjoyed the process of painting in isolation. Out of frustration, with introspection, and in search of perfection, Cezanne had a habit of throwing away his artworks, painting out in the country. Like a number of artists, Cezanne had a very difficult relationship with his father who wanted the artist to become a lawyer. In his thirties, he settled in with a young woman whom he never married. Although they had a child together Cezanne was afraid to lose his father’s financial support by marrying her. Like so many others, Cézanne got famous after his death.

Today his artwork sells for millions of dollars per painting. The Gulf nation of Qatar purchased Paul Cézanne’s painting The Card Players (the 5th version) for a record-breaking $250 million. (By the way, there are more Cezannes in Philadelphia than in France, because of private collectors’ acquisitions). One day the painter got ill, after being out in a thunderstorm. Cezanne spent his last few days of life painting, achieving what he always wanted to do – to paint until the end…

A landscape by Cezanne

You may ask what’s the point of this post? We all are aware of the “talented but poor artist” stigma. My point is that even if you’re talented and have something to offer to this world, the artist’s success is often not accidental. It’s not only hard work, but also the ability to connect with many people and being able to promote yourself tirelessly.

  • Still to come “Most successful artists of all times”
  • Originally published in 2012

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