Technique Tuesday: A Painting Within a Painting

What is it?

Well, this week’s “technique” isn’t a difficult one to understand by any means, but it’s still plenty of fun to come across, and well worth a post! All kinds of art can be depicted in a painting– sculpture, architecture, jewelry, pottery, fashion, etc.– but today we’re going to take a look at paintings featuring paintings! (To my knowledge, there isn’t a concise term for this, but my personal vote is “paint-ception.”)

Examples from art history:

This is not a technique that’s going to go back as far as ancient times, but it does go back quite a ways and began to show up more regularly (you guessed it!) during the Italian Renaissance and in the centuries following. In fact, with the flourishing of artists and galleries in the Netherlands during the 17th century and the rise of “genre” paintings (scenes of everyday life), artists like Vermeer began to use the artwork he painted into his backgrounds to add to the message or story of the work. Let’s take a look at “The Love Letter” as an example:

Here’s a painting showing a young woman receiving a love letter, and there are two paintings visible on the wall behind her. The subjects of the paintings, it can be argued, relate to the receipt of this letter– the man walking a path in the top painting might speak of a lover who is on a journey of some kind, and the ship on a sea (often a metaphor for romantic relationships) depicting smooth sailing likely means the letter contains good news. It should be noted, however, that the artwork depicted in a painting doesn’t always have a deeper meaning; as art has become more and more a part of our lives over the years, it’s bound to show up in scenes depicting daily life! Here’s a look at a few more examples from art history (click for a better view):

(left to right) Diego Velazquez, “Las Meninas”; James Abbott McNeill Whistler, “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1”; William Merritt Chase, “The Tenth Street Studio”; Rene Magritte, “The Human Condition”

Examples from Principle Gallery:

We’ve had many artists paint works featuring other paintings here over the years! Here’s a peek at a few:

(left to right) Lisa Noonis, “Red Couch”; Jeremy Mann, “Morning Light”; Hyseung Marriage-Song, “Studio Interior”; Philip Geiger, “Times Table”

If you happened to see Geoffrey Johnson’s fantastic solo exhibition last year, then you might remember “American Wing” and “American Wing II,” two paintings depicting figures observing paintings within a museum:

Geoffrey Johnson, “American Wing” (left) and “American Wing II” (right)

Well, we are THRILLED to be opening yet another spectacular exhibition from the unique and immensely talented Geoffrey Johnson. This exciting exhibition is set to open May 12th, but we already have a digital preview available, so feel free to email us at info@principlegallery.com if you’d like to see one! This year’s exhibition from Geoffrey includes several of his signature scenes of New York City, as well as several interior scenes, a Biblical scene, another museum scene, and to our delight, several scenes of Washington DC! Given the topic of this week’s post, let’s take a look at some of the paintings depicting paintings:

“The Impressionist”

“The Sitting Room”

“Alvin’s Porch”

In case you’re curious, the painting depicted in “The Impressionist” is “Boulevard des Italiens, Morning Sunlight” by Camille Pissarro. As for “The Sitting Room,” the work shown is loosely based on Rembrandt’s “Descent from the Cross.” And for the final one, the large landscape shown in “Alvin’s Porch?” Well, that’s a lovely piece out of Geoff’s own imagination; this painting is a two-fer! Two original works by Geoffrey Johnson in one!

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