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Hands In Paintings At The Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Posted by on 3 Apr 2017 in Art of the past, Inspiration | 0 comments

Hands In Paintings At The Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Last week I was in Seattle for a couple of days and while there I took in the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). An interesting and varied collection, I wanted to share some of what I saw with you. I decided on the theme of hands in paintings.

I find hands some of the trickiest subjects to draw and paint – to get them to look like hands rather than small bananas, to achieve convincing perspective when they are foreshortened, to present a telling gesture, to reveal some part of a person’s personality or emotional life in those hands. So here are a variety of hands in paintings done by artists from different countries in different time periods.

Let’s go chronologically, starting with the earliest.

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Abraham Janssens, The Origin of the Cornucopia, ca. 1619, oil on canvas, Seattle Art Museum. According to the label, until Rubens came on the scene, Janssens "was the leading painter in the prosperous city of Antwerp. He had been one of the first northern artists to travel to Italy, where he became familiar with the work of Caravaggio. Like that artist, Janssens wants to break down the barrier between the viewer and painting, so the figures almost reach into our space."

Abraham Janssens, “The Origin of the Cornucopia,” ca. 1619, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 x 68 1/16 in (108.6 x 172.8 cm), Seattle Art Museum.

 

Here we have a cornucopia of hands in various positions and gestures. Let’s take a close look at a few.

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Abraham Janssens, "The Origin of the Cornucopia," ca. 1619, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 x 68 1/16 in (108.6 x 172.8 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Abraham Janssens, “The Origin of the Cornucopia,” ca. 1619, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 x 68 1/16 in (108.6 x 172.8 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Abraham Janssens, "The Origin of the Cornucopia," ca. 1619, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 x 68 1/16 in (108.6 x 172.8 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Abraham Janssens, “The Origin of the Cornucopia,” ca. 1619, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 x 68 1/16 in (108.6 x 172.8 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

 

Compare the hand above with its pink plump cleanly defined shapes to that below done only a few years later:

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Bernardo Strozzi, Hagar and the Angel, soon after 1630, oil on canvas, 48 7/8 x 37 in (124.14 x 93.98 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Bernardo Strozzi, Hagar and the Angel, soon after 1630, oil on canvas, 48 7/8 x 37 in (124.14 x 93.98 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Bernardo Strozzi, Hagar and the Angel, soon after 1630, oil on canvas, 48 7/8 x 37 in (124.14 x 93.98 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Bernardo Strozzi, Hagar and the Angel, soon after 1630, oil on canvas, 48 7/8 x 37 in (124.14 x 93.98 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Bernardo Strozzi, Hagar and the Angel, soon after 1630, oil on canvas, 48 7/8 x 37 in (124.14 x 93.98 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Bernardo Strozzi, Hagar and the Angel, soon after 1630, oil on canvas, 48 7/8 x 37 in (124.14 x 93.98 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

 

And here’s the entire painting:

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Bernardo Strozzi, Hagar and the Angel, soon after 1630, oil on canvas, 48 7/8 x 37 in (124.14 x 93.98 cm), Seattle Art Museum

Bernardo Strozzi, Hagar and the Angel, soon after 1630, oil on canvas, 48 7/8 x 37 in (124.14 x 93.98 cm), Seattle Art Museum

 

 

Now let’s go to 1638 and compare the hands done by two different artists in that same year – one Flemish (working in England), one from France. See how very different and how ultimately successful the completely different styles are.

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Anthony van Dyck, "Pompone II de Bellièvre," ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 54 x 43 1/2 in (137.2 x 110.5 cm), Seattle Art Museum

Anthony van Dyck, “Pomponne II de Bellièvre,” ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 54 x 43 1/2 in (137.2 x 110.5 cm), Seattle Art Museum

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Anthony van Dyck, "Pompone II de Bellièvre," ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 54 x 43 1/2 in (137.2 x 110.5 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Anthony van Dyck, “Pomponne II de Bellièvre,” ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 54 x 43 1/2 in (137.2 x 110.5 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Anthony van Dyck, "Pompone II de Bellièvre," ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 54 x 43 1/2 in (137.2 x 110.5 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Anthony van Dyck, “Pomponne II de Bellièvre,” ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 54 x 43 1/2 in (137.2 x 110.5 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

 

Compare the realism of those hands above with these done the same year:

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Attributed to Georges de la Tour and Studio, "Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene," ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 42 x 55 7/8 in (106.7 x 142cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Attributed to Georges de la Tour and Studio, “Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene,” ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 42 x 55 7/8 in (106.7 x 142cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail (Don’t you love the look of nail polish glinting on the hand on the right?!)

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Attributed to Georges de la Tour and Studio, "Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene," ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 42 x 55 7/8 in (106.7 x 142cm), Seattle Art Museum.

Attributed to Georges de la Tour and Studio, “Saint Sebastian Tended by Saint Irene,” ca. 1638-39, oil on canvas, 42 x 55 7/8 in (106.7 x 142cm), Seattle Art Museum.

 

 

Now let’s compare three paintings done between 1892 and 1898 – the first by Bouguereau, the second by Sargent, the third by Morisot.

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): William Adolph Bouguereau, "Portrait of Madame la Comtesse de Cambacérès," 1895, oil on canvas, 47 5/8 x 35 1/2 in (120.97 x 90.17 cm), Seattle Art Museum

William Adolph Bouguereau, “Portrait of Madame la Comtesse de Cambacérès,” 1895, oil on canvas, 47 5/8 x 35 1/2 in (120.97 x 90.17 cm), Seattle Art Museum

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): William Adolph Bouguereau, "Portrait of Madame la Comtesse de Cambacérès," 1895, oil on canvas, 47 5/8 x 35 1/2 in (120.97 x 90.17 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

William Adolph Bouguereau, “Portrait of Madame la Comtesse de Cambacérès,” 1895, oil on canvas, 47 5/8 x 35 1/2 in (120.97 x 90.17 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): William Adolph Bouguereau, "Portrait of Madame la Comtesse de Cambacérès," 1895, oil on canvas, 47 5/8 x 35 1/2 in (120.97 x 90.17 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

William Adolph Bouguereau, “Portrait of Madame la Comtesse de Cambacérès,” 1895, oil on canvas, 47 5/8 x 35 1/2 in (120.97 x 90.17 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

 

Compare those exquisitely rendered hands with this abbreviated example by John Singer Sargent! What’s really interesting is that this is the hand of an accomplished pianist. Can you see these fingers scampering up and down piano keys?

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): John Singer Sargent, "Léon Delafosse," ca.1895-98, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 23 3/8 in (101 x 59.4 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

John Singer Sargent, “Léon Delafosse,” ca.1895-98, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 23 3/8 in (101 x 59.4 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

 

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): John Singer Sargent, "Léon Delafosse," ca.1895-98, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 23 3/8 in (101 x 59.4 cm), Seattle Art Museum

John Singer Sargent, “Léon Delafosse,” ca.1895-98, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 23 3/8 in (101 x 59.4 cm), Seattle Art Museum

 

 

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Berthe Morisot, "Lucie Léon at the Piano, 1892, oil on canvas, 24 3/4 x 20 1/2 in (62.87 x 52.07 cm), Seattle Art Museum.

Berthe Morisot, “Lucie Léon at the Piano, 1892, oil on canvas, 24 3/4 x 20 1/2 in (62.87 x 52.07 cm), Seattle Art Museum.

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Berthe Morisot, "Lucie Léon at the Piano, 1892, oil on canvas, 24 3/4 x 20 1/2 in (62.87 x 52.07 cm), Seattle Art Museum. - Detail

Berthe Morisot, “Lucie Léon at the Piano, 1892, oil on canvas, 24 3/4 x 20 1/2 in (62.87 x 52.07 cm), Seattle Art Museum. – Detail

 

 

Moving into the 20th century, have a look at this one by Max Backmann. It’s a painting full of hands making various gestures.

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Max Beckmann, "The Pompeii Clowns," 1950, oil on canvas, 36 x 55 in (91.44 x 139.7 cm), Seattle Art Museum

Max Beckmann, “The Pompeii Clowns,” 1950, oil on canvas, 36 x 55 in (91.44 x 139.7 cm), Seattle Art Museum

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Max Beckmann, "The Pompeii Clowns," 1950, oil on canvas, 36 x 55 in (91.44 x 139.7 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Max Beckmann, “The Pompeii Clowns,” 1950, oil on canvas, 36 x 55 in (91.44 x 139.7 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Max Beckmann, "The Pompeii Clowns," 1950, oil on canvas, 36 x 55 in (91.44 x 139.7 cm), Seattle Art Museum - Detail

Max Beckmann, “The Pompeii Clowns,” 1950, oil on canvas, 36 x 55 in (91.44 x 139.7 cm), Seattle Art Museum – Detail

 

 

Let’s move to the 70s with two portraits that sit across from each other in the Museum but are painted in different styles and give very different feelings about the sitters. And see how this is communicated through the portrayal of hands. The first is of Virginia Bagley, one of Seattle’s primary art collectors who nurtured the focus on contemporary art at SAM. The second is of Richard Lang, another well-known art collector in Seattle.

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Alfred Leslie, "Portrait (of Virginia Wright)," oil on canvas, 61 3/4 x 49 5/8 in (156.8 x 126cm), Seattle Art Gallery.

Alfred Leslie, “Portrait (of Virginia Wright),” 1974, oil on canvas, 61 3/4 x 49 5/8 in (156.8 x 126cm), Seattle Art Gallery.

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Alfred Leslie, "Portrait (of Virginia Wright)," oil on canvas, 61 3/4 x 49 5/8 in (156.8 x 126cm), Seattle Art Gallery - DEtail

Alfred Leslie, “Portrait (of Virginia Wright),” oil on canvas, 61 3/4 x 49 5/8 in (156.8 x 126cm), Seattle Art Gallery – Detail

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Alfred Leslie, "Portrait (of Virginia Wright)," oil on canvas, 61 3/4 x 49 5/8 in (156.8 x 126cm), Seattle Art Gallery - Detail

Alfred Leslie, “Portrait (of Virginia Wright),” oil on canvas, 61 3/4 x 49 5/8 in (156.8 x 126cm), Seattle Art Gallery – Detail

 

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Alice Neel, "Richard Lang," 1978, oil on canvas, 50 x 35 in (127 x 88.9 cm), Seattle Art Museum

Alice Neel, “Richard Lang,” 1978, oil on canvas, 50 x 35 in (127 x 88.9 cm), Seattle Art Museum

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Alice Neel, "Richard Lang," 1978, oil on canvas, 50 x 35 in (127 x 88.9 cm), Seattle Art Museum-Detail

Alice Neel, “Richard Lang,” 1978, oil on canvas, 50 x 35 in (127 x 88.9 cm), Seattle Art Museum-Detail

 

Hands in Paintings (SAM): Alice Neel, "Richard Lang," 1978, oil on canvas, 50 x 35 in (127 x 88.9 cm), Seattle Art Museum-Detail

Alice Neel, “Richard Lang,” 1978, oil on canvas, 50 x 35 in (127 x 88.9 cm), Seattle Art Museum-Detail

 

 

As you can see in this round-up of hands in paintings, no matter how far away an artist drifts from a realistic portrayal of hands, in all cases, we read the hands as hands and understand their purpose and placement in the painting. So, the moral of the story here is, don’t get too attached to getting the hands looking perfect especially in a photographic way. Be inspired by the variety here and know there ain’t just one way to paint hands!

 

I hope you enjoyed this close look at hands in paintings from the Seattle Art Museum. I’d love to know your favourite hands here and why.

 

I look forward to hearing from you!!

Gail

 

PS.The painting at the top is by Willem de Kooning – ” Woman,” 1943, oil on canvas, 28 1/4 x 23 1/16 in (71.8 x 58.5 cm), Seattle Art Museum

PPS. It’s been AGES (slight understatement!) since I wrote a blog here on GailSibley.com. All my efforts for the past couple of years have focused on HowToPastel.com where I publish a weekly blog on all things pastels. If you are a subscriber there, a big thank you!! And if you’re not, please go have a look.

PPPS. The painting, “Lucie Léon at the Piano” reminds me so much of my niece Robyn at that age!