Visiting the Met - Velazquez

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has great, large oil paintings by the Spanish master Diego Velazquez. However, two of my favorite Velazquez pieces are "Juan de Pareja" and "Portrait of a Man" because they are intimate and striking portraits that you can get up close to and really study.

"Juan de Pareja"

Detail of "Juan de Pareja"

You totally get the sense of the sitters dignity and self assurance in the above painting.

Technically speaking, the thing that strikes me most whenever I see any Velazquez in person, is the fact that the paint is applied so economically. It always seems there is a huge disparity between the amount of paint he applies to the canvas, and the tangible sense of three dimensional form Velazquez is able to achieve with it.

"Portrait of a Man"

Detail of “Portrait of a Man”

For instance, in the portrait study above, look how Velazquez lets the raw, earth-tone canvas ground color be the shadow area under the jaw and chin. Look at the cool gray area just above it too – so subtle, yet so effective. Even if this were a "finished" work, he would not have to go much farther in rendering form.

It is always interesting to see how different portrait artists treat the lower portion of the male head. The better ones usually use a cool blue/gray value to denote beard or stubble that is in shadow, while the main, top-lit upper area, from cheeks on up, remains warm values, that are painted a bit thicker.

The "Portrait of a Man", like so many Velazquez paintings, has a long and painful history – being painted and varnished over so badly that for many years it was attributed to other artists. It was finally properly restored by the Met in 2009.

While in the book shop there, I purchased a book they published about its restoration. Experts believe this is a self-portrait study Velazquez did in preparation for the man at the far right edge of his larger painting "Surrender of Breda".

Check out the Metropolitan Museum video on this painting and it's restoration here.

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