Marie Bashkirtseff – Stunning Realism, Muted Colors, and Wise Words

"I long to see everything, to know everything, to learn everything!" Marie Bashkirtseff

A while ago I wrote about Marie Bashkirtseff's The Umbrella. It turned out to be one of my most popular posts. Let's take a look at some of her other work and life as an artist.

Marie Bashkirtseff
Marie Bashkirtseff, At a Book, 1882
Marie Bashkirtseff, At a Book, 1882
  • Bashkirtseff lived a short but prolific life, passing away at 25 from tuberculosis. Her achievements in spite of illness and gender discrimination are inspiring. She lived with a sense of urgency, much like Vincent van Gogh in his later years. Eager to create, live, and experience the world. Imagine what she could have done with more time!
  • She was academically trained under Tony Robert-Fleury, a remarkable artist in his own right. You can see similarities between his and Bashkirtseff's work, particularly in the quality of realism.

Tip: Who you learn from will likely influence how you paint. Learn from those who inspire you.

  • She also studied at the prestigious Académie Julian. It was one of the few art establishments that welcomed female artists. Discrimination was rife back then. In the Studio (below) depicts life at the Académie. I also found this old New York Times article about the Académie by art critic John Russell (not the artist John Russell—I already went down that rabbit hole).

"To be at the Academie Julian was to be exposed to a kind of white magic that seems to have worked in almost every case. What was learned there stayed forever with alumnus and alumna, and it related as much to the conduct of life as to the uses of brush and chisel." An Art School That Also Taught Life by John Russell

Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Studio, 1881
Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Studio, 1881
  • She exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1880, 81, 82, and 84. In her final showing and the year of her passing, she received an honorable mention for The Meeting (shown and discussed later in this post).
  • Many of her works were destroyed in World War II. Only 60 survive, and only a handful of those are publicly documented.
  • She was also a prolific writer, keeping a diary from the age of 13. More on that below.

Bashkirtseff's diary is a work of art in its own right, though I'm not sure if that was intended. It's a fascinating look into the life of a girl and aspiring artist. She started when she was around 13 and didn't stop, ending up with thousands of handwritten pages.

It was edited and published a few years after her death in 1887. It made an immediate impact. Few had ever published something like this. Here's a great essay on the topic by Sonia Wilson, “I Am My Own Heroine” How Marie Bashkirtseff Rewrote the Route to Fame.

Today, you can read some of her entries on Gutenberg.org for free, or get a copy of I Am the Most Interesting Book of All (keep in mind there are two volumes). I hand-selected a few inspiring extracts from her diary:

"No one loves everything as much as I. Art, music, painting, books, people, dresses, luxury, noise, calm, laughter, sadness, melancholy, jokes, love, cold, sun, all seasons and weathers, the plains of Russia, the mountains above Naples, snow in winter, the rain of autumn, spring’s follies, summer’s tranquil days, and nights brilliant with stars."

“L’art! If I didn’t have these four magical letters in the distance, I would be dead. But for art I need no one else; I depend on myself. And if I fail, I am nothing and can’t live anymore. Art! I see it as a great light very far away over there, and I forget everything else. I walk with my eyes fixed on this light. I’m a little old to be starting, especially for a woman. But I will try.”

"Nothing is ever so good or so bad in reality as it is in the anticipation."

"I was born to be a remarkable woman; it matters little in what way or how. ... I shall be famous or I will die."

"Art ... is as much a source of happiness for the beginner as for the master. One forgets everything in one's work."

"I want to live faster, faster, faster! ... I fear that this desire to live always at high pressure is the presage of a short existence. Who knows?"

She painted with stunning realism whilst maintaining a painterly feel. (I don't know about you, but I prefer paintings that look like paintings.) The Umbrella is a great example.

Marie Bashkirtseff, The Umbrella, 1883
Marie Bashkirtseff, The Umbrella, 1883

Below is a painting of her brother, Paul Bashkirtseff. It has a Sargent-like feel to it. Clean shapes, simplified values, and confident strokes. It's also an example of chiaroscuro, characterized by the strong contrast between light and dark.

Marie Bashkirtseff, Paul Bashkirtseff
Marie Bashkirtseff, Paul Bashkirtseff

The portrait below is similar. Again, notice the simplified values, especially around the face. She didn't paint every subtle change in value. She simplified the values so that each plane of the face is distinct. Steve Huston talks about this all the time. "Different value = different plane". It's a safe rule for ensuring your painting has a sense of structure and form. It also simplifies the painting process.

Marie Bashkirtseff, Georgetta, 1881
Marie Bashkirtseff, Georgetta, 1881

The Artist's Sister-in-Law reminds me of Anders Zorn's work. Strong reds with dull yellows and blues. It's not easy to paint with such a dull color palette. It takes a sophisticated touch. Anything less and you may end up with a drab, sickly painting.

Marie Bashkirtseff, The Artist's Sister-in-Law, 1881
Marie Bashkirtseff, The Artist's Sister-in-Law, 1881

Her ability to capture facial features and emotions is impressive. See the painting below. Also, notice how simplified the background is. There's no confusion as to where Bashkirtseff wants us to look.

Marie Bashkirtseff, Jean and-Jacques, 1883
Marie Bashkirtseff, Jean and-Jacques, 1883

Bashkirtseff had a particular knack for painting the harsh, gritty streets.

Below is The Meeting. There's so much emotion in this painting, which is particularly impressive given the boys are painted at a distance (it's not a typical portrait where we get to see all the subtle features). One boy looks up, suspiciously at the older boy. Another looks with a cheeky smirk. The boy in the back listens with submissive eyes. What are they chatting about? And notice the different stances. There's a sense that each boy has his own life and personality.

Another key observation is the closeness of the composition. Most of the painting is taken up by the fence posts, rocky ground, buildings, and the children. There's only a sliver of sky. This gives us a sense of involvement in the scene, as if we are there watching the meeting take place.

Marie Bashkirtseff, The Meeting, 1884
Marie Bashkirtseff, The Meeting, 1884

In the Mist (below) is one of the few pure cityscapes I could find. It's atmospheric and moody. There's a sense of unity throughout the scene, with everything basked in the same light and mist. The distant fire and black street posts are great examples of small but powerful accents. They command attention from the muted surroundings.

Tip: A key challenge of painting is making sure everything works well together. Your goal is to create a beautiful painting, not a collection of beautiful parts. 

Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Mist, 1882
Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Mist, 1882

Below are a few other paintings by Bashkirtseff. Unfortunately, there aren't many. Her life was short and many of her paintings were destroyed.

Marie Bashkirtseff, Self-portrait With a Palette, 1880
Marie Bashkirtseff, Self-portrait With a Palette, 1880

Spring (below) has a similar feel to Jules Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc, one of her favorite works. Here's a glowing review:

“…Joan of Arc… is perfection. Her head turned to one side, her neck arched, and her great clear eyes that look at nothing; the head creates an extraordinary effect.” Marie Bashkirtseff (via Musings on Art)

Marie Bashkirtseff, Spring, c.1884
Marie Bashkirtseff, Spring, c.1884
Marie Bashkirtseff, Girl Reading by a Waterfall, before 1884
Marie Bashkirtseff, Girl Reading by a Waterfall, before 1884

Below is a portrait of Madame X. Perhaps the same Madame X that John Singer Sargent painted in 1884.

Marie Bashkirtseff, Portrait of Mme X
Marie Bashkirtseff, Portrait of Mme X

Boys in the Yard (below) is much more painterly than her other work. Look at that luscious brushwork and the beautiful light defining the fence posts.

Marie Bashkirtseff, Boys in the Yard
Marie Bashkirtseff, Boys in the Yard
  • Her paintings are remarkable, but it's her energy and enthusiasm for life itself that I find most inspiring. She had a keenness to live, learn, and experience the world. Time was her enemy.
  • Don't limit yourself to just painting. You might find artistic joy in other mediums, as she did with writing.
  • Consider keeping a diary to explore and document your thoughts. Bashkirtseff's diary ended up being one of her most famous works, though perhaps unintended.
  • Your teachers will likely influence how you paint. Learn from those who inspire you.
  • Her stunning realism is a testament to quality education and training. Something few get to experience, but the barriers are gradually being pulled down thanks to technology.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate it! Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my Painting Academy course.

Happy painting!

Signature Draw Paint Academy

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

152 comments on “Marie Bashkirtseff – Stunning Realism, Muted Colors, and Wise Words”

  1. Thank you for sending me this. Not been opening any emails for a while and this was the first to be opened, I found it very inspiring. I am now going to go and seek out the rest of the emails you have sent and sod the rest!😆

    Reply
  2. Most inspiring! I enjoy all your articles. One niggle. Why do people use the word “grab” so much? It means a violent action. Not what the users really mean to say rather “get” or one of many other more explicit English words that are available. The word “grab” used so freely is vulgarity.

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    • I agree wholeheartly that this was a beautiful and well-critiqued article.
      Thank you for indroducing me to Marie Bashkirtseff.
      Valuable information attained,

      Reply
  3. I am glad you ask that, John. I feel the same way like you about the word GRAB. It is a very greedy and, in a way, flighty and antisocial word, in my opinion.
    Wonderful artist!

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  4. Thank you so much for your article about Marie Bashkirtseff. Her paintings are magical and inspiring. I am 80 years old and feel energized by her work. It is a pity she passed away so young. Her muted colors and values are awesome.

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  5. Dear Dan,
    I first came across your posts on 1st July 2020, ‘7 Days to Better Painting day 2’. Something about that post caught my imagination, I knew that here was a teacher I could relate to. At 84 years of age and a scribbler and dawber since the age of 4, I never did achieve anything in my amateur art efforts. I thought if I followed your lessons I might improve. Sadly, still working and even busier due to lock-down, I don’t get time each day to follow all your posts but I dream of going through them all one day. For this reason I have carefully filed each one of them and now have a library of 31 Dan Scott posts. Thank you for this most recent one that I have read this morning in detail. It is truly inspiring to read what a person can do in such a short lifetime. Puts us all to shame.

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  6. I have never heard of the artist before but loved her work, written and paintings. Thank you so much for bringing my attention to this special young lady.

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  7. It is stunning to realize how much she absorbed in her tragically short life. I’m thinking of “The Meeting” – how she captured so much about each boy just by the way they were standing in relation to one another. This makes “paint what you see” an instruction for toddlers like me!
    Thanks for this post, Dan.

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    • Thank you Dan you made her art work so vivid n memorable. I had not heard of this young artist before. Your write ups are so inspiring. I am 75 yrs now n in this Covid 19 lockdown protocol.

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  8. Dear Dan, Thank you for opening my world. I file every one of your notes. You truly inspire. Marie Bashkirtseff, what a wonderful lady.

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  9. Dan, thank you for your wonderful emails. This one in particular ‘took me to church’! All this young girl accomplished in 25 yrs. has fired me up. What a wonderful talent she was and you are… for showing us her God given gift. Wow.

    Reply
  10. What an amazing blog – you certainly seem to have the ability to expose us to these phenomenal artists that are not as exposed as the better known masters.
    It is a revelation and inspiration to examine the details you provide and this usually results in me delving further into their history and works and referring your blog to artist friends and associates..
    Thank you for the time and effort you expend to enlighten us on such lesser known masters.

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  11. Thank you Dan, especially during the time of COVID we’re we are so closed down. I am a beginner and your posts inspire me to continue painting and I learn from you. Thanks again

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  12. Dan, thank you for doing the research that you do and introducing me to so many new artists that have gone unrecognized! It is wonderful to be able to study their art and learn by observation. You are also giving them a voice and making people aware of their existence! Marie is truly an inspiration
    and used her God given gifts to their fullest!

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  13. Fascinating article that both inspires and informs. I will read some of her diaries and hope to be motivated by her energy. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. These are wonderful & like others, I had never heard of this Artist.So very inspiring & eye opening. Thanks so much for posting this amazing stuff for all of us to enjoy & learn from.

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  15. Thanks Dan. Very inspiring. I wonder if deep inside her knew her time was so short, making it more precious. Hence the intensity of her living and great achievements.

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  16. Thank you Dan for compiling the works of this astonishing artist. I was stuck on the “In the Studio” and was fascinated with all the detail. You are right, her works do have an energy to them! Thank you for sharing!

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  17. Love your articles and this is no exception. Brings to light artists I didn’t know about and love to see there work. It amazes me to see paintings from the 1800’s looking so good.

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  18. Thoroughly enjoyed this , there are so many artists that no one knows about that are wonderful . Love her work , has a Sargent quality as you’ve pointed out. Thanks Dan

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  19. I’m working with 6 year olds these days outside and masked on a front porch. Can’t wait to share these paintings with them. They have the same energy, curiosity and sense of “can do”. Thanks for the beautiful review.

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  20. Thank you so much for introducing this amazing artist! Her paintings tell such stories so it is not surprising that she was a committed writer as well!

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  21. Hi Dan, I really look forward to your posts you give inspiration just by your comments.
    I would never see some of the artists you cover It’s great. Keep up the good inspiring work….

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  22. I have been to many museums in the states and all over Europe. Long ago I fell in love with the works of John Singer-Sargent. Never since have I been so taken with someone’s work, until now. Thank you for introducing me to this artist’s works. Perhaps, I am fascinated with this type of work as it’s so different from my own. I paint acrylic multimedia in a “graphic art” style with a flavor of surrealism.
    I have saved some of her quotes as well. So sad that this inspiring woman had such a short life but that is the way she lived, with intensity and drive.

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  23. Again, wonderful. Beautiful paintings and such an interesting article. Your research and analysis is revealing and inspiring. If only she had lived and her work really matured Sergeant-esq. Love her work but thank you for your work too.

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    • Thks Dan, for sharing these paintings I especially like the portrait paintings of the Meeting and the two little boys with the folded up umbrella but Madame X took my breath away. I looked at that intensely, her eyes drew me in, I think she captured the essence of Madame X brilliantly.

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  24. Thanks for teaching me something about this artist I had never heard of before.
    Her painting at such young age are remarkable.
    I really enjoyed reading about her and looking at her paintings.

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  25. So sad that death can come to some so young. Death is a mystery and so unfair to the many. What talent this young soul had. Thanls for such a beautiful untold story.

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  26. I always read your articles. They are better than the art history courses I remember taking at University. Your perspective and comments really guide us. This gives us a more complete appreciation of the painters’ talents when viewing each painting. I’m so glad you share your discoveries with us.

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  27. Olá Dan.
    Você realmente é incrível. Quando eu penso que conheço todos os artistas, você nos apresenta um mais incrível do que o outro. Eu não a conhecia e fiquei muito feliz em conhecê-la. Mais uma vez, muito obrigado. Por gentileza, nos envie um post sobre os “impressionistas escoceses”.

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  28. Beautiful work and I would never have even heard of this artist had you not generously shared your knowledge. Thank You!

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  29. I am not only inspired by her words and art, but I have a new furvert to revisit my studies of art history! Thanks for sharing and thanks for waking my love for art! Cheers!

    PS, I turned 60 last week and I think that I will pursue finishing my near degree in art history. Not for any reason but to expand my love for knowledge!

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  30. Thank you so much for putting me on you e-mail list. I would only check my e-mail randomly in the past, now I check it daily to read all of the interesting information you send to me. Love it.

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  31. Great post thank you. Paintings are still so exciting even when created today yet in her day, accurate colour portraits must have been a potent thing indeed!

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  32. Thank you Dan, So many wonderful artists to learn from. Like marie-bashkirtseffs muted tones and her writings. How true it is to be challenged and follow artists one likes…. Love your emails.

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  33. What a beautiful artist in every way, her painting, writing and wisdom.
    Thank you for sharing, I love your emails and inspiration.
    Cheers Christine

    Reply
  34. Thanks so much for the intro to this wonderful artist…previously unknown to me.
    Absolutely inspiring.
    My favorite, ” The Meeting” reminds me of Norman Rockwell, but more painterly.
    A truly lovely talent.

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  35. Thanks for sharing, Dan! Her work is so beautiful and I enjoyed reading her comments. Love the Umbrella – love how she used muted colours and achieved such a poignant look.

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  36. Such a moving story. Someone asked what her paintings were destroyed. a
    Armistice Day tomorrow….the Nazis destroyed so many great works. Lest we forget. Thanks Dan. Love your analysis as educative.

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  37. To think what works are missing due to bombs and so forth – – so very sad. Lovely as a great woman painting thru TB heck how did she do it. Wonderful

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  38. Very insightful. Some statements she makes are very much what I have thought but never said out., e.g. the very first: “I long to see everything, to know everything, to learn everything!” Though for me I would say: “I long to see everything good, to know everything good, to learn everything good”. I am getting more and more clear about the importance of demonstrating light and darkness in paintings. Thus far for realism, I have merely drawn what I see, from what I think will make a beautiful picture.

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  39. What a beautiful inspiring young lady.
    So sad on her short life.
    I love her paintings.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Regards vincent Murphy.

    Reply
  40. Beste Dan, Iedere keer als ik een mailtje ontvang verbaas ik mij weer over de uitgebreide informatie die je geeft over de ter zake doende onderwerpen en details waaruit een schilderij bestaat.
    Hartelijk dank daarvoor, Ton.

    Reply
  41. Dan, this is absolutely stunning art! I absolutely love how she was able to depict the moods, the personalities, the postures of the people she painted! I have never heard of her before and am now a total fan of hers. How utterly inspiring is her short life!!
    Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

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  42. Thank you Dan for such a wonderful post.Your research on this shooting star was amazing! You stirred joy, inspiration and life in me. Her art is so amazing and that at her age! OMG I can’t believe some souls can be so perfect ! I am fortunate to be on your mailing list.Thanks again.

    Reply
  43. Hi Dan . I must thank you for all the wonderful posts and instruction I have received from you.
    I think you are a born teacher and you are so very generous of spirit .Because of covid I have spent
    more time painting and i have improved so much ,a lot of credit goes to you .I feel so grateful for all
    the time you spend on research that you share so willingly with us . Eternally grateful .

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  44. I had a chance to see The Meeting up close at The Clark in Williamstown, MA several years ago…I want to say at the Women In Paris exhibition? I loved it and had never heard of the artist…and it was one of the works viewers were not allowed to photograph. I had forgotten my pocket notebook, too, so I never wrote the name of the artist down. Now I know, and have a new artist to explore. Thanks!

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  45. I am so glad to read your email Dan giving more detail of this incredible young artist. The girl with the umbrella in your initial post is such a haunting image it has stayed with me, so to read more is fascinating. What this young artist would have achieved had she lived longer we will never know, but the paintings you have shown are remarkable. Thank you for your informative emails I feel they renew my enthusiasm for art each time I receive one.

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  46. So painterly! Amazing she created so many works for such a young age, it’s wonderful 60 remain, in spite of many being destroyed during war time. I admire her work a lot.

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  47. Thanks Dan, wow! A big response. I really enjoy your emails and always make time to read them through even when i should be doing things more like ‘work!’

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  48. Like ready about artists I don’t know about . Too bad she did not live long to see how she develops as an artist over time .

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  49. Thanks for sharing this! Was wondering, do you know if she painted the groups of people from life? Seems like it would be difficult to get a group of young boys to pose. Would you do drawings and work from those? Or photos?

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  50. How inspiring! What a beautiful painter, her prose are wonderful also. Thank you for sharing, exposing us to awe inspiring artist.

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  51. I have been pleasantly surprised when this Painting academy turned out to be real!.. There are so many “painting” teachers out there now that, hm, how do I put it? Use painting as a way of relieving their depression, maybe.. Is it just me, or anyone else noticed this? how many new “painting” courses have surfaced, that look like not even painting by numbers, just smears of colour coordinated splotches?

    thank you for sharing this, always read your posts with delight. REAL paintings.

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  52. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful paintings with us. I particularly liked “The Meeting ” 1884. such attention to detail especially the boys footwear. It is a lesson in history as well as a lovely painting. How sad that she died so young.

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  53. I look forward to your emails every day. I am a beginner painter. Age 73. I took up painting in 2020. I call my paintings my “Covid” paintings. I began painting to fill time that I previously went here and there mindlessly. It has been the most wonderful joy. You inspire me by sending the emails. Thank you. Susan Robinson

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  54. I have a problem with “In the Mist”; the muted values of the city and receding avenue are contradicted on the right where the black drainpipe jerks the attention to the higher value gallery, thence to the street below and to the rump of the departing carriage. Am I mistaken?

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  55. “Her stunning realism is a testament to quality education and training. Some thing few get to experience, but the barriers are gradually being pulled down thanks to technology” and you, Dan Scott. I have four years of art school in my past life but never such a thorough coverage of art, ways of seeing and technique as you have been offering to us along with amazing examples of masters and other works. I am filling binders with notes on Composition, Color Technique and Art History. There is so much to learn, I am so inspired and feel like I can start all over again. Thank you.

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  56. Dear Dan, I have enjoyed all of your ‘’sends’’, but most of all i appreciate your generosity in sharing your life and wisdom with us.
    I paint a little and find inspiration in your instructions.
    Thank you and bless your family and especially your new little daughter.

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  57. Thanks Dan, for drawing our attention to this remarkable artist. Haven’t ever heard of her before. What a pity that she died so soon!

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  58. Thank you Dan for showcasing this wonderful artist, her portraits are handled beautifully, and she had such a talent. How sad that she died so young when her whole life was filled with vigour and enthusiasm for every experience. I had never heard of her, what a shame that she is not better known. Maybe her time is still yet to come.

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  59. Marie Bashkirtseff, I knew from a young age, was a diarist, and indeed excerpts I read as a young teen inspired me, along with the Diary of Anne Frank, to take up nearly life long journaling. But I had no idea she was such a skilled and talented artist as well. What a tragedy that her words about the possible brevity of her life were so prescient. Her work, The Umbrella is truly a masterpiece. She, along with Sofonisba Anguissola, is now one of my favorite painters.

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  60. Thank you so much Mr.Dan .All emails are very inspiring and knowledgeable. Your take away notes makes us not only person with artistic vision but deep vision for life to live fullest also.

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  61. Thank you for your Earnest & honest teaching of ART Dan!
    Of my art classes, I noticed art teachers hesitate to disclose Alot of key advice.
    Thank you!

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  62. These paintings are beyond words magnificent does not even begin to describe them. My favourite is the portrait of Madame X. Thank you so much Dan for all the picture and information that you share with us.

    I agree with the last comment made, art teachers don’t always share the necessary information and surprisingly many disregard the fact that even as a humble student, you can still have feeling of your own on any painting. They often think and teach in a straight line

    Reply

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