Diana Probst, Cambridge Artist

Lady in a Landscape: Day 1

Brown and warm tones in legs, with sharp turnsI really really admire the high classical era, in which it seemed that the ideal of a painter was to make something look like life, but a little bit better. This year I am hoping to have a show with pieces inspired by classical themes, in many senses of the word. Not just post-renaissance painting, but also the original work of antiquity.

There I have a problem. I grew up on the sanitised, Victorian-style classical art, full of white marble and cleaned surfaces. My favourite classical statue (pre-classical, in fact) has the remains of paint on it, but it is still faded and subtle. You know what? I’m OK with that. I can live with loving a false idol, because the idol is so fantastic. It’s the sodding Parthenon Marbles! I mean, it’s exactly what I’ve been taught to admire in art, and therefore I do.

Which is another story, of course. But this is what I did today. I’ll leave a discussion of the ‘Elgin’ marbles for another time, and you can look at a naked goddess instead. She’s probably going to be a goddess. She might be a nymph, but given how few clothes I am going to put on her, she’s unlikely to be mortal.

Nude woman, seated with one leg bent and one straight, and shoulders nearly in line away from viewerI do not like the face as I finally painted it, but that is fine. It is just a place-holder for what will be there. I now have the trouble of adding in a landscape like one in my mind, with plenty of autumn in it.

On the full canvas you can see my measuring marks and the arabesques I was aiming for on the back. Once I worked out where I was going wrong, I turned the canvas upside-down and started painting. On her chest there is a Rubens-style shadow which is thinner than it should be, but which I wish to use to define the arm and chest, rather than the light source. This is a common trick of his and one that I like to use, to a point. Cutting out the shadows that are too complex for a single plane to bear is very important. I am not trying to paint a photograph. I am trying to paint something you want to look at more than at a photo.

It interests me that this is much like an illustration from an American magazine 50 years ago – I know more about the American market than I do about the British one, thanks to Mr Andrew Loomis, a famous illustrator. (I commend his books to anyone who wants to paint, and his advice not to do it as a sideline to anyone who wants to do it for money.)

It also has an aeroplane nose-decoration theme – put the girl in a bikini and she could be on any bomber you don’t paint like a shark. Those two cases, illustration and decoration, are pretty close to what I want to paint, but I think I will have to reduce the tan a little. Ah well.