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Monday, April 9, 2018

Spring Art

Copyright, Jim Lane
Maple Flavored Landscape, Jim Lane
Last year, on the first day of each month, I made an effort to explore paintings having to do with that particular month. Naturally the mass of art associated with each month was just that--massive. When you include holidays and holiday landscapes, art having to do with historic events, and famous people associated with each month, not to mention the work of famous painters who chose to depict all of the above, the sheer number of works for some months became rather formidable. However, when you're dealing with only four seasons, one has to be a lot more selective. The typical and stereotypical images that might be selected on a monthly basis have to be brushed aside as the search for the more unique visions, styles, and to a lesser extent, technical prowess, must be brushed aside. That's what I've tried to do.
Springtime, 1886, Claude Monet. If you must have arboreal blossoms to symbolize and suggest spring, Monet is a good as it gets.
Imagine Spring, Sue Gardiner
When we think of spring the first image coming to mind are those of flowers--billions and billions of them--often seen in landscapes. What we don't often bring to mind are paintings such as my own Maple Flavored Landscape (top). Spring? There's not a flower in sight. The painting appears cold and drab. However, the last time I looked at the calendar, the month of March ends in the springtime (okay, just barely). The maple sap rises in early spring. It's not that I have anything against flowers, those of springtime or any other time of the year. I just tend to resent an artist's "safe" reliance upon them in place of a more searching and profound depiction of his or her thematic content. As a design motif, either of spring, or quite apart from it, flowers have their place in art, as seen in Imagine Spring by Sue Gardiner (left). But they should not be relegated to mere decor-ations or "eye candy." My tribute to blossoming trees comes from Claude Monet and his Springtime (above) painted early in the Impressionist era about 1866. Below, I've also included a van Gogh, his famous Blossoming Almond Tree, from 1890 (rendered very late in his Career.
Blossoming Almond Tree, 1890, Vincent van Gogh
Okay, now that we've got the pretty flowers and the famous painters out of the way, it's now time to look at those spring renditions which stand apart from the typical. Probably the first painter (or one of the first) to depict spring did so without much attention to floral arrays but with dancing, frolicking, scantily clad ladies (and one or two gents). Sandro Botticelli's now famous, La Primavera (below), dates from between 1470 and 1480, during the period we now call the "early" Renaissance. La Primavera, by the way, literally translates from Italian to English as "The Spring." (Some have translated it "Springtime.")
La Primavera, 1470-80, Sandro Botticelli. It's not one of my favorites but some like it.
Whether selecting paintings and illustrations by the month or by the season, one has to be careful not to be seduced by images, sometimes quite beautiful, of what I call "greeting card cute." I'm talking about any subject with four legs, especially the immature offspring of such creatures, or by the same token, their human equivalent. If it's "syrupy" sweet, almost inevitably the content gets in the way of the message. Kitty cats, puppy dogs, and toddlers are not what "spring" is about.

Spring, 1873,Giovanni Boldini
Spring Confetti, Sabi Klein
The Italian genre painter, Giovanni Boldini and his Spring (above), from 1873, Is a case in point. The setting depicts spring. The figures are merely decorations which attract the eye, thus (as in a play) stealing the show. If that's the case, then what's to keep an artist from attaching the word "spring" to the title of virtually any painting in depicting such sea-sonal art? To put it simply, not one thing, as seen in Sabi Klein's Spring Confetti (right). In fact, it's a ploy often used by artists in their combined search for a title and relevance. Once more, the colors and their relationship one to another sug-gest spring. It makes Liana Turnbull Bennett's Spring Creek (below), seem almost realistic. There's not a flower, a blossom, even a pedal in sight. Only the vivid colors and semi-abstract shapes suggest spring.

Spring Creek, Liana Turnbull Bennett

Perhaps the spring art genre most often ignored by serious painters in more recent decades is that having to do with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Notice, I did not say "Easter." God knows, there's a ton of springy pictures of merry little bunnies and the colored eggs they've begged, borrowed, or stolen from their barnyard friends. One such work which caught my eye was by Sir Lawrence, Alma-Tadema which he titled Spring-1894 (left). At first glance, it would appear to depict the crowd accom-panying Christ's trek from the court of Pilate, through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, to Golgotha. Here the title is most important, both in its reference to spring and to its being a scene from the modern era. Along the same line, my own resurrection scene, He Lives (below), while not referencing springtime directly, nonetheless reminds the viewer of the rebirth so crucial to any depiction of this transitional season.

Spring-1894, Sir Lawrence
Copyright, Jim Lane
He Lives, 2000, Jim Lane

Springtime, 1873, Pierre
Auguste Cot. I could
think of lots of titles
for this one. How about
"Spring Swing?"


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