Luminous skin tones, reach-out-and-touch fabrics, verisimilitude of facial features—these are all characteristics of a portrait by Marvin Mattleson, such as Pat and Jennifer (above; oil, 44×44). Mattelson’s client list includes CEOs from Met Life, NYNEX and ITT, as well as composer Philip Glass and the Archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan. Plainly, Mattelson’s work is highly admired—but whose work does Mattelson admire—and why? The Artist’s Magazine asked Mattelson just that question. Here’s his answer:
“These are the 18th- and 19th-century portrait artists I admire most:
William McGregor Paxton (American, 1867-1941) is my absolute top choice of portrait artists. He never repeats himself and he always made a connection with his subject. Also, his color compositions, color harmonies and compositional sense are unbelievable. The colors on my palette are the same colors Paxton used on his.
William Bougereau (French, 1825-1905) is a close second in my mind to Paxton. The portraits of Paxton and Bougereau exhibit a sincerity and love of painting.
Joseph R. De Camp (American, 1858-1923)
Ivan Kramskoi (Russian, 1827-1873)
Sir Henry Raeburn (Scottish, 1756-1823)
Sir Thomas Lawrence (English, 1769-1830)
“Also of note are Sir Anthony van Dyck (Belgium, 1599-1641), Rembrandt (Dutch, 1606-1669), for his emotional sensitivity; and Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-1675), who was the first artist to use impressionist color notes.
“Why isn’t John Singer Sargent on my list? Obviously, he was very talented. One of the best paintings I’ve ever seen is a Sargent—a portrait of Lady Agnew at the National Gallery of Scotland. Sargent upsets me because he set the bar so high with that painting—there’s such a connection with his sitter—but I just don’t find that to be the case most of the time. But with Paxton, that was always the case.
“Sargent hated painting portraits, and I think that comes through in the work—that lack of sincerity. I find the bulk of his paintings to be superficial. At some point an artist has to choose between pastiche and verisimilitude. People are blown away by Sargent’s flamboyance, but where Sargent was flamboyant, an artist like De Camp was virtuosic. And to me, Raeburn is the greatest Sargent that ever lived because Raeburn’s brushwork never supersedes his subject matter.”
Read more about Marvin Mattelson in the April 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine:
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