Yesterday, Sunday October 23rd 2011, I attended a talk by author Ross King at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) – very enjoyable!
Ross King is the author of a number of art history (and fiction) books, two of which I have in my collection. This talk based on King’s 2006 book “The Judgement of Paris”, coincides with current exhibitions at the AGA – A Passion for Nature: Landscape Painting from 19th Century France and 19th Century French Photographs.
The approach of King’s book and this talk was to compare two French painters in the mid-19th century, the time in which Impressionism was born. King presented a picture of the era, the time of Emperor Napoleon III. It was a a time of change, of modernization but also a time of tradition and a longing for the simplicity and stability of earlier times. The leading French painter of the time was the traditional painter Ernest Meissonier, a painter noted for his highly detailed depictions of battle scenes, a painter who was commanding the highest prices ever at the time! Ironically, his name is pretty much forgotten today while the artists and movement that were developing (and ridiculed) at the same time, are now the most broadly known of all time. I am speaking of Impressionism. King chose to contrast Meissonier with the generation younger Edouard Manet, who would become the supportive father figure to all of the famous names associated with French Impressionism.
The talk was just over an hour long (with a good question session), so King couldn’t go very deep or dig into all of the nuances of the time and these two artists. Still the talk was very interesting and inspiring – I will have to re-read Judgement of Paris some time soon.
Ross King’s other most notable book (for my tastes and interests) was his 2010 publication, Defiant Spirits, The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven which talks about the Canadian Group of Seven and significantly its ties to the French Impressionism. I reviewed that book in this earlier blog post.
I want to share a happy accident I stumbled upon this week that brings my two artistic focuses (painting and photography) together. I was out taking photos but when I got the images out of the camera I saw impressionistic paintings.
I was out taking photos at night (well early evening but dark enough in January at this latitude). I generally do all of my photography handheld which means I will set my camera (Nikon D80) at its highest ISO rating and hold my breath (literally and figuratively) to get an image without too much camera shake blur. I am also using vibration reduction lenses which help. Sometimes this works and I get reasonably clear (if grainy) photos. Sometimes I get results which I wouldn’t share as a photograph but are just fine for using as a photo reference for a painting.
The highest ISO speed rating on the D80 is 1600 so that is typically what I’ve used. There are however some higher setting – basically a 0.3, 0.7 and one full stop faster (i.e. effectively ISO 3200. I haven’t used these higher setting very often figuring the quality just wouldn’t be there – too grainy!
The photo didn’t come out exactly like that – the original image was this:
You can see I did increase the brightness and saturation a bit (using Capture NX2) but I did not have to use any Photoshop-like processing to get an “Impressionist painting effect”. I thought that was pretty cool. While a little bit of grain seemed to read as a bad photo, a lot gives it a worthwhile effect. I still need to print this out and see whether it is something I could consider framing and displaying – or whether it will remain as a reference for a painting.
Here is a second similar image:
Again , pretty grainy with very soft edges but… well I like something about it. Here is the original, unaltered image:
This one was cropped a bit, as well as having the saturation and overall brightness adjusted. Of course the “Impressionistic Photo” also looks more grainy just because it is blown up to a greater degree in this blog post.
Curiously, over the last few days I have tried to re-create this effect with some high-film-speed-setting photos, but I’ve not been able to duplicate the look and feel to my satisfaction. I will however continue to experiment and share my discoveries and results.
In the first part of 2010 I painted a series of landscapes inspired by the Alberta Prairies. Here is one of this group:
To see more paintings from this series, please visit my web site: www.randalltalbot.com
Particularly fortunate for me was that my visit coincided with the exhibition “Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay. I attribute my birth as an artist to the works of the impressionists and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, undoubtedly has the greatest collection of works from this era. Fortunately because the Orsay is undergoing renovations there is a very rare opportunity to have a significant collection of their works travel out of France.
Being a big expensive exhibition there was a separate admission charge over the normal one for visiting the de Young. Also given the stature of this show the entry were by reserved times. We did a quick tour of part of the regular de Young exhibits then lined up for the Birth of Impressionism about 15 minutes before the 12 noon time on our tickets. I was happy when just a few minutes before 12 they let us in, well let us head downstairs to where the show is. Unfortunately downstairs we encountered another queue – much larger than the one upstairs – and so we waited…
Now I didn’t mind waiting since (I figured) that meant they were doing a good job of controlling the crowd. Unfortunately once I got in I was very disappointed – It was very crowded. The experience was not one i expect when looking at art and I must say it really detracted from the experience. I was really hoping to study these masterpieces – to look up close at the brushwork then move back, sit down and take in the whole image. Generally this just wasn’t possible. So while there were a number of the very masterpieces that I’d seen in books about Impressionism I wasn’t able to make the connection with them.
So would I recommend this exhibit? Would I have gone knowing what it would be like? Would I go again? Yes, probably. It is one of those almost once in a lifetime experiences that you just have to go to say you did. Perhaps i was just there at a bad time (midday on Sunday) but still I would have thought the point of timing entrance was to minimize this very crowding. *
So what about the rest of the museum? Well unfortunately we only spent about half an hour looking through one quarter of it before taking in the “Birth of Impressionism” and then we left to do other site seeing immediately after. I was however very excited before we even went in the front doors of the de Young, because this is what I saw:
Andy Goldsworthy ( http://www.morning-earth.org/artistnaturalists/an_goldsworthy.html ) in an artist I have admired for a long, long time. Most of his works are of a non-permanent nature ( made of nature in fact: leaves, ice, etc) and appreciated only through photography. Goldsworthy’s piece extended from the front street maybe 30 meters to the front doors of the museum. This is what it looks like:
I had fun explaining to my family that this crack was a work of art and this other crack over “here” is, well, just a crack. Joking aside i truly do admire Goldsworthy work and wish I could create like that.
especially interesting and admirable is when the one crack splits and travels up and over these large blocks of stone:
If you ever find yourself in San Francisco be sure to venture into Golden Gate park and at the absolute very least check out the Goldsworthy at the entrance to the de Young Museum.
*also worth noting is that in the fall of 2010 the de Young will be hosting a companion/follow-up exhibit entitled “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay”. I personally would enjoy this one even more and wouldn’t miss it if I happen to be in San Francisco anytime between September 25, 2010 – January 18, 2011 – crowded or not!