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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Paintings of Paintings

The human condition II, 1935, Rene Magritte
Writers are often told to write about what they know. I suppose the same admonition would apply to painters as well. Most often we see this when artists do self-portraits of themselves at work in their studios. Sometimes, we see little or nothing of the painting while in other cases the artist plays a very secondary role if, indeed, he or she is even depicted at all. In fact, presence of the artist may be detrimental or distracting from the point the artist is trying to make. Take Rene Magritte and his famous The Human Condition II, (below, lower image) from 1933, for instance. He placed a painting (canvas and easel) that represented precisely the portion of landscape blotted out by the painting. For instance the tree represented in the painting displaced the tree behind the painting outside the room. For the viewer, the tree was simultaneously inside the room, in the painting outside the room, in the real landscape.
The upper painting is titled: Call of the Peaks (1933).
The second painting is titled: The Fair Captive, (1947).
The third version of The Fair Captive, from 1947, differs from those of 1931 and 1935 which situated the easel in a landscape setting. It preceded by two years the series of works known by the title The Human Condition. In both series Magritte investigated the paradoxical relationship between a painted image and what it conceals. It was a rich field for investigation, as suggested by the number of variations on the idea. He surely saw De Chirico's 1917 version of a painting within a painting, Great Metaphysical Interior (below).
De Chirico's paintings were, of course, Surrealist, a style
which lent itself to the painting within a painting conundrum both he and Magritte were exploring.
There was, of course, nothing really new in the realm of painters painting paintings of other painters painting paintings. Monet, for example was painted at work by Renoir who titled his work, Claude Monet Painting in his Garden at Argenteuil, (below, upper image). John Singer Sargent followed suit with his Claude Monet Painting By The Edge Of A Wood (second image below), from 1886. He even included a very patient Mrs. Monet off to one side. And finally, Edward Manet called his painting of Monet painting from his tiny boat simply Claude Monet Painting (below, lower image). Why did everyone want to paint Monet painting. They were, of course, all good friends, but more than that was Monet's carefully landscaped gardens at Giverny--a painter's paradise. Of course it was only good manners to include their host in their paintings.
In his latter years, Monet was seen as something
like the godfather of Impressionism.
Monet's "fan club" weren't the only artists playing around with the painting within a painting concept. England's J.M.W. Turner, while not known for his paintings of interiors, nonetheless painted himself working in his studio surrounded by three lovely (albeit quite indistinct) lady admirers (below). In this case, his dabbling predates all the others by thirty or forty years.  The Artist and His Admirers (below), dates from around 1827. Moreover, he makes no secret as to why he chose such an ego-boosting subject.

The Artist and His Admirers, ca 1827,  J.M.W. Turner. Notice the compositional similarities between this work and that of Magritte's The Human Condition (top). 
In more recent years, even the late, great Norman Rockwell explored the paintings of paintings element in at least three of his works. His The Connoisseur, (below, upper image), was the only abstract, work Rockwell ever created. Yet the art gallery setting keeps the overall painting very much in a Realist mode. Rockwell's famous Triple Self-portrait (a Saturday Evening Post Cover), and his 1969 Boy Scout calendar self-portrait titled Beyond the Easel (below, lower image) are both thoughtful pieces with far more depth than is first apparent. In the latter work, the paintings is placed in such a manner as to cause us to see only the edge of the stretchers. The painting is, in essence, felt rather than seen.

Rockwell was once the art editor for Boy's Life magazine.
He had a lifelong association with the group, becoming scouting's "artist in residence."
My own exploration of paintings within paintings does not involve the inclusion of a painting within a larger context, but paintings hung on the Masonite surface of a related work as seen in my I Was Here self-portrait (below). The smaller work is a simple landscape of a secluded church on one of the Azores islands which we visited several years. Thus, in combination with the larger, self-portrait gives a double meaning to the title--I was at the scene, and I was here, on this planet long enough to paint the picture I'm holding. Behind the landscape is a gag painting with the words "Will Paint for Food."

Copyright, Jim Lane
I Was Here, 2014, Jim Lane

Other artist at work in a portrait mode.


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