Friday, October 29, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Jan Davidsz. de Heem succeeds triumphantly in depicting the tactile values of his chosen objects, and their slow emergence from the penumbra of the picture's plain, dark green ground. An artist of remarkable distinction, he settled in the city of Antwerp, where the practice of still-life painting took a wide variety of forms – from the art of the greatest animal painters and masters of baroque still-life (such as Jan Fyt or Frans Snyders, who often collaborated with Rubens), to the more austere output of painters such as Jacob Fopsen van Es. Their diverse images depict a world of silence and apparent stillness, imbued with tiny signs of life, and touched by the immutable forces of time and decay.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Though at a glance this painting may look like just another Barbizon-inspired landscape, The Mill-Pond by nineteenth-century American painter George Inness repays a closer look.
It's a painting of "ordinary" American scenery (little is overtly "majestic," sublime or Romantic about its subject). And yet, it works a subtle magic, quietly captivating the viewer through harmonious, saturated earth tones, a composition designed to instill a sense of life and movement, strong primary (and secondary) “points of interest,” and, most important of all, a kind of unifying indeterminacy that results from brushwork that’s loose, yet graceful and disciplined.
In such mid-career and later works, Inness backs away from meticulous detail to plant suggestions of his subject, and throughout this work, he rather magnificently suggests rather than tells. Inness doesn’t copy nature; he opens it up for us to re-imagine, become intuitively involved in completing his subjects out of the flickering stuff of memory and desire.
Inness is not being "Impressionistic," a style he could never embrace. Rather, by building indeterminacy into familiar, cultivated scenery, the effect is as if he is painting the here-and-not-here of two worlds, one of illusory reality and the other of mystical experience, both embodied in the everyday, and both beautiful. And yet, he fully articulates certain key objects. That fallen log, for example, he delineates through precise shape, value, and color.
The composition is stacked in thirds. Our eyes see the big tree first. If they wander into the sky, it is only to be guided back to the middle ground, the main site of the action. There we encounter the fallen log and are pointed back to ascend for another lush visitation through the passage of that tree. Following the cloud shapes again, we return down through the tree once more and back to the log, but this time we also see the figure in the rowboat parallel to it, and after that the suggestion of a human habitation on the opposite bank.
Should we be tempted to savor the deft suggestions of wildflowers and shadows in the foreground, our eyes will inevitably be led back by the log’s projecting limb to the mass of tree that first caught our attention. And from there, we can repeat the same visual circuit we have just enjoyed. This constant roaming of our eyes helps Inness convey the sense of animation that he perceived in nature and wished to express in paint.
For me, Inness is the Spirit Painter of nineteenth-century America. His trees are like spirit-fountains of intriguing color and mood mediating between earth and heaven. It's tempting to see in the composition's up-and-down tree-to-sky-to-earth-to-tree-to-sky-and-back-again circuit for the eyes a metaphor for the linking of earth to spirit through the objects of the world. For Inness, a Swedenborgian, the beautiful geometries of the world are "correspondences" that mediate between our blind mortal life and a vision of eternal Spirit.
With the molten rust-red of that oak erupting into a Prussian blue sky aswirl with warmth-tinted clouds, those mellow ochres set quietly into the background, and that sweeping gold-foil foliage glittering in the middle-ground, there’s more than enough for the eyes here, but there's a feast also for the imagination as well.
The artist’s son, George Inness, Jr., nailed this one pretty well in his biography, Life, Art, and Letters of George Inness:
“The Mill-Pond” is an upright, and depicts a tall, red oak, which fills most of the picture, and by the very redness catches the eye. It is necessary to sit before this canvas a while trying to grasp its full meaning.
"At first you are impressed only with this great mass of reddish gold, standing out in intense relief against a patch of blue sky. A pond fills the middle distance, across which are trees so indistinct and so clothed in mystery that at first glance you wonder what they are. They are painted in so broad and indefinite a way that they seem to lose all sense of individual forms, and in contrast to the “Catskill Mountains” become a mass of green, partly enveloped in the sky.
"But as you look more carefully you begin to make out certain undefinable forms, and little lights and shades that take on all sorts of shapes that you were not aware of at first. And now straight across the pond your eye catches the dam as it leads the water to the mill. The mill is not visible to the human eye, but your fancy tells you it is hidden snugly behind the trees.
"The charm of this picture is its color and mystery, and but for a boy and boat upon the lake it might seem monotonous; but this gives a spot of light and lends human interest to the scene.
"In a brilliant green foreground a gnarled and rotting stump, with whitened bark, stands out vividly, bringing to completion a beautiful composition.” (George Inness, Jr., Life, Art, and Letters of George Inness, pp. 256-259)
Monday, October 18, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The landscapes of nineteenth-century American painter Alexander Helwig Wyant (1836-1892) are rich in an emotional response to otherwise "ordinary" natural phenomenon.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Who placed my hand in October
While my head loitered in July?
your body was a surprise, a farm stand
on some where-the-hell road, offering harvest
while I battle hornworm and
obsess over still green tomatoes
perfect, round, leaves with no spots
or yellowing, I thought I loved them
then you offered me a brandywine—
flesh soft and pink in its uneven, undulating skin
a voice calls from deep niche of lizard brain
home it moans at last and I look back at
neat rows of muscular zucchini, tanned, hard peaches,
see an angular labyrinth of my own design
you take my hand, massaging a hoof back to fingers,
offer me respite among impossibly huge pumpkins
and I feel the great horns shrink back into my skull
You are weed and toad, spider and chaos
But what smells, what flavor! Blind! I shout, I’ve—
Snatch a bouquet of basil and sink to one knee
Forever tumbling out of my mouth
Like fruit from a cornucopia
Much joy in ripe, you gush, but not forever
You’ll learn to conserve, save seed,
I survey the tables deep in jam jars, pickles
Time capsules, I think, these are diaries, histories.
piles of peppers, red and blue potatoes, patty pans
pleasure in the eating, yes, but full of seed, You, too,
She murmurs, you are full of future, let us put some by
And grabs my hand and leads me to the house
Ripe, I think, so sweet and fleeting, as a “v” of geese
With fanfare angles south ahead of cold Canadian air
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
At first glance, Corot's light-infused Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld (1861) immortalizes the joyful emergence of Orpheus and Eurydice from the Underworld and their return to the breezy trees and light of living nature, which at this moment has never seemed so beautiful and precious. But wait - according to the Orpheus myth, they never made it back!
Sunday, October 3, 2010
George Frederick Watts (1817 – 1904) painted The Minotaur late in his career.