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.

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