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Still life with Parrot, Oranges and a Chinese Love Story

The Western Chamber

This February I wanted some romantic imagery. This 18th century bowl with its imagery of lovers in a moonlit garden was just what I was looking for. You see a poor scholar, beckoning the aristocratic beauty he has fallen in love with, who is just behind a high wall with her maid. This story, “[Romance of] The Western Chamber,” was originally written as a tragedy, but was later altered to have a happy ending. The happy version seems to dominate and there’s no hint of tragedy in the synopsis written by the Beijing Tourism Bureau. 

These little oranges are currently in season, and I loved the eye catching combination of the contrasting orange and blue. As I dreamed up this painting, I always imagined it with a parrot, never any other bird. I’ve  had a fondness for parrots ever since my dad came back from Florida with a parrot named Charlie, when I was around 8 years old. I don’t know how my mom felt about it, but that was my dad. (My sister could tell you stories about bringing a baby cow home in the back of our station wagon.) Scroll down for a picture of little Rebecca petting Charlie. 

Part of the fun of making still life paintings is to research historical symbolism and dream up my own hidden stories. Many objects have several meanings so the story can differ depending on who’s doing the dreaming. In this case, an uncaged bird symbolizes sexual freedom, and parrots specifically represent nobility, richness and self confidence. Oranges can represent abundance, longevity and beauty. 

Everything was becoming a bit too sweet and easy for the lovers, so I added a fly to bring them back down to reality. I appreciate the description by Steven Connor in his article The Painter and the Fly”, describing flies in art as the “embodiments of accident, of what just happens to happen”. And if you want to see how symbolism can be scrutinized by scholars, take a look his article which discusses the fly in art over the course of 500 years.

BOWL

Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (not currently on view)
Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722)
Porcelain with underglaze-blue decoration, 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm), height 8 1/4 in. (21 cm), diameter, Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 70.42
Photo: Paul Macapia

“The fourteenth-century drama The West Chamber tells of a poor scholar, Zhang Sheng, seen here holding a fan, who falls passionately in love with Oriole, an aristocratic beauty. In this night scene, from behind a high wall and accompanied by her clever maid, Crimson, Oriole smiles at scholar Zhang, her hands raised in delight. Shining above them are constellations thought to determine the lovers’ fate. The scene appears to represent the two lovers by moonlight in the secrecy of the monastery garden.” Mimi Gardner Gates, “Porcelain Stories,” p. 118

The perfecting of the underglaze-blue technique made possible richer gradations of the blue color, seen particularly on wares from around the mid-seventeenth to the eighteenth century, and expanded the repertoire of design. Narrative scenes taken from lyrics, plays, and popular novels (like The West Chamber depicted on the bowl) became fashionable around this time, catering to the interests of the rising merchant class and the scholar gentry alike. These interpretive blue paintings told intimate stories to the viewer, and enriched the surface of the blue-and-white porcelain. 

How to Purchase

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Puggle portrait painting (cape implied)

Most of my pet portrait commissions are based on images that come from my clients. I have a couple of blog posts for suggestions on getting photos of cats and dogs that can help get you started. What usually ends up working best though, is to take lots of photos (for dogs at least) when you’re running around at the park. I’m often altering the background of images to simplify it so that the attention is going to the subject of the painting. It’s not often that the background truly compliments the subject. When it does, though it’s something special.

The Historical Portrait Miniature

If you do a search for “Portrait Miniature” you’ll find countless classical miniatures, mostly from the 16th – 18th century. Popular in England, France and in the United States (There are probably a million portrait miniatures of George Washington).

At least a third of the paintings that come up in these searches have a blue sky with clouds in the background. They put it perfectly in an article about the representations of clouds in art by the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery of the University of Western Australia. “The physical position of the clouds, situated between heaven and earth, associates them with a higher order, a characteristic that recurs in art through the ages.” The association is then tied to subject placed in front of the clouds.

I’ve been dying to do a portrait like this for ages. And was fortunate that Theo (aka Thelonious Monk ) has the bearing to pull it off. I can’t look at this painting without imaging a cape on her back. I think of it as puggle portrait painting that reveals the true size of the personality held in such a tiny body.

From Tina:

It’s perfect!! Thank you so much!  Melanie LOVES it, and we found a central spot to hang it. Just in time for her birthday and a gift for the ages…both with Theo, and beyond.
Eternally grateful

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Chicken Painting a Finalist in National Competition

A few months ago I reached out to my Instagram and Facebook community to help me choose which chicken painting to enter in the annual Portrait Society of America’s member’s only competition. I was having trouble picking and thought there would be a clear favorite. After almost a hundred votes though, it was almost exactly a tie! Even so, it still helped me choose. People were very passionate on either side, but people typically liked the hen because the painting was more unique. For right or wrong, I liked that rational and went with it. I’m happy to share that she was a finalist in the animals category. Perhaps the rooster would have done even better in the competition, but you never know!

chicken paintings by Rebecca Luncan
The rooster or the hen?

Both of these paintings have backgrounds that reference Rembrandt self-portrait’s. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work and wanted to portray the chickens in a formal Dutch Portrait style. I helped install an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum of artwork from the Kenwood House Collection from London several years ago. One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit was his Self-Portrait with Two Circles. This was the painting that inspired the background of my hen. She’s one of four girls that lives in Seattle in my friend Paige’s backyard. As the henpecked bird, she was making a grand show of bring larger and fluffing out. I was very fortunate to actually get a shot of the demonstration during my photo shoot for reference images.

You can find her on display along with the rooster at Winfield Gallery. Go to my Available Works page to see all my paintings currently available in galleries and from the studio.

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Seattle Golden Boy, Golden Retriever Portrait Painted on Copper

After being on my site for 5 seconds, you know I love animals. Especially dogs. I’ve been fortunate to have known and painted several Golden Retriever’s portraits over the years and I don’t think I’ve ever known another kind of animal with a sweeter disposition.

I just finished another golden retriever portrait of Hazel who lived to 19. Painting Joey just after finishing that portrait felt like coming back to the beginning of a journey. Everything’s fresh, bright and this new love is so intense and powerful. I wish Joey a life just as long as Hazel’s, filled with a never ending supply of love for and from his family.

golden retriever portrait painting miniature by Rebecca Luncan

This golden retriever portrait is 4″ x 4″ and it’s the smallest size I’m making right now. I love the intimacy of the size but it’s not so small that I can’t fill the portrait with details (like the Seattle skyline in the background).

Joey’s portrait was commissioned by Lori as a holiday gift for her husband. Please go to my Commissions page to learn how to commission a portrait. Go to the Pet Portraits or Portrait Commissions page (paintings of people) to see more examples of my work.

From Lori:

It’s incredible in person, you are beyond talented! I can’t thank you enough..

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Classical Pet Portraits

I was commissioned to make two paintings for Jason. The first, a gift for his sister of her beloved dog Hazel. Hazel was a golden retriever that had given a lifetime of love. The other was of Turbo, a lot of personality packed into a miniature 4″ composition.

I composed both of these painting with classical dutch portraits in mind. There were so many great photos for me to choose from of these two. I was especially inspired by the warmth in Hazel’s eyes and the intelligence in Turbo’s.

I was sad to hear that both Turbo and Hazel passed between the time when we designed the portraits and when they were completed. It really reinforces my mission of creating pet portraits though. And I love that their portraits will live on for hundreds of years to come.

From Jason:

I got them today! We are in love! Thank you so much, such talented work!!
Miniature pet portrait painting framed by Rebecca Luncan

To learn about how to commission your own pet portrait, please visit the Commission’s page.

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Forest Floor Still Life Painting with Rabbits

My English Spot rabbit, Harriet, makes her debut in my newest monthly miniature painting. I was inspired by the forest still life paintings of Otto Mardeus van Schrieck a Dutch painter from the 1600’s. 

Otto Mardeus van Schrieck

Otto Marseus van Schrieck, Snakes, toads and butterflies, 1639, oil on canvas, 24″ x 19.2″

Van Schrieck’s paintings juxtapose light and dark. A sinister snake might lurk in the gloomy foreground while a radiant bloom or a moment of light glows from the background. The New York Times published an article about a new book that explores his work last November. It’s a really colorful read, and I highly recommend taking a look, if only to see some of his fascinating paintings.

Though some elements in my painting come directly from the careful study of a work of van Schrieck’s, I definitely took a lighter approach to my painting. I told my husband that, “I didn’t have such severe subject matter in me.” But after the painting was finished and signed, filled with flowers that reminded me of my family, a mountainous landscape that reminds me of my Pacific Northwest home, and insects, frogs and rabbits that remind me of my childhood, I had a miscarriage. It was the fifth since my son was born three years ago. After finding out, I picked up my paint brush and added a snake. I’m doing fine and my spirits are higher by the day. It’s just interesting, after all these years of painting, to recognize how much of myself I put into each one, however subtle or unconscious.

I hope you enjoy this month’s painting. Take a look below for some detail images. The Silvery Blue butterflies were particularly trying on the eyes!

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Childhood’s End Gallery Small Works Show

Nine artists from the Pacific Northwest created artwork for this small works show and I made the trip down to Olympia to join some of them for the opening. Though the mediums varied wildly with ceramics, oils, watercolors, acrylics, drawing, etc., all of the pieces were created by women. I got to see some familiar and dear faces while meeting some new lovely people at the opening.

Go to my last post to see all of the pieces I have in the show and go to the gallery website to purchase a piece.

Artist Rebecca Luncan at the Small Works Exhibition Art Opening
Artist Rebecca Luncan at the Small Works Opening, photo by Darcy Goedecke

About Childhood’s End Gallery

“Since 1971 Childhood’s End Gallery has been a leading source for fine art and American craft. Located along the waterfront in historic downtown Olympia, we feature the work of hundreds of artists and craftspeople. Our selection of items includes functional and decorative work in a variety of media including art glass, ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, jewelry and a wide range of fine art and reproductions.”

The gallery is divided to showcase fine art on one side and hand made American crafts on the other. Both the space and the gallerists are gems and definitely worth a visit.

Visit the gallery:

Childhood’s End Gallery is located at the corner of 4th Avenue and Water Street in downtown Olympia, Washington. Olympia is located 1 hour south of Seattle, Washington and 2 hours north of Portland, Oregon along the Interstate 5 corridor.

Hours: Mon. – Sat. 10am-6pm
Sunday 11am-5pm

222 4th Ave W, Olympia, WA 98501

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Strawberry still life painting for June Monthly Miniature

I have a quarter acre garden, and strawberries are one of my top crops. This month’s strawberry still life painting features my June Bearers (one of two types of strawberries). At the height of my amateur gardening career (before having my son), I picked three quarts every day for a month! If you knew me then, you ate my strawberries.

Now that Isaac is three, I have more time to spend in the garden. The strawberries are slowly making a comeback after some intensive weeding (come by if you want some!). I wanted this painting to be a bit of an overload of warm colors, with slight touches of green. Pairing strawberries with this Japanese bowl from the SAM collection and a Painted Lady Butterfly did the trick.

This bowl is perfect, not only for its colors, but also because the imagery is relevant for this series. The bowl was made around the same time as the famous Dutch still life paintings that inspired the In Season Monthly Miniatures, and the Japanese artist has depicted European traders, very likely Dutch. The figures are as exotic to me as they likely were to the artists who first painted them.

Sign up for the newsletter for a chance to purchase next months painting!

Detail of Miniature oil painting of strawberries and Japanese porcelain on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5" x 5"

Read the text by SAM’s former Curator of Asian Art, Yukiko Shirahara, to learning more about the porcelain bowl:

“Southern Europeans, primarily Portuguese and Spanish, arrived in Japan in the 16th century. The Japanese called them nanban, or “southern barbarians,” because they came through a maritime route from the south. The term nanban, however, was used to refer to almost anything foreign in 16th- and 17th-century Japan. Images of Europeans proliferated in response to the curiosity of all things foreign, and became common motifs to adorn ceramic wares such as these bowls.

European figures were popular motifs in Japanese art during the Edo period, particularly representations of the Dutch (called komo: “red-haired people”) because of their direct contact with Japan through trade during a time of national isolation. It was the Dutch East India Company that exported Japanese products, including Imari porcelain, to Europe. Dutch motifs were favored not only for exports but also for the domestic market, to satisfy the Japanese taste for exoticism and curiosity about Western culture. The familiar design of “five-ships,” depicting five Dutch vessels with Dutch figures, is the best example of the popular theme, which appeared from the eighteenth century onward.”

Detail of Miniature oil painting of strawberries and Japanese porcelain on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5" x 5"

Detail of Miniature oil painting of painted lady butterfly on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5" x 5"

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Self Portrait – Expecting is a finalist for the ARC Salon 2019!

My Self portrait painting has been selected as a finalist for the ARC Salon 2019 Competition!

I was fortunate to have my painting, “Admiral Vox” travel for last years exhibition and I couldn’t have been happier with how the Art Renewal Center (ARC) handled everything. It was such an incredible experience to have my artwork hanging alongside so many extraordinary pieces. I traveled to Barcelona to see the final installation of the exhibit at the MEAM which is a beautiful space. It’s inspiring to see so many contemporary artists pick up the tradition and make interesting work that’s relevant today. I couldn’t be happier to have another painting selected as a finalist.

Learn more about “Self Portrait – Expecting” in my previous blog post.

This year they received over 4,300 entries from 73 countries. The number of entries grew by more than 1,000 from last year! Winners will be posted July 1– please wish me luck!

CLICK TO VIEW FINALISTS

About The Art Renewal Center

“Leading the revival of realism in the visual arts, the Art Renewal Center (ARC), a 501(c)(3), non-profit, educational foundation, hosts the largest online museum dedicated to representational art and includes works by the old masters, 19th century, and 21st Century Artists as well as articles, letters and other online resources. The ARC is the foremost and only vetting service for representational art schools ensuring that the teaching curricula and quality of teacher and student work meet our strict standards to become ARC Approved™. The ARC Salon Competition, which is the largest and most prestigious competition in the world for realist artists painting, sculpting and drawing today with eleven categories and thousands of works competing, culminating in a traveling live exhibition of many of the winning works. The ARC works with other ARC Allied Organizations™, artist groups, museums, and publications to become a central news hub for the 21st Century Representational Art Movement. Read the ARC Philosophy written by ARC Chairman, Frederick C. Ross, to learn why ARC is so passionately dedicated to representational art.

Congratulations to all of the finalists!!

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Miniature oil painting of Birds of the Pacific Northwest

For the Month of May, I’ve made a still life painting of birds of the Pacific Northwest. I’m paying tribute to the painter George Flegel. He was born in what is modern day Czech Republic and did his training in Austria and Germany but ended up in Holland in the early 1600’s. His strange compositions, bursting with life are a study of technical perfection. I love how he incorporates birds in his still life’s in such a natural way. Between looking at his paintings, spending more time out in the yard, working on chicken paintings for a show in August, AND having a Stellar’s Jay nest in the eaves right outside my bedroom window, birds have been on my mind lately.

George Flegel, Still Life of Birds and Insects 1637

Georg Flegel, Still Life of Birds and Insects 1637

I’ve made a painting that is heavily inspired by one of his most unusual composition filled with birds and insects. I’ve chosen birds and insects that can be found in my backyard in the Seattle area. My dad always knew what birds were in the yard when we lived in the farmhouse in Ohio. I never studied them enough to be encyclopedic about the different species like he was and I had trouble identifying the different little brown ones. My friend, Chris Keenan (who also helped identify the nest in last months painting) helped me figure out more species than could possibly fit into one painting. I did my best, though!

In this Months Painting:

I have 8 birds in the 5″ x 5″ painting; American Crow, American Robin, Anna’s Hummingbird, Dark-Eyed Junko (Oregon), Northern Flicker, Plaited Woodpecker, Red-Breasted Nuthatch and a Stellar’s Jay. Insects are: Darkling Beetle, Painted Lady Cocoon and Butterfly (did you find the Caterpillar in last months painting? They transformed!), Grasshopper, and a Pholcid House Spider (also called a daddy long-legs). Also included: black sunflower seeds and a Blue Flag Iris I plucked the from the garden.

Detail of Miniature oil painting of birds on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5" x 5"

Detail of Miniature oil painting of birds on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5″ x 5″

It was incredibly challenging to figure out such a complicated composition. Getting that many birds in there, meant I had to paint them at a very small scale. I have some detail images below to help you get a sense of the size of this painting. It took a lot of careful consideration to try to make the painting look right upon careful close inspection, but also from even a short distance away. Some of the details are lost, even from two feet away!

I hope you enjoy this painting as well as your own backyard birds! Go to my Monthly Miniatures page to see all of the paintings in this series. And join my mailing list for a Monthly Miniature Preview, to get a chance to purchase them before before they go for sale on the website, and to see what’s new in the studio.