2013-06-20 / Arts & Entertainment News

Masterpiece Paintings Project unveiled at Visual Arts Center

Special to Florida Weekly

Lost reproduction of Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Jane Avril and Divan Japonaise” by Suzanne Bowles and Carole Cobb. Lost reproduction of Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Jane Avril and Divan Japonaise” by Suzanne Bowles and Carole Cobb. Don’t be surprised if you notice Claude Monet with paintbrush in hand the next time you drive down Marion Avenue in Punta Gorda. You’re not imagining things. The Visual Arts Center unveiled the first work in its Masterpiece Painting Project in early June: a reproduction of one of Monet’s water lilies paintings. The work has been mounted on the north side of the VAC building, across from Fishermen’s Village. It is the first of five paintings to be hung over time that will bring more outdoor art to Punta Gorda — a city known for its murals — and give passersby an idea about what goes on within the walls of the VAC.

For the last nine falls, the VAC has hosted a Fine Arts Festival to celebrate the work of famous artists. Past festivals have spotlighted the work of artists as varied as Toulouse-Lautrec, Georgia O’Keefe, Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci and Degas. Each year, one featured master’s works has been reproduced by local artists and hung outside the entrance to the VAC to welcome visitors to the Fine Arts Festival. The sheer size of the piece (about 7-by-11 feet) and the quality of the artistry give credence to the term “masterpiece” for these paintings.

Reproduction of Monet’s “Water Lilies” by Liz Hutchinson. Reproduction of Monet’s “Water Lilies” by Liz Hutchinson. Last year, the work of Claude Monet provided the theme for the festival, and Liz Hutchinson was asked to re-create one of his paintings. Ms. Hutchinson was a natural choice, not only because of her artistic talent, but because she taught art classes for 10 summers with ArtStudy at Monet’s home in Giverny, France. As she painted her rendition of Monet’s “Water Lilies” in a gallery at the VAC, people asked what would happen to the painting after the festival.

Detail of the reproduction of Sargent’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” by Liz Hutchinson. Detail of the reproduction of Sargent’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” by Liz Hutchinson. When she inquired, Ms. Hutchinson learned that the masterpiece works that had been so assiduously created by VAC artists in prior years had been painted over; the canvas repurposed for the next year’s painting. (The exception was the reproduction of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” which found a home at a local place of worship.)

This realization led Ms. Hutchinson and husband Frank Sperry to mount a campaign to save these works, and the idea of creating an exterior gallery at the VAC was born. Like all projects, there were a number of hoops to be jumped through before the project could move forward, including obtaining Punta Gorda City Council approval. And if the Monet masterpiece would be the first work to grace the new exterior gallery, it would have to be repainted using weatherproof acrylic paint and other appropriate materials. Ms. Hutchinson volunteered to re-paint the work if approval was granted.

The city council approved the project last spring, and Ms. Hutchinson got to work. Earlier this month, a ribboncutting was held to commemorate the hanging of her rendition of Monet’s water lilies.

Ms. Hutchinson’s work on the Masterpiece Painting Project isn’t done yet. She volunteered to paint the masterpiece for this year’s festival as well, which will feature the work of John Singer Sargent. The painting, “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” was selected as the masterpiece to be recreated. Ms. Hutchinson is enthusiastic about the choice, having seen the original at the Tate Museum some years ago. She realized, however, that the dimensions weren’t quite right for the plywood canvas on which the work would be done. The painting is more or less square. The canvas is rectangular.

So she found a photograph of Mr. Sargent plein air painting in the year “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” was created. A decision was made to incorporate Mr. Sargent into the work to complete and complement the canvas. (Likewise, Mr. Monet’s portrait adorns the water lilies masterpiece painting already on display.)

In a recent conversation, Ms. Hutchinson explained a bit about her process of creating the painting, which will take about six weeks to complete. Using a print of “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” as her guide, she gridded the canvas into six sections to ensure that the perspective and aspect ratio would be accurate. Next, she drew the painting onto the canvas, a three-day project. And then it was time to start painting. The masterpiece won’t be unveiled until the opening of the festival in November, but it promises to be worth waiting for.

With the conclusion of each year’s Fine Arts Festival, a new painting will be added to the VAC’s outdoor gallery. Eventually, five masterpiece paintings will be on display. After five years, the oldest painting will be removed to make room for the most recent reproduction.

The Visual Arts Center’s Masterpiece Painting Project showcases the talent of its artists, augmenting Punta Gorda’s defining murals and the city’s singularity as a fine arts destination. ¦

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