“Jacob Wrestling the Angel, after Bonnat”, oil on panel, 20″ x 16″, work in progress
One of the paintings on my easel this winter is a painted version of Bonnat’s famous pencil and chalk drawing: “Jacob Wrestling the Angel”. It illustrates a Biblical passage from Genesis in which Jacob wrestles an entire night with a mysterious angel; the combat is usually has been variously interpreted as man’s struggle against God, against Satan, or against himself.
Further down this post you can see the original drawing, some colour studies Bonnat created for an larger work in oils, and then a set of other works of art created on the same theme.
In my opinion, Bonnat’s drawing is by far the best treatment of this biblical story I’ve seen because of the quality of the figures — especially the dramatic poses and the anatomy. The play on light and dark in the background certainly helps with the drama in the foreground. It reminds me of Rembrandt’s famous windmill painting that uses shifting tonal relationships — patterns of light against dark, dark on dark, light on light, dark against light — to marry the subject to the background and to create movement. While the figures may be momentarily locked in combat, the atmosphere around them is shifting. This drawing to me is like that an early comic book version of the story.
And I suppose it’s the comic book aspect that appeals to the 10-year-old kid in me. While there are no speech bubbles that say “Pow!”, “Take that!” or “You’re doomed so give up, mortal!”,
My version in oils is 20″ x 16″ and it’s still a work in progress. I’ve created a limited palette for the skin tones and included earth and sky colours in the background. Next, I need to clean up the edges and soften them in places.