Skip to content

Paintings of the Belle Skinner Collection

The inspiration for these paintings by David Barclay was a photograph of the Wistariahurst Music Room taken in the mid 1900’s. The photograph captures a portion of Belle Skinner’s collection of over 80 antique musical instruments that filled the large room. Barclay saw it while visiting Wistariahurst and inquired about the instruments in the picture.

David Barclay, painter
David Barclay, painter, with Violin inspired by the Belle Skinner Collection of Antique Musical Instruments

“The idea of bringing some of these exquisite pieces home to Wistariahurst as paintings was intriguing for me,” Barclay said. “The skill of the luthiers and craftsmen who made these pieces is truly exceptional. The paintings are as much an homage to the makers as to the instruments themselves.”

Lute painted by David Barclay
Lute painted by David Barclay

Barclay describes his work as contemporary realism. “I try to capture the beauty of the instrument, the wood and the three dimensional nature of each piece through the use of realistic wood grain representation and extensive shadowing. I am also drawn to more contemporary close-up views that, while only showing a fraction of the whole piece, let the viewer know instantly what is portrayed.” The paintings depict a variety of stringed instruments and a harpsichord.

Keyboard instrument painted by David Barclay
Keyboard instrument painted by David Barclay

To create the realistic wood grain effect used in these paintings, Barclay applied multiple layers of a specially mixed pigment and binder called glaze. The effect can perhaps best be seen in the transparent shadows cast by the light falling on the instruments. In the triptych painting of the pochette, a similar technique was used to create the highly featured wood grain for the background of the raised panels. In some pieces, nearly 20 layers have been used to achieve the visual effect of graining, depth and shadows.

Belle Skinner’s collection includes highly decorated and unusual antique instruments from around the world, although primarily from Europe and Asia. In 1960, the collection was donated to the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where it is housed today. Many of Belle Skinner’s finest pieces are prominently displayed in the University’s collection.Barclay visited the collection at Yale to select the subjects for his paintings. His daughter, photographer Claire Barclay, accompanied him and took the photographs displayed in the exhibit.

Back To Top