Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Hudson Valley in Winter from Olana

Frederic Edwin Church, Winter Twilight from Olana, 1871
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The National Academy Museum in New York is currently hosting the touring exhibition ‘Treasures from Olana: Landscapes by Frederic Edwin Church’. Olana is the Persian style home Church built overlooking the Hudson (see the Olana website). Chuch made sure that after his death in 1900 the house and its contents would remain together.
In his review of the exhibition in the New York Review of Books, John Updike points out the irony that this crowded oriental fantasy house crammed with Victorian bric-a-brac should also house Church’s freshest works: rapid oil sketches that the artist kept and framed. The Hudson Valley in Winter from Olana (c 1871-2, 13 x 20 ¼ inches) for example is praised by Updike for the “dashing dabble of rapid brown strokes that does for winter foliage”, “the boldly crude splatter of white clouds scattered on the blue sky overhead” and snow “more creamy, and drifts more sweepingly indicated” than can be found in the landscapes of almost any other American painters.
It is of course a familiar story - the oil sketches of a celebrated artist appealing more to modern tastes than the large scale finished works. It will be interesting to see how this theme is addressed in the forthcoming Constable show at Tate Britain. Another British parallel to Church is Lord Leighton, whose vivid oil sketches are often much more appealing than the paintings that brought him fame and the presidency of the Royal Academy. Like Church, Leighton was fascinated by the Near East and created for himself an idealised oriental space in Leighton House (this interior photograph dates from about 1879). It too is open to the public and is, I am told, an excellent party venue.

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