Painted in watercolor from a photo snapped a few years ago, while visiting MKH and baby E, when he was getting a little cuddle time to ease the bother of teething. I’ve always loved painting from family photos – recent ones, as well as very old, vintage daguerreotypes of relatives I’ve only heard stories about. There are full of my familiar, inherited features, bone structure, carriage and gestures – a lovely trickle of recognition in genetics. I think the artist’s scrutiny required to “know” the reference image is already innate, so there’s just a little more mental air around the process to make art from the photos.
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As the camera became evermore accepted as a method of documenting people, places and event, artists felt increasingly free to explore depths of experience that the camera could not. In The Bellilli Family (oil, 79″ x 99″), for example, Edgar Degas (1834-1917) created one of the first truly psychological portraits. The father nearly disappears into the furniture and fireplace at right, his back to us, and he is separated from his companions. The daughter at right conveys some allegiance to him and perhaps even a bit of his personality in her more casual body language, yet the wife (Degas’ Aunt) is ready to pull her back. (Notice her hand just above the girl’s shoulder.) The other daughter is a carbon copy of her mother in costume and stance, and in the opaqueness of her thoughts. More than offering likeness, Degas arranged these individuals in a composition that reveals the complex dynamics of the family.
19th Century Realism – by Tina Tammaro