Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year in Review

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I fooled you.

When I first started this blog, I had a few words to say. Curmudgeons usually do. While I had a handful of ideas rattling around in my noggin, I wasn’t sure if there were enough to warrant regular posts, so I first wrote a couple of months-worth to be sure. It turns out this quiet guy can vomit words with the best of ‘em.

But a blog takes more than one person speaking his piece – it takes an audience. Blogger gives me limited feedback to protect readers. What it does allow me to see about the audience is fairly interesting. I can say with confidence that sometimes it’s a packed house out there. Other times, not so much. During those lulls, I can only assume you were vacationing near the Louvre or were lost in the Prado or were busy creating a masterpiece. Otherwise, you have no excuse.

I can also say that you’re a very diverse group. I’ve set up the blog preferences so that it only appears in English, but I consistently have readers from around the world. Pretty cool, I guess. The largest global audiences, ranked in order, are in the U.S., Canada, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Australia, France, Sri Lanka, the U.K. and Poland, but don’t forget the odd hits from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Belgium, Brazil, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Turkey, Ecuador, and a lot of other places I don't feel like spelling.

I can also see how many hits each post has received. I could here itemize them for you, and I could say that I will tailor future posts accordingly, but I won’t. There’s nothing fun or genuine in giving an audience what it always wants, especially when there’s a curmudgeon involved. Suffice it to say that my “edge” is appreciated. I guess.

My general impression is that some of you come here for the inspiration or insight or questionable taste. Some of you come for the laughs. Whether for laughs or tears, I fooled you. What I REALLY did was make you look at art. Maybe you’ve never been to an art museum. Maybe you’ve never taken an art course. If, however, you’ve poked your nose in here as a weekly regimen, then you’ve looked at 144 pieces of art over the past year. Pretty impressive – even for an art survey class.

Part of the fun in writing for this blog is that I must do some research on my own, especially when the well is looking a little dry. I found a few surprises while hacking through the dense forest of art history, and stumbled over many things I didn’t know.  In some circles that’s called learning, but let’s not spoil things. This has been a good place to get things off my chest, to take a look at art through a different lens, and to occasionally pour out my heart. Above all, it’s been fun. Let’s see if I can keep things that way.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Comfort for Christmas

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Half of the family I was born into has died, and it’s Christmas.

Pardon my reality check, but a lot of folks are hurting this time of year, and it's not because they aren’t getting the latest Star Wars action figure. Death and separation are unwelcome guests during the holidays. Having them show up on the doorstep and linger in an empty chair profoundly hurts.

All of us were born into a family. Love them or hate them, this time of year makes us want to be with family, but often that is not possible. In my own family, Dad died of a massive heart attack, my sister died of brain cancer, and one of my brothers committed suicide. It’s been years since the last death, but that doesn’t matter. The passing of time doesn’t always help. For those of you who have experienced some of the same, you already know this. For those of you who don’t, mend those fences and gird your loins, because it will happen.

I thank the Lord we don’t use the thoroughly British holiday greeting of “Happy Christmas!” because, if you’re separated from someone,  the “happy” part might not be there. Joy, however, is an entirely different matter. That is why today I’m focusing on a detail of the Nativity that sometimes gets glossed over – the company of heaven.
“Assumption of the Virgin”
Francesco Botticini. 1475-76.
(National Gallery, London)

For the most part, the rank and file of heaven does not resemble anything we know this side of paradise. Types of angels are named in Scripture, but outside of the seraphim, little description is given. We can only guess as to the function and appearance of ranks known as cherubim, seraphim, thrones, virtues, choirs, angels and archangels. Because of this, conjecture is always a main ingredient in artistic depictions. To complicate things, artists often foolishly borrow from the imagery of classical antiquity, ending up with winged infants and women that are straight out of Greek and Roman mythology. And, sorry folks, but little Suzy won’t be getting a pair of wings this Christmas when a little bell rings – that’s just a crock of horse manure. She probably wasn’t an angel in this life, so what makes you think she will be one in the next?
“Empyrean” illustration for the “Divine Comedy.”
Gustave Doré. 1861-68.

Anyway, tradition places the ranks of heaven in concentric circles around the throne of God, so artistic depictions have followed suit. Francesco Botticini’s tempera painting, “Assumption of the Virgin,” used this formula, placing heaven on ascending planes parallel with the earth. While Botticini’s vision of heavenly beings seems rather limited, he used an old, but simple device of the circle to represent eternity.

Gustave Doré put a more modern twist on a much older interpretation. Orthodox imagery always shows heaven as a sphere, and Doré did his best to reflect this in his engraving of the Empyrean in Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” The angelic figures swirl in an endless orbit around the shining presence of God. There is a kind of atomic feeling in his work, where angelic neutrons orbit a divine nucleus.
“Angel Appearing to the Shepherds”
Thomas Cole. 1833-34.
(Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Va.)

Thomas Cole, side-stepping the genre of his Hudson River School, gave a different perspective in his “Angel Appearing to the Shepherds.” The artist ripped into a dark composition, as if heaven was being torn open for us to see. A single angel is visible, back-lit by the glory of heaven. A few additional angelic figures hint at an innumerable host beyond our view. Meanwhile, the right of the painting is cut by the vertical light of a star pointing to the stable.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”” – Luke 2:13-14

Luke’s record of the event gives us a glimpse of the heavenly host – the winged armies of heaven. But Scripture doesn't stop there. Hebrews 12 declares:

"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven..." – Hebrews 12:22-23a

That "assembly of the firstborn" is a group beyond the angels. They are familiar to us, but are veiled from our view. And if the angels were jubilant at the birth of our Lord, consider the din and the company recorded in Revelation:

"Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps,  and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth." – Revelation14:1-3

Herein lies Joy. While we praise our Lord here in time, we know they praise Him there in eternity. In our minds; in blessed memory, we hear it. I hear the voice of my father, Agapito, and perhaps you hear your father's voice, too. Can you pick them out of the roar? Robert, Diane, Bud, Vi, Martin, Heinrich, Katie and Stephen. Names and numbers beyond the telling, yet each individually precious to our loving God who descended from His royal throne.

Heaven ripped at its seams to announce our Savior's birth to man, and we join in parallel praise of God with us. In fact, we join with the whole Christian Church on earth. Therein lies even more Joy.

Chancel of Töllsjö Church,
showing semi-circular communion rail,
or “altarring.”
1858, with 2014 renovations.
(Töllsjö, Sweden)
The mashup of earthly and heavenly praise sung for our earth-born King is sometimes taken a step further. A feature among some old Scandinavian sanctuaries are semi-circular communion rails. Perhaps that doesn’t seem so odd, given rail variations running the gamut from straight lines to U-shapes. What is odd – and significant – is that those semi-circular communion rails are symbolically part of a full circle. The other half of the imaginary circle continues outside the church building and into the churchyard – the cemetery. The liturgical phrase, “...together with all the company of heaven...” suddenly takes on a much deeper meaning when realizing we are shoulder-to-shoulder with the saints – all of them. There is no separation, neither of time nor space. There are no borders. There are no walls. There is no distance that can be measured.

We may not be able to see or touch those whom we dearly miss, but the reality of the spiritual realm has little to do with what is visible or tactile. It is probably for our own good that the visible glory of heaven is withheld from us, or we would complain, as did those who saw heaven’s reflection in the face of Moses – a man yet this side of paradise.

Of course, there is much more to Christmas Joy than wrapping your head around an empty chair. There is no point in singing at all unless you understand the significance of God wrapped in swaddling cloths, and of His love wrapped around us. The truth of God among us; the truth of the Lord stooping down from His heavenly throne to save us from our sin; the truth of The Christ coming in time to be the ultimate sacrifice for sinful man is what gives Christians real joy. It is the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Those who hold steadfastly to the Hope of the Resurrection know that painful separations are only temporary. The flighty happiness of this world is supplanted by a profound Joy in anticipation of the next, made possible through the manifestation of our God-made-flesh; our Savior, on that first Christmas morning. Somewhere deep within the walls of our broken and lonely hearts, the prophetic words of Isaiah echo, ““Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.”

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Painting Gives a Reply

“Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” by Ilya Repin. 1880-91. (State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Once in a great while, an old story begs repeating – like today.

While recently researching a Russian art movement, I ran across an artist and one of his more famous works – both unknown to me. I have a strong hunch you aren’t familiar with the two, either. Given untold numbers of pieces created by artists, and given the limited examples studied during an art history education, there are bound to be massive gaps in knowledge. It’s okay. My own mind is rather like Swiss cheese, too, when it comes to art history.

I could have ignored the painting, but recent events stained by Islamic knuckleheads have given ample reason to dust off the painting and re-tell its story. I am talking about Ilya Repin’s “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks,” painted during 1880-91.

The canvas is rather large at 6 feet, 8 inches tall by 11 feet, 9 inches wide, but the scale is not so unusual for a composition packed with figures in a historical drama. The word “drama” isn't quite right, because the painting is definitely a comedy. In fact, a quick glance at some of the figures in the painting may hearken to conventions more commonly used in Mad Magazine. But before we closely look at what is being depicted, let’s stay serious for a bit and examine its artistic qualities.

Regarding composition, the piece is quite stable – perhaps even static. The artist placed the horizon near the upper third of the painting, following a comfortable design norm. The sky is punctuated by vertical and near vertical lines of weapons held aloft, which adds interest, along with a scuffling of diagonals in the center. The foreground figures are arranged in a circle, which translates to an ellipse when foreshortened. The focus of the painting is within the center of this ellipse. All this is held together with muted color that leans toward an earthen palette.

But enough of the composition; enough of the color – you want the story. Fine.

The painting depicts the completion and reading of a written reply to the Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire, who had offered terms of obeisance and submission after being troubled with a defeat at the hands of the surly Cossacks. It is a scene that was certainly contrived, as is common with monumental, historical events lacking luster and devoid of theatrical sunshine.

During the time when Repin worked on the painting, Zaporozhian Cossacks were held in high regard by Russian society. They were glorified as underestimated heroes. Visions of the Battling Bastards of Bastogne should come to mind. There is something very endearing about underdogs who get ornery, say what’s on their minds, and manage the unfathomable.

The Sultan’s request of the Cossacks used some rather highfalutin language – especially when written for a bunch of rustics:

“Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks:
As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians - I command you, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.
     – Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV”

You should be able to guess the gist of the Cossacks’ reply if only by studying the painting. Mind you, these were the same folks who had recently defeated the Sultan in battle. Their words were worthy of the saltiest sailor; their candor, laughable; their jesting, hysterical. Unfortunately, most of the foul translation is not very appropriate for even this curmudgeonly blog. You’ll have to hunt for that version on your own, but you can get the flavor of their reply in this gentler translation of the message:

“The Cossacks of the Dnieper to the Sultan of Turkey:
Thou Turkish Satan, brother and companion to the accursed Devil, and companion to Lucifer himself, Greetings! What the hell kind of noble knight art thou? The Devil voids, and thy army devours. Never wilt thou be fit to have the sons of Christ under thee: thy army we fear not, and by land and on sea we will do battle against thee. Thou scullion of Babylon, thou wheelwright of Macedonia, thou beer-brewer of Jerusalem, thou goat-flayer of Alexandria, thou swineherd of Egypt, both the Greater and the Lesser, thou sow of Armenia, thou goat of Tartary, thou hangman of Kamenetz, thou evildoer of Podoliansk, thou grandson of the Devil himself, thou great silly oaf of all the world and of the netherworld and, before our God, a blockhead, a swine's snout, a mare's arse, a butcher's cur, an unbaptized brow, May the Devil take thee! That is what the Kozaks have to say to thee, thou basest-born of runts! Unfit art thou to lord it over true Christians!
The date we write not for no calendar have we got; the moon is in the sky, the year is in a book, and the day is the same with us here as with thee over there, and thou canst kiss us thou knowest where!
     – Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host.”

I don’t think I need to draw the parallels for you to see the resolve of a different culture in time dealing with a mutual enemy. Repin, in masterful manner, has captured the essence of the historical moment in the guise of fine art. And amid the seriousness of it all, we smile.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Artistic Pairings: Verse Two

Copyright © Edward Riojas

It’s not surprising that music and art make a nice couple. Gallery openings often have soothing background music, adding ambience to a understated, yet festive atmosphere. Films also make heavy use of music, and chances are you will quickly notice if a movie has a sound track lacking a musical score.  If you’re like me, music is often playing while I work on art, and sometimes that music is “epic.”
“Spanish Dancer”
John Singer Sargent. 1880-81.
(Private collection)

I’ve tried subtle, but it just doesn’t work for me. By my own admission, the color in my work sometimes seems garish, even though I aim for “rich.” The same can probably be said of my taste in music. When it comes to organ music, the swell shades had better be open and all the stops pulled. And I honestly cannot understand why anyone would intentionally take a regal trumpet and, with the aid of a mute, create the sound of nasal congestion. So if you’re here for elevator music or violins that limp on, ad infinitum, I suggest you leave.

Pairing artwork and music will take a bit of online juggling here, so set up two or three windows – one for the visuals, one for the sound and one to keep track of the blog post. Oh, and I suppose you may also keep that extra window open to see if bids go higher on that hideous clown doll.

Let’s start out with something extremely flavorful. I’ve paired John Singer Sargent’s “Spanish Dancer,” with a piece performed by my favorite couple known as “Lute Duo.” Sargent’s piece was a preparatory painting for a larger composition, “El Jaleo,” and captures the richness of Spanish culture through flamboyant pose and movement. Frankly, I think the study is much better than the final piece. Placing the figure’s face in shadow adds mystery to the scene, and, in typical Sargent style, brush strokes are allowed to define flourishing movement.

Anna Kowalska and Anton Birula are the Polish Lute Duo, and they may change the way you think of period music. Kowalska typically plays a deceivingly-diminutive Baroque guitar, while Birula rounds out the bottom notes on a lute monstrosity known as a theorbo. For Sargent’s “Spanish Dancer,” I’ve picked a rather spirited variation of “Canarios,” by Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710). Unfortunately, you’ll have to go to minute 33:20 of the video to enjoy the short piece. Put your thoughts of ruffled collars aside and instead envision the two pickin’ and grinnin’ in the Baroque pumpkin patch. It’s amazing that Kowalska can coax as much sound from an instrument not much larger than a ukulele. Meanwhile, Birula shows how bass strings and percussion can be played on a single instrument.
"Petr of Chelcicky at Vodnany"
Alphonse Mucha. 1918
(Mucha Foundation, Prague)

The painting I’ve chosen for the next pair is "Petr of Chelcicky at Vodnany," the twelfth painting in Alphonse Mucha’s “Slav Epic.” Stellamara performs her haunting “Kyrie Eleison” as a compliment. The musical piece is beautifully flavored with sliding, Middle-Eastern notes that speak of mourning and utter misery. But before you go out an buy 20 copies of the score for your Sunday School choir, I advise you that the translated lyrics are not meant for any sanctuary. They are woeful, indeed. Still, ‘Kyrie’ intensifies the undeniable melancholy in Mucha’s masterpiece, and give us a reality check that life isn’t always a happy-clappy experience.

Now let’s mellow things out a bit with woodwinds and a wood. This is a duo of very lovely pieces that are probably off the beaten path for most listeners and viewers. “Novembre,” by American Tonalist, Lowell Birge Harrison, and “Diligam Te Domine,” by Ascanio Trombetti, play very nicely together in a rather earthy pairing.
“Novembre” Lowell Birge Harrison.
1881. (Musée des Beaux-arts de Rennes)

Harrison was a member of the Tonalist movement, which focused on muted color and shadow, emphasizing mood. His “Novembre” makes heavy use of earth colors and patterning of a leafy forest floor to even out the composition, resulting in a calm image. This sort of gentle minimalism enhances an otherwise-unnoticed detail of the woman’s hem as it drags over a delicate branch.

It might be a stretch to fit Trombetti’s sacred theme into a natural sanctuary, but it underscores the mood of Harrison’s painting. Played on recorders the size of totem poles, the piece is thick with woodsy resonance.
“Crucifixion of Saint Peter”
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. 1601.
(Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome)

I’ve used two sacred pieces for the next pairing. “The Crucifixion of Saint Peter,” by Caravaggio, is matched with “Heyr himna smiður,” set to music by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson and performed by the Trondhjems Student Choral Society. Yeah, I know: This is all sounding foreign to you. Me, too.

Caravaggio’s masterpiece uses his trademark chiaroscuro in depicting St. Peter’s martyrdom. According to tradition, Peter requested that he be crucified upside down, so as not to confuse his manner of death with that of Christ’s. The artist avoided the accepted convention of idealized portraiture in favor of real faces. He also left the composition uncluttered, allowing the saint’s straining body to fully confront the viewer. The whole is not intended to be pretty. Still, it is beautiful.

“Heyr himna smiður,” or “Hear, Smith of Heavens,” is an ancient piece written by Kolbeinn Tumason, supposedly on his deathbed. The lyrics are essentially a prayer for help as the writer neared death, with phrases such as “Drive out, O King of suns, generous and great, every human sorrow from the city of the heart.” The musical setting conveys earnestness of the prayer and deep devotion of one soon to die.
“Yes,” by John Everett Millais.
1877. (Private collection)

Next up is an odd pairing – Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais’s “Yes,” and John William’s “Cadillac of the Skies,” from the musical score of “Empire of the Sun.” If you can forget you ever saw the movie and ignore the fact that the musical piece is an ode to military aircraft, then you might possibly understand my logic in that it has a strong romantic theme. The crescendoing, deep brass practically oozes all over the sentimental “Yes.” Hopefully, the subject of his painting needs no explanation, other than the artist, a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelites, has miraculously avoided the movement’s penchant for errant knights and dreamy-eyed damsels. And, yes, I rather enjoy the genre.

While we’re on the subject, we might as well pull out the big guns with a compatriot of Millais – John William Waterhouse. Let’s put “The Dreame,” by Patrick Doyle in the same parfumed chaise with Waterhouse’s “Ophelia” and see what happens. Doyle’s lyrics nick a major artery and out pour lines like, “And sleepe so guiltie and afraid, As since he dares not come within my sight.” The piece certainly ramped up the romance in the musical score for “Sense and Sensibility.” Waterhouse, meanwhile, pumps out sentimentality via a nearly comatose femme fatale, who’s overdosed on hormones in a field of flowers. The Pre-Raphaelites were heavy consumers of romantic tales, both in myth and legend, sometimes fighting over rarefied models who personified the movement’s ideology.
“Ophelia.” Jhohn William Waterhouse.
1889. (Private collection)

By now, I imagine you have had quite enough of my music and are earnestly thinking about the nearest anechoic chamber for a little sensory deprivation. Fine. But if you begin to remember some of these paintings, and a familiar strain gently passes by, take note.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Taking Art By Storm

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The sky looks foul, but there are no birds to be seen. A heaviness points to clouds pregnant with rain. Thunder rumbles far away.
“Storm in the Rocky Mountains”
Albert Bierstadt. 1886.
(The Brooklyn Museum, NY)

This time of year is apt to give us forecasts that aren’t quite as sunny and cheerful as midsummer, so the collection I’ve chosen focuses on unfavorable weather in paintings – more precisely, rain storms. I’ve decided, however, to give a wide berth to nautical storms and tornadic depictions. No sense in being miserable on a heaving deck or scampering into the cellar. Instead, we’ll take in a few storms from the imaginary comfort of an expansive, rustic porch – the kind with an overhang wide enough to keep even the worst elements at bay. If you let your mind’s eye wander across the porch’s well-worn planks, it’s the sort of place to immerse oneself in a good book or idly pass the time with a cup of coffee. Back against the wall are a few massive rocking chairs of odd vintage. Make yourself at home, and we’ll let artistic visions command the view.
“Silence Has Settled”
Nicolai Dubovski. 1890.
(State Russian Museum, St. Petersbur, Russia)

The first downpour is courtesy of Albert Bierstadt’s “Storm in the Rocky Mountains.” Bierstadt was a member of the Hudson River School – a thoroughly American product made up of artists who glorified the vanishing wilderness with its grand scale, and minimized the significance of man. The example I’ve chosen has enough rugged ingredients to satisfy the genre, offering the viewer a composition filled with clouds curling into mountainous shadows. Dramatic darks and lights push each other in an atmospheric fight that ignores a miniature tableau of figures racing after riderless horses. Even though deer frolic in the painting and a waterfall gurgles to one side of the composition, this particular piece is rather understated for the Hudson River School. If all the stops had been pulled out, there would have been lightning, a rainbow, and an erupting volcano. Maybe even a total eclipse. Of Jupiter.
“La Tempete”
Pierre Auguste Cot. 1880.
(Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)

Russian landscape artist, Nicolai Dubovski, took a far different approach with his brooding sky in “Silence Has Settled.” Well-modeled clouds have a solidity of form as they muscle their way across the sky. The viewer must look beneath the warm shapes to see a veiled deluge that has passed. Dubovski has dared to take something normally ethereal, rendered it with more definition than stone, and has gotten away with it. The artist was a member of the Peredvizhniki – “The Wanderers,” or “The Itinerants” – who protested the idyllic standards of romantic beauty at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, and often focused instead on ethnic history and the simple folk life. This particular example may not fit their mold very well, considering Dubovski’s treatment of a regal sky.

I suppose we should take a look at Pierre Auguste Cot’s indulgent painting, “La Tempete,” or “The Storm.” This piece is a prime example of what the Ecol d’ Beau Arts was churning out in its heyday. “The Storm” was a huge hit in the Salon of 1873, but if we spied these two knuckleheads – who obviously have been up to no good – running past our porch, I think grandpa would storm out the door with his shotgun. What is interesting is this piece shows very little of the storm, save a lightning bolt, but we know the wind is going to howl and rain will come in torrents. As if little Miss Deeds even needs to get her wispy frock wet.
“The Hailstorm” Thomas Hart Benton. 1940.
(Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Neb.)

Okay, the two have fled and are now tangled in briers and poison ivy, and I'm itching to focus on Thomas Hart Benton’s “The Hailstorm.” His vision is of yet another brand of painting. While shapes in his work are well-defined and solid, he had a strong tendency to ignore strait lines and employ curvaceous forms to convey movement. His color is harsh. Benton’s images are as straightforward as the Midwest, trading visual subtlety for the occasional delicate metaphor.

Next on the horizon is a must-have in the storm genre – J.M.W. Turner. His portfolio is loaded with nautical storms, so the example I’ve chosen is a bit unusual for the artist. “Buttermere Lake, with Part of Cromackwater, Cumberland, a Shower,” is longer on atmosphere than the title itself. This otherwise moody painting somehow conveys a kind of serenity in which the viewer can almost hear the calming silence of  a storm’s passing. Perhaps it’s the rainbow, although Turner has atypically ignored the chance to heighten the composition’s color with such a weather phenomenon.
“Buttermere Lake, with Part of Cromackwater,
Cumberland, a Shower”
J.M.W. Turner. 1798.
(The Tate Museum, London)

Our final storm jumps into a different medium, courtesy of Swedish artist Anders Zorn. A masterful portraitist in the mold of John Singer Sargent, Zorn enjoyed international acclaim among movers and shakers of his day. One of his presidential portraits hangs in the White House. Another is housed in the National Portrait Gallery down the street. This, from a Swede. But we’re putting his paintings and portraiture aside to look at his etching, “Storm.” Like Cot’s “La Tempete,” this piece avoids showing too much of the oncoming deluge. Unlike ‘Tempete,’ Zorn’s work captures the essence of the storm with much less fuss over detail and without color. The ambiguous quality of etching leans more on mood and movement, and we can feel the anxiety in the rider as he bowls toward the viewer.
Anders Zorn. 1891.

The cloud burst of paintings has passed, and it’s time to get off the porch and get to work while the sun shines. Of course, rain is the least of worries for those of us living in northern climes. But we’ll leave snow – and other four-letter words – for another day.