22 November 2010

B.J.O. Nordfeldt: 1906

"Stories may be told much better with words. Pictures are for beauty; the feeling that they impart, not the story they tell. Pictures are like poems. A good poem doesn't tell a story; it contains beauty of rhythm." - Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt (1878-1955)




















The subtle suggestiveness  of Nordfeldt's work from the year 1906 whispers the name J.A.M. Whistler.  Of course, both artists had been imprinted by their encounters with ukiyo-e prints.  Nordfeldt's family emigrated to Chicago from Tulstorg, Sweden in 1891, when Bror was thirteen and, after a stop at the Art Institute School ther from 1898 to 1900, and another one at the Académie Julian in Paris, Nordfeldt studied Japanese printing techniques with Frank Morley Fletcher in England, where he also ecnountered Whistler's prints.  Before returning to the United States, where he would lead a peripatetic life, Nordfeldt visited his grandmother in Jonstorp, Sweden, refining his woodblock working methods. 

















 Nothing the artist ever did, not even his experiments with the bold white line technique he crafted with the Provincetown Printers on Cape Cod  equaled the prints he made in one charmed year.  To my eyes, the subject matter that Nordfeldt instructs us to ignore looks quite like his native Sweden, filtered sometimes through the japoniste style he saw in Parisian galleries.  The waves and the drooping tree branches are fairly obvious homages, but the atmospherics Nordfeldt created with his hard-to-define hues are memorable.  It is not unusual for an artist to try one thing, and then another.  What makes Nordfelt a curious case is that neither a bolder use of color nor a turn to painting seems to have suited his talents so well.  Did he see his work as we see it?

Images:  Untitled, Figures Among the Trees, Anglers.The Mist,  and Moonrise are woodblock prints by B.J. O. Nordfeldt are from the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.

20 November 2010

From An Old House In Cuesmes: Vincent Van Gogh

"Now, if you can forgive someone for immersing himself in pictures..."

"So please don't think I am renouncing anything, I am reasonably faithful in my unfaithfulness and although I have changed, I am still the same, and what preys on my mind is simply this one question: what am I good for, could I not be of service in some way, how can I become more knowledgeable and study some subject or other in depth?"
- excerpts from a letter by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, July, 1880.

"Well, even in these depths of misery I felt my energy revive & said to myself, I shall get over it somehow, I shall get to work again with my pencil, which i had cast aside in my deep dejection, & I shall draw again, & ever since I have had the feeling that everything has changed for me, & now i am in my stride & my pencil has become slightly more willing & seems to be getting more so by the day.  My over-long & over- intense misery had discouraged me so much hat i was unable to do anything."

"...I cannot tell you how happy I am that I have taken up drawing again.  I had been thinking about it for a long time, but always considered it impossible & beyond my abilities.  But now, though I continue to be conscious of my failings & of my depressing dependence on a great many things, now I have recovered my peace of mind & my energy increases by the day."

"At the same time I must tell you that I cannot remain very much longer in the little room where I live now.  It is very small indeed, and then there are the two beds as well, the children's & my own.  And now that I am working on Bargue's fairly large sheets I cannot tell you how difficult it is.  I don't want to upset these people's domestic arrangements."
- excerpts from a letter by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, Cuesmes, September 24, 1880., translated from the Dutch by Arnold Pomerans in The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, New York, Penguin Books: 1996.
Cuesmes is a small village in the Walloon region of southern  Belgium.   Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) arrived from Amsterdam in 1878, to be  a worker-priest among the coal miners of the Borinage.   Emile Zola's novel Germinal (1885) is a portrait of that difficult world. In July, 1879, Van Gogh lost that job, yet another rejection for one who yearned to give of himself to other people.  After great anguish, he found a spiritual vocation in art. "I must continue to follow the path I take now. If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it — keep going, keep going come what may."
Today the old brick house gives none of that history away.
Images:
1. The Magrot House At Cuesmes - photograph by Jean-Paul Grandmont, 2006.
2. Vincent Van Gogh - Miners - September 1880, Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterloo, Netherlands.

10 November 2010

The Old Tree In The Sun

 Belgian artists  responded to Impressionism by doing something rather different than their French neighbors, their brushwork more subdued, their effects more akin perhaps to photography.  It has been called Luminism, and it has its counterpart in America that goes by the same name.  One characteristic they share is the strength of their work compared to the blandness of their compatriots who tried to copy the French. 
It is the quality of the light that attracts me to these paintings by the Belgian Emile Claus (1849-1934).  In the 1880s, Claus bought a cottage  in Astene, near Ghent, where he lived for the rest of his life. He called it 'Villa Sunshine' in recognition the inspiration he took from the quality of  light there. 
The artist found something remarkable in the old tree, painting it repeatedly, even breaking the rule that he probably taught his own students: never put your subject directly at the center of the image.  Yet Claus persuades us as he makes light gather around the tree in The Artist's House at Astene, reflecting off the house, or as the tree  in The Tree In Autumn appears to draw the fading light of autumn into itself with its intense need.


Images:
1. Emile Claus - The Tree In The Sun, 1900, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.
2. Emile Claus - The Artist's House At Astene, 1906, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.
3. Emile Clause - Rayon de Soleil,  April 1899, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.




07 November 2010

A November Evening In Dordrecht

"There! See the line of lights,
A chain of stars down either side the street --" from A November Night by Sara Teasdale.

"The landscape sleeps in mist from morn till noon;
And, if the sun looks through, 'tis with a face
Beamless and pale and round, as if the moon,
When done the journey of her nightly race,
Had found him sleeping, and supplied his place." - from November by John Clare

In the month of November it is often evening, poets remind us, as the days grow shorter and the nights extend their domain.

"VICTOR GILSOUL (1869-1939 - ed.) is one of the truest living followers of the old Flemish school. One sees reflected in his work much of the rich heritage left by the masters of Flanders–a heritage priceless in its influence on the art of all time. Born in the capital of Belgium in the year 1867, Gilsoul played as a child in an environment rich in memories of Rubens and Van Dyck. His earliest inclination was towards art, and at fourteen years of age he began his studies at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp. By the time he was fifteen he had won the first landscape prize and had seen enough of the difficult side of painting to make him determined in his desire. On returning to Brussels after barely eighteen months' study in the Antwerp Academy, he came under the influence of d'Artan and Franz Courtans, the two men who gave him his first taste of open air painting, a charm which quickly enwrapped him, and which has done more, perhaps, than anything else to determine his ambition. When seventeen years old he got his first painting admitted into the Brussels Salon–a simple little study of a wind-mill, but it won the youthful painter his first taste of public distinction, and he has ever since been well represented in the Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent Exhibitions. Gilsoul's first big success was about fifteen years ago, with a picture representing a train in a cutting at night."
- from THE ART OF VICTOR GILSOUL. by Lenore Van Der Veer, from The Studio, Volume 33, issue Number 140, November 1904.
Image: November Evening In Dordrecht, c. 1896, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.