Friday, June 26, 2015

Why is an artwork left unfinished?

Perino del Vaga (1501-1547), 
Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist, 1528-37. 
Oil on panel. Courtesy the Courtauld Gallery

The answer, as a new exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery demonstrates, is not always straightforward. Here, curator Dr Karen Serres talks to Lavender Au about the show and 'incomplete' works by del Vaga, Rembrandt, Monet, Cézanne and more

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669), 
Artist drawing from the model (unfinished). 
Courtesy the Courtauld Gallery

Many of the works on display were set aside by a dissatisfied artist or left incomplete upon their death, providing a fascinating insight into the interrupted artistic process. 

Claude Monet, 
Vase of Flowers, 1881-2, 
Oil on canvas. 
Courtesy the Courtauld Gallery

Not many people realise Monet’s Vase of Flowers is unfinished. But in his correspondence, he writes about how he just cannot express the light falling on the flowers and the leaves to his satisfaction. In some places he has scraped paint off while, in others, he has painted over dried paint. Every so often he must have returned to this painting and added a few brushstrokes in an attempt to improve it. 

Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), 
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, 1869-1872. 
Oil on canvas. 
Courtesy the Courtauld Gallery

Others occupy a more ambiguous territory: The impressionists were widely criticised for displaying works that looked unfinished and the late nineteenth century saw clashes between artistic intention and public reception.

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), 
Turning Road (Route Tournante), circa 1905. 
Oil on canvas. 
Courtesy the Courtauld Gallery

Edgar Degas 1834–1917
Woman at a Window 1871–2
Oil paint on canvas
613 x 459 mm