Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Flooding #3 - Monet's 'Vétheuil, L'Inondation'

Vétheuil, L'Inondation (1881) by Claude Monet

Following on from yesterday's post, Claude Monet also produced quite a few paintings of the Seine in flood near where lived. This particular painting - in English "Vetheuil, The Flood" - seems to have been painted in 1881 just before Monet left his house at Vétheuil.

The willow and poplar trees frequently seen on the banks of the river are clearly portrayed as being in the flood water.  The colour of the sky also seems to indicate that there has been a lot of rain.  I assume that this painting may have been done from a studio boat at the time of the flooding given the absence of any river banks in the painting.

Artists wishing to paint flooding first need to work out where these are most likely to occur.

The map of the area also indicates that the areas either side of the huge bend in the River Seine were particularly prone to flooding given that the oxbow lakes produced as the river changes its shape are still live to this day.


Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Flooding #2: Detecting Pissarro and Eragny-sur-Epte

Flood, Twilight Effect, Eragny (1893) by Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) painted two versions of the floods of the River near Eragny, northwest of Paris.

This one is known as Flood, Twilight Effect, Eragny and was painted in 1893.  This is Flood, White Effect, Eragny.  That dates this to after his neo-Impressionist period of the 1880s.

Pissarro apparently used to prefer to finish his paintings in one sitting and worked plein air and painted what he saw.  Pissarro explained his technique of painting outdoors as follows
"Work at the same time upon sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on and equal basis and unceasingly rework until you have got it. Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression."
It's interesting to try and work out where his paintings were painted from.

This painting is confusing because it isn't possible to tell which area is flooded and whether the river is in the foreground or the background.

Using the satellite view of the current landscape around Eragny as a guide, I began to develop my landscape detective skills
  • The painting suggests Pissarro was in a position of some height - maybe the upper storeys of a house - or the side of a hill?  It was certainly his practice in later life to paint scenes while sat by an open hotel window due to a medical condition which meant he could not work outdoors except in warm weather.
  • Given the swathe of trees in the middle of the floods it seems possible that the painting was of a perspective very near to where the A15 now crosses the river.  
  • Alternatively perhaps the painting was made on the west bank looking across the fields on the western flood plain of the Seine towards Eragny - and the trees are those  normally seen on the eastern bank
  • Normally, locating the church is a good guide as the spire acts as a location marker.  In this instance it's more difficult - until you realise that the church has been completely rebuilt and no longer has a conventional spire!
So my initial conclusion was that Picasso was located somewhere near the Chemin de Chasse Maree on the west bank and was looking across the river towards Eragny.  I was still puzzled as to how he'd got the height above the fields.

That was until I found out that he died at Eragny-sur-Epte, a small village northwest of Paris!
Pissarro died in Eragny-sur-Epte on either November 12 or November 13, 1903 and was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
Camille Pissarro - biography
Having located this second Eragny - Eragny-sur-Epte - on Google Maps, it then becomes very apparent that this is the "Eragny" of the paintings. The reason for this conclusion is that a very similar painting a year earlier is titled View of Bazincourt, Flood, Morning Effect - and Bazincourt, according to the map is due west of Eragny-sur-Epte.  The fact that the main street going through Eragny-sur-Epte is also called Rue Camille Pissarro rather tends to confirm this as the location where these paintings were painted.

View of Bazincourt, Flood, Morning Effect (1892)
It then becomes clear when you look at the map with a geographer's eye (did I ever tell you what my degree is in?) that the flood plain of the River Epte lies in between Eragny and Bazincourt and is marked on today's map by a line of trees.

It therefore seems very likely that these paintings were all painted from a window in Pissarro's house in Eragny-Sur-Epte and are a view of the flood plain between his house and Bazincourt on the other side of the River Epte.

Have you ever tried to work out where paintings were painted?

Monday, 29 August 2011

Flooding #1 - Sisley's Seine

The Banks of the Seine in Autumn flood by Sisley

I've been looking at the films of the horrendous flooding in Vermont - and was reminded of how often floods have been recorded in paint.

Now there's a lot of every eminent artists who live in Vermont and while I expect everybody's first thoughts are for their own safety and helping others right now, I hope we might see some paintings of the floods in due course.

This particular image is by Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) who was
a French-born English Impressionist landscape painter who was born, and spent most of his life, in France. Sisley is generally recognized as the most consistent of the Impressionists in his dedication to painting landscape en plein air (i.e., outdoors).
The Seine obviously flooded a lot in the nineteenth century as a number of the Impressionists recorded flooding.

Sisley in particular loved painting rivers and water - as can be seen from this website which holds a number of his works

UPDATE:  Charley Parker takes up the theme of Sisley painting floods - you can see more on his blog Lines and Colors - The Floods at Port Marly – Alfred Sisley

Sunday, 7 August 2011

"Forests, Rocks, Torrents" at the National Gallery, London

Forests, Rocks, Torrents at the National Gallery, London is currently displaying Norwegian and Swiss Landscapes from the Lunde Collection.

It includes 51 paintings from the private collection of Asbjørn Lunde, an American who has formed the world’s leading private collection of Norwegian and Swiss landscape paintings, primarily of the 19th century.  Most of the paintings have never been seen in the UK before, and are rarely on public view.

The idea behind the exhibition is to introduce a British audience - and, presumbaly, international visitors who visit the National Gallery - to landscapes by artists with whom they are less familiar. 
The 45 works displayed demonstrate the similarities of the Norwegian and Swiss traditions, but also the differences that climate, character, national temperament and political regimes impose on art.

Norway was engaged in a long struggle for freedom from Sweden and was poor, isolated and dependent for survival on its natural resources. Switzerland had been proudly independent for centuries and was prosperous, cosmopolitan and an early centre of industry.

How, the exhibition asks, are these realities implicated in their respective painting traditions?
The paintings are of two principal kinds:
  • small-scale landscape oil sketches and 
  • ‘finished’ paintings, some very large.
Landscape artists whose work is included in the exhibition include:
One of the most extraordinary innovators of the 19th century was Peder Balke – but only now is he re-emerging as a master of Norwegian landscape. His 'Moonlit View of Stockholm', with the spires of the city silhouetted against a stormy night sky, shows the direct influence of Dahl’s views of Dresden. Balke’s scenes of storms at sea and shipwrecks on rocky coasts are for the most part small black and white improvisations, thinly painted on board covered in smooth white ground ('Seascape').
Dahl loved Norway with the passion of a patriot. From the start of his career, he committed himself to depicting his nation, but in 1818 he moved to Dresden and began a long friendship with the German artist Caspar David Friedrich. Soon he became famous among Norwegians as their esteemed master in exile. A pilgrimage to Dresden to learn from Dahl became a necessity for any artist travelling from Norway to Italy.
  • Alexandre Calame 1810-1864 Swiss and father of the Swiss tradition of landscape painting
the artist widely regarded as the best Swiss landscapist is Alexandre Calame. His paintings owe much to the work of 17th-century Dutch landscape artists such as Jacob van Ruisdael in their portrayal of mountains, dense fir forests and raging torrents. Calame’s paintings of Lake Lucerne, such as 'Cliffs of Seelisberg, Lake Lucerne', are pervaded with a sense of nature’s grandeur and portray a harsh, majestic environment untouched by man. However, it was the theme of torrents that was central to Calame’s work, including the largest (98 x 138 cm) in the show, 'Mountain Torrent before a Storm'. This painting depicts the longest river in Switzerland, the Aare, and was acquired by Prince Yusupov of Russia.
  • Johann Gottfried Steffan 1815-1905, Swiss - one of the most important Siss landscape painters.
  • Caspar Wolf 1735-1783 a Swiss painter, known mostly for his dramatic paintings of Alps
  • Thomas Fearnley 1803-1842, Norwegian
Dahl's greatest student was Thomas Fearnley, and it is with this Norwegian master that the Norwegian and Swiss landscape traditions intersect. In 1835, on his return from Italy, Fearnley spent time in Switzerland painting. The show includes three works painted in consecutive months during this period: 'Near Meiringen', 10 June 1835; 'The Mountain Wetterhorn', 18 July 1835; and 'Valley of Lauterbrunnen', 26 August 1835. Two years later Fearnley was in England (his grandfather was a Yorkshireman) painting in London and the Lake District. His visit to the Lake District gave rise to nature studies which still surprise with their originality ('Fisherman at Derwentwater', 2 August 1837).
The links are to sites which provide images by the artist but these are not necessarily in the exhibition. The exhibition can be founbd in the Sunley Room until 18th September, Daily 10am–6pm, Friday until 9pm. Admission is free.

These are links to
From the title of the National Gallery's current exhibition, Forests, Rocks, Torrents, the most important noun has been omitted - Mountains.