recreating a masterpiece a blog about the recreation of munkacsi’s “big fish” and how it was made

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Recreating a masterpiece: a blog about the recreation of munkacsi’s “big fish” and how it was made:

Created in 1927, the original painting was part of munkacsi’s “new photography” series. Using his camera as a brush and his photographic plates as his canvas, he created an image that portrayed the surrealist qualities of a dream. The girl seems to be sitting on the water and she is being pulled into an impossible world by her own imagination.

Enter the world of surrealism with this recreation of munkacsi’s “big fish.”

The recreation process begins with creating small thumbnail sketches that show the overall placement of elements within the image. From there, we work out the scale and proportions of each element and begin to build up a 3-dimensional model using cardboard and foam core. We then transfer this model to our studio where we create an armature or frame for it from steel wire. Then we cover this with aluminum foil, which becomes the surface for our painting. We apply oil paint with a palette knife and then sand down parts for texture to give it more dimension and make it look aged. Finally we add red accents to recreate munkacsi’s signature color scheme.*

To learn more about this project

Welcome to the blog of the recreation of the Munkacsi photograph “Big Fish” in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Modeled by Peter Hurd and sculpted by Domenick D’Andrea, this monumental sculpture is website-only! Add your comments and questions as we share our adventure in recreating this modern masterpiece.

The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden opened in March 1941, with a groundbreaking exhibition of contemporary sculpture on loan from major American museums. This exhibition was organized by the Federal Art Project and was designed to demonstrate that sculpture could be enjoyed without pedestals or formal settings. The success of this modernist experiment led to a permanent garden featuring 25 works by well-known artists such as Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Jacques Lipchitz, and Isamu Noguchi.

The Gallery’s collection has since expanded to include postmodern works by such notable artists as Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The sculptures are displayed throughout the garden’s 11 acres in a variety of settings, including lawns, terraces, pools, fountains, paths ,and groves.

Titled Big Fish by Hungarian photographer Martin Munkacsi at its first presentation in 1925 at Alfred St

The history of the National Gallery of Art’s acquisition of Munkácsy’s “The Big Fish” is a fantastic story of a museum director and an artist who shared an interest in creating monumental sculpture, and the surprising way in which the painting eventually entered the collection when, perhaps for the first time, it was lent to a museum for a temporary exhibition.

Description:Created in 1896, “The Big Fish” depicts three figures, all with animal heads: a man and a woman on either side of a fish figure that dominates the composition. The two human figures are embracing while they observe the fish, which is being carried by two men toward a third man seated on a rock.

Tone:grateful and admiring

The original “Big Fish” was a pioneering piece of photojournalism that helped to define a genre. In this blog, I chronicle the recreation of “Big Fish” so we can see what it takes to create a new classic.

This blog is written by the team from the National Gallery of Art’s Conservation Lab in Washington, D.C., and our collaborators at the University of Delaware’s Center for Imaging Science and the Rochester Institute of Technology. The blog will follow the restoration process from its beginning in September 2009 through December 2010, when the recreation is completed and on view at the National Gallery.

The blog includes the recreation of the painting in a series of photos that show how they accomplished each part. It is fascinating to see what they did and how it was done.

The painting was destroyed during World War II. There are some surviving photos, but not good ones. The only other record of the painting is a black and white photo of the original that was taken before it was destroyed.

Toward the end of her blog, she includes this quote from Munkacsi: “I am not interested in naturalistic photography… I want to paint with light.”

She also includes this quote from Munkacsi: “In effect, [photography] had been done long before I entered the field; its possibilities were known and had been exhausted for twenty years.”

The project has been underway since 2011 and couldn’t have been done without all the support from the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

A documentary by Jonathan Bussmann is available on Vimeo:* *

and a book will be released soon (see below).  The recreation of “Big Fish” is part of a larger effort to teach visitors about conservation through art conservation. It’s a wonderful way to engage people with works of art they may otherwise overlook, especially those in our collection that are less well-known and represent endangered species.  

        I’ll give you an update on this process as it continues, so check in with the blog.*Our ultimate goal is to have teachers who visit with students experience this first-hand, which will help us educate more people about conservation.*You can follow along in real time on social media* as we share photos and stories from our conservator-in-residence artist, Tom Shannon.*You can also read about what he’s doing here:

The idea that an artist’s work can be improved, or even just reproduced, by a group of “experts” is one of the most misunderstood concepts in art today. Sadly, it’s also one of the most popular.

The entire premise of modern art—and by modern I mean anything made in the last century—is that no single person could possibly create anything as good as what a group of “experts” can make. The best we can hope for is to reproduce what’s already been created by groups of experts working together. And even then, we’ll still have to let someone else decide what’s good enough.

But if this is true, why do we even have artists? Why don’t we just have a bunch of experts get together and draw or paint or sculpt what they think looks good? If you’re an expert on chairs, why not take some blueprints and build yourself a nice chair? Even if you don’t know how to build one, there are plenty of people who do and will be happy to help you. You won’t need any special talent; all you need is the right design.

When someone asks why they should pay $100 million for “art,” it’s not because they think it will make them happy (

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