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 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!


Hyeseung Marriage-Song

One of the most charming and unique pieces in December’s Small Works show was a lovely interior, Studio Interior (shown below), by Korean-American artist Hyeseung Marriage-Song. Today we just wanted to take a moment to highlight two other pieces by Hyeseung that we currently have at the gallery.


Studio Interior, oil on canvas, 10×16

Born in Korea and raised in Texas, Hyeseung Marriage-Song now splits her time between New York City, where she studied art, and Baltimore, where she lives with her husband. Having previously studied philosophy, creative writing, and law at Princeton and Harvard, Hyeseung possesses a diverse background which no doubt only adds depth to the thoughtful quality of each of her paintings. Reflective of her transition from living full-time in New York to adding a studio in Baltimore, I Heart New York is a study of transitions and the state of being in-between.


I Heart New York, oil on canvas, 44×40

The views out the two windows represent Hyeseung’s transition between New York and Baltimore, as the scene outside the window to the left shows the view from her Baltimore studio, and the window on the right shows the view from her studio in New York. The couple shown is meant to represent herself and her husband, though while her husband modeled for the male figure, the woman shown is a model Hyeseung works with in Baltimore. Shown between these two “worlds,” the woman is posed with a thoughtful expression on her face. In an interview, Hyeseung explained that, “The painting is a lot about how we never know what’s going on in someone else’s head, even when that someone else is right in front of us: the ultimate privacy of the mind.” Fairly large in size, and somewhat quiet in color and mood, this work is an excellent representation of the careful thought with which Hyeseung creates her works.


Redhead in Feathered Hat, oil on canvas 28×18

Depicting a model that Hyeseung referred to as her “muse” in New York, this piece is incredibly striking, particularly in person. The shimmering copper colors in the model’s hair are set off by the warm greens of the background, and the young woman’s face is beautifully captured in a calm and thoughtful gaze. Hyeseung has emphasized that she is “captivated by the challenges and rewards of capturing people.” With a goal of capturing the essence of an individual and a moment, Hyeseung aims to bring her own touch to the act of painting a portrait, so that speaks in ways that a photograph cannot.

We look forward to seeing what is next from this dynamic young painter, and we are so pleased to currently have these works hanging in the gallery! For more information on Hyeseung Marriage-Song, you can visit her website: