This week, I will be attempting my first landscape painting (ever!) by emulating Landscape at twilight, which Van Gogh painted very near the end of his life, in June of 1890.
(For those who might prefer a first hand link/look - http://www.googleartproject.com/collection/van-gogh-museum/artwork/landscape-at-twilight-vincent-van-gogh/5734954/ )
In this masterpiece, Van Gogh was trying to capture the colors of dusky early evening, one of his favorite times of light. The painting was done "plein-air," which means that Vincent painted it directly from nature, while standing outside at the scene.
The painting depicts an area around Auvers sur-Oise (near Paris); Van Gogh selected a view of two pear trees on the side of a road, with an old castle in the background (It kind of shows you what he thought was important). There are stands of verdant corn growing in the mid-ground of the painting, and the sun is setting at the horizon in a brilliant impasto (built up paint) of oranges, yellows, and reflected greens.
Although he had painted many landscapes before, in this painting, Vincent tried something new that he had begun experimenting with: The support he selected to paint the scene on was exactly twice as wide as it was high.
|Daubigny's On the Oise|
This panoramic framework is something that he probably copied (borrowed? homaged? - there it is again!) from a renowned landscape painter named Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-1878); a fine artist well known for exceptional exterior scenes.
Link to the man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-François_Daubigny
Link to his painting of the Oise area (above): http://www.googleartproject.com/collection/indianapolis-museum-of-art/artwork/on-the-oise-daubigny-charles-francois/403133/
Vincent greatly admired Daubigny's work, and had come to Auvers sur-Oise because the great artist (that many considered to be a father of impressionism) had a lovely home with gardens nearby. Daubingny's widow still lived in the house she had shared with her husband (before his passing 20 years earlier) when Vincent came to the area to paint.
|Chavanne's Between Art and Nature|
The effectiveness of these large supports in presenting big ideas was further reinforced by Vincent's discovery at the Paris Salon (A big, annual Fancy Pants showing of all of the best art of the year) of a painting (Between Art and Nature, left) by Puvis de Chavanne, a famed muralist.
Link to the man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Puvis_de_Chavannes
Link to his painting that inspired Vincent: http://uploads0.wikipaintings.org/images/pierre-puvis-de-chavannes/between-art-and-nature.jpg
Vincent felt that by using the panoramic double canvas, it would allow him to achieve an "enveloping pictorial world" [foot note #1 - please see my "book-link" at the bottom of this blog entry.]
But there was a practical and physical element that Vincent had to carefully consider, as well.
No matter how big his idea, or the image he was trying to paint, he had to be able to carry what he wanted to paint on out to a field (or up a foot path to the top of a hill or vista), set it up on an easel, and then carry it, undoubtedly still wet, back to his room. The logistics of this exercise limited just how big his canvas could be; consider your own level of enthusiasm for carrying on foot what was essentially a three and a half foot wide "sail" and painting kit (including easel) a couple of miles, then up the side of a hill, set it all up, work in the heat all day, clean it all up and put it away, then carry the painting back (butter side up) without your touching it to anything or dropping it.
Modern painters have it easy. When I realized that I needed a panoramic canvas, I just pulled one off of an art supply store shelf and took it to the register to pay for it. Thanks to a handy counter and helpful staff, I didn't even have to juggle or hold on to my canvas as I slid my plastic; the greatest effort I had to expend was deciding if it would fit better in the trunk or the back seat of my hybrid (sigh!). If I decide to paint outside, I can just hop back in my car and drive to wherever I want to go paint. Except France. Can't drive there, even in a hybrid.
Contemporary artists have a vast array of supports that they can choose to paint with. For the Vincent project, I am selecting primarily canvas covered boards, known as student panels.
These student panels are very inexpensive, quite sturdy and can take wet applications without bending, warping or falling apart.
They are made by gluing sturdy canvas cloth (tightly woven cotton or linen fabric) onto a cardboard panel, and then are finished with a paper backing.
These thin panels come ready to peel (their protective plastic wrap) and paint, and are lightweight and very stackable.
So what about other types of supports?
Eventually, a solution was engineered: Gesso. Gesso is a paint like substance (there are different oil and acrylic formulations) that is applied during manufacturing to the surface of the canvas - rendering it sublimely paintable. The gesso is the bridge that allows the best of all worlds - the paintability of a board combined with the lightweight, infinite size-ability of canvas.
Most modern boards and stretched canvases come pre-gessoed, so artists don't even have to bother with that step. I have lately seen pre gessoed canvases in black for artists who are so inclined. Those who enjoy extra steps can gesso their own canvases, which opens up the option of coloring the gesso in whatever hue you fancy.
Two examples of prepared stretched canvas supports are depicted above and at right. Please note that on both, the canvas material is wrapped around the side of the stretcher and stapled onto the back. This is a vast improvement over the upholstery tacks that had been common; you would have to be an octopus to manage a taught canvas by nailing in tacks onto the slender side of a board.
The support above has a deeper stretcher; this is a more modern finish that is often used in contemporary (style) paintings, as it does not require framing. Both examples came pre-gessoed, and the only effort required to use them is finding the dang scissors because my fingernail is never quite sharp enough to vanquish the plastic wrap.
The photo at left shows the back of the canvas depicted above. The things hanging from the side are little "stays" that can be shoved into the corners after the painting is finished to keep it square.
Of course, you can paint on most anything that will absorb and hold the paint. I just finished painting a ukulele as a gift for a recent high school graduate. I offer some images below:
OK - here is the "book-link" foot note as promised.
1. From Van Gogh, The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith; published by Random House, New York. page 835.
This book is incredibly interesting for anyone who wants to learn about Van Gogh's life or work. I will be telling you a lot of the most interesting details as I read it over the next year, including a most fascinating account of his final days (was it suicide, or something much more sinister?) along with insight as to why he became so famous, with his art rocketing from zero to hero within just a few years after his untimely death. I cannot recommend it enough.
And again, it is time once more to shut up and paint....