I saw this painting in person Wednesday afternoon. I left early to go to the Phillips Collection, to see a show called "Paint Made Flesh." http://www.phillipscollection.org/
This painting was just stunning, and it was the best thing in the show. I was a bit disappointed with the rest of the show. Too many works from the 50s and 60s. And the two Susan Rothenbergs were from her disembodied arms phase - not my favorite. Others were so abstract, I missed where the "flesh" was. This was definitely the best painting in the show. I've never seen a Jenny Saville in person - "in the flesh" - ha.
First: it's HUGE! I looked it up online when I got home - it's 9' tall by 12' wide. I spent most of my time in front of this painting, just studying it - looking at it up close, then sitting on the bench for awhile, sometimes standing on the other side of the room. It was in a very small room. I wish it had been in a huge space, like the National Gallery. Any pictures of it do not even come close to doing it justice. The image above is a scan of the postcard I bought in the gift shop. The paragraph next to the painting said Saville's sister is resting her head on her shoulder, although from the pose, it's hard to tell which is which. It also said Saville's sister is her favorite model, so given the other paintings of hers that I've seen, I'm guessing that's the sister on the left. I also looked online for photos of Saville, so I'm guessing that is her on the right.
The painting has been done in layers, but you can see through to the lower layers. I'm not even sure the canvas has been gessoed. The painting is not framed. Neither were Rothenberg's - so much for my fretting over that detail. There is no evidence of gesso on the sides of the canvas. Nor have the sides been painted, as I know some artists do. There are some areas that look like raw canvas painted a pale yellow, with splatters of red - the area below the sister's right eye and into her cheek, and above Saville's lips. There are also areas of deep red, down at the layer of the canvas - in the sister's ear, on her chin, on Saville's chin, in her nostril, and around the eyes, although that doesn't show on the postcard.
Then there are some softly blended areas, with saturated deep colors - these really don't show well on the postcard, or any picture I've found online - the area on Saville's right cheek, where their cheeks come together, is a swath of warm browns, and Saville's eyes are luminous blue-green-hazel. And both sets of lips are numerous shades of red and burgundy, more of which you can see in person. Some areas are more detailed than others, with descriptive shadows (the eyes, specifically the curves of Saville's left eye, both sets of lips, the shadow under Saville's chin).
Then there are heavy layers of the whitish-grayish flesh tones on top (or not-flesh tones, as the case may be), with some strokes looking like they've been put on with a flat metal scraper, some of them overlapping in an abstract way, like that pale purple swatch over the sister's right shoulder in front of her ear. It's not a perfect, smooth surface, and there are even some heavy splotches of paint that have been left in place, and some areas where the paint got tacky and has some texture to it. These layers are not detailed, and are so thick it's almost like a layer of heavy makeup. There's a straight edge in the paint on Saville's right cheek, above the warm brown tones; I'm not sure if she put a straight edge down or just started the strokes there with a flat metal tool. They have no eyebrows, but there is dark showing through, so it's possible they were painted in at the detailed-softly blended-saturated color layer, then covered up with the thick-grayish-whitish layer. Only one of their eyes each have eyelashes.
It's like there's just enough detail, but then a lot has been covered up. It seems that it's not just about the image itself, but also about the paint, about how it has been painted.
It was worth $12.00 just to look at, study and enjoy this amazing painting. I also now understand a review I read about another artist, in the Flavorpill e-newsletter. I'll have to look it up. They looked like realistic paintings done from photos, and just seemed overly technical, but the comments said they really need to be seen in person. I'll look that up later and post a link.
I feel like I learned something about painting, but I need some time to digest exactly what it was.
Jenny: Stunning. Truly stunning. Thank you.
It was so hot, Darla - bless her - was leaving early, so she left work when I did so she could give me a ride over. It's just the other side of Dupont Circle. I also stopped at Utrecht on the way home. It was SO HOT. I had to take a shower when I got home. I went to Utrecht for a graphite stick (vs. a pencil) for drawing on canvas, and some alternate charcoals (a compressed stick, some vine charcoal, and a different charcoal pencil).