Monday, January 01, 2018

There Lies the Temple

Today I launched a new initiative, to post 365 landscapes on Twitter over the course of 2018.  In doing this I am using a format (see above) which will usually include a telling detail in addition to the main image, in this case a dark idol just beyond the brow of the yellow hill.  Whether people on twitter will find this interesting I am not sure, but it is giving me a chance to look across the whole field of landscape art and share the things I find most interesting.  And by allowing myself only one landscape per artist, it is possible to cover quite a lot of ground in 365 tweets.  I have pretty much planned the selections out already so am able to say now that they are all interesting and (mostly) beautiful artworks - there's been no need to include dull canvasses by second-rate Impressionists or attempt full coverage of all the minor Dutch landscape painters.  The one key rule I am setting myself is only to include artists who died before 1948.  This is obviously for copyright reasons, but also helps restrict the field a bit; in addition to nothing post-war, it means I will not be including anything by artists like Georges Braque, Georgia O'Keeffe or Giorgio de Chirico.  I will mainly focus on painting but will include some work in other media - drawings, photographs, tapestry, stained glass, mosaic.  The coverage will be worldwide, though with an inevitable focus on Western art (the other main tradition is Chinese painting).

One thing that struck me from the outset in doing this was how difficult it would be to achieve adequate representation of women artists.  In Europe, before the late nineteenth century, women painters did not generally specialise in landscape.  One of the images I have lined up for later this month illustrates the point.  It is a pastel sketch of an Alpine lake, made during a summer holiday, by Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, who was renowned throughout Europe as a portrait painter (subjects included Marie Antoinette, Lady Hamilton and Lord Byron).  Another of my selections is by Berthe Morisot, whose best known subjects are her domestic interiors, even though her first appearance at the Paris Salon, in 1864, was with two landscapes.  It is only towards the end of the period that you find professional women landscape painters whose work really stands out, and some of these could be better known - Zdenka Braunerová (1858-38) for example, who will also be featuring in January.  I'd love one day to see an exhibition gathering together a whole range of pre-twentieth century landscape art by women artists.  A fourth one on my list for January is Emily Carr, whose work I featured here following a retrospective at Dulwich Picture Gallery.  The next post on this blog will be about a more recent artist whose work I saw at Dulwich last week, Tove Jansson.

I will conclude here with a few more words about Paul Gauguin's painting (sometimes called 'Sacred Mountain'), which shows a marae, or sacred enclosure, in the Marquesas Islands.  It is, like most (perhaps all?) of the landscapes I'll be tweeting about, a product of the artist's imagination.  Gauguin was inspired to paint and sculpt images based on Tahitian traditional religion and the gods that had been suppressed by Chirstian missionaries.  However, as Joseph J. Rishel explains (see the Philadelphia Museum site), 'the fence with its decoration of skulls, the idol on the hill, and the evocation of sacrifice in a thread of smoke ascending before the demanding god have no basis in Tahitian culture, Gauguin has created another kind of paradise in the opulence of his colour and the splendid sensuality of his images.'  Robert Goldwater (Gauguin, 1957) wrote that the artist had painted a kind of 'Olympus bathed in light, somewhere above the world of men. The baleful fence tells us we are shut out from it, and mortal, but the bright flowers remind us that this is still a world of life and lovely colour.'


Alison Hobbs said...

What an excellent idea! I have just found your picture-tweets posted so far this year, and particularly like the floodplain by Ravilious.

Thanks for drawing our attention to this venture on your blog.

Plinius said...

Thanks Alison. I hope it's interesting for others; it certainly is for me, as I am discovering some new work as well as posting favourites like yesterday's Johan Christian Dahl landscape which I once saw in Oslo. Very aware though how inadequate a tweeted image is to reresent a large painting like that one.