Moving across a fabric of space offers a different challenge than moving directly into infinite space.
In 1837 artists still took the grand Italian tour to sites designated as artistically worthy. Most of these sites were in the Roman Compagna. From Turner to Corot to Degas to Americans like Sanford Gifford and George Inness they all made the artists’ pilgrimage to paint the ancient landscape of Rome. They borrowed the designs of Claude and Poussin. They also borrowed their palette with its reliance on burnt sienna (an iron oxide).
These artists began with oil sketches on small boards. Example 1 provides a typical sample. It’s the landscape of Rome (approx. 9”x20”) by Gourlier in 1837. Corot had painted here a decade earlier. Notice the dark threshold curving up along the left to frame the distance. Notice the complementary pale violets and yellows as well as the darkened transparent red oxide. I borrowed from this model when painting the marshlands near Newburyport, Massachusetts. Gourlier’s substrate was canvas while mine is a brushed silver, laminated, enameled aluminum. I used a similar 1:2 height to width ratio but, my image is larger at 24×48”. I began with a photograph which I manipulated in Photoshop (example 2). I reversed the photo, altered the values and colors, and stretched it horizontally to fit my 1:2 ratio.
Gourlier’s design pushed the space deeper by using diminishing scale, color and values. Compare the distant forms with the near forms.
Later in the 19th Century in 1878 Sanford Gifford would adopt the same 1:2 format. His subject, like mine, was shoreline marshes. His palette continued to rely on the same one presented by Gourlier except that Gifford’s was brighter (example 3). Because I wish to exploit the reflective nature of the brushed silver surface I sacrifice Gifford’s a whiter substrate in favor of faux brushed silver for its mirror-like properties. Example 4 presents an earlier stage in the painting’s development while example 5 presents the painting in its present state. I treated the arrangement of mounds of marsh grass as Gourlier had arranged his landmasses and shadows, to build a deep space across a shallow plane.
Marsh land space can be expressed along many different lines. As an alternative I used atmospheric perspective or the sudden shift from sharp focused edges to blurred territory which also gives a feeling of depth but, without arranging a plane of receding shapes. For example consider my painting in example 6. Here there is no burnt sienna, no vast horizontal plane just an abbreviated one in front and, no arrangement of shapes diminishing in scale toward the horizon. Here the grasses are arranged vertically as opposed to the earlier examples’ horizontal bundles. And yet, we can still feel space across the shallows and in the misty distance.
I want to invite you to visit the last week of my exhibition at Susan Powell Fine Art, 679 Boston Post Road in Madison, Connecticut; tel 203 318 0616.
I also extend my invitation to you to my workshop in Sun Valley, Idaho at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. This workshop begins next Monday June 19th. See my website’s: classes and workshops for description and contact information.
Finally, I extend an invitation to you to register beginning this Wednesday for my Summer Tuesday painting classes at the Silvermine Center for the Arts in New Canaan, Connecticut. Tuesday mornings I will teach plein air painting in a variety of convenient shaded locations and, later on Tuesday afternoons I teach my Investigations into Landscape Painting indoors in Silvermine’s studio. If interested please contact the Silvermine School of Art at 203 966 6668 ext. 12.