Old Masters

Defining a "Chef d'Oeuvre" by Jeannine Cook

What is defined generally as an artistic chef d'oeuvre or masterpiece, why and when?

Recently I was listening to a radio interview in France with the actress, Catherine Deneuve, just before the launch of her new film, "Sage Femme/the Midwife".  The interviewer asked her if she though this film was a chef d'oeuvre.  Her reply interested me because it does not just apply to the "Seventh Art" of films.



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Landscapes and a Sense of Place by Jeannine Cook

I have been preparing for a solo exhibition I shall be having at the Southeast Georgia Health System in coastal Georgia in June, and chose the title of the show to be A Sense of Place. As I selected art to exhibit, it made me think again about how landscapes feed into an artist's sense of belonging somewhere.

Clearly, the better you know a place, the more you can enter into its inner workings. So you are better able to capture what that landscape means to you. The viewer can thus participate in and share more deeply in your experience. By grappling with the landscape as you get to know it, you allow yourself, and ultimately the viewer, to move beyond the merely representational. Your experience and knowledge become a passport for the viewer to understand and more deeply appreciate that place. Distilling one's own sense of place is an ever-ongoing activity because each landscape, natural or man made is continuously changing, developing, evolving. In many ways, this is good, because it means that an artist can return again and again to the same subject matter and learn more, thus portraying it differently each time in the art created.

Soaring over Creighton, watervolour, Jeannine Cook artist

Soaring over Creighton, watervolour, Jeannine Cook artist

Cezanne is a wonderful example of an artist who returned again and again to the same places to paint landscapes (think of his beloved Mont Sainte Victoire or the Jas deBouffan estate). He analysed a landscape, learned about the way the light moved and shaped things, organised his perceptions of form and colour. The resultant painting, in watercolour or oils, thus presents the viewer with, of course, the fundamental forms of the landscape, but beneath that veil of appearances, Cezanne captures the inner essence of that place, its soul. That is why his landscapes become so memorable, so powerful, so passionate and, at the same time, often, so intellectual and radical in their break with his contemporaries' approaches to art.

Mont Sainte Victoire, oil on canvas, 1904, Paul Cezanne (Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum)

Mont Sainte Victoire, oil on canvas, 1904, Paul Cezanne (Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum)

The longer I live in coastal Georgia, the more subtle and beautiful the landscapes seem to me. It thus becomes an endless challenge to understand and simplify their essence, so that I might share their unique beauty and importance with others.