I’ve done various studies of violinists and children playing violin in the last three or four years. My purpose here was exploratory, as is often the case. I draw largely to learn and record, explore and feel what I am seeing. Only one painting so far, but there may be more. It is a genre I like very much. There are fine examples of it that go back to the 16th century, at least. My main concern was my children, who play this instrument. Here they are in chronological order with the most recent first.
The two drawings above were done over several months. in pieces. Some of them were done from life and other parts had to be done from photos. Drawings of this kind take a lot of time. I can draw things over a period of time, waiting for the subject to get in the right pose and then working partly form refreshed memory. There was a teacher in the 1900’s who taught working from memory alone. Lecoq de Boisbaudran wrote a book aobut this and taught artists like Lhermitte and Fantin Latour, who did marvelous things using these techniques. But I cannot work only from memory. I have not learned how to do that as well as they yet. That is an exacting skill that requires lots of practice. So some of these figures had to be done from partially photos.
Nor am I an expert on Stradivarius violins or the history of violin music, though I am a deep appreciator of what I have learned about these things so far. My goals are rather more prosaic. I love the way the Suzuki method works and how the teacher teaches the young ones, and so these are about the relation of teacher and student and how musical knowledge is passed on. It is direct learning, without initially reading music, and involves ‘one on one’ teaching as well as teaching in groups. It is an enormously effective way of learning and one that the test obsessed U.S. system of education could learn a lot from. Kids do not learn form tests as much as they learn form direct learning. Learn by doing John Dewey said, and he was right.
The first drawing of my son and his teacher was done mostly from life, though the teacher moves much more than her student, so I relied on photos to help. I erased what I did many times and started over. The portrait of my son has a lot of character in it, and so I used it more than once. I wanted to show the group class too and had to use more photos for that. I wanted to do the kids from behind as that is what I usually see at these lessons, the parents being an important part of the Suzuki method. The kids are thus sandwiched between parents and teacher. This works extremely well and we are very pleased with the results. The practice that they kids do at home solidifies everything the teacher is teaching. Because we are present at the lessons, we can supervise their practice in way that would be impossible were we kept out of the lesson. It was brilliant that Suzuki realized this.
Here I show music as shared between a teacher and the young and by a brother and a sister. I was not copying Johnson, Forbes or Bouveret. ( see below) But like them I find deep sympathy in this instrument. I try to show how deep and resonant a simple theme like shared music can be. It has been a great joy to see my children learn to play and be part of the long heritage of music, now part of our family. “Teaching Violin” is the best of what I have been able to do so far. This is largely because my kid’s teacher is so good and does so much to communicate all the history and feeling that is in the violin repertoire. She runs the Suzuki program here, which is a marvelous program developed in Japan to help children learn to play. I use the Monet painting on the wall in “Teaching Violin” to suggest how the passage of knowledge goes from the teacher to the students, as if over a bridge above water lilies, the music like shinning flowers in a bright sunshine.
This is the first of the drawings I did last year of my kids playing violin.
There are also some smaller sketches of young violin players in the Suzuki classes my kids go to.
My son playing at different ages
My daughter playing.
and then this is an earlier, 2013, painting of my daughter and her teacher. It is my first work on violin playing, which pales when set beside the De Hooch below. Though it does capture a moment in my daughter’s life which all of us enjoyed very much..
Learning Violin, oil, 2013
This is a study done during her violin class, 2017
Playing Violin 2017
This is the finished version of the earlier drawing above it.
Telemann for 4 violins 5/2017
Telemann for 4 violins 5/2017
These four did a wonderful rendition of Telemann’ Four violins.Most of it I drew form life details but some had to be done from photos.
I did various sketches, stitched together after Pieter De Hooch, 2013
Here is a detail of the actual painting
There are many paintings of violinists, over the centuries, it being one of the world’s most interesting and responsive instruments. It perfectly expresses the human heart and does so with such fluidity and ease, even more than the piano, I think. Two of my favorite images of violin playing are this one by Stanhope Forbes. It has the charm of ordinary people playing music and doing so in a relaxed and intimate setting, with ordinary light, streaming in the window.
And then this one, below, by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (1852-1929) , called ” In the Forest”. Workmen have paused from a hard job of some kind in a the forest and a woman has evidently brought them some food. A young man who can play well has all of them rapt and dreaming and enjoying the melody, which might be serious of sad. This also has an intimacy I like and and a certain contemplative quality that music is so good at engendering.
The Eastman Johnson violinist shows a a very relaxed African American man entrancing a family of relatively poor people who have chores to do, but who apparently have time to listen to him play for them. Given that this is not long after the Civil War this is an unusually inclusive image and one that has no prejudice in it, which is true of Johnson’s work in general. Called “Fiddling his Way”, the earlier version of this work showed a white violinist. He added an old woman too, the enraptured boys grandmother, who is washing a pot or dish. The white and African American violinists are both equal in sympathy and welcome in the house. I assume this man is a freed slave and is heading north. The underground railway is no longer needed, but perhaps these folks were among those who helped many get north at risk to themselves.
These are all great works where the focus is on music eliciting the common feelings of ordinary people. David Wilkie’s “the Blind Fiddler” does this too. There are other great works about violin’s and violinists, like Ingres great drawing of Paganini, or Anders Zorn’s depiction of the violinist Hins Anders, as well as some by TerBorch, Degas, Tarbell others. But these latter show only individuals and miss the social sharing that is so common with good music. My drawings and painting is really humble by comparison with Forbes or Johnson. But it is a dear theme and one I have come to love.
Incidentally I came across this quote from Stapleton Kearns, a contemporary painter of landscapes. He notes that if one wishes to paint one must work very hard just like learning the violin. The idea that learning an instrument is very much like learning painting is very accurate.
“I always tell workshop students that learning to paint is no more difficult than learning to play the violin. They are always shocked to hear that. Some of them have decided to paint en plein air (as they call it) because they have supposed it would be easier. Again I am not talking about you, anyone you know or have ever met, I mean those bad people who are far away, those whose taxes should be raised. Painting is wicked hard. No one would ever bother with it except that it is so much fun and perpetually interesting. I believe it takes about ten years working full time to become a competent painter. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t paint if you have less time, it is fun and rewarding. But you wouldn’t imagine you could learn to play the violin adequately in less time would you? Still many of my workshop students expect a hundred pounds of progress for ten pounds of application. I love em, but they need to be realistic about the effort it will take. Even the most brilliant teacher can’t make that hurdle go away, that is just the way it is.”
The violin is an amazing piece of both art and science— the most refined and expressive of feeling, as well as intellectually challenging, of all musical instruments. The instrument is itself a great achievement. It is also the one closest to the human heart and mind as well as to the meaning of art.