PAINTING AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY BY PAMELA JARRETT, NGA COPYIST
Every Tuesday for the past couple of years, Pamela Jarrett has been one of the first to enter the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C. Membership in NGA's copyist program entitles her to copy almost any painting in the museum's West Building. She receives an easel, a drop cloth, and a stool, and the canvas she works on stays in the artists' locker room until finished.
There are a few rules. The canvas size must be at least two inches larger or smaller than the original painting, and neither the height nor width can measure more than 40 inches. When the work in progress is on the easel, the back edge of the canvas must be at least four feet from the wall. All liquids, paints, palettes, and brushes must be put away when the copyist leaves the floor. Permits are renewed a month at a time, but copyists can take as much time as needed to complete each painting. She cannot imagine risking any infraction for fear of losing her permit.
The application process for the copyist program is fairly rigorous. The NGA Registrar's office requires two letters attesting to artistic proficiency, two letters of character reference, a personal statement and a security background check. Then the applicant is asked to bring two original works of art to a personal interview with the Registrar. An artist who is accepted into the copyist program is assigned one day a week to copy paintings. The privilege is granted for the rest of the artist's life.
The program is mutually beneficial. The opportunity to learn by looking at an original piece of art is better than any lesson a copyist can take. She is not only learning about the colors and brushstrokes used, but attempting to understand the thought process of the artist.
Sterling and Burke Limited