Eye Candy for Today: Levitan’s Golden Autumn

Golden Autumn (Zolotaya Osen), Isaac Levitan

Golden Autumn (Zolotaya Osen), Isaac Levitan (details)
Golden Autumn (Zolotaya Osen), Isaac Levitan

Link is to page with access to high-resolution image file on Wikimedia Commons. Original is in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the original, but the Tretyakov image seems a little over exposed to me, so I’m going with the Wikimedia version.

A justifiably famous painting by the 19th century Russian landscape master. Brilliant use of complementary blues and oranges. The greens are more subdued than they may appear at first glance — even when set against strategically placed spots of complementary red — allowing the yellow-oranges to dominate.

I love the variety of color and texture in the grasses.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: John Carlin watercolor portrait miniature

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin; watercolor on ivory

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin; watercolor on ivory (detail)

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin

Watercolor on ivory, roughly 4 x 3 inches (9 x 7 cm); in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s possible that this is a grayscale image of a more colorful painting — the Met’s website pages doesn’t comment — but my guess is that it was painted monochromatically.

The portrait is obviously of a real and not idealized person, and sensitively painted in that wonderful drybrush/stipple watercolor technique that was prevalent in the mid to late 19th century.

At that time, it was commonplace to paint small portraits in watercolor on ivory, often in an oval as part of a broach. In this case, the painting is rectangular, but not much larger than an oval might have been.

I find it interesting that the artist has balanced with composition with the edge of a chair and the suggestion of a room corner behind the sitter.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: William Holman Hunt watercolor still life

Still Life with Plums, William Holman Hunt, watercolor

Still Life with Plums, William Holman Hunt, watercolor (details)

Still Life with Plums, William Holman Hunt

Watercolor on paper, roughly 12 x 14 inches (30 x 37 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum. (Zoomable and downloadable versions of the image are available on the site.)

A beautiful and sensitively observed still life by the Pre-Raphaelite master. It appears to be done in a watercolor technique that combines the intricate application of drybrush and stipple.

It’s interesting to compare this to the similarly rendered watercolor still life paintings of William Henry Hunt. (As far as I know, the two Victorian painters just have similar names and are not related.)

 
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Eye Candy for Today: William Merritt Chase Shinnecock landscape

Landscape: Shinnecock, Long Island, William Merritt Chase

Landscape: Shinnecock, Long Island, William Merritt Chase (details)

Landscape: Shinnecock, Long Island, William Merritt Chase

Link is to the painting in the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum, which has zoomable and downloadable version of the image on their website. There is also a downloadable image on Wikimedia Commons.

I have long been an admirer of the paintings of the 19th century American artist William Merritt Chase, for his portraits, interiors, still life and landscapes. Among his landscapes are a series of wonderful paintings from his summers living and teaching in the Shinnecock Hills area of eastern Long Island, New York.

These depict gently rolling hills and dunes covered in wildflowers, dune grasses and scrubby bushes, which Chase rendered with his beautifully textural variation on the loosely related styles that are together known as “American Impressionism”. The compositions often included members of Chase’s family, idyllically enjoying the summer sun and sea breezes.

I have found the character of the landscape in those paintings particularly interesting, as it’s quite unlike the shore areas and beaches I’m more familiar with in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and western Long Island.

I finally got to see some of the area where Chase lived and painted over the last few days on a mini-vacation to the area around Amaganssett, East Hampton and Montauk, on the far eastern end of Long Island, and somewhat east of where Chase had his summer home and school.

I found it fascinatingly different not just from beach areas elsewhere, but from any other place I’ve been — quite beautiful and not surprisingly an inspiration for Chase and his students.

 
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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.

I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, and still live nearby in Pennsylvania, and 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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