The Way of Beauty
The good life is the joyful life
Edward Hopper is an American artist who died quite recently – 1967 – and is worth looking at. His style is clearly influenced by 20th century forms with his strong colouration. He is famous for his paintings of city scenes, such as the laundromats and diners and I have shown one or two these here, however, it is his landscapes and seascapes that I love particularly. These portray New England, and especially Maine and so there are plenty of examples of his work on display in the museums around Thomas More College. He has managed to use high register, ie light and bright, colouration without it looking unnatural. The effect is of bright sunlight. The quality of light he portrays is exactly what you see in Maine.
Another characteristic of his approach is that he summarises form very well, in my opinion. If you have to paint something that in reality is immensely detailed such as a tree, with all its leaves, or even a field with every blade of grass; it takes great skill to make it convincing. On the one hand you need enough suggestion of detail, leaves and branches in the case of a tree, so that you know it isn’t just an amorphous sponge on the end of a stick; on the other, we have to have a sense of the broad shape of the tree so that there is a unity to it. If there is too much detail so that every leaf is painted individually then we feel as though it is overloaded (the Victorian pre-Raphaelites tended to do this).…
Blithewold Manor and is located in Bristol, Rhode Island about an hours south of Boston on the Narragansett Bay. The first house was destroyed by fire and the second was built in 1906 in this English Country Manor style with Arts and Crafts style gardens. The photographs were sent to me by Nancy Feeman, who has written on gardens in England for this blog.
Here is the website.
The house is in 33 acres of land which sits on the coast and so has spectacular views over the water. As well as the beautiful gardens there is a well developed arboretum. Thank you for sending these photos Nancy, I can’t wait to go down and have look myself.
I could’t help a bit of fun last time, so here’s the less frivolous version for those who take their gargoyles seriously! No gurning in this one I promise.
John Scotus Eriugena wrote in the 9th century how sometimes the presence of ugly details within a broader setting allows us to recognise all the more the beauty of the whole: “For anything that is considered deformed in itself as part of a whole not only becomes beautiful in the totality, because it is well ordered, but is also a cause of Beauty in general; thus wisdom is illuminated by the relation to foolishness, knowledge by comparison with ignorance, which is merely imperfection and wanting, life by death, light by the opposition of shadows, worthy things by the lack of praise for them, and to be brief, all virtues only win praise by comparison with the opposite vices but without this comparison they would not be worthy of praise…As is the case with a beautiful painting, for example. For all that is ordered according to the design of divine Providence is good, beautiful and just. Indeed what could be better than the fact that the comparison of opposites lets us sing the ineffable praises of both the universe and the Creator?’ (De divisione naturae, V; quoted in The History of Beauty by Umberto Eco).
It seems to me that there are two principles being described here. The first is that our ability to apprehend beauty is heightened when it is contrasted with ugliness.…
Believe it or not, there is an annual face-pulling competition that takes place in Cumbria in northern England that can trace its history back in a continuous line to the 13th century. The art of face pulling is called ‘gurning’. Every year there is a competition at the annual fair in the Cumbrian town of Egremont. What is now called the gurning world championship has been held at the Egremont ‘crab’ fair since 1269. I have a personal connection here as as members of my family, on my mother’s side, own a farm there (no jokes about how you can see the similarity from my photographs of me please!).
If one compares the faces of the gurners with cathedral gargoyles we can see similarities – I managed to make the pairings shown below. When you look at the faces of these champions, the gargoyles don’t look so fantastic.
So compare the above with the gargoyle below. When I look at the medieval carvings I always think that we can be certain that the masons of the 12th century had a pretty good sense of humour!
Following on from an earlier posting about the Russian school in Florence, Italy which teaches the academic method as it was practiced in Russia in the 19th century, I would like to draw readers’ attention to a painting of Christ carrying the cross by and artist called Ilya Ovcharenko.
I like very much the dark shadowy feel – very baroque and the fact that the faces are generally in shadow which is characteristic of 17th century sacred art (as we saw in Van Dyck recently) but different from the way that portraits are painted. This helps it to avoid the sentimentality that infects so many modern works of sacred art in the naturalistic style. I don’t know many artists around today who are able to produce sacred art to this level.
If you want to see a larger reproduction, follow the link here, and you will see a thumbnail, top middle, which you will be able to enlarge using your cursors.
Here is some more work by students from Thomas More College. They took traditional tiled patterns from Romanesque floors and incorporated them into a design for church floor. The oblong shapes are intended as a design for the nave; and the square for the main feature in a sanctuary. I asked them to take care in the coloration. Most colored pencils that are obtainable from the store are bright, artificial colors, but this is what we had to work with. So we used a light touch of even shading and overlaid the red, for example, with grey and brown so that it had an earthy, more natural feel to it and so it would evoke the material which one would expect such a floor to be made of, colored marble. Also, I encouraged them not to color everything evenly but to indicate only in some small area within any boundary what the infill design would be through full coloration and detail and then allow the rest to fade out. For a diagram this would be sufficient to indicate what the full floor would look like.
The design principle is have large shapes with patterned infill. Typically the large shapes would be orthogonal or a quincunx (four circles spinning out of a central one) or the chain of interlocking circles called a guilloche.
The Russian Academy of Art in Florence
I have just been given information about a school that teaches the traditional academic method according that which developed in Russia in the 19th century, which seems to be a place that Catholics should think about for study. A former student of mine at Thomas More College, Jacqueline Del Curto, who went through our Way of Beauty program, has been studying there and is now about to go and do an apprenticeship with the British Catholic artist, my friend Jim Gillick in England. It seems to me that this represents the perfect training.
The Russian Academy of Art in Florence, is one of a number of traditional schools that have been established in recent years. I am told that it was founded about three years ago and that the atmosphere is Christian – this is important, some of these traditional schools are antagonistic to the Church. It has the strong emphasis on drawing that one would expect at a school teaching traditional methods. As important as the teaching of the skill of drawing and painting are the ways that the artist is taught to introduce stylistic elements into the painting. This is done through control of the intensity of colour and focus (ie the blurriness of the image); and it is as important as the accuracy of the draughtsmanship in creating a picture of beauty that conforms to its tradition and the taste of the teacher is hugely important in governing this, because there are no set formulas that can dictate it.…
As another in an occasional series that just relates pieces of music that had a great effect on me I offer Schubert’s Impromptu Op 90 No4. I was a student at Oxford when I first heard this. It was at a formal college Christmas dinner of the Middle Common Room (the graduate students). It may surprise some people to learn that these were often quite rowdy affairs. Even though we were in the college dining hall (this was St Edmund Hall) and wearing black tie and tux, drink flowed freely (the drinking age in England is 18) and by then end food was being thrown across the hall. So if you have a picture of the typical Oxford University student as one who is highly sophisticated and cultured, think again. Instead, try to think of the BBC production of Jeeves and Wooster with Hugh Laurie playing Bertie Wooster, and a scene at the Drones Club. Usually, totally incidental to the conversation going on the front and centre, we see grown men, tux wearing toffs, throwing bread rolls being thrown left and right. This was the norm at college dinners that I went to, especially Christmas dinners. Despite all efforts of the dean to discipline students or to appeal to us to grow up it happened each year. In the end they gave up trying to stop us and made special wooden covers to go over all the portraits of past principles and notable Old Aularians.…
Here are some photos of ordinary gardens in Berkeley, California. I was visiting recently and just took these snaps as I wandered around the town. Berkeley has a temperate microclimate and so has a long growing season and very little frost. It is warmer and sunnier than Britain, which also has a temperate climate, and gets drier in summer, but rarely very hot. If you travel just 15 miles inland the temperatures can start to soar, especially in summer. I love to see the effort that the householders go to here.
This does rather blow my Americans-don’t-garden hypothesis, I have to admit…except for the last one.