One of the most unusual projects for sometime was completed last week and involved the painting shown above. Below is a statement by the painting’s owner.
“[The original of this painting] was purchased in a shop in Hong Kong in the 1920’s or 1930’s by my great uncle who was a scholar of Asian art and an art historian with a specialty in Chinese and Japanese art; he worked at the Fogg Museum at Harvard. The painting was mounted on a scroll, and was somewhat damaged by the time my great-uncle found it. I believe my parents were given it in the early 1950’s, and hung it on our living room wall. My uncle wrote my dad that he didn’t know much about it, but that it was obviously painted by an anonymous Chinese artist for the British trade. Judging by the style of dress, it might date from around 1780-1795. In the 1970’s or 1980’s the scroll (paper and silk) had begun to tear from the rod that held it, so my parents had the painting cut from the scroll itself and framed with a Plexiglas covering, to protect it. My mother gave me the painting about 15 years ago, after my dad died.
The painting has characteristics of both cultures, with a folk-art touch as well. It features the Renaissance-type perspective with imaginary buildings reminiscent of M.C. Escher, a great tree in a more Chinese style, men with big feet and women with tiny feet. The ships are in full sail headed in different directions.
Around 25 or 30 years ago my dad inquired of experts at the British Museum, who wrote that they had not seen such ‘hybrid’ art and didn’t have much to say about it.
There is actually quite a lot known about some of the slightly later Chinese artists who did portraits of American traders, beginning around 1800. The Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts is full of curators knowledgeable about the China Trade.”
The project involved the adaptation and recreation of the painting onto the inside of the lid of a harpsichord. A thoroughly intriguing prospect not only from a logistical standpoint, but also for a stylistic one. Anytime I have to paint in a style which is not natural to me, it’s an interesting excursion beyond my comfort zone and is always an education. Also, the lid of the harpsichord is a very different shape to the original painting and in order to retain some of the most interesting elements the composition would need to be altered.
Below is a series of photos which show the progression of the project from beginning to end, culminating in the re-installation of the lid on the harpsichord.
In the studio, the outer, dark green border is measured and painted in.
This is followed by the finer, golden pin stripe border inside of the dark green, measured and taped off using yellow frog tape.
The borders are then masked off and the image is drawn onto the lid. The composition is altered slightly so that the essence of the painting can be incorporated into the shape of the lid. The left hand side of the composition is largely unaltered but the right hand is lowered and brought closer. Interestingly, this does not affect the overall character of the image and works quite happily with the original’s distorted perspective.
Painting begins, working from the background to the foreground. Close attention is given to the subdued pallet and subtle watercolor characteristics of the painting.
In this image, you can see the beginnings of the distressing. Water-staining and suggestions of cracking in the paint are added to create a patina similar to the original.
In the studio, the lid is complete and clear coated ready for installation.
Back in the client’s home, the lid is re-installed onto the harpsichord.
A really fun project and a challenging one in many positive ways. Thanks for the opportunity!!