It was nice and bright today and, indeed, even as I start this post at quarter to five it is still light and bright. Spring is coming! Hopefully the good start I got to my painting year will continue, aided by the better light. Sadly, given today's conditions, I have now realised that my eyesight is now not up to the standards of painting (low though they were) I had a few years ago. Even with 3.5 magnification glasses I just can't see very well any more. I noticed this particularly today when I was trying to paint the black bits on my union cavalry. I was finding it very difficult to distinguish the dark blue from back. I now know never to undercoat any figures in black from now on!
Anyway, today I finished all the black bits on the Union cavalry which is the bit I hate the most, especially as they are mainly straps. This is usually the worse bit of doing figures but I have the prospect of yellow trim on these figures around the jackets, collars and down the trousers. I just hope I can manage this. I put off trying in the dying light so put the base coat down on the base instead. Hopefully I can get some more done tomorrow.
Interestingly I was catching up on reading some wargames magazines over lunch (not, Reading Wargames Magazines over Lunch TM) and their was a piece in Wargames. Soldiers and Strategy, by one Gordon Lawrence, bemoaning the fact that people feel pressured to achieve the sort of paint jobs seen in the magazines, to the extent that they fail to get enough figures painted for a game. That's me, that is, I thought, He also ventured that people put too much contrast on the faces of their figures compared with what real faces look like from a distance. I have been guilty of over contrasting painting in the past and with my union cavalry I am, while still using three shade painting, consciously trying to be less contrasty than in the past. There were two (really small) pictures of some of Mr Lawrence's troops (admittedly 15mm ones) and I thought: "Those are rubbish". Not just rubbish like I now achieve but ten year old's first attempt with a cheap nylon brush rubbish.
Here are some Hinchliffe French Imperial Guard I painted with a cheap nylon brush when I was ten. I would not dream of putting figures like this in a game. I am unable to paint quickly, partly because my eyes get tired and I can only manage a couple of hours at most, as today, and partly because I now spend an inordinate amount of time squinting at the figure and thinking: "Is that the belt?" Is it the bottom of the jacket? And such like. Now, in the same issue, there was piece by Rick Priestley wondering why so many people use 28mm for games as they take ages to paint and need big boards to play one. "Are we wargamers really more interested in modelling than gaming?" asks Mr Priestley, after an interesting discussion of the history of scale creep. Well, yes, I am actually. As anyone knows who has played against me in a game knows, I have no tactical sense, no ability to memorise rules and therefore no ability to use rules to my advantage (known as 'gaming'.).
The purpose of my painting is not to get figures on the table quickly, as both Mr Lawrence and Mr Priestley advocate. It is to research historical uniforms (I bought all those expensive Lord of the Rings production art books for my only fantasy figures too) and paint them to the best of my (declining ability). That is my hobby. The wargaming (thanks be to Eric the Shed) is the excuse for painting. I was in a model soldier shop (the much missed Bonaparte's) in Bath some years ago, with an ex girlfriend, when she asked why if I could never finish wargames units I didn't just paint bigger figures for display. The answer to that, of course, is that the standards of those who paint larger figures is so staggering it is pointless to try to do the same.
I had a quick look at Chosen Men this week, in a vain attempt to see if I could get a feel for the game by reading the rules. The back cover of the book says that the rules depict skirmishes "with each model representing a single brave soldier". I also had heard it was supposed to principally represent the skirmishes between light troops in the Napoleonic wars. Ideal for Sharpe style action in deserted villages, I thought, So I was surprised that figures in a unit have to remain a maximum of one inch apart. Really? For a one man equals one man skirmish? Then, looking at he makeup of the units the British line unit consists of a sergeant, a standard bearer a drummer and seven infantrymen. Again, a standard bearer and drummer in a small ten man unit? At first glance it looks like the way the units are organised goes against the aim to depict individual action. They recommend battles using 250 points and, for example, most of the British units are 45 points each, which could mean 50 figures a side on a suggested board of four feet by four feet. The book also has rules (there are a lot of rules - this is not a set full of fluff and padding) for column of attack, for example. In a skirmish game? I think this is a set which can't make up its mind what it wants to be: proper one to one skirmish or just a small unit representing a bigger force game (like The Men Who Would Be Kings, for example). I'd be interested in reading some reviews of them. Interestingly, in the same issue of WSS I read today there was a review of Sharp Practice 2 which may be just the thing (naturally) for Sharpe. I am resistant to anything by Too Fat Lardies, though, as I can't stand the name (I also thought it was Two Fat Lardies and imagined people like TV chefs the Hairy Bikers, which put me right off). Unfortunately, the review assumed you knew how the original game worked so didn't offer much clue as to how it was against Chosen Men.
Today's music is, not coincidentally, Sharpe: Over the Hills an d Far Away the 'soundtrack' to the TV series. In fact I doubt that there is very much of the series music in it and it is a mixture of Dominic Muldowney's soundtrack, John Tams' interpretation of period songs and some jaunty marches. It's a bit of an odd mixture really and is almost really a folk album than a real soundtrack one.
I listened to it because as I was flicking through the channels looking for some property show for the Old Bat to watch (she can't operate the TV) I caught a bit of Sharpe's Battle and, in particular a striking young actress in a hussar's jacket (the splendid Siri Neal, above). It's a long time since I have watched any Sharpe and I think some of them I have only watched once so I may dig one out to watch later.
Today's picture is probably my favourite painting of all time: Mary-Louise O'Murphy de Boisfaily by François Boucher (1703-1760). A picture I fell in love with when I was about eleven (at the same time that I noticed that Carol, Cathy and Heather in my class were really pretty). She was the fifth daughter of an army officer of Irish extraction, Daniel O'Murphy de Boisfaily. She was born in Rouen on October 21st 1737. After her father died her mother took her to Paris where the widow traded in second hand clothes whilst finding work for her daughters. Mary-Louise became a dancer at L'Opera and a model. Casanova knew her (she is mentioned in his diaries) and she may have been his mistress, briefly. Casanova certainly introduced her to Boucher who painted this picture of her in 1752 and also had an affair with her (33 year age difference not withstanding). It has been argued that the picture was produced as a direct invitation to Louis XV; demonstrating that she was available to be his mistress. Rather like leaving a photographic postcard of a girl in a phone box outside a Park Lane hotel. There was no issue about presenting a fourteen year old girl as a sexual object in France at the time. The age of consent was, after all, ten during this period and girls could get legally married at twelve.
Original life sketch of Marie Louise
Louis XV knew a fine piece when he saw it (he liked the painting too) and she quickly became one of his second tier mistresses and stayed so for two years. Louis had an official mistress, of course, Madame de Pompadour, who may have been happy at first for the king to entertain this plump little distraction as she was increasingly exhausted by Louis voracious sexual demands. Mary-Louise bore the king an illegitimate daughter, Agathe Louise de Saint-Antoine (1754-1774), but she tried to oust Madame de Pompadour from top mistress spot and was soon kicked out of the court and married off to Comte de Beaufranchet, who must have been very cheered by this development, as Mary-Louise was still only 17. He didn't get to enjoy her for very long, though, as he was killed at the Battle of Rossbach in 1757, where Frederick the Great smashed a combined Franco-Austrian army. Mary-Louise subsequently had two more husbands, including one who was thirty years younger than her who she married at the age of 61! Although she was imprisoned for a time during the French Revolution she survived The Terror and died in 1814 at the age of 77. The painting now hangs in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. I was lucky enough to see it displayed in an exhibition in Berlin,some years ago (and purchased a very splendid mouse mat of the picture which is too precious to use). It is a comparatively small picture: about 24" by 29" and was just the sort of sized picture Boucher would turn out for the cabinets of his wealthy gentleman collectors.
Boucher also painted another version of the painting, which is in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, but it doesn't quite have the plump pliancy of the original. I also saw this one in the Berlin exhibition.
Boucher (1703-1770) was a prolific artist, producing over 10,000 drawings during his life, and at the time was criticised for churning out paintings for the money. A more telling criticism came from the philosopher Diderot who accused Boucher of "prostituting his own wife" as he had her pose for erotic pictures which he sold to collectors. This led to increasing notoriety and his art was criticised more and more towards the end of his life, as neo-classicism ousted his frothy, Rococo style.