Doing a study of a masterwork can be a great way to learn. I have been in awe of the handling of color and value of many of the paintings on display at The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis, MN so was thrilled to receive permission to do a study there. To get the most of the experience I applied some advice a teacher/mentor gave me to this museum study: go with a question you want answered. My question or goal: To better understand how to handle value and color. How did a lot of the Russian Realist painters paint with value and color so masterfully?
For the time available to me, I could choose only one painting for study (to clarify, my time was not limited by the museum but by other factors). I requested permission to study the painting “Milkmaids, Novella” 1962, by Nikolai Nikolaevich Baskakov 1918-1993. So my question became, “how did he handle the values and colors in this painting?”
Another mentor suggested that I draw or trace the masterwork I'll be studying BEFORE I go to the museum. If I were to draw on site I would have spent several extra days on just getting the drawing correct. By preparing the drawing before I went to the museum, I could use my limited time to really focus on exploring that main goal of better understanding value and color.
I did two studies, one just focusing on the relationships of the values so I painted it in grayscale. Then I did a second in color. One of the challenges was that the original piece must be nearly 8'x4', and my studies were merely a fraction of that. I wasn't going to be able to get all the blending and nuanced color and value changes. Instead, for the grayscale version I focused on the relationships of the values, and the large value shapes. For the color version I focused on the color relationships (their hue, temperature, value, and chroma). A lot of the color in the original was created by overlapping strokes, or strokes with multiple colors in them so my version was more a study of the larger impression or appearance.
Note: This was an excellent learning experience! I would like to give special thanks to The Museum of Russian Art and the head curator, Masha Zavialova, Ph.D., for allowing me to do this study.