Monday, August 7, 2017

Poets and Painters, from 1795 to 1849.

When I go back and look at some of the first paintings that American artists were making I am fascinated by their optimism. In paintings like "Kindred Spirits," 1849, by Asher Durand, you feel the sublime in nature and the conversation of two friends as they marvel at its rugged beauty.  This was painted a year after the death of Durand's friend Thomas Cole.  The painting commissioned by Jonathan Sturges depicts Cole on the right with his easel  under his arm, talking with a poet William Cullen Bryant.  I looked up some of Bryant's writing and the first quote I came upon was what I might have expected; " Go forth under the open sky, and list To Nature's teachings."
     This spot in the Catskill Mountains is painted lovingly and reverently. There are no ruins from Europe.  There are only the broken branches of trees and the mountains that seem as if they have been placed, or composed in a way that skips the eye back into space getting lighter, softer and more ultra-marine as they move into the distance.  Its gives us the feeling of peace between man and nature, where two friends just stand in awe of what they are seeing.  It is an idealized moment.  The hawks flying free and the light just right.  So many landscape artists of this period seem to have the feeling of America as a paradise regained in their work.  The waterfall running through the center is another great design in composition.  It leads our eye up and down the painting and for me adds a sound of water moving.  There is great attention placed on the detail of the ferns in the foreground to the left.  The over hanging branch also has a visual rhythm as the pattern of the leaves seem to speak order in the wild.  There is a great balance in the painting.  There is not only reverence for Nature but also that of Thomas Cole.  The Oxbow, by Thomas Cole is another great painting, painted in Massachusetts.
    The last painting I have chosen goes back a little further to 1795.  In this painting we can see an influence of the European painters such as Claude Lorraine who lived in France in the 1600s. Winstanley has a painting that can still be seen at Mount Vernon, that was owned by George Washington.  During a visit to Mount Vernon I was fascinated by these paintings and their dark beauty.  The mood and mystery is something that I am drawn to in my own paintings. This painting by Winstanley was painted around the same time that the poet William Wordsworth was composing lines prasing Nature for its doorway into the human spirit.  These words echo that of Bryant; "Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher."
Lines Written in Early Spring

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove i state reclined,
In the sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to mind.

William Wordsworth

"Kindred Spirits" 1849, by AsherB. Durand, New York Public Library, New York

"The Oxbow", 1836, by Thomas Cole, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"Meeting of the Waters," 1795, by William Winstanley, at the Museum of Art, Utica, New York