Category Archives: Paintings

Without paintings we are nothing

The Clark Art Institute

World class.

Sterling Clark made money in the smartest way possible. He chose his (grand)parents well. Grandpa was the co-founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company which created one of the great American industrial revolution fortunes. His grandson fell in love with art, especially the French impressionists, and had much of the collection paid for by the time of the Great Depression.

Surviving the latter, as smart money did, he became paranoid about the cold war destroying his collection in New York and moved it in the 1950s to Williamstown, Massachusetts, right by Williams College. The collection specializes in Renoir with a smattering of Monet, Sisley and Pissarro, along with some truly awful academic art by Jean-Léon Gérôme and William Bouguereau. Those can be excused in light of the strength of the Impressionist pieces. There are also several fine John Singer Sargent portraits.

My son and I visited the Clark on a revisit to WIlliams College and had a fun time of it.

The entrance space is large, light and airy.

The pool uses recycled water. Of course. (Isn’t all water ‘recycled’?)

Winston enter the main gallery through the modern addition in back.

Severe but well done, the architecture of the addition integrates well.

Maybe the finest Renoir collection this side of the Louvre.

If Renoir is your thing, a visit to the Clark is recommended.

Panny GX7 snaps, 12-35mm f/2.8 Vario lens, a universal purpose lens of stellar quality and low bulk.

Paris, 1897

Stieglitz at his best.

Click the image for details.

Interestingly, Harvard added this Alfred Stieglitz image to its collection as recently as 2010.

Two other great rain images in Paris come to mind.

HC-B’s eternal portrait of Alberto Giacometti on the Rue d’Aléma:

And Gustave Caillebotte’s peerless painting.

In case long time readers start thinking I’m pining for rain here in the southwestern desert of Phoenix, fear not. I got all I could handle during our recent month long tour of New England colleges and miss it not one whit. I chanced on the Stieglitz while perusing the excellent Harvard Art Museums site, one I strongly recommend.

Hopper in the Oval Office

Good taste and judgment in a time devoid of both.

These two magnificent Hoppers were recently added to the Oval Office.

More about Hopper here. They say lots about what is great and good in our republic.

About those paintings? Here.

Lovely image by the appropriately named Chuck Kennedy of the White House staff.

Pierre Bonnard

Rich and good.

The oft held belief that great painters have to suffer great poverty on the road to success is at best a poor generalization. None of the greats of the Renaissance were exactly struggling to put bread on the table, for they were busy turning down commissions. Jump to the late nineteenth century and for every starving Monet or Renoir you will find a wealthy Degas or Bonnard painting with genius and abandon while enjoying a life of comfort and plenty.

San Francisco’s Palace of Legion of Honor is holding the first west coast show of Pierre Bonnard’s (1867-1947) paintings and photographs in fifty years and it’s a fine summary of the artist’s best work, many pieces plucked from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The canvases are well lit and captioned in something approaching readable font sizes, and while the miniscule photograph reproductions really should be larger (they are from Bonnard’s Kodak Brownie) they convey the sense of experimentation which is often seen in the paintings, limbs cut off at the edges of the canvas just as in many Degas works, the latter also a keen photographer.

It’s a fine show of beautiful work and strongly recommended.

iPhone6 snaps.

The Arnolfini Wedding

The first recorded use of the fish eye lens.

If you had to choose the finest ‘photographic’ painting in London’s National Gallery, it would certainly be Caravaggio’s ‘Supper at Emmaus‘. No photographer has ever captured the moment so well.

And your second choice from that collection would surely be Botticelli’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man‘ for its singular focus and color pallette.

But the Arnolfini Wedding would not be far behind. Painted in 1434 it is the oldest of the three and arguably the most technically complex. It’s all there – advanced perspective, lighting to put Vermeer to shame, tight composition.

All the indicia of wealth are there – the fine clothing, the costly surroundings, the little dog, the fruit carelessly disposed at left. The man is in charge, dour as he may be, the spouse newly pregnant looking up to her man in supplication. She is so much property. But there is sublime magic here and it’s in the convex mirror which Jan van Eyck has cheekily included right in the center. Look closer.

The first vision is of the backs of his subjects. Look closer and you see van Eyck and his assistant. And van Eyck doubtless got paid for painting himself. Wonderful. And the cheeky bugger has signed it ‘van Eyck was here’.

What photograph ever accomplished as much?