Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Frank Duveneck Study

-Gregory Manchess

This is the first painting I remember that froze me in place. It’s the piece that caused me to paint the way I do. One of Frank Duveneck’s many fabulous studies, a preparation for some of the more rendered pieces made during his career. He was a virtuoso with the brush, only thirty-one when he painted it.

This face dwells in my head whenever I hold the brush, whenever I lay down the paint, guiding my efforts by reminding me to stay loose and keep details to the essential elements and values.

I’m taken by the deep shadows, and how he’s worked back up from there to the lights, the value range remaining quite close. Duveneck mixed his colors quickly and confidently, most likely not creating piles of pigment ahead of time, but rather mixing on the fly.

The drawing is incorporated by shape and value, giving the face the structure it needs by defining the planes. Notice the ear; even the underpainting stands in for shapes, by contrasting the middle values.

The forearm stays alive by rendering the subtle values across the muscle, leading up to the bicep where the lighter paint captures the light, and subtle flesh folds. The rougher flesh of the fingers gets chiseled strokes, the thin planes of skin grabbing light between the index and middle finger.

The laced fingers here establish a phenomenal range of color value that runs from the nearly imperceptible shadow side, to the few bold strokes of flesh near the knuckles. The wrist is a superb example of brighter colors against muddy colors--ahem--allowing the wrist to just barely make it into the light.

For those students studying how to paint volume, look no further than these hands for learning to cut strokes across the form, not along it.

The older man’s head study is gorgeous. Minimalism at it’s very core. Unfinished and yet providing everything we need to know. It is modern art at this point, exposing the essence of painting that others, in later years, would strive to exemplify in wild passages of sensation. What some would wail about for attention, Duveneck captured honestly, in reality.

When you look close enough, this painting embodies decades of advanced levels of abstract art.


  1. That was extremely informative, thank you.

  2. Sometimes, I can look at something and feel like I am still at square one. This work makes me feel totally inspired, motivated, intimidated and humbled all at the same time...

  3. Hello,
    I'm a student abassador at CG Arts and Animation, UCA and we have blog like yourselves. Can I repost this article for it is a briliantly pointed analysis of the thought behind paintings.
    I'd make sure to direct all student to the original post and this blog.

  4. Greg as always, great post! It's awesome to read this, as i tried to google duveneck before! Thanks very much! Impressive painter!

  5. Can feel the paint with my eyes. There's a vicious rumor that you are coming to Boise?

  6. Great post Greg! Thanks for sharing with us some of the work that moved you. How could an artist not be shaken by that?

  7. David...Your comment is dead on. I still feel the same as I did back then. When I was nineteen, I felt that I could do it, learn it. It took two decades before I could even get close. But during that time, I realized that my own approach came out of me and I felt it was better to follow that.

    This is the basic of art education: to go after something that speaks to you, to push hard to achieve it. In that process lies the discovery of your own unique approach. That's when the learning blossoms.

    (but will they teach you that simple premise in art school? noooo....)

    J.J....certainly! Just make sure everything links back to the site and the article. If you wouldn't mind, please link to my website as well:

    Bill....Yes! Will only be in Boise for an afternoon. Will email you.

    Jared...indeed! Also, these shots are from 35mm slides, taken when I was nineteen. Great color, huh? These are rare, as the Cincinnati Art Museum doesn't display his studies much in the Duveneck gallery, and everything else is hung way. too. high. Grrrrr.......

  8. Its the avse or pot that grabs me most. A dark object in a dark corner and yet so easy to read. Not a brushstroke too little or too much.

  9. Its so valuable to see old oil sketches like this, gives you a bit of insight into their method, what is the most essential information needed to show the light and form. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Greg, thanks for posting Frank Duveneck's study, and adding your comments. I can definitely see how he influenced your work, especially after watching you create your paintings at Art out Loud.

    It is also cool to see that even though Frank did influence you, you have your own 'voice' in your work that really is quite amazing and wonderful to view.

    Minimalism... in illustration, stories, animation and film... has intrigued me more and more over these last few years as I have slowly started to understand how powerful it can be.

    With that said it was also amazing to see Dan's recent White Trash Zombies work which rolls 180 degrees opposite from Minimalism...

    I'm very much still stuck between the two ways of drawing/painting/seeing and observing... trying to shake out some kind of compromise between the two...

    Do you find that you struggle with a compromise between detail and minimalism, or has your 10,000+ hours of painting allowed you to pretty much know your path at this time in your art life?

    If you do struggle with detail, meaning you find yourself focusing in areas that really need to be less defined... what do you do to get yourself to step away and just leave it alone? Or allow yourself to let go and trust the viewer to fill in the details.

    Thanks again, Mike

  11. beautiful!! and inspiring!

  12. Gregory,
    They have rearranged much of the work in the Cincinnati museum. There is a Cincinnati Wing with much of the work hung more at eye level, though there is less of it. They have tons of his work, but for some reason hide much of his best in the basement.
    If you are ever in the area, there are a few spots with his work that are off the beaten path I could direct you to.
    It is also a treat to see stacks of his drawings in the collection as well, you just have to set up an appointment to see them.
    A friend and fellow painter who works in a studio built by Duveneck students. Duvenecks easel and a vase of his brushes are still there, as are stacks of their (Herman and Bessie Wessel) student work done under Duveneck's instruction.

  13. Richard! Fantastic offer! Yes, I will stop by sometime and would love to chat about Duveneck, if you have the time. The man reached out from the past and grabbed my painter's heart.

    Do you work at the museum?

    Thanks for this!

  14. No I don't work there. I probably complain too much about how they do things to ever be allowed to work there.
    I am a painter that has a studio within walking distance of the museum. Duvenecks is a powerful painter. I can see his influence in your work.

  15. Ive been away from Muddy Colors for far too long and while I love all the progress and informational posts, its these insights that I look forward to most. Having spent a good deal of time in technical illustration, I am finding myself more and more drawn to the amazingly loose paintings shown here. Your work has always inspired me, and iys great to see the work that inspired you. Thank you.

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  17. Nice examples of Duveneck's strong, early work. It looks to me like he was careful to maintain 5 or 6 distinct values, with at most a handful of different colors of each value Thanks for posting.


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