Messing About with Paint

What Could Have Been

Oil on canvas 76cmx102cm

Portrait of a homeless women in Knysna.
Perhaps a fitting title on the eve of the American election that is reverberating around the planet??.
Her gentleness, and beauty shinning through the hardships of her life. A glimpse of what could have been. In a different world.
Based the portrait on Bertha Morisot’s work that she did on brown paper. Naples yellow, and raw sienna, with a touch of burnt umber, as an underpainting to create the paper background, allowing the Naples yellow to dry before applying the raw sienna.

Berthe Morisot 1841 – 1895

62 by 52 cm

Femme à l’éventail, also known as Tête de jeune fille,was painted in 1876 during a momentous period in French painting and is considered one of Morisot’s most accomplished canvases. Included in the third Impressionist group exhibition in Paris in 1877, this elegant depiction of a woman holding a fan exemplifies Morisot’s technique at its most painterly and sophisticated. Most striking here is her application of black paint, applied with varying degrees of translucency to convey the folds in the fan and the crispness of the gossimer fabric draped around the figure’s shoulders. The picture exemplifies Morisot’s individual Impressionist technique as well as the stylistic attributes shared by Edouard Manet, her mentor, brother-in-law and artistic collaborator. 

The identity of the sitter for Femme à l’éventail is unknown; neither a member of the artist’s family or a professional model can be clearly identified. But what is particularly striking about the present work is that it calls to mind a portrait of Morisot herself, dressed in black and holding a fan, that Manet painted two years earlier. Femme à l’éventail may very well be Morisot’s response to that portrait, but it arguably presents a more intimate and psychologically compelling rendering of its glamorous female subject. 

Berthe Morisot holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Impressionist group and one of its most important contributors. The casual elegance of her compositional style and her liberal application of paint, demonstrated beautifully in Femme à l’éventail and other paintings from the 1870s, helped to define the aesthetic of the movement. As one of its only women members in addition to the American, Mary Cassatt, Morisot lent a valuable female perspective to avant-garde art at the turn of the century. Her pictures gave insight to aspects of French society and provided a platform for ‘feminine’ subjects and concerns that remained unexplored by her male colleagues. The models for her paintings were mostly women and children, many of whom were members of her own family, and they posed for her with a level of ease and familiarity that was rarely seen in 19th century portraiture. 

In the year Femme à l’éventail was painted Morisot and her fellow Impressionists organised the second Impressionist exhibition held in Durand-Ruel’s galleries at 11 rue Peletier. As had been the case at their previous group showing in 1874, the critics of Paris responded ferociously to these avant-garde artists. One review in particular by Albert Wolff infuriated Morisot’s husband, Eugène, so greatly that he challenged the author to a duel. Morisot remained undiscouraged by her critical reception and chose to exhibit Femme à l’éventail at the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877. The show in general fared little better with the conservative press, but Emile Bergerat recognized the preeminent qualities of the present work writing, “The most gifted painter of all [the Impressionists], in the sense that they possess an innate gift for color, is a woman, Miss Berthe Morisot. This is the artist who has signed the best picture of the exhibition, a portrait of a woman holding a fan. Her brushstrokes are both spontaneous and precise” (Emile Bergerat, op. cit., April 17 1877, translated from French).

From 1877 onwards Morisot continued to be consistently singled out for her sophistication and exemplary technique. Reviewing another Impressionist exhibition for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Charles Ephrussi wrote: ‘Berthe Morisot is French in her distinction, elegance, gaiety and nonchalance. She loves painting that is joyous and lively. She grinds flower petals onto her palette, in order to spread them later on her canvas with airy, witty touches, thrown down a little haphazardly. These harmonize, blend and finish by producing something vital, fine, and charming that you do not see so much as intuit…” (Charles Ephrussi, ‘Exposition des artistes indépendants’, in Gazette des Beaux Arts, May 1, 1880, pp. 485-88, quoted in op. cit. (exhibition catalogue), Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 1992, p. 327.


Between sea and sky: a portrait of Clarice Beckett (1887 – 1935)

Evening, St Kilda Road

Oil on Canvas 1930

In the early 1930s, along the low-slung coastal promontory of Beaumaris in Melbourne, a middle-aged woman could be seen wheeling a homemade cart stacked with paints and canvases. The artist, Clarice Beckett, produced atmospheric paintings of suburban streets and strangely eerie landscapes.  

At the time Beckett’s art was maligned by the critics, who were dismissive of her association with Melbourne’s fringe ‘Tonalist’ movement, and during her lifetime she sold very few works. In 1935, at the age of forty-seven, Beckett died in a nursing home, and her work was soon forgotten.

Beckett’s favoured artistic terrains, her subjects were also of an urban (and suburban) modernity. Drawn to ideas of Theosophy as a creative stimulus, Beckett composed elements of the suburban everyday (cars, trams, telegraph poles, and tarred roads) into poetically-hazed city and land-scapes which transcend everyday reality and hint at the supra-real or infinite.

‘Evening, St Kilda Road’ lyrically elaborates the artist’s signature subject in an image of the city’s soft-focused modernity. Fusing an urban electric glow with twilight’s ambient luminosity, Beckett explores the sfumatoed limits of representation, using darkened box-shaped cars to retrieve her composition from a misty point of abstraction. Beckett activates colour for potent atmospheric effect, enveloping the city with a rosy-toned veil that evokes the last moments of twilight.

Beckett’s preference for early evening or morning subjects was not for simple poetic effect. Instead, as ‘Evening, St Kilda Road’ demonstrates, she was drawn to the technical challenge of painting the essence of her subject within the fleeting moment; and of observing light effects and developing delicate tonal nuances that blurred the terrains of reality and illusion.

Nearly forty years after Beckett’s death, around two thousand of her artworks were discovered in a shed on a property in rural Victoria. Many of these paintings were rotted and torn, and unable to be identified or restored. Rosalind Hollinrake, who is a curator, former gallery owner, and Beckett’s biographer, helped salvage the artworks, and began to piece together the life and work of one of Australia’s most unique landscape artists.

Clarice Beckett’s personal life remains something of an enigma; her dedication to her art, and her refusal of several marriage proposals pitted her against her family’s traditional view of a woman’s role in society; a view more akin to the Victorian era into which she was born she than the heady, turbulent inter-war period, when Beckett was at her creative highpoint. She was twenty-seven years old when she finally attended art school; her father refused to allow her to set up a studio in the family home, where, as an unmarried woman, she remained all her life, and thus bore the full load of caring for her ill and ageing parents. Beckett’s bleak domestic life was compounded by the hostility of art critics, and at times, her own peers, who misunderstood her distinctive approach. Despite these circumstances Clarice Beckett was driven to make art, and each day at dawn and dusk she could be seen in the suburban streets around her home, and most often on Beaumaris Beach, paintbrush in hand, absorbed in her painting. and managed to exhibit her work annually over a ten year period.

Today her posthumous reputation grows as her vision of modern urban and coastal Australia is acknowledged by contemporary painters, with her works now held in over four of the country’s major public galleries.


Lilla Cabot Perry (January 13, 1848—February 28, 1933) 

More than an artist, Perry was an advocate for the things that mattered to her most.

An American artist who worked in the Impressionist style, rendering portraits and landscapes in the free form manner of her mentor, Claude Monet. 

Perry was an early advocate of the French Impressionist style and contributed to its reception in the United States. Perry’s early work was shaped by her exposure to the Boston school of artists and her travels in Europe and Japan. She was also greatly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophies and her friendship with Camille Pissarro.

Lilla Cabot was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was Dr. Samuel Cabot III, a distinguished surgeon. In 1874, she married Thomas Sergeant Perry, a Harvard alumnus scholar and linguist, and added his name.

In 1884 Perry began her formal artistic training with the portrait painter Alfred Quentin Collins. While Perry learned the more formal aspects of art-making with Collins, it was not until 1885 that she finally found an artist who truly inspired her personal style. In that year Perry worked with Robert Vonnoh, an artist who worked in the Impressionist’s plein-air style at Grez-Sur-Loing in France. Vonnoh’s work represented a distinct departure from the formal style Perry had been exposed to and it was this experience that planted the seeds for Perry’s lifelong dedication to Impressionism.

In 1888 Perry traveled to Munich where she studied with the German social realist Fritz von Uhde. Uhde’s handling of the subject and his use of color had a dynamic effect on Perry’s work. By the fall of 1888 Perry had returned to Paris where she enrolled in the Académie Julian and studied with Tony Robert-Fleury.

Between 1889 and 1909 Perry spent nine summers in Giverny. It was here that she fully found herself as an artist. During her time in Giverny she formed a close friendship with Claude Monet whose impressionistic handling of color and light greatly inspired her work. In addition, she also worked with a cadre of American artists who had found their way to Giverny including Theodore Robinson, John Breck, and Theodore Earl Butler.

There is a distinct shift observed in Perry’s work after she arrived in Giverny. Her La Petite Angèle, II (1888) illustrates the dramatic evolution her style during this period. Unlike her earlier portraits, like The Letter, which relied on more traditional techniques to carefully render the subject matter – La Petite Angèle, II is clearly impressionistic in style with its free form brushstrokes that capture the impression of light and color. Rather than blending together each brushstroke, Perry allowed the composition to be “raw”, thus allowing a vibrancy to be imbued in the canvas that was not possible in her earlier works. Giverny and more specifically Claude Monet, inspired Perry to work with plein-air forms, impressionistic brushstrokes, soft colors, and poppy red. In the window of La Petite Angèle, II we see the beginnings of what would become Perry’s love affair with the Impressionist’s handling of the landscape theme.

By the fall of 1889 Perry had departed from Giverny to tour Belgium and Holland and by November she had returned to Boston with her family. With her return to the states Perry did not leave behind the charms of Giverny that had provided her with so much inspiration. With her she brought back a painting by Monet in addition to a series of landscapes by John Breck. Collectively, these works would nourish her creative appetite until she could return to Giverny.

Perry’s artistic career took on new meaning when she returned to Boston. She was not content to simply paint in the new style she had acquired while overseas. More than this, she was inspired to “foster a new truth in painting” in the Boston art community that was not responsive to the new Impressionist modes.

To accomplish her goal of fostering this “new truth” in painting, Perry helped to organize the first public exhibition of Breck landscapes in November, 1890. To further her goal of helping the American audience understand the Impressionist’s style, Perry gave a lecture on Claude Monet on January 24, 1894 at the Boston Art Students Association.

In 1893 Perry’s career as an artist achieved a new level of success. It was during this year that Perry was chosen to represent Massachusetts at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Perry had seven works displayed at the exhibition, of which four of the compositions were worked in the plein-air style (Petite Angèle, I, An Open Air Concert, Reflections, Child in a Window) and three were more formal studio portraits (Portrait of a Child, Child with a Violoncello, Portrait Study of a Child).

For three years Perry resided in Japan that greatly influenced her work and made it possible for her to develop a unique style that brought together western and eastern aesthetic traditions. Her Meditation, Child in a Kimono and Young Girl with an Orange vibrantly illustrates the distinct changes that occurred in Perry’s work during her stay in Japan. Unlike her earlier works, both compositions draw on uniquely eastern subject matter and show a strong influence of the clean lines from Japanese prints. The result of this blending of east and west is striking with Impressionist portraits flowing seamlessly with the well-organized, balanced compositions that the eastern art world was known for at this time.

By 1923 Perry became critically ill with diphtheria. During this time she found new inspiration for her landscapes, what she referred to as “snowscapes.” These landscapes laden with snow became a passion for Perry who bundled herself up in blankets and hot water bottles in order to capture the beauty of a 4 a.m. sunrise.

Lilla Cabot Perry died on February 28, 1933.


Maria Oakey Dewing (1845-1927)

A Bed of Poppies, 1909

Painter, author, and amateur botanist expressed the visual power of flowers with these words in 1915. A leading light of the New York and new England art scenes during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Oakey Dewing painted landscapes, portraits, and figural works – many of which have not been located – but her artistic legacy is flower painting.

In 1875, at age 30, she participated in an exhibition at Cottier and Company, New York, an exhibition scholars argue cemented the formation of the Society of American Artists. As part of her training, Oakey traveled to Europe the following year and studied under Thomas Couture, returning abroad in the 1880s and ‘90s. By 1877 she was showing regularly at the National Academy of Design.

Oakey’s early work primarily focused on portraits and figure paintings, but in the 1880s she shifted her focus to still lifes. In October 1880, at age 35, she was introduced to American Impressionist Thomas Wilmer Dewing, whom she married six months later.

While traveling to Europe in 1885, Oakey Dewing encountered a cadre of young American artists who had established an art colony near Claude Monet and his famous garden. When the Dewings returned to the United States later that year, they went directly to Cornish, New Hampshire, where they would spend every summer for the next eighteen years.

With the arrival of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in early 1885 and the Dewings shortly afterwards, the small town became one of the earliest American art colonies. The Cornish community was sympathetic to creative endeavors and adhered to the “nature as sanctuary” ideology. Cornish was also known as a progressive art colony for women artists.

During that period in Cornish, Oakey Dewing became an avid gardener and perfected her flower painting. By the 1840s, garden culture had spread to America – gardening books were widely published, botany was a popular pursuit, and cultivated gardens entered mainstream fashion. The Dewing’s house had perhaps the first of the new-style gardens in Cornish, and by far the most extensive.

Iris at Dawn, 1899
With their elaborate and abundant gardens, they are often credited with having inspired the horticulture and gardening fashions that swept through the art colony in the 1890s. Oakey Dewing experimented with and cultivated plants she would later paint, most often depicting combinations of flowers that grew together in these carefully tended spaces.

Many artists of Oakey Dewing’s day strove to capture the soul of a flower by emphasizing its fleeting radiance and fragility. The transience of flowers made them at once appealing and challenging and roses were acknowledged as one of the most difficult flowers to paint.

“It seems almost impossible to render in paint all the characteristics which make up the beauty of our florists’ roses.” – author Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer commenting about the 1893 National Academy of Design exhibition.

Oakey Dewing understood the demands of the genre, maintaining that flower painting required a “long apprenticeship in the garden.” She created her own approach: a middle ground between purely decorative flatness that resembled Japanese art and the illusion of depth found in Western art. Emphasizing a close-up view, she called her paintings “modern,” the term she used to differentiate outdoor paintings from studio still lifes.

Most of her works present a gardener’s-eye view into a thicket of transparent petals and leathery leaves that extend beyond the borders of the canvas, giving the viewer a sensation of being immersed among the flowers. Her technique is so close to perfection even in her staged vase paintings, and represents the peak of Gilded-age Decorative Style.

“Mrs. Dewing’s flowers have made for themselves a place apart in American painting. She gives us their character, their special texture, their special droop. [She] knew how to interpret the soul of a flower.” – contemporary critic Royal Cortissoz.


Childe Hassam

Lillie (Lillie Langtry)
ca. 1898

watercolor and gouache on paperboard

24 1/4 x 19 3/4 in. (61.7 x 50.2 cm)

Frederick Childe Hassam (1859–1935), a pioneer of American Impressionism and perhaps its most devoted, prolific, and successful practitioner, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts (now part of Boston), into a family descended from settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Equally adept at capturing the excitement of modern cities and the charms of country retreats, Hassam (properly pronounced HASS-am) became the foremost chronicler of New York City at the turn of the century. In our day, he is perhaps best known for his depictions of flag-draped Fifth Avenue during World War I. 

His finest works manifest his brilliant handling of color and light and reflect his credo (stated in 1892) that “the man who will go down to posterity is the man who paints his own time and the scenes of every-day life around him.”

After establishing his reputation in Boston between 1882 and 1886, Hassam studied from 1886 to 1889 in Paris. There he was unusual among his American contemporaries in his attraction to French Impressionism, which was just beginning to find favor with American collectors. Hassam returned to the United States late in 1889 and took up lifelong residence in New York.

Hassam created more than 2,000 oils, watercolors, pastels, and illustrations, and—after 1912—more than 400 etchings and other prints.

A Jersey Lily, Portrait of Lillie Langtry, 1878, oil on canvas, Jersey Museum and Art Gallery, St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands

The subject of his painting, Lillie Langtry (1853-1929), a Jersey girl, acclaimed beauty, socialite, and the mistress of the Prince of Wales.

At the time of the painting, Lillie was an actress plus survivor of several scandals, in the midst of one of her numerous tours across the United States. Among her admirers then was Texan Roy Bean, self-proclaimed judge and reputedly the only “Law West of the Pecos;” she would eventually make the long journey to visit Langtry, the frontier town he christened in her honor.

Messing About with Paint


Acrylic on Canvas Board 12cmx10cm

The first painting I did after arriving in Afghanistan in 2003. 
The city grey in the depths of winter. 
The oppression of women symbolized in the men on Buskashi horses, painted in the black associated with the Taliban, towering over a women. 
Imprisoned in her blue burqa, but not cowered, with the splash of red under the burqa.

Messing About with Paint


Oil on Canvas 40cmx50cm

The conflict in South Sudan has been particularly harsh on women and children. Yet, they need to go on with the everyday requirements of cooking, cleaning, shopping and caring.

My painting ‘Forgotten’, a women in the Konya-Konya market of Juba balancing impossibly heavy loads, doing all she can not to draw any attention to herself. Fading into the background.

Messing About with Paint

Customs Market

Customs Market
Oil on Canvas 40cmx30cm

Alongside the busses departing for Kampala from Juba, women sit on the edge of the road, their wares spread around them for the inspection of people rushing past. Their vulnerability and bravery, amongst the chaos, were the key elements I wanted to capture, using a small canvas to emphasize the multidimensional constraints. Scarves providing movement and life to the painting.