Monday, January 20, 2014

Carl Moll - square paintings

The Austrians seem to have a thing for squares. Gustav Klimt used the square format almost exclusively, and the Czech/Austrian modernist architect Adolf Loos popularised the use of square windows in his facades.
These square paintings are by Carl Moll, another Austrian. 

Moll successfully incorporated into his work Impressionist techniques of colour and brushwork, and the compositional daring of Modernism, while still preserving 19th century accuracy.

Despite its quality, Moll's work has been pushed to the side somewhat (I only discovered it fairly recently). A founding member of the Vienna Secession, he exhibited with Klimt, and was considered his equal. Both artists broke away from the Secession in 1905.

Perhaps the main reason for art history's side-lining of Moll was his enthusiasm for the Nazi Party. It was very disappointing to read about this in his biographical data. There were some Jewish connections in his family, and it's possible that he wanted to be seen as a Nazi supporter as a means of camouflaging himself and his family. Moll's attitudes were conflicted, he was on very cordial terms with his Jewish son-in-law Gustav Mahler, but like most Austrians of his time and class he was anti-semitic. The fact that he committed suicide as the Russians marched on Vienna in 1945, unfortunately suggests that he was loyal to the Third Reich to the bitter end.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Turner: Glazing over Impasto

Recently I made the 3-4 hour car trip from Sydney to Canberra to see the Turner from the Tate exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia.
I had seen many of the works years ago at the Tate Gallery in London (which has the best collection of his much dispersed work), but an opportunity to see them in the flesh again was too good to pass up.

J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851) was one of Britain’s most original and inventive artists, a key figure of Romanticism, who influenced the Impressionists and even the Abstract Expressionists.

The exhibition includes several immense landscapes full of his ethereal brushstrokes and fascinating detail. These seem to glow as with an inner light, and are magnificently framed in monumental gilded mouldings. There are also many gem-like little watercolours to see.

A highlight of his later career is Venice, the Bridge of Sighs, 1840 (top and detail) in which he uses the oil technique of glazing over impasto. This technique gives the illusion of fine detail, without the need for laborious brushwork. 
The toxicity of real Lead White paint meant that it has been replaced by other pigments such as Titanium White. It's not easy to obtain these days, but some manufacturers of professional grade oil paints still make it - for a hefty price. Lead White it is particularly suited to the creation of fine impasto effects due to its ropey consistency, which can be manipulated into delicate peaks and cake-decoration-like swirls. 
Lead paint is fairly safe as long as the pigment is bound in the oil medium and not in a powder form, where it can be inhaled. You would not want to lick your brushes, as some artists I know have a habit of doing. I wouldn't recommend getting it on your skin either.
After the impasto has dried, a thin glaze of a contrasting grey or ochre is washed over it. The glaze collects in the depressions of the impasto, giving the impression of detail from a distance.
In Bridge of Sighs, Turner uses impasto only to pick out foci of interest, such as architectural details on the Doge's Palace. It looks as though he's used both an ochre yellow and a purplish grey glaze. Purple and yellow are complementary colours, so the effect, especially from a distance, is a kind of vibrating iridescence, later used by Monet to great effect to recreate sunlit walls.

Here are some photos the exhibition staff let me take (no flash allowed, so a little blurry, but better than I expected in the dimly lit gallery):

The last three images are details from the larger works.

More information about the exhibition here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Golden Skies

Constant Troyon, A Clump of Trees, c.1860
George Inness, The Brook.

These works by Constant Troyon (top) and George Inness, make use of the golden light of dusk to suffuse the scenes with a sense of mystery. Warm golden hues - yellows sometimes with a touch of orange and red - are the perfect foil for dark grey-green foliage, creating a mood of soothing harmony.

The American landscape painter George Inness was so influential that he is often called "the father of American landscape painting". 
In his mature period, Inness discovered the spiritual writings of the Swedish mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg. The late paintings are poetic and mystical, with landscape views that are more intimate and personal, and a handling of shapes that is more abstract and nebulous than the earlier, more descriptive paintings.

In a published interview, Inness maintained that "The true use of art is, first, to cultivate the artist's own spiritual nature." His abiding interest in spiritual and emotional considerations did not preclude Inness from undertaking a scientific study of color, nor a mathematical, structural approach to composition: "The poetic quality is not obtained by eschewing any truths of fact or of Nature...Poetry is the vision of reality."

The glowing golden skies in these works would probably have been created by applying transparent glazes of a warm yellow over a white underpainting.

Geroge inness, The Monk, 1873.
Maple Screen, Hasegawa Tohaku.
It's possible that Inness was influenced by seeing the gold leaf backgrounds of Japanese folding screens (Byōbu), or it may have just been the symbolic association gold has with the Eternal.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

John Nash

John Nash:
1. A Path Through Trees, ca. 1915.
2. Gloucester Landscape.
3. The Cornfield, 1918.

The English painter John Nash is perhaps best known for his work as a war artist. His depictions of the horrors of WW1 had a great impact.
These landscapes show a deep love and understanding of nature, and even though he was largely untrained, and the works have a naive quality, they are also often executed with a fine sense of craftsmanship. He was also a print-maker.
He was a lover of Dora Carrington (bottom painting), and a major influence on her work.

Dora Carrington, Farm at Watendlath, 1921

Here's a link to a post about this period of British landscape painting, on the blog Art and Architecture mainly: two exhibitions of British landscapes

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Edward Steichen

Best known for his iconic photographs, Edward Steichen also experimented with landscape painting. He destroyed many of his canvases, and these tonalist nocturnes are are some of the surviving works.
Steichen used delicate washes of thinned oil colour, one over another, to create an opalescent effect and a mood of poetic reverie reminiscent of Whistler and George Innes.
This effect does not come across well in reproductions.
Steichen was born in Luxembourg and immigrated to the US as an infant in 1881. He died in 1973 at the ripe old age of 93.

Friday, November 30, 2012


Corot, Le Ruisseau au Cheval Blanc, 46.9 x 72.3 cm.
Henri Biva, By the River.
Jorge Cerda Girones.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Caspar David Friedrich, Quotes

After a long period during which his work was neglected and misunderstood (it was even associated with Nazism at one stage) Caspar Friedrich is now appreciated as a major figure in landscape painting, and perhaps the most important German painter of the Romantic period. His landscapes are unique, not only because they draw from a deep contemplation of Nature but because they reflect an inner world of eternal values.

Friedrich wrote a collection of aphorisms communicating his insights into painting. Here are some of them:

"Close your bodily eye, that you may see your picture first with the eye of the spirit. Then bring to light what you have seen in the darkness, that its effect may work back, from without to within."

"If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him."

The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself.

"What the newer landscape artists see in a circle of a hundred degrees in Nature they press together unmercifully into an angle of vision of only forty-five degrees. And furthermore, what is in Nature separated by large spaces, is compressed into a cramped space and overfills and oversatiates the eye, creating an unfavorable and disquieting effect on the viewer."

"The pure, frank sentiments we hold in our hearts are the only truthful sources of art. A painting which does not take its inspiration from the heart is nothing more than futile juggling. All authentic art is conceived at a sacred moment and nourished in a blessed hour; an inner impulse creates it, often without the artist being aware of it."

The Russian writer Aleksandr Turgenev wrote of Friedrich in his diary:

We visited Friedrich's atelier today. Listening to him and seeing his paintings was wonderful. He has some bonhomie which pleases people and his paintings reveal his romantic imagination. As a rule, he expresses in them one thought or feeling, though vaguely. You may meditate over his paintings but not have a clear understanding of them, for they are vague even in his soul. They are dreams or daydreams. He often employs very simple natural things, such as an ice block floating on sea waves, a few trees in a dale, window of his room (facing the beautiful Elbe), knight meditating over ruins or tombstones, monk staring into the distance or below his feet: all this captivates your soul, plunges you into dreams, all invokes your imagination, powerfully though vaguely.(6 August 1825)