Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Plein Air Series: Revolutions

Last week we looked at the history of European landscape painting in the 17th and 18th century, the role of the French Academy, and the rigid classical themes that dictated the fine arts. This week we are going to discuss two major historical movements that shook the foundations of European Society and the vital role landscape painting played in the evolution of painting during this time: the French and Industrial Revolutions.

The French Revolution occurred at the end of the 18th century.  From 1789 to 1799 the French lower classes overthrew the French monarchy.  The arts played a central role during the revolution. Artists such as Jacques-Louis David portrayed revolutionists as martyrs. 

The fall of the monarchy ushered in an era of political and social restructuring. The fine arts were hardly untouched by such changes. The strict standards enforced by the Academy on the fine arts were faltering under pressure. Artists yearned to break free of classical influences and to explore themes that touched on the human experience.

The Romantic Movement did just that. Originating in literature, romanticism came to dominate the visual arts and music, offering a clear alternative to neo-classism.  The romantics were strongly drawn to nature, and these artists were among the first to portray landscapes as complete works of fine art. In addition they depicted their admiration of nature and its ability to provoke the sublime.
Casper David Freidrich, Rocky Landscpae in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, 1822-3
The Industrial Revolution also dramatically altered the fabric of European Society. Beginning around 1760, this period saw the development of machine labor and modern production methods. Common goods, once made by hand, were produced quicker and cheaper by machines. Economic progress, however, came at the expense of the environment. Coal powered factories released pollution into the air, and dense cities consumed the countryside.
Gustave Dore, Over London by Rail, 1870
A group of artists called the Barbizon School responded to the destruction of the natural landscape. Taking their name from their French hometown, these artists rejected classically composed Italian landscapes, and were motivated by the more naturalist approach of the Dutch and Flemish traditions. They sought to capture the natural light, colors and the change of seasons in France. The Barbizon’s desire to break free of contrived images and suffocating studios was so strong that by the mid 1800’s they were creating revolutionary works of art outside in plein air.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, View of the Forest of Fontainbleau, 1830
One small yet monumental invention of the Industrial Revolution was the paint tube. In the past, artists had to grind and mix their own pigments, storing them in delicate pig bladders. The modern metal paint tube gave artists access to a wider variety of colors and allowed them to transport them with ease.

The revolutionary changes that occurred in Europe during the 19th century cannot be underestimated, as it challenged the norms of society and what constituted fine art. The strides of artists during this period inspired future artistic movements, such as Realism and Impressionism.  Next week we will shift our gaze from Europe and look at the history of landscape painting in America.

If you are a lover of landscape and outdoor painting, don’t miss the Copley Society’s own plein air event: Fresh Paint! On Sunday, April 24th, artists from the Copley Society of Art set up their easels in and around Boston to participate in Fresh Paint 2016. When Fresh Paint was established in 1988, the Copley Society of Art was one of the first to host such an event. Fresh Paint is the gallery’s biggest and most important fundraiser, bringing in funds to support innovative exhibitions of emerging and established artists, lectures, scholarships, residencies, and outreach programs.

Lauren W. Warford

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Plein Air Series: The Academy

When one thinks of an artist, most people imagine someone painting outside in the picturesque field, easel and paint in tow.  Take for example this painting by John Singer Sargent. Here Sargent has depicted Claude Monet painting by the side of a wooded field.
John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood, 1885 
This image, to the modern viewer, seems so natural and “how it has always been.” However, a look back into art history reveals that plein air painting is relatively new to the fine arts and has had a dramatic influence on the course of painting.

When looking at the history of Western art, one cannot underestimate the importance of classical history. The artistic principles developed by the Greeks and Romans influenced European art long after the fall of Rome.  Even with the rise of Christianity, the Greco-Roman standards were adapted to suit the current society.  While landscape painting did exist in ancient times, most exalted among the visual arts was the portrayal of the human figure.  

When France came to dominate the tastes of European art in the 1700’s, they continued to praise classically inspired works over other forms of visual arts.  The unrivaled authority on fine art during this period was the Royal Academy and The Salon.  These institutions viewed landscape as a lower form of art, unfit for high cultural institutions and aristocratic patrons.  

Artists like Claude Lorraine found ways to maneuver around these strict standards, and would place classically inspired scenes within his landscapes to legitimize the work. These images were grand, beautiful and romantic images created in a studio.  While the natural landscapes of Europe provided inspiration to artists, these paintings are highly manipulated and idealized. These are not real locations, but rather contrived compositions intended to frame the scene.
Claude Lorrain, Sunrise, 1646-7, Metropolitan Museum of Art
During the 1700’s, the lavish court of Louis XV came to dominate European artistic tastes. Scenes of the aristocratic classes at play became a popular theme. Landscape painting became more excessive and lush to provide a sumptuous setting for such subjects.
Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Swing, 1767, Wallace Collection, London
By the end of the century, Europe would undergo immense political and societal upheaval and landscape painting would find itself a vessel of the changing tides. Next week we look at the evolution of outdoor painting in the 19th century.

If you are a lover of landscape and outdoor painting, don’t miss the Copley Society’s own plein air event: Fresh Paint!

On Sunday, April 24th, artists from the Copley Society of Art will set up their easels in and around Boston to participate in Fresh Paint 2016. When Fresh Paint was established in 1988, the Copley Society of Art was one of the first to host such an event. Fresh Paint is the gallery’s biggest and most important fundraiser, bringing in funds to support innovative exhibitions of emerging and established artists, lectures, scholarships, residencies, and outreach programs.

Lauren W. Warford

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Outdoor Painter and Plen Air Painting

Co|So artist member Kathleen Breeden Hudson posted a solution she developed to a common plein air painting challenge she faced to her blog. It turns out Hudson was not alone; her post caught the attention of Outdoor Painter who published an article about her new method!

Plein air painting is a type of painting that involves creating artwork from life outside in the open air. This method yields art that captures fleeting moments - such as a wave breaking or the light at sunset - which cannot be recreated in a studio. Outdoor painting can be cumbersome. It requires the artist to take their supplies out on location and work very quickly.

Hudson has been blogging about the trials and tribulations, as well as the joys of her craft on her personal blog. In one post, titled “Grandeur and Scale”, she describes her process of composing her painting.  She asks herself,  “What way of looking at the view gives the greatest impression of scale? Of light? Of movement and drama?”

These questions of composition are often answered through trial and error. Even the great masters drafted, discarded and redrafted before landing on the perfect composition.  In another post, “Year in Review, Part II: Augusta”, Hudson describes a different experience:

On the last day of the festival, I still hadn't managed to paint a sunrise since Day 1. It had been overcast almost every morning, which made it impossible for me to paint a scene (any scene!) … sunrises possess a distinct advantage: instead of fighting against time, losing the light you need as a sunset progresses, daylight only gets brighter following a sunrise. That gives you a lot more time to create a beautiful painting, though you do still have to work quickly … So when the forecast showed that the sun would be visible on the final day of Augusta, I knew I'd have just one chance to paint a landscape during the sunrise.

As we can see from Hudson’s experience, the outdoor painter must be aware of the natural time constraints of daylight and the weather. Creating the perfect composition has to be done in a swift manner, without compromising accuracy.  Hudson realized to best utilize her time she needed to be more precise with her preliminary sketches:

After doing really loose sketches for a while, I thought it would be helpful to create compositions a bit more carefully with my panel sizes in mind. I've traditionally just 'guesstimated' the size of a thumb sketch, but it's never right on the mark—and I don't really want to fuss with a ruler or anything that'll add weight to my pack.

Hudson developed a guide to mark out in her sketchbook an area proportionate to the surface she intends to paint on.  She included the most commonly used ratios all in one chart. This makes it easier for the artist to visualize what the composition will look like before they begin to add color.
Image of Hudson’s Common Ratio Guide in use
You can print out a copy of this handy guide here.

Her idea is brilliant in its simplicity. It perfectly addresses the major concerns of the plein air painter. It is no wonder Outdoor Painter Magazine published an article sharing her invention with other artists!

If you are a fan of landscapes and outdoor painting, you will love Co|So’s annual fundraising gala, Fresh Paint! We will be featuring a painting done by Kathleen Breeden Hudson! In honor of Hudson’s achievement and Fresh Paint, Co|So is going to be taking a deeper look at outdoor painting. We are going to post a series of blogs on the history of plein air painting leading up to Fresh Paint. 

Lauren W. Warford

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Winter Members Show: Out in the Cold

We would like to congratulate Jeanne Rosier Smith, Joyce Zavorskas and Marielouise Hutchinson on their awards.  Rosier Smith won the First Prize for her Cold Dip, pastel. Zavorskas was awarded Second Prize for her Winter Beach, monotype. Hutchinson received the Third Prize for Snow Moon, oil on panel.  We would like to thank Michael David, Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Lesley University for jurying the Winter Members Show.

Cold Dip, pastel, 36 x 18
Another one of our artists, Marija McCarthy, received the Gold Medal at the 2016 Signature Members Show at the Guild of Boston Artists for her watercolor, Home of Cezanne. You can see her more of her work at our Winter Members Show; her oil on linen, Parkland in Fog, is on display now.

Parkland in Fog, oil on linen, 38 x 36

Winter, in its quietness and solitude, is often seen as the season of thoughtful reflection. Blankets of snow cover the wild growth of summer, leaving bare for contemplation the structures of the world around us. Jason Sawtelle, in his oil painting After the Storm, examines the play of light off brambles highlighted by a fresh snow. Other artists, such as Mikel Wintermantel and Laureen Hylka, step back to examine the crispy and refreshing atmosphere. Landscapes such as these remind us of the awe inspiring beauty of winter, and prove why the genre will never go out of style or loose prevalence in the contemporary art world.

After the Storm, oil on canvas, 18 x 22

As we all know, winter is not contained to the woods and countryside.  Coleman Rogers plays with the stillness of winter in an urban setting, using photography to capture the quiet streets buried in snow. Brian Dubina, on the other hand, shows us Boston in winter, the river and the traffic carving out spaces of movement despite the snow.

Snow Along the Charles, oil on panel, 15.5 x 9.5

Other artists turn their focus indoors, on the comforts we indulge in during the cold season. Elaine Gardner’s still life Onions and Leeks brings to mind the comfort of homemade soups and warm kitchens. Joan Clark’s still life Three Pears beautifully renders this winter treat in oil on panel.

Three Pears, oil on panel, 13.75 x 13.75

This show brings exciting new mediums. Debby Krim uses face-mounted photography to bring the cool, reflective ice she photographs indoors. The image is striking in its detail and size. Robin Samiljan captures the cool colors of winter in an encaustic diptych.

Stalasso, photography - face mounted, 40 x 26

All these works and more are on display through April 3rd 2016 in the upper gallery at the Copley Society of Art. Don’t forget to check out more works by Co|So artists. Small Works: Chill Out is on display in the lower gallery also through April 3rd.

Lauren W. Warford

Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Members Show 2016

The Copley Society is excited to present their new artists exhibit in the Upper Gallery. The Co|So Artists: New Members Show has much to offer in the way of genre, subject and medium.

Upon entering the gallery one is immediately impressed by the diversity of artistic styles. Large abstracted works hang comfortably next to small, color-rich landscapes; rigorous impasto is countered by stunning photographic detail.  Sculpture, mixed media and even cut paper all mingle happily with those equally cherished, traditional subjects.

Painting Toenails by Joseph Moniz is an intriguing work. Moniz takes advantage of his small surface, only 7x13 inches, to create an intimate relationship with the viewer. Far from mundane, Moniz’s choice and handling of the subject is expertly executed. Rendered in oil on panel, the painting plays with the soft light often found in the private spaces of one’s home. Complexity can be found in the detail of the button down shirt and the whimsical pose of the figure.

Joseph Moniz Painting Toenails, oil on panel, 7 x 13

Further into the gallery one cannot help but be drawn into Jack Morefield’s BL.  This is the type of work that encourages your pacing back and forth, observing how the image changes as you move around it.  His choice of color is relaxing and calm, and his technique is lively and fun.  The more time you spend with image, the more becomes visible.  On the second day of viewing the subject matter became delightfully clear. I’ll let you discover it’s secret for yourself.

Jack Morefield BL, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36

Reflection and Transparency is in intriguing work by Jason Sawtelle. The image walks a fine line between hyper-realism and abstraction, an artistic feat. A striking contrast is the interplay between the quiet moss green and the insistent energy of the sky blue.  Another glance, and it makes sense. The artist has captured in oil the reflection of light on water. Wondrously the viewer stands with their feet are in the stream, their eyes transfixed by the rippling reflection of trees. The image takes on multiple states of being: abstracted yet transparent, both calm and energetic as the title suggests.

Jason Sawtelle Reflection and Transparency, oil on canvas, 30 x 40

All these works and more are on display through February 19th in the upper gallery at the Copley Society of art. Don’t forget to check out more works by Co|So artists. Small Works: Chill Out is on display in the lower gallery through April 3rd.

Lauren W. Warford