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Posts Tagged ‘John Ruskin’

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“I have been prostrated these two or three days back by my first acquaintance with Tintoretto; but then I feel as if I had got introduced to a being from a planet a 1,000,000 miles nearer the sun, not a mere earthly painter”

–John Ruskin, letter to Joseph Severn, 1843

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While in Alexandria area for my opening, we shot over the Potomac into DC for a quick visit to the National Gallery of Art. It’s always a great pleasure to wander through the marvelous collection plus this year there was the first retrospective exhibition ever staged in America of the paintings of Tintoretto, the great Venetian Renaissance painter.

Tintoretto–Self Portrait ca 1588

Now, to be honest here, I went in not knowing a lot about Tintoretto so I wasn’t overly excited. Oh, I like a number of paintings from many Renaissance painters– particularly Titian, Raphael and my favorite, Bellini. But sometimes the repetitive nature of the religious subjects of much of the work from that era overwhelms my sorrowfully short attention span. I sometimes find myself becoming bored in a gallery full of exquisitely painted panels.

But as I walked into the first gallery for this extensive exhibit, the painting at the top of this post, Spring, was the first thing to greet my eye from a distance as I stood in the doorway. I was instantly captivated. It felt out of time, as though it could be a piece from any point in known art history, its composition seeming so bold and modern. Just spectacular.

A wonderful intro to a great exhibition.

Walking through the galleries as they progressed through the stages of Tintoretto’s remarkable career, I was struck by both the size and scale along with the changes in the progression of his work. In may pieces you could see influences that would be carried forward by the generations of artists that followed him. For example, looking at the first painting below, The Creation of the Animals,I can’t help but think that William Blake references Tintoretto in some of his best known paintings.

Most of the work was very large, best suited for spaces in huge churches or palaces. The second image below, The Virgin Mary Reading, is probably anywhere from 15 to 20 feet in height and was installed opposing another piece of the same size. It had a real wow factor walking into the space. They also did a fantastic job in hanging the whole show, with long views through the many entrances framing large eye-catching works in the next gallery that pulled you along. Each gallery had its own unique feel and strength. Each gallery in itself would be a great show in many museums.

The way I often judge a museum exhibit is how small I feel as an artist coming out of it. By that standard, this was a magnificent exhibit. I understand a bit more how John Ruskin must have felt when he wrote the lines at the top of this post. But conversely, as small as it made me feel, it also made me want to be better, to strive further, to make the most of my own meager talents.

And that also makes it a great show.

If you’re in DC before July 7th, when the exhibit ends, try to make it into the National Gallery to see for yourself. It’s just plain good stuff that you may not see again here in the Americas in your lifetime.

Tintoretto- The Creation of the Animals

Tintoretto–The Virgin Mary Reading

Tintoretto- Paradiso

Tintoretto- The Conversion of St. Paul

 

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John Ruskin- Ferns on a Rock 1875

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.

–John Ruskin

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I have been very interested lately  in the work and life of John  Ruskin,  who lived from 1819-1900.  He was one of those Victorian British sorts who displayed a wide range of talents throughout the era.  He was one of the greatest of  British watercolorists, perhaps second only to the great JMW Turner, whose work he defended in a book, Modern Painters, that sought to prove the superiority of the landscape painting of the time  over that of the early Masters.

John Ruskin- Amalfi

Although his painting is wonderful, he is probably best known for his criticism and his writing.  He had a real dogmatic sense of certainty in everything he took on, a quality that was very appealing if you agreed with his views but one that didn’t always sit well with those who did not.  I am not going to go into a biography of his life here but I wouldn’t deter anyone from looking further on their own by clicking on his name above or going to his bio page at the Victorian Web.  It is a most interesting life filled with famous names, controversy ( a famous court case with Ruskin being sued by James MacNeil Whistler for libel) , madness and tragedy.  All the elements of a great story.

The thing that first caught my eye was not his painting, though I do really like and appreciate it, but a rather a passage from a lecture he gave that I thought could have been written for our time as well as we seem to be ever more embracing of a culture that is anti-intellectual, anti-environmental and anti-science.  He wrote:

No nation can last, which has made a mob of itself, however generous at heart. It must discipline its passions, and direct them or they will discipline it, one day, with scorpion-whips. Above all, a nation cannot last in a money-making job; it cannot with impunity,–it cannot with existence–go on despising literature, despising science, despising nature, despising compassion, and concentrating its soul on Pence.

There are days when I fear that we must prepare ourselves for those scorpion-whips that Ruskin foresaw.

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