American art

Art After Dark by Geoff Harrison

Night time has been described as the time when reality disappears and imaginings begin.  People somehow seem less sane at night, according to Mark Twain.  Shakespeare described night as the witching time and the night seems to have been a particularly productive time for many artists, particularly those interested in images of drama, mystery and perhaps even madness.

Georges Del La Tour, Magdalen With A Smoking Flame, circa 1640

Georges Del La Tour, Magdalen With A Smoking Flame, circa 1640

“If you are trying to image things rather than look at them, to see them with your mind’s eye, then darkness comes into its own, and the night becomes your ally.  The dark brought drama to our divine imaginings and made them feel real.” WALDEMAR jANUSZCZAK

Ippolito Caffi, Serenade In St Marks Place

Ippolito Caffi, Serenade In St Marks Place

Italian artist Ippolito Caffi (1809-1866) seems to have had a particularly intense relationship with the night. His daytime scenes of Venice are superb but it’s his night time scenes that are relevant here, and he is a difficult artist to find any substantial information on.

Ippolito Caffi, Marketplace in Venice by Moonlight

Ippolito Caffi, Marketplace in Venice by Moonlight

At an exhibition of his work, held at the Museo Correr in Venice in 2016, (what I would have given to see it) the catalogue describes Caffi as a restless observer of society and a convinced patriot.  “Venice was the city that Caffi loved most, whose freedom he fought for and whose spectacular beauty he translated into painting, employing a capacity for synthesis unequaled during the entire nineteenth century.”

Ippolito Caffi, The Pantheon By Moonlight

Ippolito Caffi, The Pantheon By Moonlight

His patriotism drove him to become the first painter to record an Italian naval engagement, but his efforts came to nothing.  The Re d' Italia, on which he traveled was destroyed on July 20, 1866, by the Austro-Venetian fleet at the Battle of Lissa, drowning him along with his comrades.

Ippolito Caffi, Solar Eclipse Over Venice 1842

Ippolito Caffi, Solar Eclipse Over Venice 1842

Caffi was also a fine chronicler of unusual events. Here is his depiction of a solar eclipse. One wonders how many of these people lost their sight whilst witnessing this event.

Johann Christian Claussen Dahl, Dresden In The Moonlight, 1839

Johann Christian Claussen Dahl, Dresden In The Moonlight, 1839

There’s a gorgeous serenity in Johann Christian Dahl’s moonlit scenes of Dresden.  They take me to another level of consciousness, whereas I suspect a daytime view would not have the same effect.  The candle lit rooms across the river and the flares on the river bank contrast beautifully with the cold light of the moon.

Edward Hopper, The Nighthawks, 1943

Edward Hopper, The Nighthawks, 1943

Film directors love the paintings of American artist Edward Hopper. There are so many questions being posed here. What is the relationship between the couple on the right? What about the menacing figure of the guy with the powerful shoulders who has his back to us? No one has been able to precisely locate where this scene is, perhaps a deliberate ploy by Hopper to increase the mystery of the scene.

Moonlight Near Roxby Downs, 2014, Oil On Canvas, 101 cm x 142 cm

Moonlight Near Roxby Downs, 2014, Oil On Canvas, 101 cm x 142 cm

Roxby Downs is located in outback South Australia and this painting was inspired by a photo I saw of a lightning strike in the area, and I was particularly interested in the sheen on the water created by the lightning fork.  So I decided to turn the scene into a moonlit night time image, partly because of the challenge it presented and partly to highlight the isolation of the scene. And yet, the cold moonlight perhaps gives the scene a softness and harmony that may not be present during the daytime when you could image the appalling heat during the summer months.















Richard Estes & Canaletto - Birds Of A Feather? by Geoff Harrison

"Unfortunately it has been too easy for anybody to take a photograph, trace it, and make a lousy painting. Photorealism, in that sense, has been bastardized. I can sympathize with a lot of people who just reject it outright, because, like anything else, there is so much bad stuff around. I always thought of myself as a Realist painter."  RICHARD ESTES

That may be the case, but it's what Estes does with reality that fascinates me, and puts me in mind of the famous Venician artist of the Eighteenth Century, Canaletto.

On The Staten Island Ferry  (1989)               Richard Estes                         Oil On Canvas

On The Staten Island Ferry  (1989)               Richard Estes                         Oil On Canvas

Estes, along with other photorealist artists, decided to turn their backs on the gestural style of the abstract expressionist movement which was so prominent in late 60's America, and aim for a kind of hyper realism which was more descriptive of a high tech post war age.

Piazza San Marco With The Basilica    (1730)    Canaletto                  Oil On Canvas

Piazza San Marco With The Basilica    (1730)    Canaletto                  Oil On Canvas

Early on in his career, Canaletto abandoned the dark and brooding tonality of his work and produced paintings of a much higher pitch, mainly because he found a new market for his work in Venice - the English tourist.  Canaletto was famous for his use of the camera obscura which he used to produce multiple images of a scene from different vantage points.  Then he jumbled them up to come up with a scene that, in reality, didn't exist.  It was the eighteenth century's prelude to the photo montage and thus he created scenes that were far more idyllic than in reality.

Madison Square  (1994)                     Richard Estes                    Oil On Canvas

Madison Square  (1994)                     Richard Estes                    Oil On Canvas

When viewers have tried to match Estes' paintings with actual scenes around New York and elsewhere, they have found inconsistencies.  He works from multiple photos of a scene, even bisecting them, shifting elements around,  to come up with a composition that plays with perspective which can be a little disorienting.  "By creating his photorealistic montages that seem convincingly whole, Estes produces works in which there are multiple focal points. He confounds the concept of the mathematical or one-point perspective, the Renaissance invention that provided drawn and painted images with the illusion of depth. Instead, viewing a typical Estes painting feels like one is constantly changing vantage points".  THE ART STORY

London, Whitehall & the Privy Garden   (1747)             Canaletto           Oil On Canvas

London, Whitehall & the Privy Garden   (1747)             Canaletto           Oil On Canvas

When the English tourist market dried up, Canaletto decided to travel to England and produced some remarkable scenes such as the one above which was painted from Richmond House (no longer extant).

Estes paintings reinvigorated the importance of craft in painting and even though his work is hyper-realistic, they are still in some way "painterly".  His work goes beyond photography.