Eye Candy for Today: Summer Bloom by Joaquim Vayreda

Summer Bloom by Joaquim Vayreda

Summer Bloom by Joaquim Vayreda (details)

Summer Bloom by Joaquim Vayreda, roughly 52 x 104 inches (130 x 263 cm).

Link is to Google Art Project; downloadable image on Wikimedia Commons, original is in the Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.

We can start the summer with this beautifully idyllic pastoral scene by 19th century Spanish painter Joaquim Vayreda.

The wide aspect ratio — something we might call “cinematic ” today — adds a sense of grandeur and a feeling of theatre. I like the shape of the water and its surface patterns, as well as Vayreda’s soft touch with the background foliage,


Robert S. Duncanson

Robert S Duncanson
Robert S Duncanson

Robert S. Duncanson might be the most significant American landscape painter you never heard of. There is even some confusion about his name and the national origin of his father.

Referred to by critics in the early part of the 19th century as the “best landscape painter in the west”, Duncanson spent much of his career in the Ohio Valley. Though popular during his lifetime, demand for his work faded after his death, but has since regained critical and scholarly favor.

You will find references to to his mother as the descendent of slaves from Virginia — which is accurate — but characterizations of his father as “Scottish-Canadian” are apparently untrue, as is the middle name “Scott” that you will find in many listings (perhaps due to the same misunderstanding). According to Duncanson scholar Joseph D. Ketner II, his middle name was actually “Seldon”, and you will find both names assigned to him in various bios.

Duncanson was able to travel and exhibit in Europe, possibly sponsored initially by an abolitionist organization, and is considered the first African American painter to achieve international acclaim.

People were impressed then, as they are now, by the dramatic sweep and atmospheric range of his large scale landscapes. Though I’ve tried to include a few detail crops, most of the images of his paintings I’ve shown here don’t demonstrate the appeal of his work, and I suggest following the links provided — particularly to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Google Art Project — to see his work in high resolution and greater detail.

There is something about the visual texture, lighting effects and choice of subject in Duncanson’s work that give me a feeling almost of magic realism. Like his Hudson River School contemporaries, from whom he took inspiration, many of his compositions were invented, or referenced from various locations and assembled in an invented whole.

Such is the case of what is considered his masterpiece, a painting titled “Land of the Lotus Eaters“, that was inspired by a poem of Alfred Lord Tennyson (images above, bottom, with detail). Unfortunately, most images of this painting appear to me as though the green passages have been suppressed in reproduction, but I haven’t been able to find a more definitive version.


Eye Candy for Today: Henry Tanner’s Flight Into Egypt

Flight Into Egypt, Henry Ossawa Tanner

Flight Into Egypt, Henry Ossawa Tanner (details)

Flight Into Egypt, Henry Ossawa Tanner

Oil on canvas, roughly 29 x 26 inches (74 x 66 cm). Link is to a reasonably large file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Metropolitian Museum of Art

As he did in many of his biblically themed canvasses, Tanner brings to bear his uncanny touch with light and shadow to dramatize this scene from the story of the flight of the Holy Family from the assassins of King Herod.

The Metropolitan Museum’s website points out that the story was a favorite of Tanner’s, who related it to the flight of African Americans from persecution in the South. Tanner himself fled the systematic prejudice he encountered as an African American painter, emigrating to France where he found greater acceptance and respect.

There is so much to admire in this piece — the carefully crafted value statement, the shadows playing against the wall, the striking glow of light from the lantern, the repeated forms of the arches and large shadow form, and the wonderfully tactile nature of the paint surface and brush marks, in particular as they define the hard and soft edges of the forms.


Edward Mitchell Bannister

Edward Mitchell Bannister

Edward Mitchell Bannister

Edward Mitchell Bannister was a Canadian-American painter active in the late 19h century. Born in New Brunswick, he emigrated to the U.S. — initially to Boston — and spent much of his life and career in Providence, Rhode Island.

Though he painted a variety of subjects, Bannister is known primarily for his serene pastoral landscapes, done in the American Tonalist manner.

Bannister had little formal art education, and could not afford to travel to Europe to study like many of his American contemporaries.

For someone self taught, he quickly gained recognition and honors, one of which was a bronze medal for his painting “Under the Oaks” (the current location of which is unknown) at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. When he went to receive his award, the judges wanted to withdraw the bronze on discovering that Bannister was African American. The other competitors insisted that the award be given as initially judged and he received the bronze medal.

Bannister was a strong supporter of the effort to gain equal rights for African Americans, but chose not to make overt social issues a subject of his painting, preferring instead to focus on a more spiritual sense of harmony and peace.

In keeping with other American Tonalist painters, who were strongly influenced by the painters of the French Barbizon School, Bannister often grouped his masses into strong value shapes, at times so dark as to be almost silhouettes.

It has been suggested that some of Bannisters paintings have grown darker over time. Perhaps this is due to a painting practice, medium or other factor that he might have been discouraged from using if he had access to formal art education; I don’t know.

Bannister’s dark value statements and brusque brush work gave way to a lighter, more Impressionist influenced style later in his career. Bannister was a board member of the Rhode Isand School of Design and a founder of the Providence Art Club.


Eye Candy for Today: Bierstadt’s Mountain Brook

Mountain Brook, Albert Bierstadt

Mountain Brook, Albert Bierstadt (details)

Mountain Brook, Albert Bierstadt

Oil on canvas, roughly 44 x 36 in (12 x 92 cm), in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, whose site includes both a zoomable and downloadable version of the high-res image.

German-American painter Albert Bierstadt, who is associated with both the Hudson River and Rocky Mountain schools of painting, is known primarily for his grand and dramatic vistas of mountains and related landscape, but I find fascination in his more intimate subjects.

In this one — likely an invented scene culled from his trips through the White Mountains in New England — he gives us a tranquil scene of a mountain brook, but alive with a different kind of drama, one of light, shadow and texture.