This painter found a spot where he doesn’t have to chase the light, and the view is spectacular. Why wouldn’t this be his favorite place to paint?
“Volpaia,” by Marc Dalessio, 2001, oil
“It’s a very easy view to paint,” says Marc Dalessio about the small town of Volpaia in Tuscany, Italy. “Since the view faces due north, it’s backlit all the time. One can work for up to six hours with little variation in the light. I work on the lights in the morning when the sun is to the east, then on the shadows as it gets over its apex. It’s unusual to get that long of a session in plein air work.”
“Volpaia,” by Marc Dalessio, 2002, oil
Dalessio, who is currently based in Croatia, visits the spot about once a year, and has been going there for 15 years. “For a long time I used the view the way a musician would use scales to practice, and over the years I could see my progress in the paintings,” he says. “It was also a useful place to try new technical ideas; since I knew the view so well, I could experiment with various approaches without struggling with the subject matter. I was influenced in this by Edgar Degas, who is quoted in R. H. Ives Gammell’s book as saying, ‘You must do over the same subject 10 times, 100 times. In art nothing must appear accidental, even a movement.'”
“Volpaia,” by Marc Dalessio, 2009, oil
For this artist, the consistent view allows him to calibrate his process. It probably also helps that the Chianti landscape is beautiful. “It’s a picturesque little Tuscan hilltop town with a church tower on the right, and a large villa on the left,” says Dalessio. “There are hills, cypresses, oaks, vineyards, and olives, all in a very small scene. It seems to define Tuscany perfectly. The view is on a dirt road, so there is not much traffic, there are a couple of stone pine trees for shade, and a picnic table to put your stuff on.”
A view of Volpaia in Tuscany, Italy
In fact, the spot is so good, other artists clamor for position there. “Once I was painting there with Ben Fenske and Daniela Astone,” recalls Dalessio. “We had gotten up at dawn and had been working since the very early morning. At a very leisurely 11 a.m., a car pulled up with three English painters in it, looking very hung over. They rolled down the window and said, in all seriousness, ‘We were painting here yesterday. You’re in our spot and you’ll have to move.’ We just laughed and told them to go easy on the Chianti and get up earlier if they wanted the good views.”
Another view of Volpaia
How did Dalessio find this choice location? He did his homework. “I was looking for Tuscan views by using detailed topographical maps to scout for locations,” the artist recalls. “You can tell how old a town is in Italy by the layout (age is usually an indicator of picturesqueness as well). Then I would look for the elevation around the town and see if I could get above it to look down on it. It’s easier to get a sense of great distance in landscape painting by looking down on your subject. My other trick for finding painting views for Tuscan towns is to look for the cemetery. They usually have great views from a bit outside of the town, as well as being quiet and shaded.”
Dalessio also made a beautiful video of him painting at the spot.