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Old 01-13-2009, 02:36 PM   #1
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Gretchen Worden, former Director of the Mutter Museum (Philadelphia College of Physicians), oil on linen, 48" x 36"

Here is my latest commissioned work. It is a posthumous portrait of a dynamic, compassionate woman who devoted her career to the Mutter Museum. You may have seen her on the David Letterman Show; she appeared on the show three times over the course of several years. The Mutter Museum is a medical museum started by Thomas Dent Mutter in the 19th century with the donation of his collection. The collection includes human skulls and skeletons, preserved body parts with various diseases, conditions, or abnormalities, and old medical instruments. A plaster cast of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins, resides there (along with their preserved liver). The purpose of the museum is to preserve knowledge of, and to educate the public about human pathology and medical history. With funding from the city of Philadelphia, the present director has created an exhibit on the history and present dangers of lead poisoning. Personally I have always found the museum to be a fascinating place.

In the background of the portrait is the skeleton of a 7' 6" giant, and the skeleton of a 3' 6" achondroplastic dwarf. Ms. Worden isholding a lithotrite, an antique instrument used to enter the male bladder and crush bladder stones!
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Old 01-13-2009, 02:37 PM   #2
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Here are a few more details:
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Old 01-13-2009, 04:07 PM   #3
Mike Dodson Mike Dodson is offline
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What a wonderful painting! Her expression is as if she has something to share with us. Nice interaction between subject and viewer. The handling of the paint has a nice flow also. Great hands! I want to study those hands for awhile!
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Old 01-13-2009, 04:13 PM   #4
Tom Edgerton Tom Edgerton is offline
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The life in your subject is just superb.
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Old 01-13-2009, 06:40 PM   #5
Allan Rahbek Allan Rahbek is offline
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Alex,

Rembrandt lighting on a modern woman.

She looks as if she would gladly demonstrate the tool. The skeletons seems so amused, but then again it's not their problem anymore.

This is a wonderful portrait, serious, humorous and so refreshingly well painted.
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Old 01-13-2009, 06:54 PM   #6
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Thank you, Tom and Mike! Life was what I was aiming for. When I'm doing a posthumous portrait I feel as though I'm bringing the person back to life. I think all portrait painters must feel this way.

All the people who knew her and shared their stories about her agreed that her smile was a very important thing about her. I wished I had known her, because watching her on the videos was a real experience. She had an incredible sense of humor. When she was on the David Letterman show, they fed off each others' humor. Amazing to watch! She could maintain a serious expression for quite a while, then she would get a gleam in her eyes and break into a wide smile or start laughing. After watching these tapes over several times, I became interested in the whole smiling process, especially the moment when she first got the gleam in her eye. I decided this was the moment I wanted to capture in my portrait. It had the potential energy.
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Old 01-13-2009, 06:57 PM   #7
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Hey, Allan! You noticed the skeleton's reactions to the lithotrite! Hardly anyone noticed this. How about the hand of the giant? I couldn't resist putting my own weird humor into this painting.
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Old 01-14-2009, 06:59 PM   #8
Richard Monro Richard Monro is offline
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Alex,

I love your sense of humor. That lithotrite even gives me the horrors.

This painting seems more painterly than many of your others, Was this a conscious choice? I am assuming that you had to work from a prior photo you were not able to set up yourself ( not always easy) and i imagine you just had a hoot deciding what to include in the composition. I really like the way you tell a story.
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Old 01-14-2009, 07:26 PM   #9
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Richard,

I did leave the background more painterly, because I wanted it to be a little shadowy and mysterious. I thought the figure was just about up to my usual level of detail--but maybe I am not aware of what you are seeing.

The reference for her head came from a video. I froze the frame and worked from a print. The trouble was that it cut off the entire top of her head from her eyebrows up. She had the wrong hairstyle, so I borrowed a hairstyle and head top from another photo. The only trouble was, that photo did not show her in the same light so I had to invent the shine and color of the hair.

After I found the head reference (which had a nice light/shadow pattern, by the way, but was missing a lot of color and value information), I created a body by using two different models. I photographed them with an off-camera flash set up to create the same exact light/shadow pattern on the faces, so the face and body would be in the same light. One of the models was wearing Ms. Worden's jacket and earrings and holding the lithotrite. However she had to wear latex gloves to hold the lithotrite. The other model I chose because her height, figure, and hands were pretty close to Ms. Worden's. I made sure my angle (height) in relation to her head was the same as that in the "head shot" reference. To do this I had the model stand on two books to make her the same height, 5' 9". This model held an "instrument" jerry-rigged out of two screwdrivers. Both models wore black jackets and cream scoop-neck blouses, and black skirt or pants. (I chose to paint the skirt.)

The stance of the models, the tilt of the head, and the way they held the lithotrite, were taken from the videos of Ms. Worden on David Letterman. I watched the tapes of her very carefully and tried to have the models imitate her gestures and the way she moved.
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Old 01-14-2009, 08:26 PM   #10
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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This is my favorite of yours. Well done!
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