Eye Candy for Today: Early Autumn, Montclair by George Inness

Early Autumn, Montclair, landscape painting by George Inness

Early Autumn, Montclair, landsape painting by George Inness
Early Autumn, Montclair, George Inness

The link is to a zoomable version on the Google Art Project; there is a high-resolution downloadable version on Wikimedia Commons; the original is in the Delaware Art Museum (which unfortunately doesn’t have its collection online, though there is more on the Google Art Project).

This is one of my favorite paintings in the world.

Growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting this painting at the Delaware Art Museum on a frequent basis since I was a teenager.

I still find it striking and enlightening every time I see it, and as my understanding of painting grows, so does my appreciation for George Inness and what he accomplished.

This painting — a somewhat idealized representation of Montclair, New Jersey, where Inness lived at the end of his career — is a tour-de-force of value relationships, color temperature, brush handling, and especially edges.

Inness was a master of soft edges and suggestion in painting, allowing your mind to participate and fill in what he has only suggested, but he was equally adept at bringing hard edges to the fore when it suited his composition.

Here, he uses both hard and soft edges with dramatic effect. The sapling on the left barely seems to exist; the dark tree toward the center has a more forceful presence, and main branch of the central tree — where Inness wants your eye to go — has an almost three-dimensional extension into the space in front of the canvas. (Actually, that branch really is three-dimensional in the physical thickness of the paint.)

Look at the difference in the brush handling across the composition; everything outside of the primary focal area is diffuse — almost a textural variation on Da Vinci’s sfumato — while the main tree is so painterly and tactile it’s a joy to follow the brush marks with your eye.

The paint looks to have been applied by natural forces in layers of mist and strikes of lightning.

Inness has broken compositional “rules” here with casual aplomb; the main subject is smack in the center of the painting and the horizon divides the canvas in half vertically — almost as if he was taking a dare to break those assumed norms of things you “don’t do” in composition.

The colors are equally remarkable. There are a few relatively high-chroma oranges, but in general the colors are muted and the palette reserved, yet the color relationships make the entire painting feel rich and vibrant.

The painting is a delight, and I think a fulfillment of the goal Inness had of conveying the Swedeborgian doctrine that the spiritually divine could be found in the contemplation of the natural world.

The season is deliberately transitional, and the painting as a whole suggests that the weather could be either sunny or cloudy; the landscape contains both natural and man-made elements and the central tree is in both light and shadow. Everything is binary — Summer and Autumn, dark and light, hard and soft, muted and colorful, suggested and represented, traditional and modern.

I’ll also point out that the painting’s subject is Autumn, and that today is the Autumnal Equinox, which — like the Vernal Equinox at the start of Spring — is a point in the Earth’s yearly journey around the sun at which the sun’s rays strike the tilted Earth directly on the equator, rather than above or below it.

Everything in balance.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Andrew Wyeth drybrush & watercolor

Flat Boat, Andrew Wyeth, watercolor and drybrush

Flat Boat, Andrew Wyeth, watercolor and drybrush, details

Flat Boat, Andrew Wyeth

Watercolor and drybrush, roughly 22 x 29 inches (56 x 74 cm). Image and link is from a 2013 Christie’s auction sale.

While I don’t always respond as strongly to his more formal and conceptual works, I very much like Andrew Wyeth’s watercolors and drybrush watercolors, in which he is just directly observing from nature and interpreting what he sees in simple, often spare compositions.

This is a combination of both traditional fluid transparent watercolor, and drybrush, in which passages — particularly those involving texture — are built up with short multiple strokes applied with most of the paint wiped from the brush before application.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Chardin’s Young Student Drawing

Young Student Drawing, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin

Young Student Drawing, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin

Young Student Drawing, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

Oil on panel, roughly 8 x 7 inches (21 x 17 cm). Link is to zoomable version on Google Art project; downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.

French 18th century master Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was noted for his still life paintings, and also for his genre paintings of figures in interiors (which also included still life objects).

Though not in keeping with the majority of his other work, this subject of a student drawing is a theme Chardin returned to in multiple works.

This painting is small, and in close up detail crops reveals itself as wonderfully painterly.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Carlo Ferrario pencil drawing

A Natural Stone Arch Beside the Sea, Carlo Ferrario pencil drawing

A Natural Stone Arch Beside the Sea, details, Carlo Ferrario pencil drawing

A Natural Stone Arch Beside the Sea, Carlo Ferrario

Pencil on paper; roughly 8 x 12 inches (21 x 31 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum, NY.

19th century artist Carlo Ferrario is known for his drawings for the designs of operatic stage sets. This drawing is a natural scene, possibly from life, and was meant to be part of a set of 27 drawings.

I love his confident delineation of the rocky shapes, his alternately bold and sensitive pencil marks and his wonderful control of value.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Abraham Bloemaert’s flute player

The Flute Player, Abraham Bloemaert
The Flute Player, Abraham Bloemaert, details

The Flute Player, Abraham Bloemaert

Roughly 23 x 27 inches (58 x 69 cm), link is to zoomable version on Google Art Project, downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht.

In a composition somewhat similar to those of his contemporary Georges de La Tour, 17th century Dutch painter Abraham Bloemaert has lit his subject by candle or lamplight that is hidden behind a foreground object — in this case a dark vesssel that also serves as a compositional element to hold the left edge of the image, and balance the darkness on the right.

Both the dark object and the dark background serve as contrast to emphasize the illumination of the musician’s face, which has the added interest of being uplit.

The highlights and shadows round the eye, the highlights and darks on the hat as well as the feather and light clothing against the background, form a series of concentric rings of light and dark, a target effect. This was not uncommon among Dutch paintings of the time, and can be seen in the work of Vermeer, among others.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Isaac Levitan Crimean landscape

In the Crimean Mountains, Isaac Ilich Levitan

n the Crimean Mountains, Isaac Ilich Levitan (details)
In the Crimean Mountains, Isaac Ilich Levitan

Oil on canvas, roughly 26 x 14 inches (68 x 36 cm); in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

This stunning rocky landscape is part of the superb collection of works in the Tretyakov Gallery by 19th century Russian landscape master Isaac (Isaak) Ilich Levitan.

Here, Levitan give us a tour-de-force of texture, not only in the cascade of strewn boulders in the foreground, but in the trunks of the trees and in the representation of the foliage beyond.

The variation of color in the rocks is remarkable, both between the various rocks and within the painted surface of each individual plane of each rock.

 
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