John Rowe, “Her Gift,” 2015, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in. © John Rowe 2017

In this ongoing series, Fine Art Today delves into the world of portraiture, highlighting historical and contemporary examples of superb quality and skill. This week we consider a powerful and loving portrait of a mother and her child.

We seem to be on a theme this week: those unforgettable moments between mother and child. This week’s featured portrait, titled “Her Gift,” is a tender and moving image by talented California artist John Rowe.

Before a soothing solid background, the viewer is presented with two subjects: a brown and dark-haired mother tenderly grasping a pale-skinned infant. Albeit simple in subject, the piece bursts with emotional and interpretive potential. The piece has a very special meaning to the artist, made palpable through his description.

He writes, “The painting of my wife and our foster child — who has since been returned to his family — is still very close to me. I watched my wife over months give her love and strength and protection to this child. Tears, joy, fierce protection, devotion, sleepless nights — all while knowing she might never see him again but that he would carry the sense of being loved unconditionally into his future life and it would become a foundation for him. We had taken classes to learn about how those first relationships can lay a groundwork for the core of who you become. I wanted the differences in hair, skin, and ethnicity to be apparent and for the emotional connection between her and the baby to be strong enough to make that completely irrelevant. I wanted to leave the viewer with the feeling of profound love that only a mother can have for her child.

“We did a photo shoot at my studio, and I combined several different shots together. I closed her eyes to give the composition a feeling of peace and began painting. To me one of the most important parts was her hand. Each finger held the baby differently: from the talon-like security of her thumb and forefinger gripping him, to the gentle touch of her ring finger and left pinky floating in space, half touching and half letting go, as she would eventually have to do. I painted my wife’s face out of focus so other mothers could relate to her and not become too specific. The child’s fine hair was represented as real as possible so the viewer could relate to the fragile nature and delicate features of a baby.”

To learn more, visit John Rowe.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster
Andrew Webster is the Editor of Fine Art Today and works as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.

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