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.
Here we have a cornucopia of hands in various positions and gestures. Let’s take a close look at a few.
Compare the hand above with its pink plump cleanly defined shapes to that below done only a few years later:
And here’s the entire painting:
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.
Compare the realism of those hands above with these done the same year:
Now let’s compare three paintings done between 1892 and 1898 – the first by Bouguereau, the second by Sargent, the third by Morisot.
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?
Moving into the 20th century, have a look at this one by Max Backmann. It’s a painting full of hands making various gestures.
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.
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!!
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!