Flesh tones; inspiration by the Great Masters at the newly refurbished National Gallery of Ireland

Detail from Head of a Bearded Man by Peter Paul Rubens

I am working on a painting at the moment. Experimenting with oils. By painting I mean realist, representational painting from life. It is a return to a childhood ideal.

As a teenager and even a child, my vision of what I thought attending art college would be like, was unbeknownst to me, already extinct. I had visited the National Gallery of Ireland as a child. Standing in awe before Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, I could feel that art was powerful. I needed to be involved in this alchemy. I wanted to learn to create it. I imagined, after school, I would attend something like, what was once The Metropolitan School of Art. There would be easels and drawing classes. There would be artists.

Art college was different from what I expected. I studied Graphic Design and Art and Education in the end. Learned plenty but something was missing. I practiced life drawing in my evenings and free time. Recently at a loose end, I tried oils. I didn’t know how to use them but from the moment I picked up a piece of oil paint and placed it on the canvas, I knew, there is magic here. No other medium will ever compare. It holds a richer and bolder quality than anything I have tried. And as much as I enjoy the graphic side of my work there is a realness to oil that no computer screen or camera can quite live up to.

I understand and believe we reside in an era of a New Renaissance. It is evident in every arena. Where once stood Galileo Galilei , we now explore space. Where Leonardo Da Vinci excelled in engineering, we are speeding ahead with technology. Science, music, theatre, film, literature and art are evolving. To progress the field of visual art we can look to the Old Masters as those in the Renaissance looked to Ancient Greece and Rome. It is my opinion that we must build on this past mastery and raise the standard of art here in Ireland. The National Gallery of Ireland is one place to start.

In order to better understand how Masters like Rembrandt and Rubens approached painting flesh tones, I returned to the place that inspired me as a child, the now recently refurbished National Gallery of Ireland. The NGI is stunning. Below are some studies from todays visit, concerning skin tones. It is wonderful the variation and wide spectrum of colour used to paint skin especially the unexpected colours like violets, greens and greys.

Detail from Lady Gregory by William Orpen

Detail from John Count McCormack by William Orphen

Detail from The Dead Ptarmigan by William Orphen

   Detail from Portrait of Henry Shefflin by Gerry Davis

Detail from Portrait of Philippe Roettiers by Nicolas de Largilliere

Full portrait 

Detail from Lady holding a glove by Rembrandt van Rijn


Image of the full portrait

I was especially drawn to the depiction of hair in this detail from Thomas pooley’s Sir Phillip Perceval

As above

Detail from Jupiter and Ganymede by Nicolaes van Helt Stockade

Detail from Saint John  the Baptist in the Wildereness attributed to Michele Desubleo

Detail from The Penitent Magdalene by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Bretonne by Roderick O’Conor

The Grand Gallery at the NGI

These images are a point of reference for my portrait studies but are best enjoyed in real life. A visit to the National Gallery is a must.

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