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Sam Bordley, Emily Rogers, Lydia Chapman

March 22 – April 22, 2022

Colonica di Villa Il Palmerino

The modern-day works exhibited for Portrait Dialogues were painted under the tutelage of Charles Cecil, using a method called ‘sight-size’. This method, which Cecil has devoted his life to researching and practising, was first used by Titian and the old Baroque masters. The technique was later adopted by the British school of the late eighteenth century and was practised well into the nineteenth century with great continuity and success. The last effective practitioners of the method were associated with the so-called Boston school – its most famous representative being John Singer Sargent. The technique was taught by Jean-Léon Gérôme to his student William Paxton who, in turn, passed it on to his pupil R.H. Ives Gammell. Charles Cecil learned this way of working from Mr. Gammell and passes it on to his students today. 


Sight-size painting has the painter place the canvas alongside the subject. Once the canvas is in place, the painter walks to the back of the room to better observe both sitter and canvas simultaneously. Once observations have been made from a great distance, the painter rushes up to the canvas to paint their impression. Once the impression has been forgotten (after a few precious seconds) the painter returns to the back of the room to make fresh observations. The method requires a great deal of walking. Sargent is reported to have worn a path into his studio carpet from his incessant pacing!


Serious practitioners of sight-size (and the art of oil painting) also insist on the singular use of natural light from a north-facing window. The changing quality of day-light is essential to the shimmering quiver of seen objects. The use of artificial light is always stultifying. For similar reasons, the true artist of this method never uses photographs. Photographs flatten and sterilise an image. The use of a photograph invariably robs a composition of its mystical charm and volumetric truth.


The ‘Portrait Dialogues’ exhibition at Il Palmerino Cultural Association will mark the end of our time of full-time study at the Charles Cecil Studios,” says Emily Rogers. “Sam, Emily and I are proud to paint and live in the Oltrarno and to have an opportunity to offer a view of our models who are friends and neighbours. We’re honoured to participate in this history and to continue a dialogue with the past, whilst reflecting upon the contributions of women artists to a genre in which they excelled.”

 Text by Samuel Bordley


Project organisers   The British Institute of Florence and Il Palmerino Cultural Association AP. With the patronage of Consulate of the United States of America in Florence. The exhibition forms part of the Oltrarno Gaze 2022 project, made possible thanks to a grant by the Advancing Women Artists Legacy Fund.

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