“Autumn” c. 1740/1766, by Corrado Giaquinto 42 11/16” x 59 5/8”
“What are you doing?” ask a lady who was watching me paint. I was in the early stages of copying a painting by Corrado Gioquinto at the National Gallery of Art. Normally I understand such a question. I usually start by sketching on the canvas with thinned oil paint. Since a copy must not be the same size as the original, it is necessary for the artist to rescale everything for the copy. The first session it is easy to change contours or get lighter areas by wiping away the thinned paint. After this, alterations are made by adding white or other opacifier to the thinned paint. Naturally, during this time the work may look a little odd to an uninitiated viewer, but recognizable features usually cause them to sympathize with the struggling artist and hold off on questions that may be embarrassing
My method of starting a copy varies, but long ago I gave up using a grid or working with pencil, ruler and charcoal. My purpose in copying is primarily to learn or develop skills and techniques used by the great artists of the past. Scaling forms to a space is critical to an artist who wishes to go beyond the sketch or design. I have always exercised this visual acuity believing practice improves ones ability to perform. After copying over 30 works using my eye instead of a grid or projection, I feel the practice of scaling has been invaluable in ordering my own compositions.
The confusion over this copy is likely to be greater because I have chosen to reconfigure or recompose the painting. I seldom do this because I do not want to suggest that I can improve upon a proven master artist. My primary reason for reordering this composition is to give the beautifully painted figures or figure groups more prominence. Gioquinto’s composition stresses movement and a busy staccato like imaging. To me the effect is of rustling autumn leaves, and the figures are mere props to convey a human presence. Were I to copy the work as it is, the smaller scale would make the figures even more incidental.
At this point, I’m not sure my copy will add a better understanding of the original, but it will cause viewers to look more carefully and critically.
A check on my web site will show that I am already almost 20 hours into this project. I am slower at writing than painting. Future posts will follow the sequence of work from the beginning.