A Vermeer Comes to California

Johannes Vermeer - A Lady Writing
There are painters, there are painter’s painters and then there’s Vermeer.

Ever since I became entranced on seeing his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when I was younger, I’ve thought of Vermeer as less like other painters and more like an alchemist of light, an artistic sorcerer whose works transcend the boundaries of art and ascend into the realm of magic.

This impression has been reinforced each time I’ve encountered his irresistible visual spells; in New York at the Met and the Frick Collection, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; and at the mind-boggling show at the Met in 2001, which collected 15 of his strikingly beautiful paintings and put them in context with some 50 works by his contemporaries.

Have I gotten it across? If not, see my previous post about Vermeer and the Essential Vermeer web site.

Vermeer the artist and man is an enigmatic figure; there is little verifiable information about him, and much of what is discussed is the result of inference or conjecture; the art world’s perfect mystery man.

There are no surviving drawings attributed to Vermeer and only 36 generally accepted paintings (a few of which are still in question). Of these, 22 are in Europe and 14 are in the U.S. All of those in the U.S., except for one piece that is supposed to be in Las Vegas, but the actual whereabouts of which is unknown (What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?), are in collections on the East Coast.

That number was reduced by one in 1990, when Vermeer’s The Concert was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, along with 12 other works in what was the largest art theft in history.

Unless you live on the East Coast (or in Europe), seeing a Vermeer in person has always been a matter of travel.

From now until February 2, 2009, there is a rare opportunity to see a Vermeer on the West Coast of the U.S., as the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena displays Vermeer’s A Lady Writing, on loan from the National Gallery in Washington.

There is a large version here on Essential Vermeer, along with an interactive feature (rollover image for notes) and analysis and background for the painting.

A Lady Writing is perhaps not the most celebrated of Vermeer’s works, it is still most definitely a fine Vermeer, a characteristic example of his pan-dimensional mastery of the magic of paint and light.

Most importantly, it is a beautiful painting.

Like many of Vermeer’s works, there is great room to spin stories into the enigmatic hints of the setting and surroundings, as well as the countenance of the sitter (as was done with the recent novel and film conjured up from his Girl With a Pearl Earring).

What events are suggested by this woman’s letter writing, the fine objects arrayed on her desk, the dark still life behind her, and her own equanimous gaze, directed squarely at the viewer, unabashed, unconcerned, and with a hint of a smile?

Perhaps the sitter’s seemingly complete ease with the act of being painted, and her subtle, confident smile, are attributable to suggestions that she is actually Catharina Bolnes, Vermeer’s wife.

I love the extraordinary way Vermeer has used delicately applied touches of pure white here, in the sparkling highlights of the ornate box, the studs on the lion-headed chair, famous for appearing in so many of his paintings, the shaft of the quill, the string of pearls on the table, the woman’s hair ribbons and, yes, her pearl earrings.

Look at the texture of the cloth and fur, the deep shadows both in the foreground and background, almost creating a secondary frame around the highlighted subject, the delicacy of her fingers, the miniature landscape formed by her hands, the table cover, pearls, inkwell and the horizontal streaks of light across blue cloth behind the ornate box.

Most captivating of all, as in most of Vermeer’s best work, is that timeless sense of captured light, in this case coming from the suggested, but characteristic, light of an unseen window to the viewer’s left, rendered palpable, liquid, pouring over the figure like a mist of gold.

It’s fascinating to compare this painting to Vermeer’s later work Mistress and Maid, in the Frick Collection in New York, which uses a very similar composition and many of the same objects.

If you’re in visiting range of the Norton Simon Museum, or if you’re near the permanent collections in new York or Washington, make a visit and immerse yourself in the crystalized stillness of Vermeer’s magical captured light.

[Link via Art Knowledge News]


Early Star Wars Storyboards

Early Star Wars Storyboards
Nearly all movies these days, an certainly all movies that involve animation or special effects, are plotted out visually beforehand using storyboards; a comic strip like series of drawings, often done simply in markers, showing the basic on screen composition and sequences of action.

There is a nice Flickr set of early storyboards from the original Star Wars movie, early enough that the design of the “pirate ship” in some sequences is very different from the eventual design of the Millenium Falcon.

The art credit for most of these is apparently Joe Johnston.

[Via Kottke]


Analog Photoshop Interface

Analog Photoshop Interface
As a long time Photoshop user, I just love this version of the Photoshop interface as represented by real-world objects.

It’s a poster for software-asli.com, the creative credits are: creative director : Hendra Lesmono, art director : Andreas Junus & Irawandhani Kamarga, copywriter : Darrick Subrata and photgrapher : Anton Ismael.

The mock up is actually quite large, as you can see in the accompanying Flickr set that shows how they assembled it. Be sure to view the full size image to get the real effect.

I love the little details like the fact that the grabber hand glove is smudged.

[Via BoingBoing]


Erwin Madrid

Erwin Madrid
Erwin Madrid is a concept artist for the entertainment industry, currently based in San Francisco, where he earned his BFA at the Academy of Art College.

He has worked for PDI/Dreamworks Animation on films like Shrek 2, Shrek the Third and the Madagascar sequel. He has also done concept art for the gaming industry for titles like Drake’s Fortune.

Artwork on his web site is divided between sections for Shrek and other concept art, personal projects (images above) and a section of landscape paintings from California and Europe.

His work has the snappy, angular energy and fresh color that often gives concept art much of its appeal. His personal projects are lively and imaginative , with a playful use of perspective and unusual viewpoints.

His landscape paintings, done in what I assume is gouache, have a breezy, sketch-like quality that gives them a nice feeling of immediacy.

Madrid also has a blog on which he posts largely about his personal projects, including his contribution to the recent Tokyo Forest Project.

There are also portfolios of his work on the CG Society and Tor.com and a selection of prints for sale on the deviantART shop.


Langridge Re-imagines Spongebob

Roger Langridge
Roger Langridge, the brilliantly off-kilter UK cartoonist that I wrote about back in 2006, recently posted to his blog some comics that were done for Nickelodeon Magazine, in which he draws on his fondness for the great classics of newspaper comics to re-cast Sponegbob Squarepants in the mold of Winsor McCay’s and Little Nemo in Slumberland (image above, bottom), George Herriman’s The Family Upstairs (above, top) and Krazy Kat, Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates; and others like Peanuts and Buck Rogers.

Don’t miss the chance to lose your day being delighted and diverted by the rest of Langridge’s blog, The Hotel Fred, as well as his website and the assortment of comics therein.

[Link via io9]


Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole - The Oxbow
Though often thought of as a quintessentially American painter, the founder of the Hudson River School of painting and even the father of American landscape painting in general, it is perhaps fitting that Thomas Cole was an immigrant. Born in Lancashire England he moved to the U.S. with his family in 1818, when he was 18.

Cole spent a year on his own in Philadelphia before going on to join his family in Stubenville, Ohio, where he worked as a wallpaper designer for his father’s wallpaper factory. He later returned to Philadelphia for two years, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was inspired by the works of Thomas Birch and Thomas Doughty. He then moved to New York and devoted himself to the study of landscape painting.

He did a series of paintings after a sketching trip up the Hudson River that proved to be very successful and he began to accept commissions for works that displayed the grandeur and drama of the still largely unspoiled American wilderness.

Cole took several trips to Europe, refining his distinctly American art with the study of the European masters. He eventually settled in Catskill, New York. There is a Thomas Cole National Historic Site at Cedar Grove.

Cole had a distinct influence on other painters of the time, notably Asher B. Durand, whose famous painting Kindred Spirits was a tribute to Cole and his friend poet William Cullen Bryant; and the renowned painter Frederic Edwin Church, who was Cole’s only formal student.

Cole divided his attention between landscape commissions and large scale allegorical paintings of imaginary views that embodied philosophical ideals, such as a series showing The Voyage of Life, in four stages from childhood to old age.

The most famous of these is his grand sequence of five large canvasses depicting The Course of Empire, from the wilderness of an undiscovered continent to the pastoral beginnings of a young country to the heights of imperial glory and on to the inevitable destruction and collapse of an empire under its own weight.

Cole apparently preferred his ambitious allegorical works, but he is most often admired for his dramatic landscapes, with sweeping views of the wild and open country that still beckoned the American spirit of adventure and discovery.

The image above is alternately titled The Oxbow or The Connecticut River Near Northampton (larger version here and here).

It shows a long view of the American landscape, renewed and glowing in the sun as the darkness of a storm subsides.