Gabrielle Cot and the Quest to Learn the Flemish Technique

One day in a sunny December in a small city called Majalengka, I pondered over my dirty brushes.

I had failed to clean them thoroughly, so the paint was stuck and the brushes were almost unusable. It wasn’t the first time that happened; though I had learned oil painting during elementary school, I never actually understood how to handle the medium. I was practically in darkness. So 15 years later, at the age of 25, I decided that I wanted to learn oil painting properly.

That was the time I met a painter-slash-engineer from Bandung, which was two hour of car ride away from home. I found him from Instagram and was captivated by his realistic paintings. They were very detailed and clean, I thought he must have mastered oil painting to have created such refined works. I asked him how he did them and he told me he used an old classical method called the Flemish technique that originated from many centuries ago. It was the technique that great old masters such as Da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt used. This painter from Bandung is, as far as he knew, was the first to introduce the Flemish technique in Indonesia. He had learned it from Alexei Antonov, a Russian painter who resides in the US.

So, at that moment I was convinced that I had to study with him.

This method requires a good drawing skill and he said my skill was sufficient. Having met his requirements, I stayed in Bandung for ten days, spending every day painting in his studio. For my first project I had to do a master copy. I chose to copy a painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, a 19th century French artist, because my instructor had a book of his paintings in his studio.

Portrait of Gabrielle Cot, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1890

Apparently, ten days wasn’t enough to finish the painting. Seven layers of paint and I only got to the sixth (color layer), and it still needs a lot of work. Sadly I had to come back to Jakarta to start working as an intern in a hospital. My instructor, who’s actually a full-time engineer, also received new projects to work on. In the end, the painting was left unfinished.

You can see the painting process in the gallery below, from sketching on the imprimatura, to umber layers, dead layers, and finally color layer.

Three months after I made this attempt, I was still not satisfied with how I painted this portrait. The proportions, for starters, were way off. I didn’t spend enough time creating the preliminary sketch so the lack of likeness stayed on up until the end and it disturbed me every time I looked at it. So yesterday I made another study of the painting using graphite and charcoal on A3 paper.

I think I did better in creating the structure of the portrait. What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Gabrielle Cot and the Quest to Learn the Flemish Technique”

  1. Your drawing skills are a ton better than mine! But you did ask for feedback, so here it is. The chin is too broad, I think. Needs to be a touch more pointy. And the mouth is more drawn up to the side in the original, like she is smirking. It is otherwise a good likeness.


    1. Thank you for your feedback. I agree with the chin. Sadly the drawing is already fixed with a spray and I can’t make any changes 😂 I guess I’ll try better next time

      Liked by 1 person

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