Exhibition alert: Yesterday, for the first time since the 2020 lockdown, my husband and I went to a museum exhibition, namely Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts (through September 19, 2021). It had been scheduled for last summer and was the closing that disappointed me most after COVID hit. I was delighted therefore, when I learned that it would be delayed rather canceled, and I can assure you that it was worth the wait.
Picturing a World
A tick bite has me on a prophylactic antibiotic, which in turn has side effects. Drat! But it's a good excuse to post this image of a convalescent by Helen Schjerfbeck, which I recently ran across in an article about the artist. Schjerfbeck was a splendid find for me at a show of Women Artists in Paris at the Clark. She's quite astonishing.
Convalescence was a common motif in late-19th C painting, but this one strikes me as particularly interesting because it doesn't stress piteousness. Instead it shows the child on the mend—a welcome motif during a pandemic. Or at the start of tick season. Stay well, everybody.
As a way to help us all cope with self-isolation, The Getty posted a challenge to recreate art in their collection using household objects. The Hammershøi response was so perfect for this blog (with its running motif of rooms as portraits without people) that I had to choose it for this alert. But really you should see the other colorful, witty examples at the Getty website and even better examples at Sad and Useless. (Now, is there a short story to be derived from some sequestered people using household objects to …?)
Carl Vilhelm Holsøe's painting is obviously not one of Jeanette's "portraits without people"; but it is an example of that stillness in a near empty room, interior recessions (in this case in the mirror), and the importance of a door that appeal to me and led me to invent the genre for her. Glimpses outward through a window are also always mysterious invitations. The October 23, 2019, Sotheby's catalogue calls this a "a tonal poetics of greys and blacks" and observes that "[t]he mirror imperceptibly reveals the imprints of a personality." It also refers to "the enigmatic effect of the silent atmosphere." Right. Can't you feel yourself becoming quieter just by looking at it?
Mostly, I like to highlight lesser known women artists, but sometimes it's worth calling attention to a man. A post at GurneyJourney reminded me of Danish painter, Carl Vilhelm Holsøe. Holsøe's depictions of rooms are atmospheric interiors, a genre at which his generation of Scandinavian artists seems to have excelled. (Think Harriet Backer or Anna Ancher.) I didn't know about him when I was imagining Jeanette's "portraits without people," but his work illustrates the way a room can embody psychological insight.
Pictures of rooms are also a boon to historical-fiction and fantasy writers for the details they provide—in this case, a candle in the darkness. 21st C people have little idea how dark rooms really were before electric lights. Older stories in which characters are hidden in shadow become much more believable when you experience a black-out, or light a room with only a candle or two as an experiment, or, as here, see the effect in art.
To see this still life as part of a larger interior, click here.
For more of Holsøe's work, click here.
Blog tip: This is one of around twenty portraits of Swedish artist Jeanna Bauck by her Danish friend Bertha Wegmann, who reciprocated with several portraits of Bauck. It appeared recently at a Gurney Journey post, one of several on artists painting each other’s portraits. What strikes me as a writer is the challenge in Bauck’s eye, her fashionable dress, the thoughtful touch of the eyeglasses to the mouth. What a lot the portrait could suggest for a fictional character! Read More
I love the way this painting illustrates a young artist’s studio as a place to live. The plain floor and dormer window hint at upper-storey, cheap digs. I didn’t include potted plants in any of my characters’ studios, but they turn up in other paintings and would be part of making an Read More