Showing posts from February, 2013

Anders Zorn's Wonderful Dog

Note: I'm happy to announce the Burchfield Penny Art Center, one of the two major art museums in Buffalo, NY published my previous piece on one of Charles Burchfield's watercolors on their museum blog. You can read it   here. Anders Zorn (Sweedish,  1860 - 1920), Portrait of Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon  Apparently that is actually the title of the painting and the poor woman's name isn't going to be revealed to us.  That said, what a nice dog (also nameless, apparently) and moreover, what a stunning composition. We know we are never going to actually meet this woman or her proud looking hound. That Zorn could make us want to look more than once at this woman and her dog is proof of his remarkable skill as a painter. So often paintings, especially realist paintings, reveal some of their abstract artistry turned upside down. Zorn had an eye for making connections and instilling movement into his paintings. Look at the same painting inverted and see how he broke his

Finding Happiness in a Bllzzard

Sunshine During a Blizzard , water color on paper, , 30 1/2 x 40 1/2", 1947-1959, image from Burchfield Penney Archives, Buffalo, NY. This painting by Charles Burchfield (American, 1893 - 1967) is one of those paintings that should look  superficial and a bit ridiculous but instead holds up as serious art. To me "serious art" just means something you're going to want to look at more than once. In this case I'd like to look quite often. What is Burchfield painting? In a heavy snow sometimes the clouds part for a moment and shafts of sunlight pierce through the airborne falling snow. The air fills with thousands of improbable tiny drifting diamonds. One doesn't see it very often, but if you've lived in the snow belt in Western New York State (as Burchfield and I did) you've seen it more often. You'd have to be made of stone not to be moved by it. I don't think we have words adequate to describe the sensation. Burchfield w

Bad Romance- J.W. Waterhouse

Here's a troubled relationship for you- The Siren  by J.W. Waterhouse (British 1849-1917). Hopelessly ensnared by her music, our smitten young man in the water will die upon the rocks without reaching the maiden who sings out to him. In Waterhouse's version she's mostly human, but tell tale fish scales on her lower legs give notice that something's not quite right here. Think that's bad- here's Waterhouse's Apollo and Daphne. According to the myth Apollo has ticked off the god Eros who shoots a golden arrow into Apollo's heart causing him to fall head over heals for Daphne. And into Daphne goes Eros' leaden arrow, cursing her to forever fear and loathe Apollo. Waterhouse shows us the famous final scene for these two. After a long pursuit Apollo finally catches up to Daphne. In horror poor Daphne implores he father to save her from her pursuer. Dad takes pity and as desperate Apollo's hand reaches her, her skin turns to bark and her arms to tree

In Love with Snow

Frederic Church,  A View of Olana in the Snow , 1870-75 Some years ago I visited Olana, the palace of a home the Hudson River School painter Frederic Church built for himself on the eastern side of the Hudson River. With a commanding view of the Catskill Mountains just to the west it seems a landscape painter's dream.  Here's the view in winter. Pretty beautiful to my eyes.  Church builds a deep space through his understanding of color. His lightest whites and the warm dark colored shapes are all in the foreground and middle ground hills. Those highly contrasting forms relax as we ford the River and climb up the pale blue-grey slopes of the Catskills. It is a modest little painting, but I can't think if a more poetic celebration of the delight an artist finds in letting their eye sweep across the space of the earth.  Like Church, an American artist of the next generation, Walter Launt Palmer (1854 -1932) used color to carve out the spaces of his landscapes.

Hidden Little Gems

This is one of Edward Hopper's best "story telling" paintings, New York Movie, from 1939.  Is it possible to look at this painting and not try to fill in the blanks about what she's thinking about? Why does the painting pull us in and make us identify so quickly with the lone figure? Hopper tells us about the woman only indirectly- after all her face is mostly hidden in shadow. But he convinces us she's fully lost in her thoughts. A big part of this comes from how he builds personality into the space that surrounds her.  On a gut level, artists grasp the innate expressiveness of shapes. And that patterns of shapes have a mysterious power to grab our eyes and shape our moods. Most people never give this a thought and might be tempted to dismiss the idea. But think for a moment about music. No doubt you have a favorite song. Its distinctive rhythm or harmony has the power to wake you up, bring back a memory, or shift your mood. Music is an abstract pattern of so


  Here is  Sally,  an oil portrait by the American painter Joseph DeCamp . Decamp was from Cincinnatti, studied in Duseldorf, Germany, and ended up in Boston where he became associated wth the other impressionist influenced painters there often called "The Ten" (including Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson). These  painters coupled a fascination with light effects with a love of some of the older and darker tonalities of 19th century painting.  With the excitement that came with the introduction of modernism in the first decades of the 20th century, their paintings were hung less prominently in American Museums for decades. It was our loss. Happily, interest in their work is swelling again. The Sally  oil above I think remarkably expressive. Characteristic of DeCamp's work, the sensitivity to light effects is masterful. Look at how beautifully he shines a brighter, cooler white light on the woman's sailors blouse than anywhere else in the canvas. In comparison th