Carolus-Duran (After Sargent)

Carolus-Duran (After Sargent) (2019) Oil on Canvas 20×16″


This master copy hangs in my studio now, reminding me of the lessons I’ve learned by copying masterworks like this one. It’s as if Carolus-Duran (and Sargent) are staring down at me, saying things like, “State the masses!”, “If it doesn’t work, scape it back!”, and “Squint!”

Note that Duran hangs behind my easel, giving me the hairy eyeball

John Singer Sargent 

Charles-Émile-Auguste Durand (1837–1917), known as Carolus-Duran, was a celebrated figure in the world of Parisian art and theater. Known for his elegant society portraits, he was also highly influential as a teacher. Sargent entered Duran’s studio in 1874 and became his star pupil. Duran’s approach was radical: he encouraged his students to draw and paint simultaneously, using a loaded brush. In this stylish portrait, which received an award when it was shown at the Paris Salon in 1879, Sargent pays homage to his teacher by embracing his fluid technique. The affectionate dedication to Duran, inscribed in French at the upper right, announces Sargent’s artistic pedigree but also caused some contemporary viewers to remark that the student had surpassed the master.

Source: MetMuseum


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (After Caravaggio)

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (After Caravaggio) (Unfinished, 2018) Oil on Canvas 30×40″

I started this demo piece when I was teaching Oil Painting a couple of years back. I’d love to finish it one day! For now it hangs in our downstairs bathroom where I wash my brushes, and has lots of reminders in it about technique.

“The Incredulity of Saint Thomas was painted in the early years of Caravaggio’s residence and success in Rome (1602)

It is housed in the Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam, Germany. In this painting, Caravaggio depicts Thomas the Apostle’s doubting of Jesus’ resurrection as told in the Gospel of John, with Thomas looking at—and feeling—Jesus’ wounds.

This particular scene has been popularly recreated in art since the 6th century through a traditional stretching on to Caravaggio; it has since become symbolic of the conflict between Protestant and Catholic art as both traditions hold differing views of its value in teaching blind faith.

Both Rembrandt and Rubens also painted this particular episode in the 17th century. As with many of Caravaggio’s paintings, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas is swamped in theatrical darkness, bringing to life the central figures of Jesus and his apostles as if lit upon a stage. The absence of the usual halo around Jesus’ head is meant to emphasise the corporeal nature of Christ on earth. This painting has, unlike some of Caravaggio’s works, survived the Second World War when held in the Prussian royal collection.

By 1600, Caravaggio had gained considerable renown for his painting style and was commissioned by the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of St. Louis of the French (San Luigi dei Francesi) in Rome. Caravaggio delivered the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew to the Contrarelli Chapel in 1600.

The two paintings have since become a major tourist attraction. However, because of Caravaggio realism in painting heavenly themes, his paintings created a sensation in Rome as both dramatic and divisive. Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro technique was polarising to contemporary Catholic critics with some considering it vulgar.

Religious paintings had up to this point mostly been drawn from idealised imaginings of biblical and Godly themes. By contrast, Caravaggio used life models to render his work realistic, drawing the heavens down to earth and into nature.

Given the originality of this approach, Caravaggio was an instant success on the art scene; he went on to secure numerous high-profile and prestigious commissions for other religious works. However, Caravaggio was not without his own personal controversy; he was known to drink, to fight and brawl, eventually fleeing Rome for Naples in 1606 after murdering a young man, Ranuccio Tomassoni. “



Master Copies and Studies

Egyptian Peasant Woman and her Child, after Leon Bonnat (2017)
Oil on Linen
32 x 24″

I saw this painting for the first time whilst visiting the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2015. I made sketches in front of the huge canvas (73 1/2 x 41 1/2 in. (186.7 x 105.4 cm), striving to absorb as much as I could. It was a transformational experience. 

Master copying has a long tradition in classical art education. I teach oil painting, and as part of my curriculum, I have my students copy a masterwork. This gives them the opportunity to really immerse themselves in the techniques of one highly accomplished artist. By examining a painting in this much detail, the student gets to experience a taste of creating something amazing. This Imitation gives them the confidence to accomplish the second part of this assignment: Emulation. In this piece they create their own original artwork using the techniques and style they just learned. This application of principals is a time-honored method of teaching which became unfashionable for many years, and is now enjoying a renaissance in the Atelier style of teaching.


Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (20 June 1833 – 8 September 1922) was a French painter, Grand Officer of the Légion d’honneur and professor at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Bonnat is said to have studied this peasant woman and child from life while he was in Egypt for the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal in 1869. The painting was praised at the Paris Salon the following year and again when it was first exhibited in New York in 1876. When Catharine Lorillard Wolfe bequeathed the picture to the Metropolitan it was deemed “a true and vital portrait of two clearly realized individuals [with] a wonderful dignity, sobriety, strength, and beauty.”

There is a full-length oil study for this painting in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne.

Next: John Singer Sargent