Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Isabella and the Pot of Basil" connecting threads

Recently, I challenged my painting class with an exercise in neutrals.  They listen to me expound on hierarchies to consider when beginning a painting.  Observe and note the lightest light, darkest dark, softest and hardest edge, warmest and coolest notes, and the richest and most neutralized chroma or intensity of color.  I suggested visualizing a series of thermometers, (just "tilted number lines" said my math-teacher brain) and we worked on the "chroma scale", by noting the most unadulterated color in the subject, putting a note on the canvas with the understanding that all other mixtures must be LESS rich than the richest.  

Where does "Isabella and the Basil Pot" enter the picture?
 One of my students chose a beautiful neutral vase, cloth, etc.  I remarked part way through the class that her harmony and subject reminded me of a painting I love at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and later looked up the painting on the MFA web site.  Turns out, it is is John Alexander White's "Isabella and the Basil Pot", a relatively large painting hanging among the American paintings along with the Sargents.
(By the way, my daughter learned at an early age that whatever we intended to see in the MFA, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese vases, musical instruments, etc... all paths lead us past the Sargents).  The beautiful, dominant curved diagonal in White's painting is the exact curve of   the vase in my student's painting, and the neutral harmony very similar. This powerful, 6-foot tall painting, has lodged itself in my brain. 
Okay, then what about connecting threads?  A month or two later, I found an interesting web site titled "Learning to See" by a UK artist who is charting his own artistic journey which involves research, practice, practice, study, practice, and sharing his finds, and practice (did I say "practice"?) and his results.  
Some of what Paul was posting reminded me of a series of Art Education books I have collected over the years.  The books were published in 1905 and are beautiful, filled with William Morris designs, and images of lovely drawings.  I use the books as reference for my painting classes. I pulled one of the books off the shelf, and it fell open to "Isabella and the Pot of Basil".  John Alexander White painted it in 1898.  The painting was acquired by the MFA back then, an image landed in this book in 1905, and I'm referencing it over a century later.  Those are some seriously durable threads.  I rejoice in the serendipity of connections. 


  1. He's one of my favorite painters, and this is one of my favorites of his! I am always inspired by and have copied (for educational purposes) other painting of his. You pick a good one.. Lovely post, Jody...

  2. I am always inspired by your thought process and fascinated by how you are right and left brained all together :D
    Welcome to GJWP.
    Fasten your seatbelt :D