Landscape

A True Poet Of Nature by Geoff Harrison

The Russians referred to them as the Peredvizhniki, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon calls them the Wanderers but mostly they are referred to as the Itinerants.  They were a group of young Russian artists from the late 19th century who rebelled against the strict academism that characterized art teaching at the time.  One of the most notable among them was Isaac Levitan (1860-1900).

Levitan - Eternal Peace

Levitan - Eternal Peace

Like many of his peers, Levitan explored the lyrical beauty of the simple unpretentious Russian landscape.  One of Levitan's teachers Alexei Savrasov is credited with "seeking out in the most ordinary and commonplace phenomena the intimate, infinitely touching and often melancholy features which are so strongly felt in our native scenery and which invoke an overwhelming response in our soul." 

Levitan - In The Vicinity Of Sawino-Storozhevsky

Levitan - In The Vicinity Of Sawino-Storozhevsky

In his own teachings, Levitan taught his pupils to "feel nature so deeply, to give it so much of their soul, faith and hopes, and so understand its moods as had never been the case before."  But Levitan also touched on social issues as well, such as the painting Vladimirka Road which was the road taken by dissidents "chains clanging" to Siberia.  The lowering sky and desolate landscape emphasising the sense of anguish and oppression.

 

Levitan - Vladimirka Road

Levitan - Vladimirka Road

For me however, it's the light, the cool light and amazing depth of his imagery that impresses most.  Then there is the amount of feeling he evokes in the most simple of scenes, such as the one below.  Savrasov encouraged his pupils to draw inspiration from the French Barbizon school and Levitan was known to be impressed with the paintings of Corot.  Graham-Dixon referred to the almost hypnotic realism in Levitan's work and I can only agree.

Levitan - A River

Levitan - A River

Ref: Alexei Fiodorov-Davydov "Levitan"

Seeking Authenticity - Barry Lyndon by Geoff Harrison

At the time of it's release in 1975, the Stanley Kubrick film "Barry Lyndon" certainly received a mixed reception.  Most of the complaints revolved around the very slow pace.  According to an article in The Guardian marking the film's 40th anniversary, Woody Allen described watching the film as akin to "going through the Prado without lunch".

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Yet the "slow burn" approach allows the emotion to build gradually and also allows an appreciation of the style of the film.  It was Kubrick's intention to emulate 18th Century landscape paintings in the outdoor scenes, with the camera panning backwards.  This technique dwarfs the characters in the carefully composed landscape, though not to the extent of a David Lean movie.

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According to The Guardian, actor Ryan O'Neal (who played the title role) decided to stay with the year-long shoot because he had a strong suspicion he was involved in something great.  Clearly money was no object to Kubrick; it took a week to set up an interior scene which he later scrapped.

Speaking of interior scenes, Kubrick strove for authenticity here too by making as much use of candle light as possible, and therefore as little use of artificial light.  Hence the haziness of the night time interior scenes.

 

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It's likely that Barry Lyndon has stood the test of time better than many may have expected, but it's Kubrick's striving for authenticity that has always appealed to me.  And it is so typical of Kubrick that he should produce an epic where the central character is an Irish rogue, and ultimately a loser.

Painting And Photography by Geoff Harrison

I still encounter the occasional individual who insists that to be a true landscape painter, one must paint outdoors, en plein air, to use the popular vernacular.  Whilst I accept that painting outdoors can be a useful exercise in that it encourages rapid, spontaneous work due to the ever changing light, en plein air painting only became fashionable in the mid nineteenth century because for the first time it became possible to do so easily.  This was due to three inventions; the paint tube, the foldaway easel and the train.  Suddenly a painter could hop on a train with his/her portable painting kit.

But painting in the studio has certain practical advantages.  It give artists the opportunity to impose their own deliberations on a scene, that is, changes to the composition, decisions on light, the time of day, and how they feel in that scene.

I photographed the scene below at Melbourne's Botanical Gardens in May 2016 and I've had a few friends insist I should paint it.  But for me, there is nothing I could do to enhance this scene as for me it has everything.

 

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This scene has a balanced composition, tranquility, a certain wistfulness, even mystery.  There is nothing in this scene I would want to alter in any way.

The painting below was completed in late 2017.  In the photograph I used as a reference, the sky is completely white.  This gave me the opportunity to play with various lighting effects and to decide on the time and type of day and how I felt looking across the meadow to the trees and beyond.

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Recently, a gallery director told me he has far fewer sales when holding a photography show compared to a painting show.  It appears the average patron thinks he or she can achieve the same results with their smart phone.  My response would be to say "OK. lets see you do it".  People just don't understand that taking a successful picture involves more than 'point and shoot'.  It's a matter of education and I really don't know where you would start.

Landscapes and Mindscapes by Geoff Harrison

I have been a great admirer of many 19th Century landscape artists such at the German born Hermann Herzog (1832-1932) who moved to the US in the late 1860's.  This is his "The Old Water Mill", oil on canvas, 140 x 104 cm.

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As a painter of moods, Herzog would appear to be amongst the best.  But I'm wondering if he is achieving little more than recording what's there.  Sure, it's likely this work was completed in the studio where he could impose his own deliberations, but there is a question as to how much the artist is revelling of himself in this work.

The Sky's Beginning To Bruise                             Oil On Canvas                                 109 cm x 129 cm

The Sky's Beginning To Bruise                             Oil On Canvas                                 109 cm x 129 cm

I completed the above painting in 2014, and it's based very loosely on a photo I saw in an encyclopaedia in the 1980's.  The instant I saw that image, it registered with me and I thought "I know this place", or the emotion it evoked.  It was is if I'd been there, even though it's a scene of the Norwegian tundra - a country I've never visited.

Luckily I still had access to that encyclopaedia when I decided to explore the possibilities of that scene a few years ago.  Yes, it's almost appallingly lonely, yet not entirely melancholy as it's a place where you can lose yourself in the enormity of the world we live in.  A place to absorb nature in its purist form - a place to chill out (both literally and metaphorically). 

Alnwick Castle by Geoff Harrison

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland              Watercolour           JMW Turner

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland              Watercolour           JMW Turner

I've tended to shy away from watercolour painting as I believe watercolours lack the illusionistic qualities of oils.  But this work by Turner which I saw some years ago at the Art Gallery of South Australia has me reconsidering.  It is my favourite Turner watercolour, far more convincing to me than his Venice watercolours, due to its dark, mysterious, ethereal qualities.

Painted around 1829, it was part of a large series of watercolours produced by Turner for Charles Heath's "Picturesque Views In England & Wales" which comprised 96 engravings after the artist's work.  The engravings were poorly received by the public, resulting in Heath's bankruptcy.  

W C Piguenit - Fame By Association? by Geoff Harrison

Considered Australia's first native born significant artist, William Charles Piguenit was born in Hobart in 1830, the son of a convict who was transported to Van Dieman's Land.  He is also considered the last true Romantic landscapist, preferring to focus on the dramatic moods in landscape as opposed to the Heidelberg School who presented Australia as an amiable sunny land.

The Upper Nepean 1889

The Upper Nepean 1889

The Flood Of The Darling   1895

The Flood Of The Darling   1895

The above oil on canvas was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales immediately after it's completion.

Mt Ida, Lake St Clair

Mt Ida, Lake St Clair

Piguenit appears to be largely self taught, and of particular interest to me is his background as a draughtsman with the Department of Lands survey office in Tasmania.  So I'll claim fame by association as my background is as a draughtsman with the Victorian Lands Department.

Sounds Of Silence by Geoff Harrison

H J. Johnstone specialized in peaceful evening riverside scenes in the 19th century.  The painting below depicts the Murray River in South Australia in 1880.  Johnstone's strong background in photography is evident in the stillness and precision of the painting.  The subtle colour gradations is what impresses me as well as the stillness.  Apparently aboriginal campsites along river banks were becoming increasingly rare by the 1880's due to pastoralists  and government policy of herding them into settlements for "Christian education".

Evening Shadows, Backwater of the Murray, South Australia 1880    121 cm x 180 cm

Evening Shadows, Backwater of the Murray, South Australia 1880    121 cm x 180 cm

"Evening Shadows" was the first acquisition by the Art Gallery of South Australia of a painting of an Australian subject.

Twilight, River Goulburn Victoria 1878

Twilight, River Goulburn Victoria 1878

Strange as it may seem, these works were painted in London on commission.  Johnstone, who was born in Birmingham in 1835, came to Australia to  prospect on the Victorian goldfields in 1853.  He returned to the UK via California in 1876.

The Billabong  1876

The Billabong  1876

Jacob Van Ruisdael by Geoff Harrison

"Bleaching Ground In A Hollow Near A Cottage"  Oil on Canvas   1645-1650

I've always admired the dark, brooding work of this artist.  He is able to invoke an intimate relationship with the landscape so that the viewer becomes a participant in the scene rather than a detached observer.  Direct observation of Van Ruisdael's scenes can lead to inward meditation and he achieves this by capturing a particular light or moment.