Monday, April 22, 2013

A Coupla Things, or Three

April 22nd Awards*, Details, and a Roadside Plant

My apologies to you for being so long absent. Events in and around Boston have kept me from my task.

I'm presenting two April 22nd Awards today. The first is to Julius Jacobus van de Sande Bakhuysen (Dutch, 1835-1925) for his painting Milking Time. He gets his award for his extraordinary control of a great number of closely hued and closely valued Greens.

The second April 22nd Award goes to John Arnesby Brown (English, 1866-1955). He gets his award for his masterful juxtapositioning of warm and cool colors. Brown is best known for his paintings of cattle against tumultuous skies. I came across this one at an exhibition entitled British Impressionism, at the Barbican Center, London about fifteen years ago. I really liked the painting, and it's stayed with me. 

The exhibition of which this was a part was soundly panned by several critics. They complained that it was watered down French impressionism, and had nothing much of merit to it. I, having viewed the show, wanted to throttle the reviewers. It was that I first met the Glasgow Boys and a number of other artists with whom I had been unfamiliar.

I suppose their point was that the paintings broke no new ground, as if the point of art should be, always and in all cases, on the cutting edge. So much for any resonance that Rembrandt's self-portraits may have for you. It's old news.

The reviewers' comments reminded me of a remark by Elisabeth Luytens (1906-1983), daughter of the famous architect Sir Edwin Luytens. Ms. Luytens became a well-known composer, working in a very modern idiom. She characterized the work of a number of other English composers, those working roughly at the same time as many of my favorite artists, and in a decidedly lyric-pastoral manner, as "the cow pat school." Ouch! 

Sadly, John Arnesby Brown was blind for the last thirteen years of his life. Remember that the next time you play hookey from the studio.

*The April 22nd Awards were just begun today, by the way. I might have named them for Richard Diebenkorn, a favorite artist of mine, whose birthday is today.

Thirty years ago, when I was very much still in thrall to the Hudson River School, a friend encountered me on the street in New York. I was carrying a book of Diebenkorn's work. He was aghast, deciding I'd finally gone crackers. In fact I believed then, as I believe now, that good painting is good painting.

Although it wasn't an intentional choice (I promise), you'll notice that there are some color harmonies in Diebenkorn that are echoed in Arnesby Brown's painting, above. 

Next up is a reminder that, even though it's merely Spring, it's already time to begin storing nuts for the winter. Here's a drawing I made, maybe thirty years ago, of a common mullein (verbascum thapsus). It's usually found growing in disturbed ground, in waste places. There are some verbascums suited to the garden, but not this one.

(Not sure what I spilled on this drawing, but it wasn't headed to the Albertina in Vienna, in any case)
I have included this plant in countless landscapes when I've needed a vertical weed to animate some area of a painting. Each time I do, I'm thankful that I took twenty-minutes, some day long ago, to draw it. 

Make yourselves a small group of drawings of common landscape elements. They will pay you back handsomely in the years to come.

Last, and probably least, are a few details for you from the Vertical One. As I explained to my wife, when she asked me how it was going, it's in the ugly phase. By this I mean that, though there's paint everywhere on the canvas, most of it is only holding the place for the final layer. For instance, here's the underpainting, if you will, for the tiled shed roof. 

Using this as a basis, I will actually paint the roof on top of these colored scribbles, though much of this layer will still show through. These tiled roofs appear, from a distance, to be of somewhat uniform color. But, as you get closer, they are made up of tiles with quite different hues. These can be the result of differences in the firing temperatures for example. Roofs of any great age have had many tiles replaced and the colors rarely match. Modern roof tiles tend to be quite uniform in color, and they often look, in the mass, very mechanical. They seem too even, too perfect, whereas old tiles feature all the charming distress of age. When I replaced the roof on Pont Chevalier (my first house in France), I had the roofers save as many of the undamaged old tiles as they could. They managed to save enough, from the two sides, to roof the public side with old tiles. 

Here's a portion of the tree mass, with the same sort of tentative under-painting. The matrix of leaves and branches is tremendously complex. When I paint over this section, in the final act, much of this will show through, adding a random complexity which makes for a more dynamic and exciting surface. This detail is about actual size.

As I said, it's now in the ugly phase, and it all looks like a dog's dinner. But one of the advantages of having some experience is knowing that this is only a phase. There's no need to despair. From these random marks, if I'm lucky, may come a surface of great beauty.

Here's hoping!


A French question for my Francophone readers (you could comment here, or might email me at
I'm painting what we would call a 'lane' in American English. It's a farm track, probably only used a few times a week by a farmer on his tractor.  It would be a trial to drive on it in a regular car, and there's a likelihood it wouldn't be possible.
Thus, if I wanted to call a painting "The Lane to Pont Chevalier",  but in French, would I use le chemin or la voie, or something else entirely? Thanks.  


  1. Lots to enjoy and think about there. Thank you. The point about the difficult phase is very valid and (useful!).

    PS Maybe a French speaker will be kind enough to "statuer", but I would think it is "Le chemin", the problem is more the preposition - "le chemin de/à/" ?

    1. Merci, Jon.The Francophone world seems to agree on chemin, several emails supporting it, too. Seems to be "de", as well.

  2. A "voie" is driveable so it's definitely "le chemin": "le chemin de Pont Chevalier".

  3. Thanks for the detailed pix of your painting-in-progress. If this is the 'ugly' stage, (pretty beautiful to me), I'm itching to see where the 'dog's breakfast' travels from here. I kinda like the stain on the Verbascum sketch. Sort of a "Multi-media" abstraction... but it needs a French title, too.

  4. I've been out of the country, but if it is not too late around here they are normally referred to as les chemins blancs;(due to the clacaire) so an unsurfaced road seems to be a chemin.