Monday, 26 November 2012

Places to Paint: Agawa Canyon, (Algoma)

I'm very grateful to Jeff McColl for a comment he left on my post about Canada's Group of Seven at Algoma.  This alerted me to the fact that he's been putting an awful lot of effort into pulling together a portfolio of photographs on Google+ of the locations where the Group of Seven painted in the Agawa Canyon in Algoma.

Places to Paint: Agawa Canyon, Algoma, Canada
Some of Jeff McColl's portfolio of photographs matched to paintings by the Group of Seven
© Jeff McColl
Between 1918 and 1923 several members of the Canada's Group of Seven painted in the Algoma region including Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Arthur Lismer. To gain access to this remote area they rented a boxcar from The Algoma Central Railway, which had been outfitted like a cabin and was shunted to sidings near choice painting locations. From these locations they set out on foot or canoe to capture this untamed area on canvas. Their paintings brought this vast, rugged, and beautiful part of the country to fellow Canadians and the world.Wikipedia - Agawa Canyon
Below are links to Jeff's photos and the paintings by G7 artists at various locations.  Do read his comments as to location as it's obvious that not all the original locations are now accessible due to changes in growth of vegetation or changes in the course of rivers made as a result of floods.  He also provides photographs of what the locations look like in winter.

The links in the name of the artist are to the biography of the artist on the National Gallery of Canada website.
You can also read an article by Jeff - Paddling/Hiking/Photographing in the footsteps of Legends by Jeff McColl - in the Spring Newsletter of the Group of Twelve - Fine Arts Society of Milton 
Mention the Group of Seven to any artist or photographer and there are instantly visions of great Canadian Landscapes. I have known for years that the Group of Seven had visited the Agawa Canyon and when asked to describe the area I have said it was like paddling into one of their paintings. I have also known that fellow canoeists Sue and Jim Waddington of Burlington have a hobby that include working with the McMicheal Gallery in finding locations where they painted. They have been very successful in finding locations in Georgian Bay, Killarney and Algonquin Prov. Parks. They know that I frequent the Agawa area every year and they asked me if I could identify a few areas
All photos are copyright Jeff McColl. You can see more of Jeff's wonderful photographs of the Canadian countryside on Panoramio
Seems to me that the logical extension of all this work by these canoeists is a book - complete with maps and details of how to get to these places to paint!

Group of Seven fans may also like:

Monday, 29 October 2012

Albert Bierstadt - Approaching Thunderstorm on the Hudson River

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston triggered today's post.  They're closed today because of the imminent arrival of Hurricane Sandy on the northeastern seabord of the USA.

Instead they posted a painting from their collection - Albert Bierstadt's (1830-1902) Storm in the Mountains - to their Facebook page 

So I went hunting for more images appropriate to the current weather situation and came up with yet another Bierstadt painting of a storm - this time Approaching Thunderstorm on the Hudson River

Approaching Thunderstorm on the Hudson River by Albert Bierstadt
Oil on paper mounted on board
48.9 x 34.29 cm (19¼" x 13½")
Public collection
Bierstadt produced some absolutely epic paintings during his career as an American landscape painter - in terms of both size of subject matter and size of his paintings.  You can see a very long slideshow of some 200+ paintings by Albert Bierstadt on Wikipaintings.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Breugal "The Return of the Herd" (Autumn Landscape #12)

Pieter Breughal the Elder (1525-1569) is one of the great painters of landscapes in different seasons that are also located within the timeline of annual tasks of the ordinary man.  This is his painting of an autumn landscape - and the return of the herd.

The Return of the Herd (Autumn) / De Terugkeer van de kudde (najaar) (1565) 
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder 
oil on panel, 117 x 159 cm
Gallery: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

What's fascinating about this landscape scene is that it involve mountains. Those who know the Low Countries will appreciate that mountains are not the normal subject matter of a Flemish painter working at home!  The museum where now owns this painting has an explanation.
Bruegel introduced to the art of painting the autumn motif of the returning herd, a subject untypical for the Netherlands. To achieve this, he would have been able to draw on impressions gained during his travels through Switzerland. Driving the cattle down from the Alpine pastures, a key event in every peasant's year, is made into the title scene. Yet the main subject is the landscape which the artist has raised to the sublime in its tonal colouring and mood.
The Return of the Herd (Autumn) / De Terugkeer van de kudde (najaar)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
The name for the return of the cattle from upland pastures to the valleys is the transhumance. (see Transhumance and Transhumance in the Alps).  The same word is used for the migration in the other direction in the springtime.

This painting is also a very good example of why you should NOT always believe everything you read on Wikipedia (note the comment about the direction of the cattle which is complete twaddle!)

About one third of Bruegel's surviving paintings are located in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

The painting is classified as being part of the Northern Renaissance.

Links: Winter Landscape - Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Bruegel

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

"October" - Limbourg Brothers (Autumn Landscape #11)

This is another in the series of illuminated paintings in a book of prayers produced by the Limbourg Brothers (1385-1416) for John, Duc de Berry (1340-1416) the third son of King John II of France.  This particular one has familial connections for the Duc.

The book is called the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry and it's one of the finest examples of French Gothic manuscript illumination surviving to the present day.  It's belonged to various people over the years and is now housed at the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France.).

The very fine miniature paintings of landscapes that it contains represent the direction of landscape painting taken by early Netherlandish painters such as the Limbourg Brothers - who were the first to paint landscapes with accuracy.

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry octobre
Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry Folio 10, verso: October - Sowing the Winter Grain
by the Limbourg brothers
[Public domain],via Wikimedia Commons
Date: between 1412 and 1416 and circa 1440
Medium: painting on vellum
Dimensions: Height: 22.5 cm (8.9 in). Width: 13.6 cm (5.4 in).

This is a translation from the French of a description of the scene.
The scene in the foreground represents peasant sowing. At right, a man sows on the fly. Magpies and crows pecking seeds which have been sown, near a white bag and a satchel. Behind a scarecrow-like archer and son stretched on which are hung feathers are intended to deter birds. On the left, a peasant on horseback crosses the harrow on which rests a stone that allows the teeth to penetrate deeper into the earth. It thus covers the grains which have been sown. In the background, the painter has represented the Palais du Louvre. Castle in the center, there are, besides the central tower which housed the royal treasury while the eastern side right, supervised by the Taillerie tower and the tower of the chapel, and left the southern facade with two towers twin center. The whole is surrounded by a wall punctuated by three towers and two bretèches visible here. On the shore, characters converse or walk
It's odd that the description neglects to mention the River Seine!

Interestingly the building in the background is the Louvre Palace.  There are three reasons for the  significance of this miniature painting of the Louvre in an illuminated book of this sort:
  • First the idea behind the paintings of different places in the series of different miniature paintings of landscape scenes for the different months was they represented places known to the Duc de Berry.  They were castles he owned or places - like the Louvre Palace - that he had visited.  In this way the book became personal to the man himself.
  • Second, the Louvre is the palace built by King Charles V and where he housed his enormous library of 1,200 volumes where books of significance - translated into French - were kept as a symbol in part of this status as King.  
  • Third, King Charles V is the Duc de Berry's elder brother and it would therefore appear that the two brothers had a shared love of books.
Thus this painting may represent a visit by the Duc to his brother one October to see that Library.  At the very least, the painting is a compliment to his brother the King in his endeavours to build a library of great books in the Louvre.  (Note: I've just worked all this out reading around the net - I've no idea whether it's true but it makes sense to me!)

That said, this painting still purports to be a painting of the landscape in the middle of Paris in the fifteenth century - with the foreground being the scene on the West Bank.  However. it's unclear whether the Limbourg Brothers ever saw the Louvre Palace


Friday, 19 October 2012

'Dieppe from the East' by John Sell Cotman and JMW Turner

This post is about two paintings of Dieppe painted by JMW Turner and John Sell Cotman at more or less the same time - give or take a year!  It also covers the concept of staffage and how to access Turner's sketchbooks

You can see both paintings - hung next to one another in  Cotman in Normandy - the new exhibition of watercolour paintings, drawings and etchings by John Sell Cotman at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The Cotman painting was definitely produced in his studio and the Turner was either painted on a loose leaf of watercolour paper while in Dieppe or was worked up as a colour study from his sketchbook.  They neatly contrast the different approaches and styles of the two artists when faced with the identical view.  (See my Review: Cotman in Normandy - at Dulwich Picture Gallery on Making A Mark for the explanation of why all Cotman landscapes were done in his studio.)

Dieppe from the heights to the East of the port (1823) by John Sell Cotman
Graphite and watercolour with pen and ink and scratching out of the paper
Victoria and Albert Museum
Dieppe from the East (?) (1826-7) by JMW Turner
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Turner Bequest
Turner's 1826 French tour began at Dieppe towards the end of August. His first sketchbook (no.5) includes only a general view of the town of the kind he had already noted two years earlier. But it seems that he also made some sketches on loose sheets of paper. On these he again recorded the quaysides, which had formed the subject of his large oil painting of 1825 (Frick Collection, New York)
Interestingly the description of the work in the exhibition indicates that this watercolour was probably developed from the 1821 sketchbook and produced as part of an unrealised sceheme to represent both sides of the Channel.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

£25,000 First Prize for Scottish Landscape Painting

Prizewinning landscapes in 2011
On Making A Mark later today, I'll be announcing the details of a major biennial art competition dedicated to painting the Scottish landscape.

The Jolomo Bank of Scotland Awards 2013 for Scottish Landscape Painting are due to be launched at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh later this morning.

Total prize money of £35,000 is available - with £25,000 going to the winner of the First Prize.  A further £10,000 is available to the runners up - so it's a prize which is definitely worth entering by anybody who qualifies.

Before you get to excited, you need to know that the competition is only open to artists who currently living AND working in Scotland

The images on the right are of the paintings which won prizes in 2011

For some background about the prize - see my 2011 post on this blog Scottish Landscape Painting and a £25,000 prize which highlights 24 year old Edinburgh artist Calum McClure who was the 2011 competition winner.  He'd only just graduated from Edinburgh College of Art when he won the prize.

Calum said the impact had been life-changing.
“Winning the Jolomo Award has changed so much about my practice. I have been able to focus entirely on my work, whereas before I was doing 45 hours a week as a chef. It’s a huge opportunity and I feel very privileged to have won.

Along with the monetary side of the award, winning has also given me confidence in my work. The thought that the judging panel had seen something in the localised nature I try to bring to landscape depiction is fulfilling."
How to Enter

Landscape Painting: 2013 Jolomo Bank of Scotland Awards - Call for Entries is my detailed overview of the Call for Entries for the Jolomo Bank of Scotland Awards 2013 for Scottish Landscape Painting - posted on my main blog Making A Mark

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Limbourg Brothers - and "September"

Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry
Folio 8, verso: September
by the Limbourg Brothers
I always think it's a pity that we don't see more present day painters painting the months of the year.  Recording the changes in the landscape - particularly where farming is involved - generates a real understanding of the land and a much better sense of place.

You can find out more about the Limbourg Brothers in this fascinating video - which is some 53 minutes in length.  So grab a hot drink and find a compfy chair.....
  • It shows how the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry came to public attention.

    In 1948 the American photo journal Life published the twelve calender miniatures from the manuscript, which roused an enormous public interest.
  • It displays the actual book which contains these incredibly important miniature paintings of the medieval times
  • Authoritative experts explain the importance of the paintings and the way in which the Limbourg Brothers worked and created innovation in painting
Watch and enjoy!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Winslow Homer's Studio at Prout Neck

This is a slideshow of photos of Winslow Homer's Studio at Prout Neck in Maine - plus a Vanity fair article on the studio and his painting habits  It would seem Winslow Homer was pretty smart as to the timing of paintings to satisfy the seasonality of people's interests

Winslow Homer West Point, Prout's Neck

West Point, Prout's Neck (1910) by Winslow Homer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It looks as if tours of the studio where he settled in 1883 are about to start.  This is an extract from the Portland Museum of Art's website relating to The Year of Winslow Homer
Walk in Winslow Homer's footsteps.
The Portland Museum of Art is pleased to offer tours to this National Historic Landmark beginning on September 25.
Reservation details »
In addition, the Museum is having an exhibition Homer's Prouts Neck Home (22 September - 30 December 2012)
To celebrate the opening of the newly renovated Winslow Homer Studio at Prouts Neck, the Portland Museum of Art presents Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine. This extraordinary exhibition showcases 38 masterpieces that the great American artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910) created during the final decades of his life, when he lived and worked in Maine.
For more about Winslow Homer see my website - About Winslow Homer - American Artist

Friday, 3 August 2012

A review of Thomas Moran

An art blog - Poul Webb Art Blog - has recently posted a series of five posts about the great landscape painter Thomas Moran (1837-1926).  These highlight his watercolour sketches and oil paintings of the American West.

Born in Bolton in Lancashire, Moran became one of the renowned painters of the Hudson River School.  He's best known for his panoramic paintings of the American West and the Rocky Mountains.  He's also known as: "Father of the National Parks" and "the Dean of American Painters".

Moran, Thomas - Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1904
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1904) by Thomas Moran
30 x 60 1/2 in. (76.2 x 153.7 cm), oil on canvas painting
Collection: Honolulu Museum of Art
Thomas Moran [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
He's been on my list of painters to find out more about for some time.

So here's an introduction for me as well as any of you who haven't studied his work before.  I'm not quite sure where the images come from - but there's an excellent selection of images of Moran's paintings in the following posts.  If you click them and open in a new tab you can see larger versions.

I'm particularly impressed with his plein air watercolour sketches done on the spot.

Here are the links to
  • Thomas Moran - part 1 - an introduction and overview of Moran's life and important works
  • Thomas Moran - part 2 - Watercolour and gouache paintings on paper made during the Yellowstone Expedition and subsequently (early 1870s)
  • Thomas Moran - part 3 - Oil paintings on canvas, board and paper plus watercolours of Yellowstone and Yosemite - plus Nevada, Florida and other parts of Wyoming -- and Lower Manhattan
  • Thomas Moran - part 4 - Watercolour and oil paintings of landscapes in : USA: New Jersey, Florida, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Denver, Yellowstone Plus Scotland and Venice
  • Thomas Moran - part 5 - Oil paintings of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Tetons.  Plus waterfalls and geysers everywhere
If you want to get a mental fix on Moran, note that his dates are virtually identifical to those of Claude Monet (1840-1926) - although their painting styles were very different over time.

I've set up a "resources for art lovers" website on Squidoo - About Thomas Moran - American Landscape Painter.  It's got the basics in it - but I'll be continuing to develop it over time.  If you know of any excellent online references re Moran I'd be glad to hear about them

You can see more of my "resources for art lovers" websites about individual artists in About Artists

Thursday, 14 June 2012

BBC4 - Turner's Thames

This week I'm going to focus on JMW Turner's relationship with the Thames and, in particular, the different places where he lived near the Thames.

BBC4 - Turner's Thames

For all those who missed it last night, you can catch up with Turner's Thames on iPlayer - I watched it and recommend it
In this documentary, art critic Matthew Collings explores how Turner makes light the vehicle of feeling in his work, and how he found inspiration in the waters of the river Thames.
It's not going to be repeated and is only available until

The programme is part of the series of BBC programmes about London and the River Thames - and now forms part of the London Collection Archive - A collection of BBC programmes celebrating the people, places and spaces of London.
In this documentary, the presenter and art critic Matthew Collings explores how Turner, the artist of light, makes light the vehicle of feeling in his work, and how he found inspiration for that feeling in the waters of the River Thames. JMW Turner is the most famous of English landscape painters. Throughout a lifetime of travel, he returned time and again to paint and draw scenes of the Thames, the lifeblood of London. This documentary reveals the Thames in all its diverse glory, from its beauty in west London, to its heartland in the City of London and its former docks, out to the vast emptiness and drama of the Thames estuary near Margate.

Turner was among the first to pioneer painting directly from nature, turning a boat into a floating studio from which he sketched the Thames. The river and his unique relationship with it had a powerful impact upon his use of materials, as he sought to find an equivalent in paint for the visual surprise and delight he found in the reality of its waters.

By pursuing this ever-changing tale of light, Turner also documented and reflected upon key moments in British history in the early 19th century; the Napoleonic wars, social unrest and the onset of the industrial revolution. His paintings of the river Thames communicate the fears and exultations of the time. Turner's greatness as a painter is often attributed to his modern use of colour. Many of his paintings are loved by the British public and regularly celebrated as the nation's greatest art. This film reveals for the first time on television a key inspiration for that modernity and celebrity; a stretch of water of immense importance to the nation in the early 19th century but which today is often taken for granted - the River Thames.
Interesting aspects of the programme included:
  • Turner lived near to the River Thames or its estuary most of his life - when not off on his travels and the river featured in a lot of his paintings (Tomorrow I'm going to look at the places Turner lived along the River Thames and its estuary - and highlight some of his paintings)
  • He returned to the Thames again and again in terms of paintings he created - at a time when London was the most important trading capital city in the world and the Thames was a very important way in which goods were moved
  • His methods of notating what he saw, creating a visual framework and language for finding a way to paint the light - and how it varied when seen with water
  • His habit of creating a lot of fast sketches of what he saw and then creating watercolour studies while the subject was still fresh - and then the oil paintings back in the studio
  • His use of contrast to make a painting more beautiful and the depth of field more effective
  • His system for structuring colour and the scope to link colour to human emotion
  • His habit of dissolving the landscape in atmospheric swathes of light - his view was that the sun is God
Turner rounded up his students at the Royal Academy and got a boat so that they could all go out into the middle of the Thames and make sketches of the Houses of Parliament burning.  Now there's dedication to your art!
The Burning of the Houses of Parliament
Joseph Mallord William Turner - 1834
watercolour, 23 x 32 cm
Collectiom: British Museum
Turner-The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834
J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Link: About J.M.W. Turner - Famous British Painter

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Thomas Rowlandson - Kew Palace and the River Thames

This watercolour painting of Kew Palace by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) includes the River Thames in the foreground.

Kew Palace by Thomas Rowlandson
watercolour, 11.2" x 16.8" English School; Late 18th - early 19th century
Kew Palace, seen across the river; a boatman steadying his boat for three stout persons to enter it
Kew Palace | Rowlandson, Thomas | V&A Collection

Thomas Rowlandson is an English artist who was well known as a caricaturist in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  He was much less well known as a landscape artist per se - however he did use them in the background of his figurative work.
Thomas Rowlandson (1756/57-1827) was one of the most brilliant draughtsmen of his day, and is best known for his satirical and humorous figure drawings. Many of his drawings have a topographical element, which serves as a backdrop for the various human encounters depicted. However, Rowlandson also made a small number of purely topographical viewsV&A
Rowlandson also produced the satirical book titled Tour of Dr Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (more of this in later posts) which was a satire on the work of William Gilpin and his Three Essays on Picturesque Beauty.

Kew Palace

For me the above painting illustrates how valuable landscape paintings can be as historical records.

I looked at this Kew Palace and did not recognise it from the one I've visited at Kew Gardens.  It turns out that the building called Kew Palace today is the fourth such Palace.

Kew Palace
Kew Palace 
from The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction,
Vol. 10, No. 275, September 29, 1827
The one in the watercolour is the third Palace - built at the west end of Kew Green to the castellated design of King George III.  It was started in 1802, but was much criticised and never occupied and was demolished by his son George IV in 1828.

The painting is also interesting as it records the use of pleasure boats on this area of the Thames in the time of George III.  I'm not sure I've ever seen a sail boat on this part of the Thames - although competitive rowing boats can now be seen there very frequently.

Given Rowlandson's preference for satire, one wonders whether the very portly gentleman in the foreground might possibly be an allusion to the Prince Regent/future George IV.

Scene on a Thames-side towing-path

This next watercolour is also of the Thames.  I suspect it's in a similar area because of the width of the river

Scene on a Thames-side towing-path (undated) by Thomas Rowlandson
reed pen and ink and watercolour on a wove paper, 18cm x 27cm
Scene on a Thames-side towing-path | Rowlandson, Thomas | V&A Collection

This is a view of the River Thames, with a vessel on the water and a team of horses on the riverbank. The V&A record cites how Rowlandson tackled such topographical views
Rowlandson repeated drawings for sale by working up and colouring a counterproof of an original pen drawing. In this case the original has itself been worked up, strengthened with pencil and coloured. The deception was frequently increased by counterproofing the original pencil lines, thus conveying the impression of spontaneous sketches following a rough outline.
(J. Hayes, Rowlandson watercolours and drawings, 1972, pp. 41, 42.)’

Saturday, 9 June 2012

John Constable - Somerset House Terrace from Waterloo Bridge

I've been looking at views of the Thames by different artists this week and came across one which was attributed to John Constable but which just looked wrong to me.  I first found it on wikipaintings - and then noticed that they'd sourced it from one of those "we can paint you any painting you want" sites.

Finally, it dawned on me why it was wrong - the image had been reversed!  Maybe you have to have walked along this terrace to know these things?

So here is a small Constable oil sketch of Somerset House Terrace from Waterloo Bridge - the proper way round!  The real thing forms part of the Paul Mellon Collection in the Yale Center for British Art At Yale University in downtown New Haven.

Somerset House Terrace from Waterloo Bridge (c 1819) by John Constable (1776-1837)
Oil on panel, 6 1/8 x 7 3/8 inches (15.6 x 18.7 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

What's also interesting about this painting is:
  • it's definitely a sketch/study - given the size and the quality of the finish.  Constable simply did not paint like this for his studio paintings but he did when painting studies for studio paintings.  It would be interesting to know whether he did anything with it.
  • the sketch dates from before the Embankment was built along the edge of the Thames.  In those days Somerset House was on the banks of the Thames and didn't have a couple of roads and pavements and a wall between the terrace and the river.

The other names for this painting are:
  • Somerset House Terrace and the Thames: a View from the North end of Waterloo Bridge with St. Paul's and Blackfriar's Bridge
  • Somerset House, A View from Waterloo Bridge looking towards St. Paul's and the City

Whatever it's called it suggests that a good place to paint the Thames and the City of London is the north end of Waterloo Bridge.

The end of the terrace at Somerset House is not such a good spot for painting - you can see how much trees now interfere with the view in my post Sunday Papers at Somerset House on my Travels with a Sketchbook blog

Friday, 8 June 2012

Richard Wilson - View of Syon House across the Thames

View of Syon House across the Thames near Kew Gardens (c. 1760) by Richard Wilson
Oil on canvas, 104 x 139 cm
Neue Pinakothek, Munich
Continuing the notion of a yellow sky and water (see View of the Thames by Childe Hassam), here's another view of the Thames - this time at Kew.

The painter of this scene is Richard Wilson - the man regarded as the father of British Landscape Painting and the finest painter Wales has ever produced.  He painted this scene shortly after his return from Italy where he developed his skills as a landscape painter.

The hazy warm yellow glow is very much redolent of the style of the artist who had profoundly influenced his landscape painting - Claude Lorrain.  It's almost as if the Roman campagna has arrived in southwest London!

That said the sun does set in the west behind Syon House and this indicates that this is an early evening painting in summer.

The important point about this painting is that has been painted the year after Kew Gardens became established as a botanical garden - in 1759.
In 1759, Princess Augusta and Lord Bute established the first botanic garden at Kew, employing William Aiton as the gardener. The Physic or Exotic Garden is the direct ancestor of today's establishment and this date is now accepted as the foundation of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.Kew, History and Heritage - Kew's first botanic garden
The place

The scene is one of my own personal "places to paint" (or rather sketch - see The Thames at Kew - in March sunshine).

Wilson's perspective is from a mound - which nowadays has a very convenient seat - at the end of the walk known as Syon Vista and next to the path at the far end of Kew Gardens.  This gives an excellent view of the River Thames and Syon House.

The Artist

Richard Wilson RA was a pioneer of landscape painting in the UK.  Both Turner and Constable admired his paintings.

He was born on 1 August 1713 in Penegoes, Montgomeryshire in Wales.  He died on 11 May 1782 age 68 at Colomendy Hall, near Llanferres, Denbighshire and is buried in St Mary's Churchyard in Mold.  He never married.

His family was well connected and a relative sent him to London to train to become a painter and he initially trained as a portrait painter.  It appears he was successful gaining commissions and setting up his own studio.

He begins to demonstrate an interest in landscape painting from the mid 40s onwards.  However it's unclear why he subsequently became more interested in landscape painting. However it is known that he went to study in Italy between 1750 - visiting Venice first and then Rome - and there became very much influenced by the paintings of Claude Lorrain. 

Wilson is sometimes called 'The English Claude'.

His approach to landscape painting

While in Italy, he earned a living and had modest success by selling picturesque paintings of Italian scenes to English aristocrats who were doing the "Grand Tour".  He devoted himself to painting idealised landscapes in the manner of Claud Lorrain.  The main contrast being that Richard Wilson was typically painting a real scene rather than an idealised picture.

As a landscape painter, Wilson was obsessed with light and the quality of light reflected from the sky - and he loved a good sunset!  His tendency to bathe a scene in golden light was well known.

However Richard Wilson was also very sensitive to colour and demonstrated in his paintings his appreciation of the very many hues found in nature.  John Ruskin wrote that Wilson "paints in a manly way, and occasionally reaches exquisite tones of colour".

Kew Gardens: The Pagoda and Bridge (1762) by Richard Wilson (1713-1782)
Oil on canvas,
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
When painting figures in a landscape, they play a minor role and do not intrude upon the overall impact of the landscape.

The website of records the following as being the way he approached the painting of landscapes
His landscape paintings were produced by first applying an underdrawing of brown paint, followed by ‘dead-colouring', a task which was given to the studio apprentices. Thin washes of colour were applied at this stage; Prussian blue and grey-brown for the sky, and a mixture of red and blue pigments for the landscape. The colour was applied to a thickness depending on the depth of tone required, allowing the light tone of the ground to show through more towards the horizon. Once the dead-colouring was dry it was oiled out before the second painting.

For the foreground Joseph Farington records that Wilson 'went over it a second time, heightening every part with colour and deepening the shadows, but still, brown, loose and flat, and left in a state for finishing: the half-tints laid in, without highlights.' In the third and final painting of the foreground Wilson altered the tints, adding the necessary sharpness to the different objects, before glazing them with rich warm tints, and finally adding further solid tints over this.

The sky and distant landscape, on the other hand, were worked wet-in wet after the initial dead-colouring, rather than in two separate stages. This allowed Wilson to achieve easier blending of the clouds with the blue of the sky, apparently using ultramarine rather than Prussian blue for this stage of painting. Last of all the horizon was adjusted and the distance softened with grey-brown again as necessary.
This is a complete catalogue of Richard Wilson's paintings - which has obviously been a labour of love for its creator.

The Yale Centre of British Art in America has an excellent collection of paintings by Richard Wilson.

Richard Wilson - art communities and art societies

On his return to England, Wilson took on a grand studio and was initially successful and held many exhibitions, gained a reputation and sold his landscapes to a number of different clients.

He was active in founding first the Society of Artists and then in 1768, age 55, he became a founder member of the Royal Academy of Art.  He became the Director of what became ‎(in 1765)‎ the Royal Society of Artists of Great Britain.

The prices for his paintings went up and up - along with Wilson's arrogance - until on one famous occasion he offered to let the King have a painting on an instalment plan!  After that the commissions began to dry up and at the end of his life he lived in poverty and had to rely on his family.

Wilson subsequently became an alcoholic and stared the slide into poverty and ill-health. At the end he was taken back to the family home in Wales. He died there on 11 May 1782.


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

View of the Thames by Childe Hassam

View of the Thames (1889) by Childe Hassam
I'm very fond of paintings by Childe Hassam but only came across his painting of the Thames very recently.  I wasn't even aware he'd ever paid a visit to London.

Behind the boats is a view of Charing Cross Railway Bridge with Embankment Gardens and Cleopatra's Needle on the right and the Houses of Parliament in the background.  The Thames Embankment would still be very new when this was painted.

The mixing of pigments on the paper is very attractive and lifts what are ostensibly grey buildings and grey water into some far more interesting.  Why shouldn't be water and sky be yellow?  It seems entirely appropriate.

I spotted it partly because I saw some boats very like this last Saturday moored in the River Thames outside Old Billingsgate Market

Boats participating in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant Flotilla

Monday, 4 June 2012

Painting the Thames: Jan Siberechts

This week, in honour of the River Pageant which took place on Sunday, I'm doing posts about artists who have painted views of the River Thames.

Landscape with Rainbow, Henley-on-Thames c.1690 by Jan Siberechts
Oil on canvas, 82,5 x 103 cm
Tate Gallery, London
The first artist is Jan Siberechts and I chose him because he painted the Thames near Henley on Thames - which is an area less well know to those who only think of Thames in relation to London.  It's also a town which is associated with the Henley Royal Regatta which is held each year in July.

Siberechts was a Flemish landscape painter who was born in Antwerp in 1627.  In 1672, in his 40s, he emigrated to England and died in London in 1703.

His earlier landscape paintings tend to depict a small detailed aspect of a landscape.  His later paintings are typically more topographical in nature with sweeping views.

This particular riverscape painting of the Thames has been done from an elevated slope above the flood plain of the River Thames.  It purports to be a realistic painting of the scene and is one of the most important landscape paintings in the collection on Tate Britain.

  • the painting appears to present a realistic portrayal of the profile of the natural landscape of this place.  However the true reality is that the view has been embellished and the perspective has been distorted.  (I did my usual Streetview search for the view - and it's not one which is at all easy to spot.  That might because of the growth of vegetation and development of buildings)
  • on the right is the village of Henley on Thames (the church and bridge are still there, although the bridge has been replaced - the current five arched Henley Bridge across the river was built in 1786 -and the steep slopes in the background of the painting have disappeared!)
  • the background portrays a steep slope up from the river - which exists - but not quite so close as indicated in the painting
  • the foreground has cows and sheep eating the pasture of the lush grass meadows next to the river
  • on the left there is a cargo boat.  There is another on the main river next to Henley.  These both  reflect the importance of the river's role in carrying goods between different centres of population and the countryside.  The boat on the left looks like it's on another river but judging by the map it seems very likely it's parked up.
  • the shadow of storm clouds cover parts of the landscape while bright sunlight bathes Henley in a golden glow
  • One of the unique aspects of this painting is that it's one of the few ever painted which appears to depict a convincing rainbow - although I'm not sure it's in the right place relative to the sunlight and rain.  I think it should be further to the left.  What do you think?
It's possible that the painting was commissioned by a landowner of one of the large houses built between Remenham Wood and the River, situated off White Hill above the town.  It's unlikely that any of the current houses were the one in question but it appears it may have become established as a a vantage point for the wealthy in the seventeenth century.

In contrast to the Flemish landscape painting of his homeland, England offers hills and slopes to a much greater degree and consequently, more components within a landscape to illustrate depth.  It possible explains why Flemish landscapes tend to focus on one aspect of the landscape while Flemish painters who move away to other countries start to depict larger views of the landscape.

This is a link to another painting by Siberechts - Henley-on-Thames from the Wargrave Road, Oxfordshire which you can see at the River & Rowing Museum on the banks of the Thames at Henley.


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Painting a River Pageant

Today, on the River Thames in the centre of London, crowds will see the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.  It's part of the official celebrations on this festive weekend which marks the 60th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne of England.  There are some who are saying we've seen nothing like this in 350 years - in terms of the nature of the event and the number of vessels on the Thames.

Canaletto Westminster Bridge 1746
Westminster Bridge from the north on Lord Mayor's Day (1746)
Oil on canvas, 96 x 137.5 cm
Location: Yale Center for British Art, New Haven
A history of river pageants

Previous monarchs and the City of London have used the River Thames for spectacular royal celebrations and pageants including:
  • Anne Boleyn's coronation:  The coronation procession from Greenwich to the Tower of London on 29 May 1533 was a grand spectacle
Fifty barges of the London livery companies, decorated with banners and draped in gold cloth, accompanied the lavishly apparelled barges of the Lord Mayor and Crown, with a further 250 vessels forming an impressive armada.
  • On 23 August 1662, King Charles II and Queen Catherine of Braganza were greeted by an extravagant pageant involving the twelve livery companies on their arrival at Whitehall from Hampton Court
  • on 17 July 1717 a musical concert was held on the River Thames for King George I and his court.  Handel was commissioned to write 'Water Music', for wind and strings.
On Wednesday Evening… the King took Water at Whitehall in an open Barge… and went up River towards Chelsea. Many other Barges with Persons of Quality attended, and so great a Number of Boats, that the whole River in a manner was cover’d; a City Company’s Barge was employ’d for the Musick, wherein were 50 instruments of all sorts, who play’d all the Way from Lambeth… the finest Symphonies compos’d express for this Occasion by Mr. Hendel; which his Majesty liked so well that he caus’d it to be plaid over three times in the going and returning.
The Daily Courant
Painting river pageants

In terms of paintings of pageants on the River Thames, Canaletto is the probably most well known artist.

I've tried working out how Canaletto would have created his paintings of river pageants.  This one in particular perplexes me.  While his perspective may be fine, he's not renowned for getting his proportions right or even painting things where they are actually are!

For example, the river looks too wide.  However, at the time it was painted the River Thames was a lot wider than it is today - it's been channelled and an Embankment built since then

But how do you tackle an aerial perspective of a view of the Thames before there was any means of being up in the air?  I haven't got a clue - any ideas?

If it was painted from a bridge - which bridge?  The location of the painter seems to be the vicinity of the Hungerford Rail Bridge and the current Golden Jubilee Footbridges - but so far as I'm aware they weren't there at the time.

So where was he painting from?  Or is it completely from his imagination?

The Web Gallery of Art provides an explanation of the painting London: Westminster Bridge from the North on Lord Mayor's Day
In this picture he combines a view of its whole span with a depiction of festivities, which, although tamer than the Venetian spectacles he generally painted, partially recall them. The celebrations accompanied the appointment of the new Lord Mayor of London. The largest City Barge is shown taking him to Westminster Hall, by the Abbey at the right, where he will be sworn in. The prominent building on the horizon to the left of it is St John's Church, Smith Square, and over on the other side of the river is Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. All the other spectacular barges are those of the different city guilds (Skinners, Goldsmiths, Fishmongers, Clothworkers, Vinters, Merchant Taylors, Mercers and Dyers); a number of them are firing salutes to honour the Mayor. In order to encapsulate all of this activity within such a broad panorama Canaletto has adopted an imaginary vantage point high above the Thames.
Westminster Bridge

One of the things which I didn't know is that the Westminster Bridge in the painting was relatively new at the time - and is not the one which is there today.  The first bridge opened in 1750 - some 3 years before this painting was painted.  However it was troubled by subsidence and had to be replaced in the nineteenth century and a new cast iron bridge was opened in 1862.

Below you can see the very famous painting by Canaletto - painted while the first Westminster Bridge was being constructed

Canaletto - London: Seen Through an Arch of Westminster Bridge 1747
London: Seen Through an Arch of Westminster Bridge (1747) by Canaletto
oil on canvas, 57 x 95 cm
Location: Syon House, Middlesex
Painting a River Pageant today

I wonder who's going to be out there today collecting material and generating sketches and studies for painting the pageant?  Who's the modern day Canaletto of figurative paintings of the River Thames?  Do we have one?

It did occur to me that various painters might have a go at painting the River Pageant today.  I expect there might be members of the Wapping Group out on the banks of the Thames somewhere attempting to paint today.

I know I had planned to go down to the River today - but that was before the rain!

It rained on the Coronation Day in 1953 - and it's raining again today (as in I couldn't see Canary Wharf at all this morning - which means very low rain clouds along the Thames!).  Which means my planned vantage point is going to be overrun with people trying to stay dry!

Which is partly why we went down to the Thames yesterday - while it was still dry and sunny - to see the Avenue of Sail - which comprises the sailing ships gathered  in the Pool of London either side of the Tower of London.

Billingsgate Fish Market. ILN 1876
Billingsgate Fish Market in 1876
By Illustrated London News [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I tried sketching a couple of Thames Barges outside Old Billingsgate Market yesterday.  It was very weird to be seeing the type of vessels which might have visited the market in the past, moored right next to it.

Thames Sailing Barges at Billingsgate 2nd June 2012
It's the first time I've ever tried to sketch anything which moved constantly while sketching - from side to side and down (ther tide was going out) - and also while the owners were putting up the bunting for today's Pageant!  I'll come and leave a link here when I've posted it online.

If you had a go at painting the Pageant why not enter The Big Diamond Jubilee Art Challenge


Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Wynne Prize 2012 - Selected artists and winner

The Wynne Prize for landscape painting or figure sculpture seeks to identify the best contemporary landscape painting in Australia or figure sculpture of Australian scenery.

Apart from the prestige, the monetary value of the prize for this art competition is US$35,000 in 2012. (£22,716 / US$36,032)

I don't think there has been enough Australian Art on this blog to date so prepare for a surfeit!

This post identifies both the finalists and the 2012 winner of The Wynne Prize and says something about the history of the Wynne Prize.

[I was writing my post about the 2013 Prize and came back to reference this one - which I can well remember writing - only to discover I'd not quite finished it and it wasn't published it - so a year late here it is!]

Wynne Prize 2012 - Finalists

The 32 finalists cover the range of ways in which artists in Australia interpret their landscape - see below for images of their entries and links to their websites

BELOW are the finalists.  
  • Click the links in the name to see the selected artist's website, blog or gallery.  
  • Click this link to see the images produced by the 32 finalists for the Wynne Prize 2012 - and then on the image to see an image in more detail. (Tip:  If you start with the first and then press the arrow to the right of the image you can work your way through all 32 images)
I've also included a sentence about each work - taken from the page dedicated to the selected artwork, where artists in general have a lot more to say about their work. I think these commentaries will give all readers of this blog pause for through about the way landscape art can be stimulated and interpreted.

I recommend that people look through all the images if you're in any way interested in landscape art.

I've commented on some but not all of the artworks.  Do let me know what you think too and identify which are your favourites.

I sooooooo wish we had a prize like this in the UK!

Monday, 30 April 2012

Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant and Canaletto's Thames Pageants #1

The River Thames with St. Paul's Cathedral on Lord Mayor's Day (1746)
oil on canvas, 26.8 x 37.6 cm
The Lobkowicz Collections, Prague Castle, Czech Republic
There's going to be a Pageant on the River Thames to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee of her accession to the Throne.

1,000 boats are going to make their way down the Thames on Sunday 3rd June - mustering between Hammersmith and Battersea and dispersing from Tower Bridge to West India Docks.

The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant has its very own website.  The BBC is also going to be out filming people painting from a bridge - although my own feeling is that the only way to capture the view - as Canaletto did - is to get up much higher than a bridge.  I've got a couple of spots in mind!

There are a couple of famous Canaletto paintings of pageants on the Thames.  The one featured above is currently being portrayed as a mural on a temporary wall at the entrance to London Bridge station.

The painting is currently on loan to the The National Maritime Museum (one of the Royal Museums at Greenwich) for Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames the exhibition to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

If you want to find out more about Canaletto and his verdute or "view paintings" try my resource About Canaletto - Italian Painter
A veduta (Italian for "view"; plural vedute) is a highly detailed, usually large-scale painting or, actually more often print, of a cityscape or some other vista.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Paradises and Landscapes

A new exhibition Paradises and Landscapes in the Carmen Thyssen Collection From Brueghel to Gauguin has opened at the Museum Carmen Thyssen in Malaga, Spain.

Paradises and Landscapes Exhibition Catalogue 
Cover: An Orchard under the Church of Bihorel, 1884 (detail) by Paul Gauguin
The exhibition runs until 7 October 2012. You can pay a virtual visit via this link

Rooms in the exhibition covers the following topics.  Click the links to see the images of the paintings in the exhibition.
This is a video of the works in the exhibition - the commentary is in Spanish.

Exposición 'Paraísos y paisajes en la Colección Carmen Thyssen. De Brueghel a Gauguin' from Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga on Vimeo.

This for me is the sort of standard all museums should set for the online dissemination of their exhibitions.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Talking about Hockney's Landscape Painting

Tomorrow is the last day of the Royal Academy exhibition David Hockney RA - A Bigger Picture.  I'm going to see it for the fourth time at 8pm tomorrow evening.  The exhibition closes at 10pm.

Here are the podcast recordings which the Royal Academy have made from the various events held during the course of the exhibition

The second room in the exhibition reviews his earlier landscapes - which includes his California landscapes.
Constance Glenn delves into David Hockney’s California works, from his signature landscapes of the 1960s to his panoramas of the 1980s that introduce a new perspective and capture Mulholland Drive’s vertiginous curves, which swerve across LA’s hilltops toward his Montcalm studio and home. 
David Hockney - Nichols Canyon, 1980
Acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 152.4 cm
Private collection
Copyright David Hockney
She describes this painting as his first mature painting of California.  It bears no relationship to the work he had been doing previously (swimming pools and palm trees).  Hockney had brought a house at the top of the Hollywood Hills on a street called Montcalm.

The image is to convey the sense of careening down the hill in a car to his studio very quickly - it has a visceral feeling of descent.  The houses are situated at their natural place, have perspective and are quite realistic.  But the painting also includes patterns of the landscape either side - mark-making and images that represent trees and grass.

Mulholland Drive runs across the hills - but "drive" in this painting is a verb - it's what he's doing.  The mark-making has almost become the subject of the picture.  It has a pattern of complementary colours red/orange and blue-green and yet it's not easy to look at a painting of complementary colours.

The Pearblossom Highway picture is a composite of photographs.  She (and Marco Livingstone below) describes how is was created.  The photo collage precedes his multiple canvas paintings.

David Hockney - Pearblossom Highway, 11-18 April 1986 #1
Photographic collage, 119.4 x 163.8 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Gift of David Hockney
Copyright David Hockney
I like listening to descriptions of the drives with Google Maps in front of me!
Marco Livingstone describes how the exhibition was put together and how Hockney tackled the way he painted for the exhibition.  Prior to this he comments on paintings in the exhibition from the Californian era.  He comments on the importance of looking at the images from different distances.

David Hockney - The Road Across the Wolds, 1997
Oil on canvas, 121 x 152 cm
Private Collection
Copyright David Hockney
Photo credit: Steve Oliver

This is the view of the drive he took on a regular basis to see his friend Jonathan Silver who was dying from pancreatic cancer.  Silver was a major collector of Hockney's work and established a museum at Saltaire of Hockney's art - owned by either the Silver family or the Hockney family.  The road is the one between the Yorkshire Wolds and Bradford.  It repeats the process of Nichols Canyon - he painted in the studio of accumulated memories.  He didn't work from direct observation and spent a lot of time on each painting.

By way of contrast the more recent Yorkshire landscapes are produced by a man who is more comfortable painting landscapes.  His landscapes are much spontaneous and immediate.

He liked painting in watercolours because of the disdain it was treated by the royal Academy.  He knew many of the great landscape painters were masters of watercolour painting - and he spent three years just painting in watercolours.  He was also aware that no major British artist had ever painted East Yorkshire.

Latterly he has been painting plein air by the side of very quiet roads.  He's not doing any preliminary drawings, not drawing on the canvas - just getting on and transferring his observations into paint.  He intensifies the colours which he sees in the landscape.

He's made more work in terms of the number of paintings in the last few years than ever before.  The numbers rival a whole lifetime of painting by other artists.

In Yorkshire he really revelled in the changing seasons - in the different look of the place - and the light from the early morning and the end of the day when you have the best light for painting a landscape

He also comments on what a fantastic tool the iPad has been for Hockney in creating drawings of the landscape and there are now hundreds.  They are visually very rich.

He also describes the process for producing the films of moving through the landscape in what has turned out to be a very popular room in the exhibition

David Hockney - Winter Tunnel with Snow, March, 2006
Oil on canvas, 91.4 x 121.9 cm
Courtesy of the artist | Copyright David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt
David Hockney - Under the Trees, Bigger 2010-11
Oil on twenty canvases (each 91.4 x 121.9 cm) , 365.8 x 609.6 cm
Courtesy of the artist | Copyright David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt
She tells the story of the exhibition and explains the paintings room by room.  She has a tendency to gabble in long sentences which makes her talk a bit more difficult to follow.  However she does focus on Hockney's ways of working and how is work is all based on observation and the memories of looking.

Many of the stories in the recordings can be read in Hockney's biography David Hockney: The Biography by Christopher Simon Sykes and True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations with David Hockney by: Lawrence Weschler.

Note: Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Links: About David Hockney - British artist


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