Thursday 7 February 2013

Francine et Francoise de la Legion Etrangere de la Marine

I promised in my last posting  Hussarettes a new model that I would reveal the latest painting in the Hussarettes series and so here it is, or, here they are.

The client for this one is pretty keen on light blue uniforms and particularly Lauzun's Legion in the French contingent in the American War of Independence (aka Revolution, for American readers!). Originally he wanted a Hussarette of the First Legion Etrangere de la Marine to go with his existing painting, Lucille, who represents Lauzun's (Second) Legion, but when I showed him a selection of photos of my model, Ella, he wanted two, one from each Legion,  and he made up a background scenario in which to set them.

The Hussarettes project, of course, is more Fantasy Art than History and we can take it anywhere we choose, but the historical military theme is compelling for gentlemen like some of my supporters who love the concept of combining gorgeous uniforms with pretty women. And for me also who likes those two elements but with the added challenge of coming up with decorative art in a plausible setting.
So Francine of the First, and Francoise of the Second, are twin daughters of a French Noble family, who have joined a prestigious organisation for foreign adventures. They are from rich families and natural officer material, and sibling rivalry such as it is, have decided to ply their military trade with different, but related, regiments. Besides which,  Francine's favourite colour is yellow, and her twin sister's red!   So my client, wondering how to get them in the same place at the same time, wrote:

"I’m thinking that the two have visited a painter to have a studio portrait painted while taking a break from occupation duties in a town that is unscarred by the ongoing war. They have met up in a tavern while their respective sections are detached from their parent Legions for an escort duty or some such. Perhaps the artist met them in the tavern and suggested the idea?"

Can't imagine where he got the idea of an artist persuading random women to pose :-).....but at least it gave me the basis for the composition. Two wine goblets stand drained on the bar of the's so hot in America that naturally the ladies don't wear full hussar uniform of shirt, waistcoat, dolman, and pelisse, but their own comfortable, yet flamboyant, combinations. Inhibitions lessened by the wine, and naturally confident in their status, they loosen their clothing and are determined to give our artist the benefit of their best assets for his art.

Sadly the photographic medium just can't do justice to Francine and Francoise, and only the owner of their painting, and his guests, will get the full lustre of the oil paint rendering the gold and silver officers' lace. But for you, dear blog follower, here are some close ups which might give a better idea.

Now a bit more information about the painting itself. It is on stretched, gessoed canvas, 20 inches x 16 inches and I used a limited palette of 9 Winsor and Newton Artisan water-based oil colours plus Titanium White, they were:
Paynes Grey (my "secret" ingredient for sympathetic shading)
Cerulean Blue
Cobalt Blue
Burnt Sienna
Raw Umber
Naples yellow Hue (a basis for skin tones and gold lace)
Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue
Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue
Cadmium Red Hue
After the underpainting is done with thin paint I use an awful lot of Artisan Quick Drying medium which is very rich and glossy and allows juicy effects with good detail. The background was done in a sketchy style though with very little medium and is deliberately muted in tone and detail in order not to fight with the gorgeous uniforms. When it's properly dry it will receive several coats of varnish which will unify the surface sheen.

And that question I always get asked - "How long did it take?" The answer is about 6 hours in the planning and computer mock up stages and another 30 hours in the execution, over about 10 days. And because I'm cheap (at the moment!!) it cost my patron less than half the price of one of Phil Olley's 28mm 18th Century infantry battalions.  So it's not just a rich man's obsession to commission your own Hussarette painting. Just email me for a quote without obligation Chris Gregg

It seems appropriate to give some credit to an artist who has been a great influence on me over  the last couple of years, James Gurney. In particular Gurney's book "Imaginative Realism" gives great insight into how to concoct artificial scenes and characters and then put them in an imaginative situation for a painting. If you think my methods, costumes and use of amateur models seems a bit "cheap", then take a look at this book which is honest and practical and you'll see that even the "greats" do it that way.
Just a final smile from Ella, and if you've liked this posting please give her some supportive comments and she might model for me again :-) ....but keep it clean, chaps!


  1. Thanks for showing us the details of this fascinating painting - really a special branch of fine arts! Ella, indeed, poses well - she has the typical Ukrainian look of deep eyes showing sadness and beauty in one.
    My compliments to her! And good success for the next projects!

  2. Peter
    Very many thanks for your keen observation, which was characteristic of many of her expressions in my photo-shoot. I will pass on your compliments to her, and I'm pleased to say that her appeal has led to another commission as a variation on the "twins" theme. (Still room in my schedule for more if any readers wish to discuss "Hussarette" ideas.)

  3. Legatus
    Thank you for your support and I see from your blogs (two of which I've now featured in my sidebar)that you are a regular public admirer of the female form.
    Happy viewing!