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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Most Complicated and Thoroughly Researched Feather I have Ever Done

Upon seeing the Robert Burns portrait I painted upon returning from adventures in Scotland, an acquaintance in Scotland asked me if I would create a portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie for him.  Now this gentleman is also a Jacobite reenactor, so I knew if I attempted this it had to be as right as I could make it in every way.

This one painting required more of me than any ever has before. First and foremost, I had to push my skill set and technique higher than they were at the time, otherwise what came out the end of my brush would not measure up to what I could envision in my head.  Fortunately, this commissioner is quite patient and did not mind me working away to improve what I could do.  There were several failed attempts at the portrait as my ability was not yet up to the challenge.

There was much more to it than mere growth in skills. Also required was an enormous amount of research.  Many historic portraits of the prince exist, but as I read and studied, it became apparent that not all are as they claim. A number of these portraits of Prince Charles Edward Stuart are actually of his brother, Henry Benedict Stuart. At this point I had to learn to look through the artists' styles and recognize one brother from the other.

Further difficulties. I chose the setting for the Prince to be Edinburgh.  Prince Charlie's residence in Edinburgh was a very brief window in time, the winter of 1745-46, so my representation of him needed to be very age-specific. The problem with that is, existing portraits that were truly of himself portrayed him as a youth and as an older man. None at this time existed that were painted in Scotland when he was there.

I fussed about with every bit of detail in this portrait, down to every symbol and every minutia - except for the Prince's face. I was sketching and guessing at what he may have looked like at age 24, and was afraid to commit that concept to paint.  Great fortune in timing struck, however, when the discovery of a fantastic little Ramsay portrait painted from life of Prince Charles Edward Stuart hit the news earlier this year. This one was found hidden away in Edinburgh, and was indeed painted when the Prince was in Scotland.  Although anything I could ever hope to produce could never in a million years come close to a Ramsay, at last I have an image of the Prince at 24 in Scotland from which to go by!  In an odd coincidence, I had already painted the Prince's coat a pale blue and based it on the riding coat he wears in a statue depiction of him astride a horse.

With all the reading and research done in preparation for this commission, I had a lot of material from
which to pull together a lot of symbolism within the painting.  Look out the window, and you will see Arthur's Seat, as well as a bit of St Giles Cathedral. This places the Prince in Edinburgh.  He places his hand upon an 18th century French polished marble and hardwood inlaid table, which represents his Parisian ties. Above him is an 18th century Italian wall sconce, representing his Italian origins. Within that sconce, with lit candle, is a cameo of his father, King James. This represents the rise of 1715, his father lighting the way for the rise of the 45.  Upon the French table is a cut glass vase, containing three white roses - two in the bud and one in full bloom. This is a well-known Jacobite symbol, and represents King James and his two sons, Charles and Henry.

 I wanted this portrait not to have a dull expression as so many portraits do, but to be full of life and
maybe a little bit of mischief. Hopefully that was achieved on the Prince's face.
The candle's flame is only 7mm

I'll include some closeup shots from this feather painting, so that you may see the details in these elements.

Very happy with the way the table came out. It's not easy to paint over the feather's quill.

There are far more hours invested in the painting of this feather than I care to count. I stopped counting after forty.

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