Sunday, June 7, 2009

The last Waltz

I have to publish a correction, I identified the painting I showed the day before yesterday as a Sanford Gifford. It was actually painted by his close friend Jervis McEntee 1828-1921. I will try to make it up to Jervis tonight by illustrating a post with his art.

I am very fond of McEntees work, and most of it is moodier and more melancholic than Sanford Gifford or the somewhat atypical work above. Below is a painting more characteristic of his art. Like Jasper Cropsey, he was often a painter of fall, but while Cropsey painted the exuberant cadmium hues of high autumn. McEntee painted the time after the season has peaked and the leaves are gone off the trees as they wait in the last warm afternoons before the coming of November and the bleak cold of winter.

McEntee had a still and reflective mood in his work. They have a far away sadness to them, like memories of a place once loved and a longing for times to which you can never return.

These paintings seem more remembered than seen. It is the opposite of a bright immediacy and is far deeper and contemplative. While the cheery pictures that fill our contemporary galleries are happy and easily approachable, next to this McEntee, they seem to me, frivolous and shallow. I think it rare that a painter can convey this feeling so well. Musicians commonly take us there, achingly sad and nostalgic songs are common enough and some are deeply touching, but I can think of few paintings that make me feel that way.

McEntee is nearly unique in this I think. These paintings are a great illustration of the ability of a landscape painting to be a carrier of sentiment rather than just a description of a place or a painting of the day. I think the depth of these paintings makes the "paint the day" idea seem rather mechanical and not having any particular meaning, but only a matter of fact record of a place made by a visual accountant rather than by a poet.

If you only paint the day, all you will get is meteorology.

There is a reward for the viewer of paintings, in delving deeper than the "pretty" things with their major key colors and often vapid representation of a world without sorrow or autumn.Those overly happy paintings start to seem like the jangling nursery music played to keep small children happy.
Mc Entees paintings give me that feeling I had when I read Wuthering Heights. They don't look like the moors of Kathy and Heathcliff, but they make me feel the same same deep wistfulness.

Above is a picture of New Hampshire's Mount Washington from the Saco river on the Maine border. I know this place well and have painted on or near it. Its hard to know exactly where it really is. I know which stretch of the river it must be because of the aspect the mountain presents.The foreground must have been assembled from drawings in the studio, and things can change a lot in 150 years. I will go back and hunt again in the fall, perhaps this year.

Here is Jervis. He was close to both Church and Gifford and a member of the National Academy. He, like the rest of that group of second generation Hudson River school painters lived in New York city and worked in the10th street studios located at 51 west 10th street between 5th and 6th designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, brother of William Morris Hunt. .The building had a central domed gallery and was the center of 19th century American Art. Church and Gifford and many others had studios here.The 10th street studio was torn down 1956 for an apartment building. The historic Fenway studios in Boston where I was taught by R. H. Ives Gammell is a similar building that still stands.

In the summer they would take their sketchbooks and easels and fan out across New England and upstate New York from these studios, in order to build a library of drawings from which to build their next seasons paintings.


Jesse said...

I like McEntee's narrow range of hues. Sometimes my paintings bounce wildly all over the color wheel, as I strain to match what is in front of me.
I get the feeling that McEntee selected a color range just as you would move pieces of the landscape around for the composition.

Todd Bonita said...

Hi Stape,

I must tell you that you turned me on to Ivan Shiskin. I may have seen his work before but you have opened my eyes to this tremendous talent. i found myself on Amazon looking for a book to hint to my wife for a fathers day over 300 bucks I would have to have fathered dozens of children to afford such a luxury. My gosh! Do you have a used book resource you might share..I usually check Ebay, Amazon used and B&N Used.
Another note to let you know that you seem to answer my questions even before i have them. I'm not bullshitting when I say your blog may be the best resource for the real down-to-earth inside stuff artist really need to know. Your post about the business are so insightful. thank you for sharing. I'm thinking of things to ask you but you remain two steps ahead of the sheriff so far.
All the best,

Stapleton Kearns said...

The artists of this generation built their paintings in the studio from drawings made on location. When they worked outside they often did so in earthy color palettes as these were the pigments commonly in use at the time. I think they would have thought our color today to be garish,McEntees color is more restrained than his peers in the Hudson River school.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am sorry,I don't know a source for a Shiskin book other than those. At least not one that is affordable. New art books are constantly appearing, so if you watch, you may see a new volume on Shiskin one of these days.It has been possible to buy books in Russian about him that were more affordable.My high school Russian won't carry me through them any more, but I can look at the pictures.

Jan Blencowe said...

Thank you so much for this insightful comment "I think the depth of these paintings makes the "paint the day" idea seem rather mechanical and not having any particular meaning, but only a matter of fact record of a place made by a visual accountant rather than by a poet.

If you only paint the day, all you will get is meteorology."

After nearly a decade of stictly plein air painting I have entered to the studio to create poetic paintings that are more than just meterology!

Of course I will continue to paint on location but I need to do more.

This change hasn't gone over too well with some of my plein air buddies! But I know I must do it.

Your post today,was the affirmation that I need to keep my resolve, so Thank You!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I paint outside a lot but I also work in the studio.I think there is expressive plein air painting, but i don't think turning yourself into a meat camera will get you there.Expression is of paramount importance and can not be observed into a painting.

Jan Blencowe said...

I love this thought "Expression is of paramount importance and can not be observed into a painting."

May I quote you on my blog? With a link back to here of course!