Thursday, April 19, 2018

Times of Day: French Landscape Paintings in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Théodore Gericault’s striking painting Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct is not a solitary work; it plays a role in the history of French landscape painting. Generally known as a portrait painter, the subject matter of this piece differs from Gericault’s usual interests, and the beauty of the landscape contrasts with his other grotesque paintings and depictions of affliction. It is speculated that he was commissioned to paint scenes for a wealthy family to hang in their home, hence the switch to the aesthetically pleasing landscapes.

Multiple French painters in the 18th and 19th centuries depicted landscapes at various times of day, so Gericault was drawing on a common interest of the time while creating his own version of a times of day series. While some artists focused only on landscapes, others included humans as part of the scene, and Gericault Landscape with an Aqueduct scene highlights the landscape as well as the actions of humans.

Landscape with an Aqueduct is part of a series that Gericault never finished. His two other completed landscapes (Heroic Landscape with Fisherman and Landscape with a Roman Tomb) depict morning and afternoon respectively. Based off of sketches, we know that he most likely planned to complete the series with a nighttime scene. Most other artists who painted times of day series also depicted morning, noon, evening, and night, so Gericault’s series is not entirely original. Contrasting various renditions of morning and evening scenes shows the variety of French painters’ styles, but it also shows how closely connected their subject matter was.

Claude­-Joseph Vernet, The Four Times of the Day: Morning, 1757, Oil on silvered copper, Art Gallery of South Australia

A precursor to Gericault, Vernet’s The Four Times of the Day series greatly resembles Gericault’s series. He focuses on the actions of people and natural scenes from everyday life. In Morning, townsfolk pull up traps from the river and catch fish for the day. The light yellows and pinks in the sky indicate the newly risen sun, and the town begins to wake up. Gericault’s piece depicting morning also features fishermen working as the sun rises. 

Claude­-Joseph Vernet, The Four Times of the Day: Evening, 1757, Oil on silvered copper, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

While Vernet focuses on the actions of people at various times of day rather than on the natural setting, the landscape in Evening is emphasized more heavily than in Morning. In this scene, women bath in a river while washing clothes. While the sky is still light blue in this scene, Vernet uses shadows cast by the setting sun to indicate that it is evening. The women have nearly completed the day’s work, so as they finish washing laundry, they also take the time to clean themselves. Again, Vernet depicts natural scenes of everyday life.

Théodore Gericault, Heroic Landscape with Fishermen, 1818, Oil on canvas, Neue Pinakothek ­ Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Approximately 60 years after Vernet’s The Four Times of the Day series, Gericault paints his version of times of day. His morning scene, titled Heroic Landscape with Fishermen, contrasts the vastness of nature with the realism of busy fishermen who are trying to make a living. Much of the landscape is in shadow because the rising sun is hidden behind a cliff. Thus, the emphasis is not as much on the fisherman as it is on the land, which contrasts with Vernet’s morning scene, and yet both artists feature fishermen at the same time of day. 

Théodore Gericault, Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct, 1818, Oil on canvas, Accession Number: 1989.183

Gericault’s evening scene parallels Vernet’s again, because he too features people bathing in a river as the sun casts long shadows. However, he only depicts men, and once again, the central focus is the grand landscape. Vernet’s scenes are filled with more action, but Gericault’s scenes are more dramatic, showing Gericault’s romanticism and highlighting Vernet’s naturalism. Gericault’s Landscape with an Aqueduct especially highlights the brooding, subliminal aspects of romanticism.

Jean­Baptiste­Camille Corot, Four Times of Day, 1858, Oil on wood, The National Gallery, London: Room 46

In the mid­19th century, Jean­Baptiste­Camille Corot painted four panels, each representing a time of day, in his Four Times of Day series. Human figures are present in Corot’s paintings, but they are not as noticeable as Vernet’s or even Gericault’s figures. These panels represent morning, noon, evening, and night, just like the previous artists’ series. Each panel is a different landscape, yet the rugged forest and muted colors are consistent throughout the series. The morning and evening scenes are far less dramatic than Gericault’s scenes, and they are not full of action like Vernet’s. This version of times of day is a pastoral take on the idea.

Claude Monet, Haystacks at Giverny, the evening sun, 1888, Oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, Saitama

Near the end of the 19th century, Claude Monet began painting his Haystacks series, which focuses solely on nature. As part of the impressionist movement, he is interested in how the light interacts with the landscape, instead of telling a story or depicting everyday life. While still drawing on the historical interest in times of day, Monet introduces a new style into the old theme. Vibrant scarlets and oranges draw the eye to the breathtaking sunset as it spreads across Monet’s evening scene, invoking peace like many of the previous times of day pieces, but also showcasing the drama of nature in a similar manner to Gericault.

Claude Monet, Grainstacks in the Sunlight, Morning Effect, 1890­1891, Oil on canvas, Private collection

In continuation of his Haystacks series, Monet painted a morning scene of the stacks after he painted the evening scene. The morning scene is based on a different location than the earlier evening scene, but the thematic material remained the same. Monet brought a new perspective to times of day paintings by also showing various seasons. While he was interested in the effects of various natural elements including the seasons, the effects of light remain his most prominent focus. In the morning scene, the light gives a soft pastel shade to the painting. The shadows in this painting are limited, but in other paintings from the series the sun casts grand shadows or sometimes none at all, all depending on the positioning of the sun.

No comments:

Post a Comment