Laure Saffroy: “Faiseuse d’images”

PARIS, France — During one my endless strolls through a museum, I was struck by a muse of the belle époque: the portrait of Marchesa Luisa Casati by Italian painter Giovanni Boldini. From my initial passive admiration of this beautiful painting, I asked myself how does one consider the artistic process of image creation?  I had the same consideration when I first discovered the creative work of Laure Saffroy-Lepesqueur who describes herself as a modern “faiseuse d’images”.

The Path to Image Creation

Laure Saffroy-Lepesqueur is a young French artist currently finishing her Master’s degree in History of Art at the prestigious Ecole du Louvre in Paris. Laure said that art, in its different expressions, was always part of her life while growing up. During her teenage years, she enrolled at the Academy of Dramatic Arts of Rouen, her native city, before moving to Paris where she pursued her graduate studies.

In parallel to her artistic work as an illustrator, Laure is currently conducting research on the figure of female live models in Paris’ nineteenth century artistic scene: a subject she finds most fascinating as she believes that for so long women have been underrepresented in Western art history. The artist commented:

It is important to praise the work of many female artists across time who were brave enough to overcome the limitations of their gender in order to excel in what was believed to be a male dominated field.

Laure also stated that throughout history, women have always endorsed a “decorative role” as they were often depicted by male virtuosos as idealised images of beauty, nature and desire. In that sense she added: “Women have always been artists and with my work I intend to celebrate them as poetical sources of inspiration. I wish to value women and their contribution to the art world, either as creators, writers or performers.

Laure started exhibiting her drawings and paintings two years ago, mainly in local art-oriented cafés and small publishing houses. She considers the recent launch of her artistic career as a natural process born from her incursions in theatre, history of art and her passion for drawing and colour.

laure saffroy
Maria Magdalena (Photo Courtesy of Laure Saffroy-Lepesqueur)

A Synthesis of Inspirations

Laure Saffroy’s artistic universe is inspired mainly by female characters from literature but also from everyday life Parisian women. Her languish and colourful female figures convey a much more profound message as they often represent a state of mind, a feeling or a sensation. When asked about the creative process of her work, the artist affirmed that she does not have an established method and that the conception of her visions usually comes naturally while sleeping, reading or writing.

As for the technique of her painted pictures, Laure works almost exclusively on paper, experimenting with acrylic, gouache and pastel colours. She most recently started exploring painting on wooden panels but insists on her predilection for paper, as she finds its fragility both, moving and aesthetically interesting.

The originality of her creations also comes from the mixed techniques she uses in some of her artworks. For example, Ophélie Nouvelle is a whimsical reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s heroine, but with a twist of modernity as the drawing figure is submerged in a collage of various elements such as wilted flowers, rose petals and paper prints.

I couldn’t help but notice that gold colour is a recurrent component in Laure’s artistic output. When asked about this, Laure explained: “I am instinctively attracted to everything that is gold. For me, this magnificent and luminous colour represents intemporality and timeless beauty. I also find my inspiration from amazing artists that have worked with golden shades such as Gustav Klimt or Helene Schjerfbeck.

laure saffroy
Photo Courtesy of Annabelle Fadat and Laure Saffroy-Lepesqueur

Contemporary Icons

Over fifty of Laure’s paintings were exhibited last February at the majestic Madeleine Church in Paris. The church’s basement – called The Foyer de la Madeleine – is an interesting platform for local artists run by an association (Madeleine 2000) that regularly organises temporary art exhibitions within the church’s interiors.

The natural softened light of this location and the subdued atmosphere allowed this artist to show a selection of works on paper inspired by traditional painted icons. As Laure explained: “My intention with the series of Contemporary icons was not to imitate religious painting as my works were not conceived as figures of devotion. Nevertheless, I believe that to some extent they carry a certain degree of spirituality, but a different kind of spirituality, one that is not necessarily religious.

Laure Saffroy’s very personal interpretation of painted icons allowed her to explore with colour as well as with texture as she defines herself as a relentless soul always in the search of beautiful impressions.

laure saffroy
Photo Courtesy of Fabrice Dumont, (Le P’tit Photographe)

A Modern Life Model

As part of a workshop organised by the “Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School” association, Laure filled the shoes of a Degas’s ballerina during a special drawing soirée at the recently renovated Musée Jean-Jaques Henner. The evening dedicated to French Fin de siècle gathered drawing amateurs for an unusual mix of drawing experience alongside life models wearing prodigious costumes by French corset designer François Tamarin. The original staging as well as the authentic atmosphere granted the artist a complete immersion into the skin of one of the many exceptional – yet generally anonymous – female life models that, for centuries, have contributed to artistic creation.

Laure told us that this exceptional opportunity allowed her to better understand the difficulty of the exercise as life posing requires discipline and much concentration. Above all, she found the experience inspiring as she strongly believes in Baudelaire’s concept of correspondences between the arts, who she was happy to quote: “As Baudelaire used to say: ‘Dance is a poetry with arms and legs’”.

What’s Next?

Laure Saffroy is currently exploring photography, a medium she finds exciting and resourceful for her emerging artistic career. Poetry has also an important place in the artist’s creative universe but for the moment she wishes to keep that aspect of her talent private. What we know for sure is that Laure considers herself more an illustrator, as she wishes to keep telling stories through her personal and yet very emotional and colourful pictures.

Andrea Stajan-Ferkul: Fashion and Art Collusion

Andrea Stajan Ferkul Fashion and Art Collusion

ONTARIO, Canada — Can Art turn into Beauty and Beauty into Art? Andrea Stajan Ferkul is a Canadian, Toronto-based, artist and illustrator who is always inspired by beauty in her artistic work. She is especially interested in the stories behind the beauty of women. As she states: “Exploring the essential beauty of women is not to focus solely on the aesthetic. Beauty is a reflection of one’s inner self – it’s not seen but radiated from within.”

Andrea Stajan Ferkul: The Artist

Andrea Stajan Ferkul learned about illustration and graphic design working for many years in the fashion advertising industry. Soon after, she decided to focus her work on the world of fine art experimenting with loose renderings, textures and mixed media. Today, Andrea is above all known for her captivating (dress) paintings, expression of the fusion between style and elegance, spontaneity and representation, the sensual expression of colours mixed with fine design and details.

About who and what inspires her life and work, Andrea talks about divine femininity: “To wear something beautiful empowers a woman; it radiates confidence and brings out the best in her,” says Andrea.

… I draw inspiration from the strength and femininity of women and their roles in today’s society.

“Individuals reflect their personality, mood and style by what they wear, which can affect their emotional state. I draw on sources from visual elements that stimulate me; fashion, colour, design, photography, pattern and texture. I am also inspired by other artists,” explains Andrea.

Andrea Stajan Ferkul
I’m Gonna Smoke Marlboro Lights And Drink Champagne
Andrea Stajan Ferkul
Red Lips Not Optional

The importance of beauty

Andrea Stajan Ferkul highlights the importance of beauty in her work. The best inspirational quote that resonates with her is one by Kate Angell: “Outer beauty attracts, but inner beauty captivates.”

“When beauty is found in imperfection, it affects you spiritually,” Andrea explains.

“When beauty is found in imperfection, it affects you spiritually.”

To absorb the essence of my work, it’s important to look beyond the beauty and embrace the complexity and uniqueness of a personality – the strength, sensuality and spirit of being a woman. I try to convey the beauty inherent within us all.

Andrea continues: “My finished paintings reside somewhere between reality and interpretation. To create a powerful aesthetic, the dresses in my paintings appear to be perfect; upon a closer look there are many imperfections, some more obvious than others. Beauty in imperfection hits me in the heart.”

Andrea’s paintings represent the powerful aesthetics of painting which connected with the narrative, realistic details very well. As she highlights: “I start with an idea, but it is intuition that drives me in my work, with the finished piece residing somewhere between reality and interpretation. It’s an extension of what I have built up in my experiences. My work should confront the viewer with feelings.”

Andrea Stajan Ferkul
Drinks With Degas

Fashion behind the art

A great number of Andrea Stajan Ferkul’s paintings are inspired by fashion perfectly combining style and elegance as a sublime extension of the spirit of a woman.

Andrea emphasises that fashion is about having a personal style, one that works for each one of us (aesthetically & emotionally), reflecting our personality. “It’s a way of re-creating yourself everyday, depending on your mood,” Andrea adds. “Fashion is an extension of the spirit of a woman. My dress paintings put emphasis on bringing the emotional and intuitive elements of the theme to the piece. I explore perceptions of style and elegance as a whole and their role in contemporary life.”

For Andre, fashion means a simple life: “Fashion is art. Art is beauty. Beauty is a life’s expression.”

Andrea Stajan Ferkul
Paradise Is Personal

Colour harmony and contrast

Andrea is extremely stimulated by colour and colour harmony even though her palette is often monochromatic. “Colour can often be my starting point, my inspiration – it just gets translated into black, white and neutrals,” says Andrea. “I love everything about tone on tone – the richness, the layering and depth it creates. I love the subtlety of tone on tone, and appreciate the power of neutral colour.”

Andrea tends to mix various shades of neutral: “… It’s the subtleness of tone changes that I’m after.” She equally loves the contrast between neutrals and black as many of her paintings show. What is also so unique in her work is the incorporation of fabric and lace in her pairings to create 3 dimensional effects inviting the viewers to take a closer look. “Is it painted or is it real… often it’s both,” Andrea tells with a smile.

Andrea’s future plans include building relationships with clients, interior designers and galleries. She will continue to focus on painting, experimenting and developing her style in ways that keep her fulfilled: “… Sometimes there’s a nuance of an era gone by but it could equally work as a contemporary,” concludes Andrea while reminding us all that her motto in life and work is to “stay true to yourself and do what makes you happy and do it on your own terms.”

Andrea Stajan Ferkul
Life In Black And White

Monet Before Impressionism

Monet Before Impressionism

PARIS, France — Claude Monet (1840-1926) was one of the most influential artists of 19th century French painting. Throughout his long career, he indulged in a wide range of artistic genres such as portraiture, still life and genre-painting. Monet devoted his entire life to the study of nature and its transient effects of light and atmosphere. Extremely talented and endowed with a strong personality, the artist became one of the key figures in the advent of Impressionism that transformed French art in the second half of the 19th century.

Here we take a brief look at Monet’s muse and his relationship with England, ahead of an exciting new exhibition at Tate Britain later this year entitled: Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile, 1870-1904.

Monet Before Impressionism
Claude Monet, Springtime (The Reader), 1872, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The Artist’s Early Years

Oscar-Claude Monet was born on 14th November 1840 in Paris, but spent his infancy and teenage years in Le Havre, Normandy. Strong willed from a very young age, “little Oscar-Claude” never enjoyed school and preferred to spend time outdoors running on the cliffs or paddling in the water. He also developed a keen interest in art — it was very common to find his school books filled with drawings and caricatures of his friends and teachers. With his mother’s blessing — Mme. Monet was a singer herself —the young man entered Le Havre secondary school of the arts in 1851.

Around 1857, Monet made the acquaintance of his first mentor, landscape artist Eugène Boudin, who introduced him to plein air painting. This method contrasted with the established rules of the time that sustained artists should produce their works indoors. In 1862, at the age of 22, Claude Monet joined the Paris studio of the academic history painter Charles Gleyre. Disillusioned with Gleyre’s teachings and art methods, he preached rebellion to his new classmates Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Frédéric Bazille, who joined him and deserted from the master’s atelier.

Monet’s early career enjoyed limited success as the artist was often derided by art critics and excluded from the annual Paris Salon. Although his main interest remained landscape painting, he did his fair share of portraits and figure paintings prior to the dawn of Impressionism. One person in particular was a major and long-lasting source of inspiration in the painter’s life: his first wife Camille Doncieux.

Camille: Model, Muse and Wife

Camille-Léonie Doncieux was born on 15th January 1847 in Lyon, France. Even if little information about her modest background has come to light, specialists have established that Camille migrated to Paris alongside her family sometime before 1864. Settling in the popular neighbourhood of Batignolles – an attractive location for many young artists of the time – Camille worked as a model. The young girl’s delicate postures and attitudes were immortalised by painters such as Edouard Manet and Auguste Renoir. In 1865, Camille Doncieux became Monet’s mistress – who was seven years her senior – and two years later she gave birth to the couple’s first son, Jean. The painter’s mistress-model was soon to become his wife as the pair married in Paris on the 28th of June 1870.

One of Monet’s most remarkable representations of her is the large full-length portrait entitled Camille (Woman in a Green Dress) that the then unknown painter presented to the Salon in 1866. Carefully composed, the picture portrays an elegant Parisienne wearing a fashionable striped green silk gown and a fur-trimmed velvet jacket. The painting became one of the main attractions of the exhibition that year and Monet enjoyed both critical and commercial success.

The numerous portraits the artist made of his young wife remain today an important testimony of Camille’s physical appearance as Monet often portrayed her as a beautiful brunette with dark deep eyes. These paintings also work as open windows to the woman’s inner personality. Passive and melancholic, almost vanishing into nature, Camille was frequently depicted by her husband as a noble silhouette calmly reading in the garden or spending time outdoors with young Jean. Tragically, Camille Monet passed away in September 1879 at the early age of 32, soon after the birth of the couple’s second son, Michel.

Monet Before Impressionism
Claude Monet, Camille in the Garden with Jean and His Nanny, 1873, private collection, Switzerland.

Monet and England

In the early 1870s, France was devastated by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and insurrection in Paris. Numerous were the French artists who sought refuge across the Channel in the British capital. Some, like James Tissot became quite popular among the Victorian high society and stayed in Britain for many years. Others, like Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet returned to France only after a short period of time spent abroad. The Monets reached London sometime around September 1870, but life was difficult for the young painter as he had very little money and his works did not seem to correspond to British tastes.

As Dr Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, Assistant Curator at Tate Britain, kindly explained: “Monet was still at an early stage in his career when he first came to London during the Franco-Prussian War, and his paintings did not attract a British clientele”. As a record of the artist’s brief stay in London, he only produced six paintings including Meditation (Madame Monet Seated on a Sofa), which was most likely the first work he executed in the British capital. In this regard the specialist commented: “Monet was by no means a key figure among French exiles. Tissot was much more successful and Alphonse Legros, who had settled in Britain in 1863, remained the main figure for the French artistic community in London.”

Even if Monet’s first sojourn in Britain concluded in May 1871, it was nevertheless a crucial stage for the evolution of his painting. In London, he visited museums and especially admired the works of J. M. W. Turner and John Constable. While in England, the painter met the French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, an encounter that changed the course of his life as Durand-Ruel became his principal dealer and promoter.

Dr Corbeau-Parsons added:

London took greater importance in Monet’s artistic output when he returned, at the turn of the century, to paint his Thames series. There is some evidence that the artist saw the extraordinary success of this series – exhibited in 1904 at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris – as a revenge on his past.

The question of French artists who migrated to London during the 1870s will be the leading subject of the upcoming exhibition Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile, 1870-1904. The show will be on display at Tate Britain from November 2017 to April 2018 before travelling to Paris where it will be presented at the Petit Palais. This large-scale exhibit will be the first to map the connections between French and British artists, patrons and art dealers during a traumatic period in French history. It will also consider the contribution French exiles made to British art. Don’t miss it!

Monet Before Impressionism
Claude Monet, Meditation (Madame Monet Seated on a Sofa), 1871, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Courtesy of: Dr Caroline Corbeau-Parsons (19th century curatorial team at Tate Britain) | Exhibition at Tate Britain: www.tate.org.uk

Sources:

  1. Guégan, Stéphane, Turner, Whistler, Monet, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 2005.
  2. Allard, Sébastien, Nineteenth century French art: from romanticism to impressionism, post-impressionism, and Art nouveau, Paris, 2007.
  3. Cogeval, Guy, Claude Monet: 1840-1926, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 2010.
  4. Gedo, Mary Mathews, Monet and his Muse: Camille Monet in the artist’s life, Chicago, 2010.
  5. Goldman, Noémie, Claude Monet: son musée, exh. cat., Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, 2010.
  6. Monet & His Muse: https://canvas.saatchiart.com/art/art-history-101/monet-his-muse?utm_source=collectors_non_purchasers&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2006&c_aid=non_purchasers&c_crid=cta3&c_xid=111716&utm_content=111716_non_purchasers_am_File%20Import
  7. Claude Monet: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/claude-monet-1652
  8. Claude Monet: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cmon/hd_cmon.htm

Chinoiserie – Eastern or Western?

Chinoiserie

Chinoiserie
Copyright SPSG (Sanssoucis Palace), Image Roland Handrick
Fabric wallcovering in the South cabinet of Chinese House at Sanssoucis Palace, Potsdam.

LONDON, United Kingdom — Chinoiserie is a decorative style in art, furniture and architecture with origins that can be traced back to Marco Polo (1254-1324). His book titled The Travels of Marco Polo was read with much skepticism and was considered incredulous, but the book remained a sensation and became a best seller for most of the Middle Ages and beyond (Silk-road.com). The link between Marco Polo and chinoiserie may be a distant one, but the book allowed subsequent generations of Europeans to marvel at the exotic and technologically advanced Cathay and other lands east of Constantinople.

As the styles evolved from Medieval to Renaissance, to Baroque and Rococo, Europeans’ fascination and demand for Eastern objects continued to grow. In the Middle Ages, the Silk Road served to transport goods between Europe and Africa, India and China. Prized goods included the blue and white porcelain, exotic spices, tea, silk, precious gems and oriental carpets, among others. The origin of tea, porcelain and silk worms were a mystery to the Europeans, making those goods an exotic rarity. At the end of 15th century, new maritime trade routes opened and the amount of traded goods skyrocketed.

The fascination of all things Asian, particularly Chinese, reached its pinnacle in the mid-18th century, under Louis XV, when Rococo was fashionable. But already in the Baroque period, there was a frenzied interest in Chinese blue and white porcelain and lacquerwork. To meet the demand, factories were set up in Asia to produce specific designs for European taste. Factories in Europe were experimenting to emulate Chinese objects, especially the porcelain. The Meissen and the Delft potters not only imitated Chinese style but also created unique pieces of their own.

Royal Background

As chinoiserie spread from Versailles to other European palaces, the bright colours, the playful motifs and the amusing exotic subjects were becoming a notable feature of the Rococo style. A transition from traditional Chinese design to a manufactured style was taking place – a departure from the original to a fantasy view of China. Chinoiserie covered original Chinese export goods of the period and European interpretation of those goods.

Already artists and craftsmen of the Rococo period incorporated chinoiserie in their buildings, furniture, wallpaper and pottery using fanciful motifs, such as intricate lattices, pagodas, ponytailed peasants, Chinese water gardens, exotic flora and fauna. “The association with play and the expressive potential of the exotic that permeated chinoiserie gave birth to all kinds of objects, from furniture to smaller objects that could be worn as souvenirs, talismans, or trophies, in such magnitude that it became harder and harder to tell whether they originated in China or in Europe.” (Andrew Bolton in China: Through the Looking Glass)

If you are planning to visit a palace this summer, make it the 18th century Sanssoucis Palace in Potsdam, which was Frederick the Great’s summer palace and a testament to the vision and quality craftsmanship of the era. The Chinese House in the park was built as “an escape to the far-off and cheerful world … Chinese musicians and tea drinkers, dressed in fairytale-like apparel, are represented. Their exotic nature harmonises with the columns in the shape of gilded plants.” (as described by the website of SPSG Sanssoucis Palace)

A whistle-stop tour of chinoiserie in Europe would include Palace of Aranjuez in Spain, the Royal Palace Portici in Italy, Saltram and Badminton House in Great Britain, Museum Geelvinck-Hinlopen in Amsterdam, Catherine Palace in Russia.

Chinoiserie
Copyright SPSG, Image Hans Bach
The Chinese House in the gardens of Sanssoucis Palace in Potsdam.

Chinoiserie in England

In 1784 a substantial reduction of tax on imported tea allowed tea drinking to gain a wider appeal. Tea drinking became a ritual, and almost theatrical, among the upper echelon of the society where ladies (mostly) would dress up and gather to exchange news and gossip. The rooms where tea was served were decorated in chinoiserie, to reflect the origin of the brew. The Chinese Room at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire (National Trust) offers visitors a glimpse of the grandeur and wealth of its original owner, Sir Ralph Verney. It contains one of the best examples of Georgian mouldings and carving, including the famous Ho Ho bird (a mythical Japanese phoenix), known to bring good luck and fortune.

Chinoiserie
Doorcase of the Chinese Room surmounted by airy bell-hung pagoda sheltering pagoda fretwork shelves. Claydon House, copyright National Trust, Image Andreas von Einsiedel

Chinoiserie
Detail of the chimneypiece at Claydon House, copyright National Trust, Image Andreas von Einsiedel

Under George IV, chinoiserie continued to expand in England. His London address, Carlton House, contained a Chinese Drawing Room. The Royal Pavilion at Brighton and William Chambers’ pagoda at Kew Gardens were constructed and decorated in the style of chinoiserie, although Neo-Classicism was well under way by this time.

Chinoiserie
The Badminton Bed by John Linnell (1729-1796). Copyright V&A Museum.

The introduction of new techniques of mass production in 19th century made transfer-printed chinoiserie designs onto tableware affordable and available to a wider audience. The blue and white Willow Pattern by Josiah Spode became popular and it continues to be today. Wallpaper and textile with chinoiserie motifs were also produced extensively.

Chinoiserie
Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779). Copyright V&A Museum.

Modern Chinoiserie

Whereas art and design movements took centuries to evolve in the past, the first half of 20th century saw a succession of new design movements, one after the other – Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts, Modernism (De Stijl, Bauhaus, Art Deco). It was an exciting time for creativity emphasising on mass production and accessibility of design for the middle class.

In southern California, a revival of chinoiserie took place, as Hollywood glitterati of the golden age (1920 – 1950) were looking to decorate their homes with glamour and refinement to match their lifestyles. Hollywood Regency was born, which incorporated many aspects of chinoiserie and other Rococo elements along with the new design philosophies of curvilinear and pared-down elegance. Chinoiserie themes such as latticework, pagodas and bamboo sat next to iconic modern pieces of the time.

The importance of provenance in art and decorative art combined with a better knowledge of other cultures and countries – propelled by global travel and information technology – were redefining chinoiserie. Practitioners were restricting its definition to mainly Chinese infused and Chinese inspired. The aggregate concept of Orientalism was giving way to styles and designs from individual countries or ethnic groups – for example, Japanese, Korean, Indian or Moorish style.

Chinoiserie
Modern Chinoiserie, Yellowhouse Design, Image copyright Rachael Smith.

It is difficult to define chinoiserie as a global style. Asian countries still consider it inauthentic and copies of their originals. Today, there are no more ‘Chinese rooms’ created in modern homes, but chinoiserie style is mixed alongside modern elements in a juxtaposition of old and new.

Today modern chinoiserie meets the demands of those who wish to bridge the Eastern – Western style, the old – new, the outdoors – indoors, the relaxed – refined, all in a colourful, playful and optimist way. It is a layered style that refuses to be pigeonholed, but once achieved, it offers balance and harmony for all those who use the space.

Offer

For our FG readers, Yellowhouse Design is offering a 10% discount on all its chinoiserie hand painted wallpapers. Offer valid from 15th September to 15th October 2016. Shipping globally. Interested? Contact them here and don’t forget to mention the FG Magazine!

Sources:

Michael Harding – The Art of Colour

Michael Harding

LONDON, United Kingdom — In my local art shop there is a variety of oil paints to suit an array of abilities and budgets. There are student quality and mid range paints, and those aimed at professional artists. Then there is a section called Michael Harding Handmade Artist’s Oil Colours. “What are these?” I ask the sales assistant when I decide to switch from acrylic to oil paints. “Oh those are lovely, but pricey,” she says. “It’s something to do with the pigments he uses.” In my art school people are talking about buying a single tube of Michael Harding paint and about the wonderful depth of the colours. I struggle to understand the hype, and then I see a portrait artist (whose work I greatly admire) post a photo of Michael Harding paints on Instagram. “Oh, so he uses them,” I think to myself, “I wonder if that gives him an edge?”

Making paints like the Old Masters

I contact Michael Harding for an interview, which takes some doing given he is constantly travelling. During our hour long conversation, there are a series of anecdotes some of which include Lucian Freud and David Hockney. Michael is a skilled spokesman and raconteur, and while we talk, he walks around his Boston home holding his laptop up so I can see his art collection. It is a fun and enriching conversation that goes beyond sales talk to discussions about art and what it means to be an artist.

“So what’s so special about your paints?” I ask, “Is it the ingredients?” Michael says it is more a case of what he is not putting in them, namely fillers, extenders and something called siccatives. These are the bulking and drying agents that result in muddiness when mixing or working wet into wet. “Things that mute or disrupt the colour” he says.

Michael, who considers himself a master paint maker first and figurative artist second, started making oil paints in his London flat in 1982. Frustrated with his art, he tried to understand what constituted truly great work. “I’d look at Old Master paintings in the National Gallery in London,” he recounts, “and think, OK, he’s got genius and he’s got skills that I don’t have, but it’s like he’s working with a completely different box of tricks. What’s going on here?” The commercial paints he was using at the time felt limiting. “I found that I was struggling with the material – pushing it around,” he recalls. “Sometimes it would go off into a grey, stodgy mess – mud. Other times I’d get lucky and was able to put that brush stroke on the canvas that I’d envisaged. Once you start struggling with the material, it just makes things so much harder. Painting and drawing are already hard enough as it is,” he says emphatically.

Michael Harding
Quinacridone Rose, No.311. Michael Harding

To understand how the Old Masters created their beautiful hand-made paints that continue to maintain their brilliance through the decades, Michael consulted the technical bulletins available in the National Gallery in addition to historical books. “These texts are designed for either aficionados of art materials or conservators,” he says, “but if you read between the lines, you can find information about what the ingredients of the paint were, and weren’t more importantly.” Almost immediately Michael started supplying the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and as word spread there was a demand for his paints.

The go-to choice of oil paints by acclaimed artists around the world

It is self-evident that Michael Harding is also a perfectionist about the mixture he uses in his paints. He likens his paint making to being a chef that uses only essential and ‘clean’ ingredients, and has been sourcing specialist pigments around the world for over 25 years. Some of these, like his hallowed Lapis Lazuli, are incredibly rare and difficult to source. Michael talks about Lapis Lazuli pirates, and the dangers experienced by those mining it. It explains the price of £94.20 ($137.22) for a 60ml tube of his paint by the same name.

Michael’s is an inspiring story about what happens when you invent a quality product to serve your own needs that goes on to become a commercial success. But he remains hands on, and when he’s not collecting horse droppings near his factory in Wales to make Stack Lead White in the Dutch tradition, he is on the international road promoting his paints and liaising with other artists. “Many artists bring or send me pigments, stories and visions of grandeur on the virtues of a colour,” he says.

That’s the role of my life, in a way. I’m not just about making paints and selling them for a profit. I am fundamentally involved with art: I collect it and I live it. I take huge pride and satisfaction in knowing that I genuinely do help artists.

Michael Harding
Cobalt dk pigment. Michael Harding.
Michael Harding
Michael Harding

Putting it to the test

Obviously, I had to try these paints for myself. I purchased a handful of them and discovered that their reputation is well deserved and that the quality is genuinely superior to anything I have used before. Where I might need a great big squeeze of, say, Cadmium Red in my usual brand, I only require the smallest amount of Michael Harding’s. Even the tiniest amount is super concentrated, so despite spending more my paint is actually going further. The colours are vibrant and inspiring to work with. Now if I can only sell a painting, I can continue to buy them without having to hide the receipts from my partner.

“Michael is bringing out two new colours,” the visibly excited art shop assistant tells me on the weekend. In a few minutes, a handful of artists eager to discuss the news have gathered around and there’s a bit of a competitive edge between us as to who knows more about his paints. “Well I’ve just interviewed him,” I say smugly, enjoying my brief upper hand and the looks of admiration and envy I’m getting.

Michael Harding
Pallet. Michael Harding.