Seurat

Painting the Atlantic Ocean by Jeannine Cook

I have been reading Simon Winchester's book on the Atlantic and found it interesting to read what he wrote about this mighty ocean being the subject of paintings.  It started me thinking of paintings I have seen in museums which depict maritime scenes. Then, of course, there is the distinction to be made of where exactly is the body of water that each artist shows.

Think, for instance, of all the wonderful Impressionist painters' works showing the sea off the Normandy coast of France.  Is one being purist in defining those maritime scenes as of the English Channel, rather than the Atlantic? Eugene Boudin with his base at Honfleur, Monet, Manet, Courbet, Pissarro, Sisley - they all gravitated to the Normandy coast from the 1860s onwards. Their paintings show the sea in its many moods - sparkling, like Monet's wonderful

Manneporte Etretat , February 1883, Claude Monet,  (Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Manneporte Etretat, February 1883, Claude Monet,

(Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Gustave Courbet studied the power of the waves at Etretat too, but his paintings show the darker moods of the sea. In 1869, he did two paintings of

The Wave,  1870, Gustave Courbet, (Image courtesy of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie)

The Wave, 1870, Gustave Courbet, (Image courtesy of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie)

There was, of course, endless experimentation amongst artists working on the French coast. By 1885, Seurat was treating the sea very differently. This is his English Channel at Grandcamp.

E nglish Channel at Grandcamp,  Georges Seurat, (Image courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York)

English Channel at Grandcamp, Georges Seurat, (Image courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Gauguin perhaps painted the Atlantic more directly, during his stays in Brittany in the 1880s.  Based in Pont Aven and at Le Pouldu, he painted feverishly, both looking to the green Breton lands and out to sea, the ever-changing Atlantic.

Seascape with cow/At the edge of the cliff, 1888 , Paul Gauguin, (Image courtesy of the Musee d'Orsay, Paris)

Seascape with cow/At the edge of the cliff, 1888, Paul Gauguin, (Image courtesy of the Musee d'Orsay, Paris)

Rochers au bord de la Mer, 1886, Paul Gauguin, oil on canvas, (Image courtesy of Goteborgs Konstmuseum, Sweden)

Rochers au bord de la Mer, 1886, Paul Gauguin, oil on canvas, (Image courtesy of Goteborgs Konstmuseum, Sweden)

However, earlier artists had depicted the sea, further north in what is perhaps even less the true Atlantic Ocean and more the North Sea. During the 17th century, when the Dutch were consolidating their mastery of the sea, their artists were celebrating the many moods of ocean and shore.

(‘Fishermen on Shore Hauling in their Nets,’ c.1640, Julius Porcellis, Oil on panel, 393-by-546mm, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK).

(‘Fishermen on Shore Hauling in their Nets,’ c.1640, Julius Porcellis, Oil on panel, 393-by-546mm, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK).

Willem van der Velde, both father and son, were also famed both in Holland and England, for their maritime scenes, in which naval engagements were often depicted.  Both showed a knowledge of the Atlantic and the North Sea, but again, it is, I suspect, often hard to distinguish where the divide between Atlantic and adjacent waters exists in the art.

Three Ships in a Gale , W. van der Welde, 1673 (Image courtesy of The National Gallery, London)

Three Ships in a Gale, W. van der Welde, 1673 (Image courtesy of The National Gallery, London)

Small Dutch Vessel close-hauled in a Strong Breeze . W. van der Velde, circa 1672.  (Image courtesy of The National Gallery, London)

Small Dutch Vessel close-hauled in a Strong Breeze. W. van der Velde, circa 1672.  (Image courtesy of The National Gallery, London)

However, by the 18th century and the era of great voyages of exploration (think Captain James Cook on the HMS Endeavour, with Sidney Parkinson as the official artist on board during the 1768-71 voyage, or the  much later, famous 1831-35 circumnavigation of the globe by the HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin as naturalist and Augustus Earle as artist), maritime art had widened its scope.  It was not just the Atlantic Ocean that was now well known, but the other great bodies of water around the globe.

Nonetheless, J.M.W. Turner, in some of his great sea paintings, looked back to Williem van der Velde the Younger.  In his amazing use of light, gave the feeling of the ocean new and dazzling interpretations. In the painting of the Slave Ship, based on anti-slavery poetry,Turner depicted the slavers disposing of dead and dying slaves before an impending storm.

The Slave Ship,   J.M.W. Tuner, oil on canvas, 1840, (Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

The Slave Ship,  J.M.W. Tuner, oil on canvas, 1840, (Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

By the mid-19th century, many sailors knew first hand of the fury of hurricanes and typhoons. On the Western/American side of the North Atlantic, artists were also beginning to address marine painting.  One of the first was Massachusetts-born Fitz Hugh Lane, (1804-1865), known as a Luminist painter and a most successful exponent of the Atlantic as seen from the New England coast. 

Brace's Rock, Gloucester, MA,  circa 1864, Fitz Hugh Lane (Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Brace's Rock, Gloucester, MA, circa 1864, Fitz Hugh Lane (Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Other famed exponents of the Atlantic include Winslow Homer.  His most acclaimed marine paintings date from the 1890s, when he was living some seventy-five feet from the water in Prout's Neck, Maine.  Like so many artists, he was fascinated by the power of waves crashing on rugged coastlines.

Sunlight on the Coast,  1890, Winslow Homer (Image courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art)

Sunlight on the Coast, 1890, Winslow Homer (Image courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art)

Today, we artists have a wonderful heritage to which to refer when we think of paintings of the mighty Atlantic Ocean.  There are countless artists working today along the coastlines of North and South America, Western Europe and Africa, for the power of the ocean summons us all.

Another Beautiful Art Form by Jeannine Cook

Circuses and high-flying trapeze artists are part of every child's education, I suspect. Those moments of delighted amazement that accompany feats of grace and daring on slender ropes and bars high above the ground are the stuff of circus legend. Circuses have long been the subject of artists too - think of Toulouse-Lautrec's penetrating and ultimately sad and solitary depictions of circus performers, Chagall's vibrant versions of circus life and of course, Pablo Picasso's Rose Period paintings of circus harlequins.

Au cirque Fernando, l'écuyère, 1888,  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, (Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Au cirque Fernando, l'écuyère, 1888,  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, (Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Circus Horse, 1964, Marc Chagall

Circus Horse, 1964, Marc Chagall

Circus Family, the Tumblers, 1905, oil, Pablo Picasso

Circus Family, the Tumblers, 1905, oil, Pablo Picasso

James Tissot, an accomplished French painter from Nantes, who lived from 1836-1902. painted Women of Paris, the Circus Lover,  showing the fascination audiences had with the high bars. Below, too, is the famous - but unfinished - Georges Seurat pointillist painting from 1890-91, The Circus.

Women of Paris, the Circus Lover , James Tissot, 1883-85, (Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Women of Paris, the Circus Lover, James Tissot, 1883-85, (Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

The Circus,   1890-91,  Georges Seurat,  ( image courtesy of the Museé d'Orsay)

The Circus,  1890-91,  Georges Seurat, (image courtesy of the Museé d'Orsay)

Perhaps one of the most wonderful images of circus grace and skill is Edgar Degas' Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, a mastery of draftsmanship. This oil painting, in the National Gallery, London, was painted in 1879 from four preparatory drawings Degas did at the Circus.

Cirque Painting - Miss Lala At The Cirque Fernando, Edgar Degas, 1889, (Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London)

Cirque Painting - Miss Lala At The Cirque Fernando, Edgar Degas, 1889, (Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London)

Other artists have painted dramatic pictures of the circus.  It is astonishing to find how many artists have been attracted by the subjects of clowns and circuses!

The Circus, 1917, watercolour and graphite, Charles Demuth, (Image courtesy of the Columbus Museum of Art)

The Circus, 1917, watercolour and graphite, Charles Demuth, (Image courtesy of the Columbus Museum of Art)

The Clown, Wassily Kandinsky

The Clown, Wassily Kandinsky

The Horse, the Rider and the Clown, in the Jazz  series, 1943,  Henri Matisse

The Horse, the Rider and the Clown, in the Jazz  series, 1943,  Henri Matisse

The same sense of wonder at seemingly effortless soaring and beauty, high above one, was what I experienced last night at a performance of Canopy Studio at the Ashantilly Center in Darien, GA. As the sun set and the swallows called high above the wide lawn in the evening sky, the lights came up slowly beneath an ancient, graceful live oak. Rigged carefully from its limbs were different harnesses, scarlet "ropes" and other lines.

These were for a performance of the "Royal Sequined Aerial Circus", with solo and duo aerial ballets that were diverse and beautiful. A wide selection of music allowed the young, beautifully trained women (and one delicious small girl) to move in ways that were true ballet, yet ballet that almost defied gravity. Against the backdrop of the mighty oak tree, it was magical.

I kept feeling that I should be trying to draw all the flowing, elegant movements, but the other half of me just wanted to sit there and savour of the pure beauty.

Trapeze Artists, pl 20 from portfolio Le Cirque, Pablo Roig Cisa, 1911, colour lithograph (Image courtesy of Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco)

Trapeze Artists, pl 20 from portfolio Le Cirque, Pablo Roig Cisa, 1911, colour lithograph (Image courtesy of Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco)

It did make me all the more aware of those 19th century artists who, long before cell phone cameras or other means of capturing images instantly, caught the essence of the aerial ballets they watched under circus tops.

 

Lost and found edges by Jeannine Cook

Yesterday I spent time again at the Telfair Academy in Savannah, looking at Dennis Martin's amazing metalpoint drawings, in preparation for a silverpoint workshop I am giving there today.

One of the aspects that has fascinates me about Martin's approach to drawing is his superb use of lost and found edges. By this, I mean his method of making a transition from a contour line to shadows and ill-defined edges of an object. The defining line gets lost, then reappears again, and the overall effect allows for a very satisfying, yet often mysterious integration of subject matter into a background, for instance. He uses a mixture of goldpoint, platinumpoint and graphite, all media that do not change colour (unlike silver which tarnishes eventually in the marks on paper), and thus they can be used as three different values that can seamlessly move from very light to much darker, even extreme darks of graphite.

Dennis J. Martin - Deanna XXVI (1995), 24k gold and platinum on paper, Metalpoint

Dennis J. Martin - Deanna XXVI (1995), 24k gold and platinum on paper, Metalpoint

Lost and found edges can add greatly to the interest of a piece of art, not only in drawing. Many wonderful artworks are strengthened in this manner. Rembrandt, for instance, frequently used this method to anchor and enhance the atmosphere in a drawing, often in pen and ink and ink washes. These are just a few examples of his superb sense of darks and lights and their use and placement in the drawing.

Self-Portrait Etching at a Window , Rembrandt, (Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Self-Portrait Etching at a Window , Rembrandt, (Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Saskia Sleeping, Rembrandt

Saskia Sleeping, Rembrandt

From a self-portrait to a small quick drawing of his wife, Saskia, sleeping, one of his wonderful lion drawings to studies of Women and Children, they all show his ability to merge the subject with the background in darks that anchor, meld and ground the subject.

Lion resting, turned to the Left, Rembrandt, c. 1650-52 .Louvre, Paris

Lion resting, turned to the Left, Rembrandt, c. 1650-52 .Louvre, Paris

A child being taught to walk; two girls, seen from behind, supporting the child on either side, a figure seated on the ground at left encouraging the child, a woman standing behind with a pail. c.1656, Pen and brown ink on brownish-cream paper., Rembrandt (Image courtesy of the British Museum)

A child being taught to walk; two girls, seen from behind, supporting the child on either side, a figure seated on the ground at left encouraging the child, a woman standing behind with a pail. c.1656, Pen and brown ink on brownish-cream paper., Rembrandt (Image courtesy of the British Museum)

Rembrandt - Saskia (”Woman Leaning on a Window Sill”)., between 1634 and 1635

Rembrandt - Saskia (”Woman Leaning on a Window Sill”)., between 1634 and 1635

Seurat was another artist whose consummate skill with atmospheric transitions from dark to light often involved the use of lost and found edges. His charcoals were especially famous for this. These are examples of a lady embroidering and another reading - intimate, shadowy drawings that evoke the dim light of a Parisian apartment, where edges are ill-defined and light falls fitfully (courtesy of the Fogg, Cambridge).

2347720429_9cf34f0df0.jpg
Embroidery, George Seurat, charcoal

Embroidery, George Seurat, charcoal