Tag Archives: 19th century

Ruskin on Landscape

John Ruskin

John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) believed that the purpose of landscape painting was to represent the human condition via our surroundings, or as he put it, “The interest of a landscape consists wholly in its relation either to figures present—or to figures past—or to human powers conceived.”

 

The following are excerpts from lectures on the subject given by Ruskin to his students at Oxford in 1871, taken from the book Lectures on Landscape, Delivered at Oxford in Lent Term, 1871:

 Landscape painting is the thoughtful and passionate representation of the physical conditions appointed for human existence. It imitates the aspects, and records the phenomena, of the visible things which are dangerous or beneficial to men; and displays the human methods of dealing with these, and of enjoying them or suffering from them, which are either exemplary or deserving of sympathetic contemplation.

I have limited, you have just heard, landscape painting to the representation of phenomena relating to human life. You will scarcely be disposed to admit the propriety of such a limitation; and you will still less be likely to conceive its necessary strictness and severity, unless I convince you of it by somewhat detailed examples.

Here are two landscapes by Turner in his greatest time—Vesuvius in repose, Vesuvius in eruption.

One is a beautiful harmony of cool color; and the other of hot, and they are both exquisitely designed in ornamental lines. But they are not painted for those qualities. They are painted because the state of the scene in one case is full of delight to men; and in the other of pain and danger. And it is not Turner’s object at all to exhibit or illustrate natural phenomena, however interesting in themselves.

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775‑1851), Bay of Naples (Vesuvius Angry), shown in the book as Vesuvius in Eruption, watercolor on paper, 176 x 284 mm, c.1817, Williamson Art Gallery & Museum

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775‑1851), Bay of Naples (Vesuvius Angry), shown in the book as Vesuvius in Eruption, watercolor on paper, 176 x 284 mm, c.1817, Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, *Vesuvius in Repose is in a private collection, and no image is currently available.

He does not want to paint blue mist in order to teach you the nature of evaporation; nor this lava stream, to explain to you the operation of gravity on ponderous and viscous materials. He paints the blue mist, because it brings life and joy to men, and the lava stream because it is death to them.

Only natural phenomena in their direct relation to humanity—these are to be your subjects in landscape. Rocks and water and air may no more be painted for their own sakes, than the armor carved without the warrior.

The physical conditions there are so numerous, and the spiritual ones so occult, that you are sure to be overpowered by the materialism, unless your sentiment is strong. No man is naturally likely to think first of anatomy in painting a pretty woman; but he is very apt to do so in painting a mountain. No man of ordinary sense will take pleasure in features that have no meaning, but he may easily take it in heath, woods or waterfalls, that have no expression. So that it needs much greater strength of heart and intellect to paint landscape than figure: many commonplace persons, bred in good schools, have painted the figure pleasantly or even well; but none but the strongest—John Bellini, Titian, Velasquez, Tintoret, Mantegna, Sandro Botticelli, Carpaccio and Turner—have ever painted a fragment of good landscape.

Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin from 1872 to 1900.

Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin from 1872 to 1900.

Books…

John Ruskin, Lectures on Landscape (WorldCat link)

 

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Odilon Redon Against Nature

Redon_crying-spider

Odilon Redon, The Crying Spider, charcoal on paper, 49.5 cm (19.5 in) x 37.5 cm (14.8 in), 1881, private collection, Netherlands

In the 1870’s, Odilon Redon worked mostly in charcoal and lithography, creating visionary works that he called “noirs”.

Though he had published an album of lithographs, titled Dans le Rêve, in 1879, it was not until Joris-Karl Huysmans published his book, À rebours or Against Nature, in 1884 that he received larger notoriety. In the book, an aristocratic art collector named Jean Des Esseintes is fascinated by Redon’s work:

…Des Esseintes had a special weakness for the other frames adorning the room.
They were signed: Odilon Redon.

They enclosed inconceivable apparitions in their rough, gold-striped pear-tree wood. A head of a Merovingian style, resting against a bowl, a bearded man, at once resembling a Buddhist priest and an orator at a public reunion, touching the ball of a gigantic cannon with his fingers; a frightful spider revealing a human face in its body. The charcoal drawings went even farther into dream terrors. Here, an enormous die in which a sad eye winked; there, dry and arid landscapes, dusty plains, shifting ground, volcanic upheavals catching rebellious clouds, stagnant and livid skies. Sometimes the subjects even seemed to have borrowed from the cacodemons of science, reverting to prehistoric times. A monstrous plant on the rocks, queer blocks everywhere, glacial mud, figures whose simian shapes, heavy jaws, beetling eyebrows, retreating foreheads and flat skulls, recalled the ancestral heads of the first quaternary periods, when inarticulate man still devoured fruits and seeds, and was still contemporaneous with the mammoth, the rhinoceros and the big bear. These designs were beyond anything imaginable; they leaped, for the most part, beyond the limits of painting and introduced a fantasy that was unique, the fantasy of a diseased and delirious mind.

And, indeed, certain of these faces, with their monstrous, insane eyes, certain of these swollen, deformed bodies resembling carafes, induced in Des Esseintes recollections of typhoid, memories of feverish nights and of the shocking visions of his infancy which persisted and would not be suppressed.

Odilon Redon, Butterflies, oil on canvas, 739 mm (29.09 in) x 549 mm (21.61 in), circa 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Odilon Redon, Butterflies, oil on canvas, 739 mm (29.09 in) x 549 mm (21.61 in), circa 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York

By the late nineteenth century Redon had switched to oils and pastels, and in 1913 he was featured in the New York Armory Show. Both he and Joris-Karl Huysmans became important figures in the history of symbolist art and literature.

 

 

 

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A City on a Rock

Eugenio Lucas Velázquez, A City on a Rock, oil on canvas, 84 × 104 cm (33.1 × 40.9 in), 1850-1875?, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Eugenio Lucas Velázquez, A City on a Rock, oil on canvas, 84 × 104 cm (33.1 × 40.9 in), 1850-1875?, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This painting was originally attributed to Francisco de Goya (1746–1828), but since about 1970 has been thought to be a pastiche by Eugenio Lucas Velázquez (1817–1870), one of Goya’s followers.
 
 
 
Books about Spanish Painting…
 

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Zibaldone

Portrait of Giacomo Leopardi by A. Ferrazzi c. 1820

Portrait of Giacomo Leopardi by A. Ferrazzi, ca. 1820

Giacomo Leopardi (b. June 29, 1798 Recanati, Italy – d. June 14, 1837 Naples) was a nineteenth century Italian poet, essayist, scholar, philosopher, philologist, and atheist. He has been ranked alongside Dante as one of the most important Italian literary figures, and praised by Schoepenhauer, Leopardi’s influence can be seen in modern modes of thought such as nihilism and existentialism. Though revered by Italians as one of their greatest thinkers, Leopardi has remained relatively obscure elsewhere. Among his important works are his Canti, a collection of poems completed in 1835, Operette Morali or “Small Moral Works”, and the Zibaldone.

Published in seven volumes in 1898, over a half century after his death, the Zibaldone is essentially a very large miscellany of observations, personal thoughts, essays, literary criticism, and philological writing. It wasn’t until 1937 when the work was republished that it became widely known as Zibaldone. Among its themes are pessimism, the human condition, and our excesses against nature. The first English translation of the work was published in Britain and America in the summer of 2013, and is over two thousand pages long.

 

From the Zibaldone (p. 2118 of Leopardi’s original manuscript, p.920 of the new English translation, FSG 2013):

It is pleasurable to be the spectator of vigorous, etc. etc., actions of any sort, not only those relative to man. Thunder, storm, hail, a strong wind, seen or heard, and its effects, etc. Every keen sensation in man brings with it a vein of pleasure, however unpleasurable it is within itself, however terrible, or painful, etc. I heard a farmer whose land was often severely damaged by a nearby river say that nonetheless the sight of the flood was a pleasure as it advanced, rushing swiftly toward his fields, with a thunderous noise, and carrying with it a great mass of rocks, mud, etc. And such images, while ugly in themselves, always turn out to be beautiful in poetry, in painting, in eloquence, etc.

 

The Zibaldone Project…

 

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Signor Formica

E. T. A. Hoffmann, Self-portrait?, oil on canvas, ca. 1822, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

E. T. A. Hoffmann, Self-portrait?, oil on canvas, ca. 1822, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Salvator Rosa, Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 1645, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg

Salvator Rosa, Self-portrait, oil on canvas, 1645, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salvator Rosa (?1615 – March 15, 1673) was an Italian, Baroque artist and poet known for his eccentric, proto-Romantic paintings. He was the subject of a fictional tale by the fantastic Romantic author, E.T.A. Hoffman, (24 January 1776 – 25 June 1822), best known for his weird tales of fantasy and horror. The story is called Signor Formica, and was published in the book, Weird Tales, Vol. I from 1885.

Here are some excerpts…

At the time that Salvator’s fame was ringing through Naples, Rome, and Tuscany—nay, through all Italy, and painters who were desirous of gaining applause were striving to imitate his peculiar and unique style, his malicious and envious rivals were laboring to spread abroad all sorts of evil reports intended to sully with ugly black stains the glorious splendor of his artistic fame. They affirmed that he had at a former period of his life belonged to a company of banditti, and that it was to his experiences during this lawless time that he owed all the wild, fierce, fantastically-attired figures which he introduced into his pictures…

Salvator Rosa, Landscape with Armed Men, oil on canvas, circa 1640, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Salvator Rosa, Landscape with Armed Men, oil on canvas, circa 1640, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

…The rumor ran that Aniello Falcone, the painter of battle-pieces, one of the best of Salvator’s masters, had been stung into fury and filled with bloodthirsty vengeance because the Spanish soldiers had slain one of his relatives in a hand-to-hand encounter. Without delay he leagued together a band of daring spirits, mostly young painters, put arms into their hands, and gave them the name of the “Company of Death.”

This is the ferocious band of which Salvator Rosa was alleged to have been a member, working hard at butchering his fellow-men by day, and by night working just as hard at painting…

More of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s work, including his famous novel, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, here…

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Blackwood’s Dark Nature

Some snippets from the weird tales of Algernon Blackwood

From The Willows (1907)

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch Art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos

 

The change came suddenly, as when a series of bioscope pictures snaps down on the streets of a town and shifts without warning into the scenery of lake and forest. We entered the land of desolation on wings, and in less than half an hour there was neither boat nor fishing-hut nor red roof, nor any single sign of human habitation and civilization within sight. The sense of remoteness from the world of humankind, the utter isolation, the fascination of this singular world of willows, winds, and waters, instantly laid its spell upon us both, so that we allowed laughingly to one another that we ought by rights to have held some special kind of passport to admit us, and that we had, somewhat audaciously, come without asking leave into a separate little kingdom of wonder and magic—a kingdom that was reserved for the use of others who had a right to it, with everywhere unwritten warnings to trespassers for those who had the imagination to discover them.

From The Man Whom the Trees Loved (1912)

He painted trees as by some special divining instinct of their essential qualities. He understood them. He knew why in an oak forest, for instance, each individual was utterly distinct from its fellows, and why no two beeches in the whole world were alike. People asked him down to paint a favorite lime or silver birch, for he caught the individuality of a tree as some catch the individuality of a horse. How he managed it was something of a puzzle, for he never had painting lessons, his drawing was often wildly inaccurate, and, while his perception of a Tree Personality was true and vivid, his rendering of it might almost approach the ludicrous. Yet the character and personality of that particular tree stood there alive beneath his brush—shining, frowning, dreaming, as the case might be, friendly or hostile, good or evil. It emerged.

And finally, from Sand (1912)

Already something in himself had changed. A restlessness, as of that wandering wind, woke in his heart—the desire to be off and away. Other things could rouse this wildness too: falling water, the singing of a bird, an odour of wood-fire, a glimpse of winding road. But the cry of wind, always searching, questioning, travelling the world’s great routes, remained ever the master-touch. High longing took his mood in hand. Mid seven millions he felt suddenly—lonely.

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

 

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Frederick Goddard Tuckerman

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman American (February 4, 1821 – May 9, 1873) Engraving c. 1835-1850 Photograph, taken on 06-30-2009, of engraving, reprinted in Eugene England's 1991 critical biography of Tuckerman entitled Beyond Romanticism -- the only known surviving image of the poet

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman American (February 4, 1821 – May 9, 1873) Engraving c. 1835-1850
Photograph, taken on 06-30-2009, of engraving, reprinted in Eugene England’s 1991 critical biography of Tuckerman entitled Beyond Romanticism — the only known surviving image of the poet

 

Two sonnets from American poet, Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, from the only collection published during his lifetime, Poems (1860).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AN UPPER CHAMBER IN A DARKENED HOUSE

An upper chamber in a darkened house,
Where, ere his footsteps reached ripe manhood’s brink,
Terror and anguish were his cup to drink,—
I cannot rid the thought, nor hold it close;
But dimly dream upon that man alone;—
Now though the autumn clouds most softly pass;
The cricket chides beneath the doorstep stone,
And greener than the season grows the grass.
Nor can I drop my lids, nor shade my brows,
But there he stands beside the lifted sash;
And, with a swooning of the heart, I think
Where the black shingles slope to meet the boughs,
And—shattered on the roof like smallest snows—
The tiny petals of the mountain-ash.

 

SOMETIMES I WALK WHERE THE DEEP WATER DIPS

Sometimes I walk where the deep water dips
Against the land. Or on where fancy drives
I walk and muse aloud, like one who strives
To tell his half-shaped thought with stumbling lips,
And view the ocean sea, the ocean ships,
With joyless heart: still but myself I find
And restless phantoms of my restless mind:
Only the moaning of my wandering words,
Only the wailing of the wheeling plover,
And this high rock beneath whose base the sea
Has wormed long caverns, like my tears in me:
And hard like this I stand, and beaten and blind,
This desolate rock with lichens rusted over,
Hoar with salt-sleet and chalkings of the birds.

 

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Night Scenes, Joanna Baillie

Befitting the season, here is a dramatic, ghostly poem from Scottish poet and playwright,
Joanna Baillie. It was originally published in her collection, Poems, from 1790.

Engraving of Joanna Baillie by H. Robinson after a portrait by Sir William Newton

Engraving of Joanna Baillie by H. Robinson after a portrait by Sir William Newton

NIGHT SCENES OF OTHER TIMES
A Poem in Three Parts by Joanna Baillie

PART I

“The wild winds bellow o’er my head,
And spent eve’s fading light;
Where shall I find some friendly shed
To screen me from…

 

 

 

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