Posts Tagged ‘Arnot Art Museum’


I have always had a passion for the beautiful. If the man in me is often a pessimist, the artist, on the contrary, is pre-eminently an optimist.

—Jules Breton (1827-1906)

Just a short one today. I’ve used the quote above from artist Jules Breton once before here but it was with another of his paintings. The piece above of his, Le Soir (The Evening), is in the permanent collection of our local art museum, the Arnot Art Museum. It was an important painting for me, really one of the first real pieces of art with which I interacted as a kid.

In junior high school, I would sometimes ride home after school with my father. The junior high I attended was just down the street from the Sheriff’s Department where he worked and the museum was just one block over from that. So, between the end of the school day and my dad’s shift, I had an hour or two to explore a little, trying to stay out of trouble as best I could. Not always successful on that front but I won’t go into that part of the story right now.

Most days I found myself at the Steele Memorial Library which was at that time housed in a beautiful old Carnegie-endowed building. It had such warmth and was a great place to spend several hours at a time searching the stacks. Some days, however, I found myself at the Arnot Art Museum which was not yet expanded. It’s collection wasn’t large but it was quite good, with plenty of classic European paintings from well known artists of the mid and late 19th century. It was the type of work that a wealthy collector of that time would acquire on his yearly sojourn to the continent.

This piece from Jules Breton then dominated the front parlor of the museum, as it still does today. I knew nothing of art then, had only been in one museum at that point. Well, two if you count the Baseball Hall of Fame. But even with that lack of knowledge, this painting spoke volumes to me. The glow of that sun going down behind that far horizon. The tired laborers getting ready to head home from a long day in the fields. The gorgeous blend of colors that made up that sky. 

And the sense of space. It was simple and elegant. Quiet but forceful.

It was the first painting that spoke to me, the first that offered me possibilities beyond my own meager knowledge and limited opportunities. It made me think. And feel.

It remains an important piece for me. So, to see the words of Breton and whole-heartedly agree with them as an artist feels almost like coming full circle back to this painting and the small spark it kindled in me as a kid. It took a while for the spark to grow but it was always there after that.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Maybe too much.

Have a good day. 

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Millet- The Gust of WindIn reading yesterday’s paper, I came across an article describing an exhibition opening at the Everson Museum in Syracuse called From Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces of the Davies Collection.  It is in Syracuse until the beginning of next year when it moves to the Corcoran in Washington, DC.  The exhibit features works from many of the greats- Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh, to name a few.

The thing that caught my eye though, was this painting by Jean-Francois Millet, The Gust of Wind.  There was a real familiarity in seeing it and I immediately recognized the similarity of this piece with the compositions of a number of my paintings.  The tree blown to one side from the wind.  The way the tree sits at the top of the hillock.  Even the shape of the ground and the way it dominates the picture plane.

Of course, I could do this with many, many paintings by a variety of painters.  It’s a simple composition of a tree on a rise, after all.  But because it was Millet, it struck me because I have always so admired his work and often felt a kinship to it.  As a youth, a piece of his at our local museum, the Arnot, was always a favorite.  His paintings of field workers always drew me in with their sweeping fields and expansive skies.

Millet-  The SowerAnd then there was The Sower.

The Sower was arguably Millet’s most famous image, a simple depiction of a farmer spreading seed.  It has great motion and a  beautiful diagonal line through the sower’s body.  Like the painting above, there has always been a sense of familiarity with this image.  I have memories of a pair of bronze bookends from my childhood, probably from a garage sale and now long lost, that had the image of The Sower on them.  Something in that figure clicked in me even then and I have always responded when seeing it.

This image was further immortalized by Van Gogh in several of his paintings, one a pure copy albeit in his own distinctive style.

Millett After   Van GoghMillett's Sower Van Gogh

Seeing Millet’s figure in Van Gogh’s paintings made a huge impression on me many years ago.  It triggered a chain of creative impulses that I still feel to this day.  Seeing The Gust of Wind in the paper brought them back to the surface for me and I may well be working off this little surge of inspiration for weeks or months to come.

So, if you get a chance check out the exhibit and the Millet…

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rockwell kentI’ve always had a special affinity for the work of Rockwell Kent, the American illustrator of the last century.  Maybe it’s because my local art museum, the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, had a couple of his paintings that had seen over the years.  Maybe it’s the fact that he headlined a show featuring the art of American illustration that hung at Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn, NY back in the mid 90’s.

It was the first real museum show in which I ever participated and while I never considered my work illustration, gallery director David Kwasigroh saw something in my work and really wanted it to be part of the show.  I was really honored to have my early work hang among some of the giants of illustration such as Kent and Lynd Ward, and felt as though I had taken a big step, even though it was really more symbolic than actual.  I was far from ready at that time to move on but it gave me the impetus to do so.

rockwell kent cover fieldsI also felt a bond with Kent in that he lived part of his life in the Adirondacks, an area that has always hit a chord with me.  A lot of his landscapes are immediately recognizable as being from the center of the Adirondack Mountains.  When I look at his work I get the feeling that he was coming from the same place inside when he created his works that I do when I paint mine.  There’s a sense of familiarity that I can’t explain.

rockwell kent moby dickI’ve also always loved his graphic work, for instance the prints he did for his work illustrating Moby Dick.  I seem to take a lot from black and white work such as engravings and woodcuts.  It’s all about composition and subtlety of tone within the print and I think that is the real bones of painting.  I figure that if I can absorb some of the way a striking picture is put together it will find its way eventually into my own vocabulary of imagery.

There is a lot to absorb and like for me in the work of Rockwell Kent such as his use of mystic imagery in natural settings, trying to add that unseen element in a visual manner.  For me, he has always succeeded.

rockwell kent 2

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Jules Breton "Le Soir"My first real exposure to genuine art came when I was a kid in the early 70’s, going to school at Ernie Davis Junior High on Elmira’s east side.  My father worked at the Sheriff’s Department which was just several blocks away so after school I would walk down there to ride home with him.  It beat the school bus ride which could be a real drag because I was the first kid picked up in the morning and one of the last dropped off at night, an hour or so each way.

So after school I would head downtown where I often ended up at the Newberry’s store that had an old pinball machine tucked away in the corner of it’s basement, hidden among the knick knacks and housewares.  Great machine.  Only a dime a play.  Spent too much time there.  More often though I ended up at the old Steele Memorial Library, a beautiful old Carnegie endowed structure that was like a treasure chest.  I spent hundreds of hours there, reading and exploring the stacks behind the reception desk that you entered by climbing a tight cast iron stairway.  What a great atmosphere.

But the other place downtown that caught my attention was the Arnot Art Museum.  It was located in an old mansion and was free to the public at the time.  They had ( and have) a wonderful permanent collection of paintings, a real surprise for a small city like Elmira, and I was mesmerized by the group in the main parlor.  The piece that caught me was the Jules Breton painting above, Le Soir.  It glowed on the wall there and the beauty of the surface and the sense of place and time were palpable.  For a 14 year old, it was heady stuff and often I would head into the Arnot to just spend a few minutes with the Breton and some of my other favorites there.  The Brueghel.  The Millet.  There was a great sense of calmness there and to this very day whenever I enter that place I am taken back to those days as a shaggy haired kid dragging my denim gym bag through the doors to see that Breton painting.

Below are a couple of other Bretons, not at my Arnot Museum…Breton song of the larkJules Breton the weeders

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Paul Sample CelebrationSometimes you run across work that really hits you and you wonder, “How have I never heard of this guy before?”

The world of art is full of such people, artists who while popular in their time never have made that shift into the ongoing popular consciousness. Perhaps their style was out of step or out of favor in their time or perhaps they just never caught the big break.  One of my favorite examples is the artist Paul Sample.  paul-sample-church-supper

The poor guy doesn’t even warrant a Wikipedia page of his own.

I first saw a piece of his a number of years ago in a traveling exhibit at the Arnot Art Museum,  in Elmira.  I can’t remember the title or even all the details.  I just recall being struck by the composition and the way he framed the painting with the elements at the picture’s edge (much like he has done in the top painting, Celebration, shown here).  There was an emergence from dark to light that really presented the central part of the scene in a strong way.  

Paul Sample Janitor's Holiday I immediately went home and integrated this idea of his into my own work.  Over the years I’ve come across other examples of his work (I’ve never been able to locate the piece I saw those years ago) and am always visually excited by them.  The compositions have a wonderful triangular quality where everything more less pointed to center of the panel, allowing the eye to settle easily into the painting.  His colors have the richness and dark undertones that  really attract me as well.

As I’ve said, the art world is full of any number of Paul Samples.  They may be less known and less loved than the brighter stars in their galaxy but their work remains alive and vital, full of the potential to influence even to this day.

Give them a chance…

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