Sunday, December 9, 2012

Time Travel

Moonlight on the Merrimac:
Looking Backwards

A friend and I have been discussing the view from his Federal-era house, looking down the hill to the Merrimac River, here in Newburyport. The original owner of the house was also the owner of a wharf along the river, at a time when the port was a thriving center for all things maritime. In fact, the Coast Guard's first revenue cutter was built and launched in Newburyport.

In any event, my friend has a window in his house that no longer looks out upon the landscape. It now peeps into a room that is a newer addition. We were musing about what the view must have been from this window when the house was built, and how it must have offered a long view of the owner's mercantile/maritime interests.

The suggestion was made that perhaps I could essay a painting to fill the now-blind window, one that would evoke the distant view of two centuries ago. 

Here's a grisaille, from today, of my initial thoughts about the scene. Now the street is entirely lined with houses and large trees, but it would have much more open in ca. 1810.

Not putting in trees, either in leaf or not, helps to make it more ambiguous as to season. Since the room is primarily used at night, sunshine might have been a bit disconcerting! 

I chose moonlight. 

This grisaille is 20" x 12", the window itself being 60" x 36". There is much refinement that might be done to this painting. We'll see if the project goes forward.

For you who always want to know the colors, the canvas was toned with a mixture of ultramarine blue and ivory black, very thinly applied. The painting, too, was made with those two colors, mixed together. The moon and its reflection are OH mixed white.

Let me know what you think!   


  1. Magical...Can't wait to see what happens next.

    1. PP The ball's in their court now. Why not imaginie a particular place, in another time, as an exercise in imagination? ---send me the results, please!

  2. Oh I do love this! I hope you continue with it, I think it's a fascinating idea, and a beautiful composition.(But then, I try to keep one foot in another century at all times.....)

    1. MG- It becomes rather like a vigorous burstt of hopscotch: "20th century! 19th century! 21st century! Repeat!" I'm exhausted.

  3. My wife asked me to do a similar thing here. We have a former doorway that it now a blank alcove. I always anticipated painting in the open window sash as well as the vinyards beyond.

    I love the nocturn concept. It certainly neutralizes the seasons and perhaps the passage of the sun as well ...if only you could devise a clockwork moon?

    1. If there were clockwork, of course, it would need be orange.
      Since your alcove was a door, rather than a window, perhaps you might imply an even bigger maison de maitre, in the manner of Charles Willson Peale's "Staircase Group". In the museum's installation, the bottom (real) step enter's the viewer's space, effectively breaking the imaginary boundary of the image.

    2. Love the staircase group!
      Unfortunately ours now has wainscotting on the lower 90cms, with an orchid perpetually at sill level,so it has become a window...but still I am intrigued. Hope yours goes through to the next stage.