Understanding Western Art course reflection

It’s a strange moment, looking back at the work I’ve done in the past nineteen months. I feel enormously proud of what I’ve learnt and achieved, but what is most important to me is not in the assessment criteria although it is in other courses – my personal voice. The course gives a lot of scope in exercise requirements, and I’ve found it a wonderful challenge to make choices relevant to a modern Australian textile-loving woman.

March 2013 I wrote my reasons for doing this course:

  • Increase pleasure, knowledge and understanding when going to galleries: A resounding “Yes!” to that, although I’m not necessarily a great companion on a gallery visit – I tend to spend longer with a work than others are comfortable with.
  • Improve my own design skills: To be seen – I haven’t done much creating for a while, given time constraints. However I feel sharper, more observant generally, more responsive and more critical (in an informed way, not a negative way). I’m keen to push myself, to take some risks.
  • Improved understanding of contemporary art, art vs craft, and what I want do do. A start has been made and I’m confident purposeful movement will continue (hopefully indefinitely). Trying to define “art” (especially versus “craft”) now seems like the wrong question. I’m keen to work on the next OCA textile module and to “own” it in the same way I have this one.
  • Getting time for weaving. Sadly that didn’t happen.
  • Time-management has been difficult. There is no natural ending point – there will always be more to learn, a point to research further, another comparison that would add to an analysis. Some exercises were better done than others. I tried at one point to put the main focus on the specific items that had to be sent to my tutor, but found that unsatisfying. I may have been a bit self-indulgent in the extent to which I interpreted requirements and put more emphasis on areas that particularly interested me.

    In his feedback to Assignment 2 my tutor suggested I spend time thinking about what comparisons I might draw between the works studied. I’ve tried to follow that approach and feel that it has added a real richness to my study. I now have the beginnings of a framework of understanding, not just a lot of disparate bits and pieces. Seeing analogies and themes across works of different periods is fascinating.

    The course worked well to introduce and build techniques in annotations and analysis. I believe I can now ask better questions, and I have built some skills and resources to allow me to start answering them. I hope I can apply this to my own work.

    The OCA textiles course only allows for one optional module and I am so very glad I chose this one.

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise: Analyse an Impressionist landscape

    This exercise calls for an annotation of either one of Whistler’s Nocturne series of paintings or an Impressionist landscape painting, together with the instruction “try and work from an original if at all possible”.

    I have chosen to analyse Antoine Vollon’s Dieppe (1873). The original is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), so available for me to see. The extent to which the work meets the main criteria will be discussed as part of the analysis.

    Antoine Vollon Dieppe 1873   oil on canvas   32.8 x 40.3 cm

    Antoine Vollon
    Dieppe
    1873 oil on canvas 32.8 x 40.3 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/7640/

    vollon_02This quite small work shows a view across a harbour to the town beyond. Strong horizontal lines are formed by the receding lines of silhouetted buildings and the brushstrokes of calm water. A dark area of docks is dimly indicated to the left. A few small but firm verticals are created by architecture and dimly seen masts. Other masts suggest diagonals and create movement. Virtually half the canvas is sky.

    The colours are subdued, almost monochromatic – white, blue-greys in a wide range of values – enlivened and enriched by some sparks of yellow mainly towards the left. In my photograph above and the one on the AGNSW website there appears to be a distinct violet in a band across the centre of the picture. This is not visible in person, where these sections generally appear a soft white blended over layers of paint.

    vollon_03Paint has been applied in a varied, and I suggest inventive, way using brush and palette knife. Broad horizontal strokes have been used to form docks, the rows of buildings and water. Detail has been scratched into the paint using the handle of the brush. My camera had trouble catching it, but the effect in the water is very energetic, evocative without being highly detailed.

    vollon_04This central detail of the work shows some of the variety of technique in use. The pinnacles of the church are lightly and precisely brushed in, while the shape of the dome is indicated by rough scraping through the paint layers. More broad brushwork indicates the mass of the architecture, while the dock area is a smear of smooth darkness. The sky is an almost undifferentiated luminous glow of chalky white and desaturated blue. Reflected off the water the light becomes a harder glare. A steam boat puffs clouds of white smoke into the air, while the lower town is obscured behind a soft haze of smoke.

    Seeing this work in the gallery it seemed to me appropriate for this exercise. It is the right period and the right location for an Impressionist work. It has a sense of immediacy, sketchy, vigorous. There isn’t the spectacular optical colour experimentation of impressionist works, but there appears to be a correspondence with some of the almost monochromatic works among Whistler’s Nocturne series, especially given those lifts of almost complementary yellow.

    Honour and Fleming (2009) include some characteristics of Impressionist paintings:

    • “Rough handling and broken colour patches … as if … casual sketches” (p. 702). The AGNSW picture includes rough handling, not the polished finish of an Academy painting. Colour, or tones, are in blocks or patches rather than detailed blending.
    • “Strictly objective, dispassionate spirit of on-the-spot observation” and “contemporaneity of subject and optical truth” (p. 702). Vollon’s work appears to present a particular moment – perhaps late afternoon with light cloud cover. A bustling port with sail and steam boats is contemporary. There is a sense of a momentary glimpse, the truth of what would be seen at a glance rather than a careful inventory of items. However Carol Forman Tabler, a leading authority on Vollon, has suggested “site-specific objectivity has been made obsolescent by the dynamic, painterly means of expression” (1995, p. 58).
    • “Capture their immediate, momentary impressions with the greatest possible fidelity” (p. 703). There seems to be an additional level of accustomed knowledge in Vollon’s work. Those incised curls of water at the bow of the boat are more a symbol than an observation of the waves. On the other hand Tabler writes “Vollon perhaps most closely approximates Impressionism in the way he captures … the fleeting optical sensation as opposed to the permanent absolute reality” (Tabler, 1995, p. 86).
    • “Positivist, scientific attitude” (p. 703). I can’t detect these qualities in the subject work.
    • High toned palette, clear bright colours, varied, broken brushstrokes (all p. 703). The palette is quite different – as mentioned above more aligned to the Nocturnes. Paint has been applied in a range of techniques, but while the experimentation is pushing beyond Realism it is not following the Impressionist focus on optical effects.
    • “Eliminate the foreground”, “nothing is clear and solid”, “light and atmosphere the subject”, no sense of deep space (p. 704). Vollon’s work does not have a foreground, but there is a sense of space even if it ends in the middle distance. Although not modeled to create volume and no clear outlines, objects have been drawn – albeit with a scratching handle.
    • Whistler’s work is described as having an empty expanse of water, high skyline, undefined space, a translation of Japanese art (p. 713). None of these are reflected in Vollon’s work.

    Honour and Fleming describe Impressionism as “the final stage of Realism” (2009, p. 703), and I suggest that Vollon’s work also builds from and beyond Realism – but by a different path.

    Vollon was an established painter of realist still-life when a more adventurous landscape was among the works rejected by the Salon jurors in 1863. His work was shown in the Salon des Refusés, but he did not turn his back on academic painting. Vollon continued to be successful with his Realist still-lifes, and in 1870 he took a seat on the Jury. He also continued his explorations with landscapes – but did not exhibit them. In fact Tabler has suggested “the privacy with which he safeguarded his landscapes can also be viewed as a conscious aesthetic determination on his part in order to protect his freedom to experiment” (Tabler, 1995, p. 4).

    vollon_05Vollon had multiple links to the Impressionists. The subject work was dedicated to his friend Antoine Guillemet, who was himself closely associated with members of the Impressionist circle (he is included in Manet’s The Balcony). Inscribing the picture in this way suggests that Vollon both regarded it as a finished work, and knew the audience who would appreciate it. Vollon’s seat on the jury came about partly due to the resignation of Daubigny, protesting Monet’s rejection. Daubigny acted as a mentor to both Monet and Vollon.

    Tabler argues “the case of Vollon … unsettles the mythology of an ‘old’ art history, which pits the heroic avant-garde against an intransigent old guard” (Tabler, 1995, p. 82). Part of this current exercise was to consider the criteria that can be used in evaluating a less representational landscape. Through my research on Vollon’s painting I have considered those criteria – and although in the event the work is not Impressionist, I have found the process very instructive. It’s also a good reminder that any neat sense of progress and inevitability in art history is illusory, and many of the labels we use are approximations and hindsight.

    References

    Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

    Tabler, C. (1995) The landscape paintings of Antoine Vollon (1833-1900) [manuscript] : a catalogue and an analysis

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise: Analyse an Impressionist landscape
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 5: Inside, outside
    Project two: Landscape
    Exercise: Analyse an Impressionist landscape

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise – Visit a landscape

    “Visit a landscape” is the instruction from the OCA notes, and I have very recently visited an amazing landscape, travelling from Broome to Perth in Western Australia (see 26-Aug-2014). Rather a large landscape, so my first thought was to limit myself to one section – say just the Pilbara. 01_DetailMapIn total the Pilbara is 507,896 square kilometres, which is still on the large side (the entire UK is around 243,610 square kilometres). We basically travelled down the west coast, so visited only part. The orange box on the map shows the part of the Pilbara included in the journey.

    Apart from the size / scope issue, I’ve struggled to see how landscapes in the canon of Western Art make sense for landscapes of Western Australia. I’m not writing about the art of the indigenous people – that’s another story entirely and I don’t know enough there to even start. It’s that for someone from the western tradition the light is wrong – it’s brighter, whiter, harsher. The atmosphere is wrong – it’s so much drier, not a trace of soft haziness, only occasionally an isolated cloud. The vegetation, what there is of it, is wrong, and the colours are wrong, and the space is very, very wrong.

    Of course they aren’t wrong. They’re different – wonderful and different. Beautiful and different. Mysterious and different. The relationship of the land to man, western man, is different. Claude Lorrain (see 14-Sept-2014) would be wrong here. Turner (see 4-May-2013) would be wrong here – even his understanding of the vast sublime.

    I spent a little time searching books and the internet for American or Canadian works that might make an interesting comparison, but realised I was comparing everything to what was in my head about Australia – so of course nothing looked quite right. So below I’ve stayed within Australia, although a little loose on area. Basically I’ve been looking at ways to approach a landscape when it isn’t like the landscapes in the course.

    I’ll start with some photos I took while in the Pilbara. This is to give a general sense of the land for those who haven’t been there. Many of the photos themselves are pretty poor, especially those taken through the window of a moving coach.

    Next, some paintings of the area. Most of these I’ve found on the internet and not seen in person, so my comments are provisional.

    Sidney Nolan Storm over Pilbara V (1982) spray enamel and mixed media on canvas. I really like the sense of depth in the landscape. There’s little specific detail, but the swirl at the front gives movement and interest. The line of the hills resonates – it feels right. I like the way the storm clouds seem almost like another mountain range behind.

    Fred Williams – works in his Pilbara series. Mount Nameless (morning) (1981) oil on canvas. The folding in the hills (this is a geologically very old and complex area) and the sparse vegetation create a wonderful pattern. The colours don’t seem literal, although I see on the National Gallery of Victoria site that he has painted the same view at other times of day. I was very mindful of the changes in the landscape at different times of day – not just colours, but with the gullies and outcrops of rocks the shadows could entirely change the apparent shape of the slopes.

    John Olsen Burning Trees, Pilbara, (1983) oil on canvas. This work uses an aerial view of the country, based on journeys in a helicopter. It’s a great way to show the vastness of the land, setting up rhythms of curves and the energetic sort of calligraphy that I associate with Olsen’s work. It also solves the problem of sparse vegetation that appears continuous in the distance. While sketching I struggled with clumps of spinifex which merged into something like fields of corn after just a few metres.

    I can’t quite tell from the photograph of Olsen’s work, but I think there are signs of man to be seen amongst the nature, unlike the works linked above. This is one area where Pilbara landscapes must be different from many European views – either the hand of (western) man is absent, or it is very heavy on the land. There are no rustic villages or reaching church spires here.

    Mark Schaller’s work such as Open Cut Mine Pilbara I (2011 acrylic on canvas) presents views of mining in decorative patterning, using energetic and simplified shapes, lines and colours which still clearly reflect the physical landscape.


    Above are some images of a charming painting by Doug Gordon, then aged 12, in 1932. It shows Millstream homestead and environs, where Doug lived with his family at the time. The homestead is now a visitor centre in the Millstream-Chichester National Park. Doug’s painting hangs in the homestead and has been the inspiration for a Trail which presents station life in the 1930s from the perspective of a twelve year old boy.

    Finally a work by Peter McQueeney. To be honest, I don’t know where this work depicts – probably not the Pilbara, but somewhere in that general part of the world. This is one of a number of works by McQueeney that hang in various meeting rooms at my workplace, and I enjoy viewing them in the few spare moments before we get into discussions on software functional specifications.

    The final requirement for this exercise is to sketch or paint the landscape. After the journal making class with Adele Outteridge (25-July-2014) I made a journal especially for the trip, and also took along a range of graphite pencils, plus some watercolours and brushes.

    I did a few sketches in a different book before leaving home, just to get used to my toolkit and to start thinking about how a landscape could work.


    One of the above is based on a work in Fred Williams Pilbara series, I’ve (temporarily?) misplaced my notes on others. I wasn’t particularly fussy about where the landscape was – some attempts I haven’t shown here were based on European works – I just wanted to get my hand moving.

    One immediate lesson was that I would have to be very careful of the amount of detail that could be included on my small pages.

    sketch_10The next lesson was in sketching on a moving tour coach. I have a couple of those brushes with water reservoir and synthetic bristles. I found it actually is possible to mix water colours from half pans in those little plastic cases with integrated palette, and manage the paints, brush and sketchbook on your lap in a moving vehicle – to an extent. Extremely ordinary first results, but given the long driving days I persevered.

    sketch_11The next attempt was on one of the wider, fold-out pages. The concept was to attempt decorative patterning based on the landscape in an invented colour combination that pleased me. I was also struggling with “spinifex difficulties”. If I paint what I see, the middle ground would look like a smooth field. I know it isn’t and I really wanted to keep the feeling of sparse vegetation even if that wasn’t a literal view of the scene.

    sketch_12Next was pencils – graphite and a white pastel – with the brown paper providing a mid-tone. This looks pretty traditional – tree front left, non-connected planes of fore-, middle- and back-ground. I was happier with the flecks of white to indicate the spinifex without forming an apparently dense ground cover.

    sketch_14I tried to go a bit further with focusing on tones and using the white for highlights. This doesn’t work as a composition, but I feel my technique is slowly improving. Of course an extra challenge was the coach moving along at 90 – 100 km per hour. It was generally a very smooth ride and not many corners, but I ended up mish-mashing scenery when the initial inspiration was somewhere far behind.

    sketch_15With the general views I continued to have trouble finding a way to get from foreground to background when the land between was largely without features. This drawing was focusing in – and for once, I was stationary. This was sitting on a rock by one of the gorges in Karijini national park. The rock has weathered in amazing geometric forms.

    sketch_16Back in the coach! This “solved” the middle ground problem by having an extreme foreground, a clear break, and straight to background.

    sketch_19This one looks a bit odd with that row of sunken treetops, but that’s actually what is there. Sparse, low vegetation over most of the ground, then in the distance there would be a dry creek bed with trees and only the tops visible. When not sketching I would amuse myself by sitting with camera poised, watching for the line of tree tops to veer towards the road, hoping to get a good shot of the creek bed if the road passed over. I have lots of blurry shots!

    sketch_20Back to searching for ways to deal with huge, sparse spaces. This is based on a map view of the landscape as we drove west from Karijini alongside a private railway used by the mining companies. I suppose it’s a poor man’s version of the helicopter view. I like the patterning achieved.

    sketch_21There was a theory here – it wasn’t a fauvist attempt. I felt a bit stuck in my sketching, being a bit too literal. Here I tried to use complements of colours. The really vibrant colours just emphasize the bland, static forms. Actually some of my fellow travelers seemed quite positive about this one (they were all very pleasant, polite, supportive people!).

    sketch_25We’d moved past the Pilbara by this point, but I wanted to show a couple more attempts at finding a way to present this land. So often the broad view was a series of horizontal bands leading up to the sky. This time I tried to mix colours I was seeing and paint in bands. I would like to weave this. Actually I think it would be interesting to weave the colours of a landscape, then stitch over with some shapes based on the view – not too literal, but introducing some energy and movement.

    sketch_26Most of the time I was trying to deal with all that space by reducing detail. This time I reduced the space, or at least focus on a narrower view. The wildflower season was beginning as we got further south – not enough to be the real “carpet” that would be there a few weeks later, but enough to fill most of this view with colour. I think this is my most successful attempt at moving from foreground to background.

    sketch_24This is Turquoise Bay near Exmouth, and the “beach” is actual sand from the beach where I was sitting (I had a glue stick). I like the movement I got in the water, although the headland is a bit wrong.

    I did quite a few more sketches while away, but none that add to this exercise. I haven’t figured out how to paint a satisfying Australian desert landscape, but I had a lot of fun trying. It was really good having this course requirement as a focus. I had the sketchbook out every day, often multiple times. I got over any nervousness about sketching in public – if people want to look over my shoulder that’s their choice, I’m not making any claims of it being worth their while. Even when not sketching I was looking around me, trying to think of ways to approach drawing or painting what I was seeing. I feel my observations skills took a huge leap forward. All in all, very satisfying.

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise – Visit a landscape
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 5: Inside, outside
    Project two: Landscape
    Exercise – Visit a landscape

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise – The classical landscape

    I have reached Landscape, the final project of this course. We start with Classical Landscape, a genre virtually invented, or at least perfected, by Claude Lorrain. The landscape was painted not as a setting for a mythological scene or a distant view through a window in the background of a work, but as an idyllic pastoral scene. This was a tamed countryside, inhabited by small figures who help the viewer enter the scene. There may be a classical temple or a rustic village, but the eye is gently drawn to distant mountains and the luminous sky.

    The OCA course notes quote Kenneth Clark in his book Landscape into Art (1949). Below are two works by Lorrain, both currently on view at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, combined with shaded diagrams to illustrate Clark’s description of Claude’s customary compositional scheme.

    Claude Lorrain Pastoral Landscape 1636 - 1637 oil on copper 27.9 x 34.7 cm

    Claude Lorrain Pastoral Landscape 1636 – 1637 oil on copper 27.9 x 34.7 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/208.1992/


    Claude Lorrain The goatherd 1636     print - etching      12.8 x 19.9 cm

    Claude Lorrain
    The goatherd
    1636 print – etching 12.8 x 19.9 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/346.1997/


    From Clark: [The scheme] “… involved a dark coulisse on one side (hardly ever on two), the shadow of which extended across the first plane of the foreground, a middle plane with a large central feature, usually a group of trees, and finally two planes, one behind the other, the second being that luminous distance for which he has always been famous…”.

    On the right in The goatherd above we see a tree like flat scenery at the side of a stage (a coulisse), casting its shadow (marked “1”). The first plane is colourful and in light rather than shadowed in Pastoral Landscape. In both works a herdsman can be seen sitting on a tree root and playing music.

    A middle plane (“2″), including trees as a central large feature, is used in both works.

    There are buildings and water reflecting light in the third plane of each work. In The goatherd what may be a classical temple can be glimpsed on the left. In Pastoral Landscape there is a mill including a water wheel on the right, and a village can be seen on the horizon.

    The final plane of luminous distance, a glowing sky, is present in both painting and etching.

    This feels quite disrespectful, distilling an artists work into a dry formula – but that takes the description out of context. I have skimmed through Clark’s book (I will be glad to complete this course, when I might finally have more time for reading!), and he presents Claude as “the true heir to the poetry of Giorgione” (Clark, p. 62). Clark notes Claude’s rich observation, subtle tonality, delicacy, visual responsiveness, sense of light. Claude sketched from nature – observations of details, and ideas for compositions – did studies for pictures, then painted the works themselves. For Clark the paintings are “exquisite poetry”, with “never a false note”. Critically, “Claude could subordinate all his powers of perception and knowledge of natural appearances to the poetic feeling of the whole” and “in spite of his extreme formality, nothing in Claude is a formula”. (Clark, p. 64).

    The works I have shown above are from Claude’s earlier work. Clark refers to works painted by Claude later in life as his “greatest poems”, including the series The Times of the Day now in The Hermitage. I can’t show them here, but go to http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/html_En/index.html, do a quick search on “Claude Lorrain”, then look at Landscape with Jacob, Rachel and Leah at the Well (1666), Landscape with the rest on the Flight into Egypt (1661), Landscape with Tobias and the Angel (1663), and Landscape with Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1672). These show scenes at morning, noon, evening and night respectively. All generally follow the compositional formula, but none completely. They are much larger than the works I have seen in Sydney, and the photos on the internet just leave me hungry to see the works in person. I think you could find yourself standing within that beautiful, serene, golden world.

    The OCA Exercise calls for a full annotation of at least one image. I have chosen Pastoral Landscape as it is the one painting I have seen in person.

    Claude Lorrain Pastoral Landscape 1636 – 1637 oil on copper 27.9 x 34.7 cm

    Claude Lorrain
    Pastoral Landscape
    1636 – 1637 oil on copper 27.9 x 34.7 cm
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/208.1992/


    The painting shows a goatherder at rest by a river or lake, playing his pipes as his charges (including a stray cow) graze and butt heads. A mill with waterwheel can be seen, and in the distance a hilltop town. The scene is serene, bathed in crepuscular light – although whether dawn or dusk I can’t tell (I’ve seen both suggested in the literature).

    The work is an unusual octagonal shape, and for that reason has been known as the “Diamond Claude”. It is painted on copper, which although not common is not unique in Claude’s earlier work. A particular benefit seems to be that the work is very well preserved.

    lorrain_04A general discussion of Claude’s use of receding planes in his images is included above. In addition to this it is interesting to consider Claude’s use of lines. The overall impression given by the image is that the horizontal dominates. The image is peaceful and calm. On closer examination, the proportions of the work accentuate the horizontal, but there are no actual horizontal lines. There are a few verticals, indicated in purple, but otherwise we see a jumble of angles. A staff at the front, indicated in light blue, leads our eyes into the scene. The trees of the second plane go in a variety of directions. One result is to frame the waterwheel and associated buildings on the right. Another result is an overall balance, trees leaning to both left and right, providing interest and a dynamic quality yet combining to a sense of stillness. A series of “peaks”, shown in green, have a similar effect. They appear across the image, in stones, mountains, figure etc, creating an overall harmony or uniformity to the scene without being dull or drab.

    lorrain_05These elements and others also work together to guide our gaze around the image, moving from plane to plane. In the example shown we enter the work at the staff lying on the ground in the centre. It directs us up to the goatherder. His pipes move our eyes higher, to the waterwheel. Following a line parallel to the tree above, we arrive at the peak of a distant mountain, almost hidden but just visible through a “convenient” space in the trees. We follow the slope of the mountain down to the village silhouetted on the hills, then drift down across the mellow waters to the interest of the goats at play.

    lorrain_06Although there is the overall golden glow for which Claude is well known, there are also some strong, clear colours. The goatherder’s cap is bright red. His trousers include a clear blue. To me these seemed dischordant, unsettling and distracting. One effect was that it had me hunting for other colours, questioning whether my first impression was accurate. There are some lovely deep greens in the waters behind the herder, and sparkles of white in the water falling from the wheel. The sky glows golden, but also lifts up to gentle blues.

    I’ve noted a similar burst of colour in figures seen in some of the Hermitage works mentioned above. Is it a simple reflection of “reality” (if there is such a thing in this arcadian dream), or indicating that the figures remain distinct, not quite merged and at home in the country, or perhaps just a means of bringing the eye to these significant objects?

    As well as giving us a way to imagine ourselves into the landscape, the figures provide an entry to a narrative – not the whole story, but hints. Perhaps there is not too much more in the goatherder than a pastoral idyll, but the small figures in the Hermitage works reference dramatic moments in biblical history, man pitted against other men, against god, or against himself. Neil MacGregor wrote that the figures and other hints “stimulate us to become part of a narrative that deals with the great passions of life, moral and emotional dilemmas, the death and birth of empires” (MacGregor, 1994, p. 9).

    Beyond the narrative, the figures and the signs of man in buildings indicate that this classical landscape is not wild. “It is man-centered in the sense that it reflects a view of nature adjusted to human intelligence and human needs” wrote Kitson (1969, p. 7). One could claim that it is so well-adjusted that it is a form of escapism – no such landscape ever existed. Honour and Fleming point out that “Claude’s landscapes were bought by kings, notably Philip IV of Spain, and the aristocracy of Europe – patrons of a different type and class from the intellectuals, lawyers and officials who admired Poussin’s more intellectually demanding work” (Honour and Fleming, 2009. p.587). In a period where established authority – monarchy and aristocracy as well as the church – continued to be challenged by intellectuals and the rising middle class, it would not be surprising if those who felt threatened should seek escape in a calm, idealized, pastoral world.

    Tones vary smoothly through the picture. In the foreground, which almost looks like a stage, there is contrast between light and shadow, providing interest and attracting the eye. However it is soon led gently to the series of hills, the open space, and the light of the sky reflected in the waters. The distance is less detailed, less clear, the farthest hill is slightly blue to indicate the depth of the view. This use of aerial perspective is understated but very effective. Distance is also suggested by the reducing size and detail of elements. The placement of the buildings on the right suggest they are retreating into the background, but this seems more a result of the curve of the river bank rather than a use of linear perspective.

    Miller (2007) explained “While painters traditionally squared their finished model drawings for transfer to a full-sized support, Claude used lines radiating from a point at the center of the sheet… His landscape were made up of successive planes of receding ground, and sometimes there are multiple vanishing points, particularly if the composition includes different levels. In this case a squared grid could have proven counter-productive, making it more difficult to avoid the sort of rigid linear design of the inferior practitioners. This looseness of perspective and design lays behind much of the unique quality of Claude’s landscapes.”

    The picture is suffused with light. Kitson wrote of Claude’s works “the play upon surfaces of an infinitely gradated light make objects seem convincing and alive … Some forms appear against the light, others with the light partly shining through them, others again with the light reflected from them as highlights. But the boundaries between these categories are always fluid” (Kitson, 1969, p.8). It is the light which draws in the viewer and captures us.

    References

    Clark, K. (1949) Landscape into art London: John Murray

    Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

    Kitson, M. (1969) Introduction in Arts Council (1969) The Art of Claude Lorrain London: Arts Council of Great Britain

    MacGregor, N. (1994) Forward in Wine, H. (1994) Claude: The poetic landscape London: National Gallery Publications

    Miller, M. (2007) Claude Lorrain Landscape Drawings from the British Museum at the Clark [online] Available from http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/02-16-2007_claude-lorrain-landscape-drawings-from-the-british-museum-at-the-clark.htm (Accessed 14-Sept-2014)

    UA1-WA:P5-p2-Exercise – The classical landscape
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 5: Inside, outside
    Project two: Landscape
    Exercise – The classical landscape

    UA1-WA:P5-p1-Exercise – Plan a country house refurbishment

    In this exercise I am to imagine I have been asked to advise on the refurbishment of a country house – a building of any period.

    While I usually try for an Australian twist I don’t think Australia has quite the same tradition of country houses as Britain. We have farmhouses and beach shacks, but not so many grand country homes. So this time I have chosen an English theme – a new ending to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, so around 1806 – 1810. In this version Henry Crawford has proved constant and won the hand of Fanny Price. Crawford has decided that Everingham, his Norfolk estate, is too far from his new connections (including his sister Mary and her new husband Edward), and has taken Laxton Hall in Northamptonshire as his new home with Fanny. Naturally as a confirmed improver Crawford wants to make his own mark, and has engaged me to advise on a substantial enlargement of the house and landscaping of the grounds. (Modern note: as it happens Laxton Hall did undergo major work in the early 1800s, so I have some solid information to guide me).

    My client
    Henry Crawford is a modern young man who is keenly interested in improving the property. He has previous experience, with minor improvements to Everingham soon after coming of age, and advising his brother-in-law, Mr Rushworth, on the landscape improvement of Sotherton. Mr Crawford has grand plans and wants all elements of the new design to be in the best of modern taste. I have some fears that he may be subject to sudden changes of opinion and not willing to submit to sober judgement, so may be a challenging client. His ambitions may also be beyond his wealth, reputed at 4,000 pounds per annum – although he has expectations from his uncle the Admiral.

    Client’s stated requirements:
    The expanded house and its new landscape should be among the best of the best of gentlemen’s country seats. Taste and wealth should be apparent in every room and every vista.

    Music room: Mr Crawford is very fond of music. His sister is a talented exponent of the harp. Mr Crawford has spoken fondly of the room used for his sister’s harp in Mr Grant’s parsonage, which includes a tall window giving out to a grassed area where young ladies may stroll.

    Library: Mr Crawford’s young bride is a keen reader. Mr Crawford reads aloud extremely well, and while not familiar with classic texts has a natural good taste and judgement in literature. An inviting and commodious library is important to the new household.

    Theatre: There is some ambiguity in this requirement. It is both desired, and yet not to be spoken of. I see discretion is required to provide for “spontaneous” private dramatics without actually planning to include a theatre.

    Plan for the house:
    laxton_01The existing hall is early 18th century, is three stories plus basement and faces south. The oval entrance hall is flanked by two smaller rooms. The main rooms are in wings on either side.

    laxton_02The first alteration plans were drawn up by Repton. These extended the house to the north, and moved the main entry to the house to that side. However they did not provide the music room and large library deemed necessary by Mr Crawford. There was also a suite of small rooms to the north west (lower left on the plan) which were felt not to provide the grandeur desired.

    laxton_03Further drawings were developed by William Carter and George Dance. The oval and two flanking rooms were thrown together to form a large library. This was further improved by connection to an external terrace and stairs leading out to the park. A music room was provided. The new north entry was made much more imposing with the addition of a porte cochère and an entry hall with a magnificent circular lantern. The major defect of these plans was the relocation of the main stairs to an awkward side location below the library.

    laxton_04My revised plans further enlarge the house to include a stunning central oval stair hall. This brings light and importance to the centre of the house, and provides access to all the major rooms. elizabeth_bay_01The north west door leads to a barrel-ceiling passage and to a side room which connects drawing room, music room, and a small terrace to the exterior. A new oval eastern room provides an elegant breakfast chamber. A study for Mr Crawford has been included, with a direct connection the large library first suggested by Carter.

    Although not indicated on the plans, the library combined with Mr Crawford’s room would provide ample accommodation for a private theatrics.

    Furnishings and appointments:
    The house will be appointed in the modern neo-classical style, with particular emphasis on the new eclectic elegance in design introduced by Mr Thomas Hope in his recent volume Household furniture and interior decoration based on his collection of antiquities.

    elizabeth_bay_08

    'The Statue Gallery', Plate 1, 'Household Furniture & Interior Decoration', by Thomas Hope, London, 1807.

    ‘The Statue Gallery’, Plate 1, ‘Household Furniture & Interior Decoration’, by Thomas Hope, London, 1807.

    The Stair Hall will become a Statue Gallery, with a series of busts on plinths alternating with elaborate lamps. Combined with the windows of the dome, this will light and lend a feeling of refinement to the core of the home.

    Table Thomas Hope © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

    Table
    Thomas Hope
    © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
    collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O48867/table-hope-thomas/

    I will further advise Mr Crawford to commission a table from Mr Hope for the centre of the Hall. This should be resized to an oval form to complement the overall space.

    The Music Room is an area dear to Mr Crawford’s heart. His sister is an accomplished player of the harp and he wishes to have a suitable instrument available for Mrs Edmund Bertram whenever she should visit Laxton Hall.

    Early in his acquaintance with his young bride, Mr Crawford spent happy hours in her company, listening to the music of the harp and watching the two young ladies outlined in the light of the tall windows, the inviting green of the turf just outside. This arrangement should be replicated in Laxton Hall.

    Paintings in the room should enhance the sense of intelligent, elegant people enjoying the pleasures of music together.

    Sir William Beechey  Portrait of a Woman ca. 1805 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Sir William Beechey
    Portrait of a Woman
    ca. 1805
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/435632

    Mr Crawford may chose to commission a portrait of his bride from Sir William Beechey. Other works could celebrate the cultivated arts of England – music, art, poetry, dance, genteel persons in conversation or at leisure.

    John Crome  Hautbois Common, Norfolk ca. 1810 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    John Crome
    Hautbois Common, Norfolk
    ca. 1810
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/436057

    Paintings and etchings of places of meaning to the family could also be included, for example showing scenes from around Mr Crawford’s boyhood home in Norfolk.

    Joseph Mallord William Turner The Victory Returning from Trafalgar ca 1806 Yale Center for British Art

    Joseph Mallord William Turner
    The Victory Returning from Trafalgar
    ca 1806
    Yale Center for British Art
    collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1665469

    I propose that the library should provide a more masculine and energetic environment. A maritime theme would provide a delicate compliment to Mr Crawford’s uncle, the Admiral. It would also celebrate recent English naval successes, and the maritime links of Mrs Crawford’s brother and father.

    Trafalgar chair ca. 1810 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

    Trafalgar chair
    ca. 1810
    © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
    collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O52959/trafalgar-chair-unknown/

    The theme could be carried through into the furnishings. The rope-twist back rail on this chair provides a subtle naval reference.

    Gillow & Co couch 1805 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

    Gillow & Co
    couch
    1805
    © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
    http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O79013/couch-gillow-co/

    Regardless of the more masculine environment, all the family will use the library and it is important to provide comfort and variety in seating. A pair of couches, mirror image, could face each other either side of the fireplace with high side to the wall to create an attractive setting.

    Landscaping:
    The house is well placed in a high position, with the land falling to the south east.

    The existing waterway below the house should be modified to create a lake. Turf over the slope leading to the new lake will open the prospect to view from the house.

    The ladies of the household will spend considerable time in the music and drawing rooms, and the house plan provides easy access from there to the gardens. Planting on this side of the house should invite the ladies and provide variety in their daily exercise. The turfed area outside the music room should give onto a rose garden, including shade trees and benches for seating.

    Beyond the flower garden should be a “wilderness”, with shady trees and gravel paths. Benches should be provided at intervals, particularly where the fall of land and openings between trees allow a view towards the lake.

    The lie of the land to the south west of the Hall provides an area which can be used for additional buildings such as the stables, without impinging on the main views from the house. On this side a walled kitchen garden should be provided.

    The approach to the house is from the north. There is an existing oak avenue. Although not entirely in the modern style, the ancient trees are of great value to the new lady of the house, and should be retained. A combination of further planting and a partial rerouting of the road will provide a more pleasing approach, with a series of glimpses of the house and lake beyond from different angles.

    Resources

    Plans and information on Laxton Hall’s actual history: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=126714

    Central oval hall based on Elizabeth Bay House in Sydney. See 30-Nov-2013

    An online facsimile of Thomas Hope’s book is available from the Smithsonian Libraries Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/Householdfurnit00Hope

    UA1-WA:P5-p1-Exercise – Plan a country house refurbishment
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 5: Inside, outside
    Project one: The interior
    Exercise – Plan a country house refurbishment

    UA1-WA:P5-p1-Exercise – Visit a public interior

    This exercise requires an illustrated account of a visit to a public interior. The interior should ideally be of some splendour or intricacy, and should be considered in terms of its historical interest, its setting for a particular purpose, and the interactions between the architecture and the works on view.

    anzac_00I selected the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney as my focus. When visiting and researching the main interior I found I had to broaden the scope to some extent – the interior and the memorial are a whole.

    The main interior is a single space. The Hall of Memory is approached from external flights of stairs. Upon entering one is immersed. Above is the Dome of Stars. Below, one looks down into the Well of Contemplation to the Hall of Silence, and in the centre The Sacrifice.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    The concept of a War Memorial was first raised and fundraising begun on 25 April 1916 – the first anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand troops in the conflict we now call the First World War. After the War discussion and fundraising continued. In 1923 the ANZAC Memorial Building Act was passed in NSW. A design competition was held, and in 1930 first prize was awarded to architect C. Bruce Dellit. Foundation stones were laid in 1932, the dome was completed in 1933, and the building officially opened in 1934. One date that is not known is the first involvement of sculptor George Rayner Hoff who collaborated closely with Dellit in the construction of the memorial.

    anzac_07The main space of the Memorial is a frozen moment in history. In 1995 a Flame of Remembrance and flags were installed in the Hall of Memory. In 1984 the ANZAC War Memorial was re-named the ANZAC Memorial, and re-dedicated “to honour the men and women of NSW who served in all wars where Australia had been involved”, but this left no physical trace on the space. All the modern necessities – railings, safety glass, lift – are discreet. The Memorial is preserved for future generations.

    From an Art History perspective, this provides an amazing time capsule of progressive architecture and sculpture of its time. Dellit was 32 years old when he won the design competition, and was a pioneer of the Art Deco style in Australia. He was inspired by American skyscrapers, and used modern technologies such as reinforced concrete. Many of his works have since been altered or demolished, but the Memorial remains a jewel in its park setting. It has been described as “a unique statement of architectural and sculptural unity, and a masterwork of Art Deco architecture and design in Australia” (Edwards, 1999, p. 73)

    anzac_11Dellit worked closely with the sculptor Rayner Hoff, who was responsible for the internal and external statuary as well as many fixtures and details of design. The strongest example of the tight linking, the sympathetic cross-pollination, of their work was the placement of The Sacrifice and the nature of that work. The general layout is based on the tomb of Napoleon in the crypt under the dome of the Eglise du Dome Church at the Hotel des Invalides. An opening in the floor of the church allows visitors to look down at the sarcophagus – bowing their heads to Napoleon. Dellit’s central design is a stripped down, condensed, modernised version of this. anzac_23It is an elegant, understated means to encourage a sense of quiet contemplation and remembrance in visitors, a physical and mental recognition of the sacrifices that were made. Dellit’s proposal for the statue was “a hero, noble and glorious in the Greek manner expiring after having killed a colossal bird of prey … a sorrowing woman nursing tenderly yet firmly an infant in the folds of her right arm, and in her left hand … the branch of one of our Australian gum trees” (Dellit, quoted in Edwards, 1999, p. 77). Hoff distilled this to focus on the sacrifice of the virile young man, the women who loved him, and the nation as a whole.

    There was considerable controversy surrounding the decision on the purpose of the Memorial. Many, including members of the ANZAC Fellowship of Women, wanted the Memorial to be “a sacred centre”, commemorating the human sacrifice made for future generations. Led by Dr Mary Booth, who had run the Centre for Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers during the war, the Fellowship had been major fundraisers for the building and were vocal in insisting “their opinions should be respected”. The Returned Soldiers Association urged “a lasting memorial, some outstanding legacy that shall quicken the blood of future generations, and move them to bare their heads in honoured memory of those who won for Australia its place amongst the nations”, while also providing premises for services to returned veterans. The end result was “a wonderful compromise: a building that would be six-sevenths ‘symbolic and aesthetic’ and one seventh ‘practical’ (Spate, 1999, p. 54), used by associations for returned veterans including groups for Limbless Soldiers and those with TB. These groups were accommodated on the ground level, in a series of rooms surrounding the Hall of Silence.

    anzac_14The memorial has as unusual focus on women, given its time. In The Sacrifice the dead soldier is bourne by his mother, sister, and wife – who also carries their child. The sacrifice of the women is commemorated. Bearing the fallen on their shield has strong classical allusions.

    Jacques-Louis David The Oath of the Horatii Louvre Museum

    Jacques-Louis David
    The Oath of the Horatii
    1784 Louvre Museum
    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jacques-Louis_David,_Le_Serment_des_Horaces.jpg

    One stong link is to David’s The Oath of the Horatii. In that painting the women already mourn as their menfolk go to war. The statue portrays a later episode in that often repeated story.

    The elongated figures in their formal folds of drapery also suggest the figures seen outside Chartres cathedral, adding to the “secular cathedral” impression of the structure.

    The inclusion of women goes beyond fundraising for the Memorial and even bearing their dead in their final sacrifice. Women are included as active participants in the theatre of war.

    anzac_18
    In the Hall of Memory, just below the Dome, are four shallow marble reliefs. In each there is a central figure flanked by two more, slumped in fatigue, mourning, or perhaps grievously wounded. Behind is a line of crosses, and at the back the March of the Dead – those who were called from life on service. In the example shown above we have a female nurse as the central figure, and just possibly the seated figure at the right, and more remarkably there are naked women included in the March of the Dead. Women and their final sacrifice are honoured and memorialised.

    I believe this is very unusual for a “Great War” memorial, and a tribute to convictions and vision of both Dellit and Hoff. However on two more proposed sculptures it was the naked female figures which prevented completion of the Memorial as intended. Two more large bronze sculptures were proposed – Victory after Sacrifice, 1918 and The Crucifixion of Civilization, 1914. Both included as central focus a naked female form. Models were created, but the designs attracted strong criticism from church leaders, and the bronzes were abandoned.

    Personally I found the inclusion of so many female figures in the Memorial gave a sense of completeness and also of a broader understanding of the widespread impact of the conflict. This is a Memorial not only to individuals, but to a community.

    anzac_24This is a much more inclusive vision than the general ANZAC myth, one of the underlying symbols of identity of Australia as a nation – and one that is generally male. Writing about the Memorial Edwards explained “During the war, the Prime Minister William Hughes, claimed that the Anzac, ‘coming from a land without history’, had through this soldier’s actions, attained for Australia a real and independent nationhood, as opposed to the false nationhood of Federation” (Edwards, 1999, p. 71). I wrote about “the bravery, mateship, determination, skill and intelligence of the Australian troops in action in WWI” in my post of 31-Dec-2013 in reference to the Cenotaph in Martin Place. In the ANZAC Memorial the strident male vigour seems more muted.

    Rayner Hoff Australian Venus circa 1927

    Rayner Hoff
    Australian Venus
    circa 1927
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/6549/

    In an earlier exercise on figure sculptures (see 13-June-2014) I included this slightly earlier work by Hoff, in which he celebrates a female form of Australian identity. While researching for this current post I learnt that Hoff worked from models rather than synthesizing an “ideal” form. Hoff was an advocate of Vitalism, and believed in a life energy and a male-female unity, and this could underlie the strong female element in the ANZAC memorial.

    anzac_01Although I have focused on the interior, as required for this exercise, this space is in a specific and meaningful place. The building is in Hyde Park, close to the centre of the city. Approaching it through the park one walks past the Pool of Reflection, between rows of trees linked to the Lone Pine of Gallipoli. Already a sense of withdrawal from busy life, of contemplation and reflection, is growing.

    anzac_19A series of statues on the exterior of the building look down on visitors. These aren’t like the arrogant explorers I noted surveying their territory on the Lands Department building (see 13-Apr-2014). Rather than glorying in battle, they sit or slump, weary, perhaps wounded, pensively looking down at the generations they fought for.

    anzac_20The importance of the Memorial is shown by its placement within Hyde Park. A number of other locations were considered, but this places the building in the heart of Sydney, and as can be seen from the Park map it dictates the entire layout of the southern end of the Park. In the northern end of the Park is the Archibald Fountain (mentioned 13-June-2014), with a direct path between the two installations.

    anzac_21The fountain is by sculptor François-Léon Sicard and it was unveiled in Sydney in 1932, during the building of the Memorial. The figure grouping closest to the ANZAC Memorial is this, of Theseus killing the minotaur, and it provides a very strong contrast to Hoff’s works.

    Has the Memorial endured successful in its purpose? Spate (1999, p. 53) has suggested that the building’s “very perfection acts against its primary function: that of remembrance. It is perfect in the relentless logic of its architectual and sculptural symbolism, but it denies memory in that it allows the spectator no space for his or her experience. There is no gap in its dense web of cultural allusions that would allow one to make sense of one’s confusion of memories, emotions and knowledge about the ‘Great War'”. From my experience I don’t agree.

    Today at least half of the ground floor office area is an exhibition area, with changing displays of artifacts from conflict and peacekeeping work by Australians over the decades. There are ongoing special ceremonies, but on my recent visits most of the visitors were tourists. There are helpful guides, many of them ex-service. Beyond that for me there was space for contemplation and memory. The space is high – a secular cathedral. The exhibition is full of traces of individuals who fought, supported, waited… And at eleven o’clock each day, the Memorial and all within it remember. Minutes beforehand the staff – quietly, politely, firmly – speak to each visitor and invite them to participate. I was downstairs in the exhibition area. We stood and faced inward to The Sacrifice and in a brief ceremony we Remembered. In the end the architecture and the sculpture supported, but it was the people who made it a true Memorial.

    I went on my Western Australia holiday between my two visits to the ANZAC Memorial and would like to extend this Exercise with a brief comparison to the much more recent HMAS Sydney II Memorial by Charles Smith and Joan Walsh-Smith which I saw in Geraldton. Writing about the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney I have focused on the interior – it was the subject of the Exercise of course, but also it is the centre of not just a building but of a landscape.

    hmas_sydney_01The HMAS Sydney II Memorial is not an interior, yet it felt very contained – I suppose an enclosed garden. It is however in a very specific place, overlooking the ocean where the HMAS Sydney fought its last battle in the Second World War.

    hmas_sydney_02Both Memorials have Domes. In Sydney there are 120,000 stars, representing the men and women of New South Wales who enlisted in WWI. anzac_22In Geraldton the Dome of Souls consists of 645 seagulls, representing each of the 645 sailors who lost their lives. Souls rising on wings are also referenced in Sydney, seen in the finials of the light fittings at the base of the Dome of Stars.

    hmas_sydney_03The HMAS Sydney II memorial is very specific. It remembers a particular ship on a particular day, and the loss of 645 men whose names are engraved on the Wall of Remembrance that embraces, curves protectively around the site. After the wreck of the ship was found in 2008 a Pool of Remembrance was added. 644 gulls encircle the sunken pool. The 645th stands pointing the way to to the final resting place of the sailors. In contrast the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney is very deliberate in not naming the servicemen and women commemorated. The two Foundation Stones were set by “a solider” and “a civilian” – and this extends even to the plaque that records the memorial was opened by “a son of the King”.

    hmas_sydney_04A final contrast is the representation of women. I’ve written above about the strong presence of women in the ANZAC Memorial. Only men served on HMAS Sydney II, but the one figurative sculpture included in the memorial is of a woman. This is the Waiting Woman, standing in the breeze on the headland, looking out for her loved one. hmas_sydney_05As far as I have been able to discover the figure is not of any one person, despite the strongly individual features shown. When comparing to the ANZAC Memorial it felt to me that women had been restricted to a passive role. This is probably a reasonable interpretation of the specific focus of the Geraldton memorial, but it made me appreciate even more the progressive representation of the earlier work.

    References

    Edwards, D (1999) ‘This vital flesh': The sculpture of Rayner Hoff and his school. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

    Spate, V. (1999) “If these dead stones could speak: Rayner Hoff’s sculptures and the ANZAC Memorial” in Edwards, D (1999) ‘This vital flesh': The sculpture of Rayner Hoff and his school. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

    Other Resources

    http://www.anzacmemorial.nsw.gov.au/. As well as considerable information available on the website, guides at the Memorial were very helpful both in conversation and in providing me with printouts of additional information.

    http://hmassydneymemorial.com.au/

    UA1-WA:P5-p1-Exercise – Visit a public interior
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 5: Inside, outside
    Project one: The interior
    Exercise – Visit a public interior

    UA1-WA:P5-p1-Exercise – Room with a view

    In this exercise we are asked to analyse a painting that has a window as a significant feature, and to consider some specific questions.

    I have chosen From a distant land (1889) by David Davies. This narrative painting held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) tells a classic Australian story. A settler, doing it tough, has received a letter from “home” and is lost in thoughts of another land, far from the hot, harsh bush seen through the door. My choice is based on availability of the work to view in person and my preference to give an Australian twist to this course.

    David Davies From a distant land David Davies
    From a distant land
    1889 oil on canvas
    http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/OA15.1968/

    davies_02The picture presents the scene at a slight angle. There are repeated verticals across the frame, indicated in the diagram in red, but nothing quite horizontal – the green lines showing the floorboards slope down to the right. The view seems to be from a corner, allowing us to see the dark, worn interior and also directly out the doorway to the brightly lit land. Combined with elements of linear perspective used in the fireplace, it may seem that the picture is slightly tipping out of its frame.

    davies_03This potential movement is countered by a series of opposing diagonals in the composition. Lines in the figure’s body, the tilt of the bird-cage, the axe that can barely be discerned in the corner, davies_04even the movement of the departing horse and rider, work together to bring visual balance.

    The diagram above shows in light blue an extension of the lines of the fireplace. I don’t see this as a true vanishing point – the visual clues are both insufficient and inconsistent to provide this. However the lines do draw attention to an area of the wall that contains significant narrative information. The newspaper and photograph support the sense of a third location, the unseen distant land that is the title of the painting as well as presumably the source of the letter and the subject of the man’s reverie.

    davies_06The interior includes a lovely still-life on the table, laying bare the raw simplicity of this bush life. The figure’s boots are worn, the rough wooden floor uncovered. There are few comforts in this existence.

    The interior is generally in dull colours, tones of browns and greens with some touches of red and orange in the glow of the fire and skin tones. It has been described as “pure Gallery Tonalism” (Splatt and Burton, 1973, p.56). None of the lighting appears directly from the bright exterior. Instead the internal scene is lit from the high left front, augmented by some reflected firelight. The corner near the door is in very deep shadow, providing maximum contrast to the external view.

    davies_05This is not the only contrast. The colours of the exterior are higher in value and also in saturation. There are clear, bright yellows, pinks and blues. There is a sense of space, but trees and possibly a hill hide the distance. There is no use made of aerial perspective. Brushstrokes are more fluid and pronounced. It is “purely of the Heidleberg School” according to Splatt and Burton (1973, p. 56). There is a general feel of freedom and openness, for example the birds wheeling amongst the trees in contrast to the caged bird in the interior – the man’s only living companion in his lonely days of toil.

    Astbury (1985, p. 40) wrote of this painting: “The painting creates a mood of pervasive melancholy and quiet introspection … frugality and hardship of his existence. The continued influence of Folingsby and Longstaff’s winning picture is felt in the firmly drawn figure, the sombre interior and the melancholy sentiment.” This painting is a student work by Davies. From 1882 George Folingsby was art master at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, and under his tutelage a repeated compositional device was “a darkened room a door opens out to the glaring sun of the Australian bush, allowing the interior narrative element to expand into the outside world” (Art Gallery of New South Wales, [n.d.]). Examples by other students include Home Again (1884) by Frederick McCubbin now in the National Gallery of Victoria (http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/col/work/5970), John Longstaff’s Breaking the news (1887) in the Art Gallery of Western Australia (http://www.artgallery.wa.gov.au/exhibitions/everwondered_angus_bicycles.asp) and Flood sufferings (1890) by Aby Altson in the National Gallery of Victoria (http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/col/work/6050).

    Judging from photographs of the other works, Davies’ focus painting shows more of the external world. This is of particular interest because it has allowed the artist to combine an academic style of painting in the interior with the artist-led “Heidleberg School” techniques. This movement is associated with “Australian Impressionism” and its use by Davies heightens the contrast – the conflict – of interior and exterior, and the sense that the seated figure is out of his element, in a land that is very foreign to him. He is yearning not for the world outside his door, but for the world he remembers thousands of miles away.

    References

    Art Gallery of New South Wales ([n.d.]) Collection: David Davies [online] Available from http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/OA15.1968/
    (Accessed 31-Aug-2014)

    Astbury, L. (1985) City bushmen: the Heidleberg School and the rural mythology Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Splatt, W and Burton, B. (1973) 100 masterpieces of Australian painting Adelaide: Rigby

    UA1-WA:P5-p1-Exercise – Room with a view
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
    Part 5: Inside, outside
    Project one: The interior
    Exercise – Room with a view


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