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David Larned: Recent Work


The powerful wizard in the classic, The Wizard of Oz, instructed Dorothy to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." In its latest exhibition, the Biggs Museum invites viewers to get to know the man behind the art in David Larned: Recent Work. So does David Larned.

Part of a year-long tenth anniversary celebration, the exhibition is a comprehensive view of works created by the talented Delaware native who "can't remember a time when he wasn't making art." Larned studied formally at the region's preeminent art school, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and at the prestigious Florence Academy in Italy. The exhibition, which includes nearly 30 works and recreates a portion of the artist's studio, will be on view through March 28, 2004, free of admission charge. Several special events will feature interaction with the artist, both in Dover, and in his Pennsylvania studio.

Larned, a favorite painter of Biggs Museum founder, the late Sewell C. Biggs, has developed an approach to portraits and landscapes that "is about observing the simple beauty of the way an object looks in light, then translating that three-dimensional reality into two dimensions with paint." He is a technical painter in an age when many eschew that discipline.

Heavily influenced by European and American artists from the 16th through the early 20th century, Larned feels that his work "very much stands on the shoulders of (our) artistic ancestors." He posits that "as a classical painter it's essential to learn what makes painters of the past great -- discovering how they solved the two-dimensional problem of looking at a three-dimensional reality."

Heading Larned's list of artists closely studied is Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velasquez (1599-1660), Spain's greatest painter and a consummate master of technique. Larned is drawn to Velasquez, whom he calls "the first impressionist" because he painted thinking about light pre eminently, not the story behind the person. Velasquez was absorbed by how a person looked in light, responded to what he saw, and translated it into paint.

American portraiturist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) has been another inspiration. Sargent wryly described a portrait as "a picture of a person with something wrong with the mouth."

According to Larned, " Sargent took it to the next level. Where Velasquez was monochromatic, Sargent employed the full range of the color spectrum and sophisticated observation of light. Sargent is gussied up, and there's more fireworks in his work. There's more sobriety in the work of Velasquez."

Larned's work "hopefully born of those two fathers," he said, "is a little bit of each, restrained and careful like Velasquez, but inclusive like Sargent in terms of color."

The painstakingly and sensitive realism of French Rococo artist Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) inspired Larned's Self Portrait as Gilles. Here the painter challenges viewers to look beyond preconceived notions of who an artist is and what role he or she plays. Created at the threshold of his success, Larned was moved during a visit to the Louvre by Watteau's Pierrot, ditautrefois Gilles (1718-1719) where an actor, with an overly enthusiastic audience at his feet, displays melancholy detachment. (right: Self Portrait as Portrait Painter; 2003, 63 x 47 inches)

The Biggs Museum's exhibition is divided into four sections: landscape, self-portraits, commissioned portraits, and portraits of the artist's models. In the latter section, the techniques Larned developed while studying in Florence play out, as do his dramatic color choices. His proclivity towards severely-chiseled facial features where forms rise and fall from light to shadow and his use of a light source to draw attention to the sinuous lines in a figural study bear out his philosophy of "darkness is about getting the light."

Since earliest days, most painters traditionally have earned their living from commissions, especially for portraits. Larned's commissioned portraits include a new portrait of former Delaware Governor Pierre S. du Pont IV and one of Wilmington business executive Dan Butler.

According to Biggs Executive Director Karol Schmiegel, these full-length paintings show the subjects in an informal stance but still use characteristics of formal portraits. "Mr. Butler carries his suit jacket over his shoulder, and Governor du Pont is wearing casual outdoor attire. This is not a boardroom portrait but one that shows him as his family knows him."

Light reigns in Larned's rich landscapes produced au lein-air or directly from nature. When rendering a landscape, the artist spends only a few hours painting outdoors in contrast to the forty plus hours spent in the studio when completing a portrait. The results are a more painterly approach. The artist quickly interprets color value relationships between depicted forms within a consistent period of natural light.

Larned's "bang of light" technique, which originated with his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and continued in Italy, delights the eye in such works as Hobbs Marsh, and Evergreens in Fairmount Park; both are oils with stunning contrasts in colors. He rendered a remarkable view from Philadelphia's historic mansion Lemon Hill, unique in its untraditional view, looking down to the ground at a branch, rather than outward and across the expanse of today's industrial architecture. (right: Hammonasett Marsh; 2003, 8 x 16 inches)

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