I posted this Mulhaupt (1871-1938) painting last night and muttered a few incantations over it. When I rechecked my post this morning for the inevitable spelling errors I realized that I could say a little more about it.Part of my intent on this blog is to do a pocket history of American landscape painting and I am doing that progressively so I don't want Mulhaupt to jump the que. I will return to do a bio on him when I get to his era. But I will talk a little about this particular painting.
I have painted enough similar scenes and experienced the challenges of making a picture out of this particular thing to know what a great piece of work this is. When I see pictures by the old Gloucester artists of the waterfront with all of the boats and accoutrement's of the long passed fishing industry, I think, that they had such great subject matter that making paintings would have been easier. But scenes like this are of course still available and Mulhaupt was working with material that is still before us today. Let me load up some bullets here and make comments on this piece.
- The painting is a linked up tracery of dark against light. There is a filigree of foreground elements leading us up from the foreground to the stand of birches.
- The birches which are the main characters on this stage are arrayed in their delicate fineness in front of the foil formed by the dark grouping of trees behind them.
- I have spoken about counterchange many times and this is a fine example of that. The trees are light in front of the dark background and dark against the sky.
- The background progresses across the canvas in a design I have called the "string of pearls" here is a post about that. Artists often combine and mix and match design motifs in their work and Mulhaupt has done that in this piece.
- The tonality of the piece is mostly gray with warm burnt sienna accents. Both the background mass of trees and the variations on the birches themselves are knocked in using this warm color. Gray and warm red is a restrained and dignified scheme. The snow could have been shadowed or painted with a sunlight influenced color that would have been cheerier, but Mulhaupt went for the soft sell. It gives the painting a more wistful if less assertive look. I think too many painters today go for the punchier more highly colored look when a quieter effect would be more appropriate.This piece is poetic as a result of that choice.
- Three corners of this piece are empty. I often tell students that you can have the corners for free. There doesn't need to be much in them, but the lead in does decorate the lower right corner, which gives greater variety than had all of the corners been empty.
- If you put your finger on the lower left had corner of the painting you will notice that everything marches backwards into space from that point. Each element of the painting is successively behind the others as they recede into space. That sequential delineation of space is real characteristic of Gloucester, Rockport work. It gives a definite foreground, middle ground distance delineation and of course is installed more than perceived.
- The delicate tracery of the branches is the result of some reduction. He has downplayed them so the aren't too assertive. Again I have painted scenes like this and know he has judiciously lopped off branches to keep the foreground airy so it balances with the inward middle ground. These trees have been pruned so as to not assert themselves over the deeper parts of the tableau.
- I have no idea why the sky has cracked so, but I guess it was too thickly painted and may contain ivory black which can suck up a lot of oil and desiccate a passage. Old paintings crack though and it doesn't really detract from the painting. A good restorer could fix this, but were it my painting I would leave it alone as it doesn't seem to be flaking. This problem is called craquelure.