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.