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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Julian Falat

Snow, 1907, Julian Falat
Julian Falat, Self-portrait, 1896
Many artists might disagree with me, but I've always felt that winter was the most beautiful time of the year. Winter, of course, can be ugly--gray, tan, brown, cold, dead--but just let the weather turn white, add a heavy blanket of snow, and then a wash of blinding sunlight (especially at sunset), and every other season of the year pales by comparison. Julian Falat's Snow (above) from 1907, I offer as proof. Summer is too green. Spring is pretty but its beauty is thin. Autumn comes a close second to winter in my book, but it also bears the stench of death and dying. Winter, as I've described it, is powerful, strong, glorious in its simplicity, brilliant in color, and exciting when the artist adds robust revelers enjoying it all. I've painted many winterscape scenes, but I must admit, always fallen short in the "robust revelers" category. Maybe its because they're always leaving tracks in my fresh, virgin snow. As cited above, an artist who did all this better than just about anyone I've ever encountered was the turn of the (20th) century Polish artist, Julian Falat. (I love Polish artists I can pronounce.)
Parsonage at Wyszatycach, 1870, Julian Falat
Old Man Praying, 1881, Julian Falat
Born in 1853, Julian Falat was one of the most prolific painters Poland ever produced. He specialized in landscapes, many of them in watercolor, and though his winter scenes are by far the most eye-catching, he was equally adept the other nine months of the year. His Parsonage at Wyszatycach (above) is a quaint, authentically 19th century rural landscape, that, while a good six-inch snowfall might have helped, is quite attractive in summer as well (the greens are subdued and minimal). However it was not Falat's landscapes, with or without snow, which first caught my eye, but his genre portraits such as Old Man Praying (right). This was an artist, though academically trained, who never let the academic penchant for "high art" get in the way of painting the really important "higher art" all around him. The old man and the parsonage co-exist as if they might have lived together.

Hunters in the Forest, 1889, Julian Falat.
This hunting scene could really use a good snowfall.
Winter, 1910, Julian Falat
As any painter will tell you, landscapes are mostly a matter of learning a few painterly techniques and a modestly accurate (or inherent aesthetic) for color. Outstanding genre painting requires in-depth familiarity with the pointed end of a pencil (the other end too, I suppose), but also the ability to probe beneath the obvious features, the surface anatomy, clothing, and props to a discover the character of portrayed by the actors upon the artists' carefully constructed stage setting. As Falat demonstrates in his Winter (right), in essence, God sets the stage for the landscape artist. Not unlike a screen writer or movie director, however, the genre artist must set the stage, provide the costumes, hire the actors, arrange them compositionally, facilitate the right lighting, and all of that before he or she draws the first line, much less begins deftly stroking pigment to canvas. Falat's Popielec (below) is the genre artist at his best.

Popielec, 1881, Julian Falat. No, it's not John Paul II, though we might like to imagine that one of the youthful penitents might be...except the painting is too old for that.
Athletes, 1891, Julian Falat
Falat studied art in Krakow and Munich and was blessed early on by the royal patronage of the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, who brought him to Berlin in 1886. Quite apart from exceptionally facile handling of genre subjects, Falat seems to have had been especially fond of hunting--whether an active participant or merely an observer is uncertain. Though winter in Poland can be brutal, Falat's hunters take the excitement, the camaraderie, the sportsman struggle in stride, not cursing the snow and cold but enjoying it. His Athletes (right) combines Falat's knack for genre with the exciting drama of the winter hunt. Whether in small groups or large hunting parties, such as his Hunting in Nieswieze (below), they seem to embrace the cold along with the frigid beauty like Christmas in January...or any other month of the long northern European winter. Brrrrrrrr...

Hunting in Nieswieze, 1891, Julian Falat


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