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  • Writer's pictureShlomit Oren

In The Studio

MoMA in New York is currently showing a small exhibition dedicated to ‘The Red Studio’, a masterpiece painted by Henri Matisse in 1911. The painting was originally intended to complement 'Harmony in Red', another Matisse painting, purchased by his Russian patron Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin. However, Shchukin did not like the final result. In fact, many others did not either and it received harsh reviews when it was exhibited in Paris and New York. Indeed, this is no ordinary painting - Matisse used a bright brick-red tone as the background of his studio, when in reality the studio was not at all red. For Matisse this hue harmoniously linked the objects in the painting. Moreover, gravity is almost non-existent in the painting - the objects seem to float around, not anchored in space, and the perspective is very weak. Only in 1927 did Matisse manage to sell the painting to a club owner in London and in 1949 it was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The painting has been on permanent display since, but now the curators are giving it a special honor by recreating the studio in the museum, bringing together all the artworks Matisse depicted in the painting.

Henri Matisse, The Red Studio, 1911

This painting made me think about studio paintings in general. The studio is the place where artists spend most of their time, where they work, where the magic is created. There is no doubt that this is magic we’re talking about. After all, how else can you describe the organization of colored pastes on a surface into a creation that evokes emotion and thought?

It is only natural that many artists paint their studio, their immediate environment, whether for reasons of availability or for the purpose of conveying some kind of message.

A bit about the history of the studio

Until the Renaissance, artists were considered craftsmen, like carpenters or goldsmiths, and they worked in a workshop. In Italy during the Renaissance, they began to separate the workshop, where the act of painting itself took place and where the assistants worked to prepare the materials, and the studio (called studiolo), which was dedicated to deep thought and observation, the place where the ideas germinated in the artist's head.

In 17th century Northern Europe, great emphasis was placed on still life paintings and portraits. These were often painted in the artist's studio. The paintings, which were smaller than the grandiose formats that the Italian patrons and the Catholic Church used to commission, made it possible to work in a smaller and more intimate space.

In France of the 18th and 19th centuries, many artists worked in an atelier - a master's workshop where other artists work alongside him, learn from him and help him. When the Art Academy was established in the early 19th century this model was challenged as artists began to create in a more individualistic fashion. This is the model used by Impressionists to the Modernists of the time.

In the second half of the 20th century, some artists created in large-scale studios, or as Andy Warhol used to call it - the factory. The master returns to be the one that directs everyone and sets the tone, while the work itself is mostly done by artists and other creators. Jeff Koons took this method to the extreme and is outsourcing much of his work.

The studio as the artist's portrait

Throughout the years we see many artists painting themselves in their studio, as a genre of self-portraiture. However, in a significant number of paintings artists give weight to the studio space itself, sometimes at the expense of their own image. This is not surprising if you think of the studio as a reflection of the artists’ inner world.

Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn, The Artist In His Studio, 1628

In 1628 the young Rembrandt paints himself in his studio. In the front of the painting, a huge canvas is placed against an easel with its back to us. At the far end, distancing himself from the canvas, his figure looms in the shadow, stands the artist. The studio space is sparse and modest: a palette hanging on a peeling wall and a rough wooden table with various jars on it. Rembrandt himself, with his round and wide eyes, seems almost frightened by the canvas that stands in front of him.

Adriaen Van Ostade, Selfportrait, 1663

Rembrandt's compatriot, Adriaen Van Ostade, paints himself sitting in front of the canvas in the center of a well-lighted studio. This studio is a fundamentally different than Rembrandt’s - it is cluttered with different objects, some scattered on the floor. Further inside we see the apprentice working, probably crushing pigments. An anatomical figurine is placed on the floor and on the wall and ceiling we see animals’ skulls and horns. In the midst of all this entanglement, the painter is working diligently although the canvas seems almost blank.

Frederic Bazille, Atelier Bazille, 1870

A noteworthy painting by Frédéric Bazille shows the studio as a center of activity. Bazille was one of Edouard Manet's admirers, and even purchased paintings from him (thus supporting him financially). At that time, he shared a studio with Renoir, painter of some of the hanging pictures, such as the framed one on the top right. The figure in the center holding the palette is that of Bazille himself (Manet painted him) and next to him in front of the easel stands Manet. Playing the piano is Bazille’s friend, above him is a still life by Manet, and on the left are three paintings by other artists. It is evident that this is a scene of discussion and recreation, where the artwork is in focus. Unfortunately, later that year (1870) Bazille was killed in the Franco-Prussian War.

Edouard Manet, Monet Painting In His Studio Boat, 1874

While on the subject of Impressionists, here's an interesting anecdote: It is known that Claude Monet used to paint outside, en plein air. In 1874 while living in Argenteuil, outside Paris, Monet turned a boat into his studio, from which he painted various landscapes and was able to capture the flickering light on the surface of the water. His friend, Edouard Manet, painted him in action. Monet himself also painted this same studio boat.

Claude Monet, The Studio Boat, 1874

The Brazilian artist Rodolfo Amoedo painted his studio while staying in Paris. The picture of this casual non-chalant interior provides a glimpse into the life of the artist, who surrounded himself with paintings and drawings until there is no room left on the wall. A sketchbook left open on the floor and a painted vase holding the brushes, decorated in the spirit of the Japonism, prevalent in this period.

Rodolfo Amoedo, The Artist's Studio In Paris, 1883

John Singer Sargent painted himself in a dense and compressed painting, with the picture resting on the unmade bed, the painter's legs are cramped against the bed frame. We feel the urge to warn him not to stain the sheets with paint. Sargent traveled the world a lot and my guess is that this is a description of his wandering studio, from one hotel room to another.

John Singer Sargent, An Artist In His Studio, 1904

Picasso, being Picasso, painted his studio more than once (Perhaps Not surprising when it comes to the most prolific artist in history): the studio from 1928 in cubist style and the studio in Villa Californi, the artist's home in Cannes, from 1955. And to think that the same artist painted them both…

Pablo Picasso, The Studio, 1928

Pablo Picasso, L'Atelier, 1955

Artists paint their studios also in Israel

Leah Nickel surprises us with a painting of her studio in Paris from 1951, where she traveled to study. At that time, her studio was in what was originally a servant's apartment typical of the upper stories of old buildings. Gloomy and dark as it was, it is no surprise she chose to sit in front of the window and paint it with the studio framing it. It was just before Nickel completely abandoned figuration and became the queen of the Israeli abstract.

Leah Nickel, The Studio, 1951

Yehezkel Shtreichman painted 'The Artist in the Atelier' in 1955 in a compressed and colorful composition. The figure of the artist is only barely discernible, marked by the palette and barret on his head.

Yehezkel Shtreichman, The Artist in the Atelier, 1955

After living in Paris for two years, Shraga Weil returned to his kibbutz (Ga’aton) and set up his studio in a modest shack, which he humorously named 'Louvre'. In 1956 he painted himself in the studio, where he amassed various scraps and metal objects. He is engaged in his work while his young daughter Efrat bursts into the studio with a red flower in her hand. I believe this is a moving gesture, which weaves together the painter's work and family life.

Shraga Weil, Louvre Shack with Efrat, 1956

Ruth Schloss often used to paint women in the markets, temporary camps, etc. Here, uncharacteristically, she paints herself in the studio. The color is full of life compared to the shades Schloss typically uses. wearing work clothes, it is clear that she is absorbed in her work.

Ruth Schloss, The Artist in the Studio

Liliane Klapisch occasionally paints her studio. Here I chose to bring a bright and airy painting in which she pays homage to the paint and oil jars against the background of paintings hidden behind the bookcase.

Liliane Klapisch, In The Studio, 1979

Moshe Rosenthalis and Michael Kovner also pay tribute to the studio's colorful commotion.

Michael Kovner Moshe Rosenthalis

David Reeve often paints the many cans of paint he uses, resulting in a colorful and beautiful composition, on the verge of abstraction.

David Reeve, Paints in the Studio, 2017

With Jan Rauchwerger, on the other hand, the color palette is limited and quiet. He paints a corner in the studio where his paintings are placed against the wall on the beautiful Jaffa floor. He spotlights the drawing in the center - a glass inside a glass.

Jan Rauchwerger, Studio: A Glass Inside A Glass, 2004

The main theme in Leonid Balaklav's work is a self-portrait behind the canvas. Sometimes the canvas takes up most of the painting's space, in this case we are given a glimpse into Balaklav's book-laden studio, and we are subject to his scrutinizing gaze.

Leonid Balaklav, The Artist In The Studio, 2002

The work of Shay Azoulay needs no further introduction. His own word suffices: "when I’m in the studio paintings I always feel that I am painting the clichés of what we think of an artist in the studio, of the deceptive aura of the painter - impulsive, inspired by the muse… a king in his own kingdom. I realized that I am drawn to paint the painter's play and his plots, and especially drawn to the fiction that contains the material of a reality show about myself. I project the structure of such a show into the world of the painter and examine the "The reality" that creates the "halo" of the painter. I think it stems mainly from the need to understand how systems of power work in the field of art..." (From the exhibition catalog Shay Azoulay, Reuven Israel, Partners, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2011).

Shay Azoulay, Come Home, 2008

Boaz Noy's 'Blue Studio' window overlooks the sea, the waving Israeli flags suggest that it was painted around Independence Day. The studio is pleasant and harmonious, and if it weren't for the name of the piece, we wouldn't have known that it was actually a studio. The green armchair stands vacant in the center of the composition, but something doesn’t feel right. A second glance reveals a shadow of a figure seated in the armchair. Could it be Iris Cintra, Noy's painter wife, who shares a studio with him?

Boaz Noy, Studio In Blue, 2016

Zoya Cherkassky is one of the cleverest artists maturing in Israel in the past decade and her painting 'Tanya and Zoya' presents critique alongside artistic homages. Zoya is sitting at a table, around her neck is a necklace with her name. Tanya, a Bon Jovi fan, is standing with her back to us. The studio is full of art materials, paint jars fill a metal bookstand, while on the table there is a spray can, Russian-style decorated brush pots, a fruit vessel that looks like a Matisse still life and in a sketchbook a tribute to the work of Andy Warhol.

Zoya Cherkassky, Tanya and Zoya, 2012

Pygmalion is a great painting by Eli Shamir. Apparently, this is not a studio painting but rather an allegory about the artist’s work itself. Shamir, usually a painter, is standing in front of the model who stands as a sculptor and is molding her. The illusion between a woman and a statue is the heart of the matter, but pay attention to the surroundings: a large landscape painting leans against the wall, next to it the back of another painting is facing us. Small drawings are taped on the wall and on the left side the round mirror that recurs in Shamir's paintings, reflecting his face.

Eli Shamir, Pygmalion, 2016

The Studio Painter

It turns out I'm not the only one fascinated by the artist's studio. In my research, I came across the British artist Damien Elwes who dedicates his career to painting the studios of the artists he admires. Elwes conducts an in-depth research on each artist and when possible, tries to visit their original studios, and still, he takes many liberties. It is his prerogative, after all he is the artist. The result is not short of spectacular. I brought you here some samples of his artworks- Matisse's studio (in Elwes’ version), Roy Lichtenstein's studio and Basquiat's studio. I was especially moved by Picasso's studio - a huge panoramic work, in which Elwes planted iconic works of the artist from different periods, which change throughout the panels that make up the piece. Take a look at Elwes’ website to see more. I wonder which studios he will paint next.


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