September 12, 2020
Author: Benjamin Franz
The Fish Lady is my first attempt to transcribt an oil painting into the LEGO medium. While doing that I learnt a lot about LEGO bricks, paintings and their staging.
"Die Fischverkäuferin" (The Fish Lady) is an oil painting on canvas from 1877 by Aline von Kapff. She has actively participated in the intellectual and cultural life of Bremen and is considered an outstanding patron of art and culture .
I recreated the picture for the campaign by Kunsthalle Bremen where you should recreate pictures from their database in Corona times. I thought, why not using LEGO bricks? The task was to reconstruct a picture of his choice from the Kunsthalle's collection using everyday objects and without Photoshop.
What is a more everyday object than LEGO bricks? Everybody knows them, almost everybody has already held one in their hands. Whereby the ordinary can also become the medium for a work of art. It only depends on how you use it. Using LEGO bricks for art creations has become way more comman than it used to be. People can nowadays recognise LEGO creations as work of art. So I took the challenge to reconstruct the artwork from von Kapff with LEGO bricks.
Every medium has its own characteristics. The first thing I realised is that it makes quite some differences if you want to paint an image in front of you or from your head or if you want to build a little LEGO scene.
So the question I had to ask myself here was, what does it take to be able to instantly identify the original picture from my LEGO bricks transcription. The devil is in the details, but first the basics must be clarified. What do you see in the picture? Who is in the picture and what is actually happening?
We have a young lady which is standing at a table waiting for customers to sell her seafood while looking kind of dreamy.
So far so good. I first built a table in tan because in the Database of the Kunsthalle Bremen the painting was only in black and white and so I asumed the table would be a wooden one. But reading the description on the website made me suspicious. It occurred to me when I read that the lobster was bright red. So I searched for a better pic and found it as you can see above. So I switched the colour of the table into a light-bluish grey with some touches of old grey to make it look not too clean.
Next thing I needed to check the height in comparison to the minifig. When it comes to LEGO mocs a lot of people align their scale to the figures. I do it exactly the same way. The actors in a LEGO bricks built plot are very important to me. Sadly I had to face the fact that LEGO figures aren't anatomically equal to real people. So I was unable to copy the exact pose of the Fish Lady with my minifigure. I decided that the minifigure would not bend over the table and put its hands on it instead I just bent her a little and turned her body and face to the left like in the original.
To imitate the dreamy face I looked for some female heads in my collection and in the database of BrickLink. Today LEGO has got a quite variety of female minifig heads in a caucasian skin tone. That used to be different. Back in the early 2010s you had little. I came to the conclusion that Elsa from the LEGO Disney Series 2 maches it the best. It's not a direct copy of the Fish Lady's face but it comes close.
I was unhappy with the available wigs in my collection so I looked for an alternative. I only had that hair in tan and that looked too dark. But the light blonde hair is an important detail in the original. And as I also missed the lobster, which is a real LEGO piece., I made a small order at BrickLink to get the missing bits.
While I waited for my pieces to arrive I staged the whole scene. It came to my mind that I could imitate the claims with 1x1 round tile in flat silver as well as the basket in the back in which I asumed other seafood. Finally I added two fishes in each different colour and laid down the coins. @balbo. had the idea to use the base of a lever for the lemon. I tried it and loved it. It's a great detail. As well as the use of the sailor's cap turned upside down as a little bowl at the right edge of the build.
You can see that the problem of scale did not only concern the figure, but also the other elements. So in my LEGO creation there are less fish and coins on the table to not overload the scenery.
Finally after I managed all these things it was time to capture the scene with my camera. The most important thing here was to get the right angle. I adjusted it just a bit to make the LEGO creation look a bit better but also tried to keep the way the painting has been captured by von Kapff.
You get to decide if I managed to get this right.
Comparison between my LEGO creation and the original.
To my great pleasure, the people in charge at the Kunsthalle Bremen decided that my presentation was quite right and so they showed it as a photo in their exhibition „Und jetzt Du! Kunstwerke in Quarantäne nachgestellt“.
There it was exhibited together with 76 other photos. I personally provided the photo of my model and the officials printed it out and hung it in a room in the Kunsthalle. The exhibition was simply designed, but this was intended, because this way it was possible to create a difference to the permanent exhibition. From my point of view, it turned out very well.
I had the opportunity to travel to Bremen shortly before the end of the exhibition, which for me and a friend meant an almost five-hour train ride. But I didn't want to miss that. When I saw people standing in front of my picture in the exhibition, laughing, admiring it and taking pictures, it made me a little proud. Besides, the exhibition itself was simply great. People can be so creative. Therefore, I would like to thank the Kunsthalle Bremen, who started such a great event at short notice.
The exhibtion from the Kunsthalle Bremen.
What began as a small challenge during the Corona Lockdown developed into an intensive examination of a work of art, an artist and of course the medium LEGO. So I developed a relationship between the von Kapff's painting, me and my representation of it in a different medium.
This medium in particular is becoming increasingly popular for artistic use. Thereby you don't need, as I did, to recreate a work of art. No, the medium can already create art itself, which is not known yet elsewhere, in its own unique way.
Unfortunately a LEGO Creator is always faced with the task of destroying his works whenever he or she wants to create something new with the bricks. But still the models remain in some way. At least in pictures, memories and experiences.
And so I say to the creation and exspecially the Fish Lady: Fare well!
Aline von Kapff's Fish Lady as a lego minifigure standing with her typical dreamy face at an harbor in Bremen.
 Find out more about von Kapff: Kunststiftung-Lilienthal
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