Durer and landscapes
Durer 1471-1528-the artist of the Northern Rennaissance,was German in origin (from Nuremberg) but with knowledge and experience of the Italian Rennaissance. He was intially trained in woodcutting and metal engraving. He travelled briefly to Italy in 1494 and again in 1505. His work has immense religious content despite the growing reformation of Catholic values in Germany at the time (via Martin Luther 1483-1546)ref: http://www.albrecht-durer.org/biography.html
Albrecht Dürer, Landscape with a Woodland Pool, a drawing
This drawing was done in 1496 near Nuremberg. It has a very Gothic feel to it with contrasting lights and darks, dramatic dark clouds which appear slightly windblown, tall imposing trees on the right , trees without tops on the left and centrally a body of water which leads to the horizon. There are no human beings visible. It was drawn in watercolour and is said to be unfinished in the lower right. The tree trunks are depicted by fine dark lines, the grasss and water by thicker strokes of colour with the grass at the front of the water clearly paler against the water -I am unsure how this was done. The image seems to have a curve on the horizon line and the trees on the left lean outward from the more upright trees on the right as though viewed through a convex lens.
The quote on the web page from which the image and details were taken ( http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_image.aspx?image=ps312242.jpg&retpage=21362) state it is a very beautiful and harmonious depiction of restful nature.
I find it quite the opposite. I find most of Durer’s art quite intense and harsh in its contrasting tones and often disturbing, and likewise this depiction talks to me of loneliness, bleakness and perhaps a mesage of destruction.
In contrast I have for the first time come across some of Durer’s watercolours:
View of Kalchreut 1511 ref:http://www.durerart.com/Watercolors/View-Kalchreut.html
This I like, it is technically and chromatically softer than his engravings. The foreground houses dominate the picture in their light shades of pinks and browns and homely squat feel, almost blocking the view by their side-on positions, but a sweep of paint representing a path takes the eye to the right beyond a dominant dark tree (and perhaps a couple? under the tree) to other houses down a hill. The eye is also taken across the houses to the colourful trees and hills. The houses, trees and hills are outlined by a fine dark line and the hills are painted in subtle rainbow colours. I like the detail in the house on the left which looks in the process of construction and the lovely colours in the mid ground. It seems to have no deeper meaning and no religious connotations. It is evidently North European in the construction of the houses and the colours.
Claude Lorrain 1604-1682
Born in the South of France, he moved to Rome in his early teens and became one of the leading and most copied painters of idealistic landscapes and praise of nature. “The composition of Claude’s landscapes; their stage-like settings with trees which act as repoussoirs (props which lead us into the scene), came to be the standard example from which to study landscape” ref:http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/article_index/c/claude_lorrain_c_1604-82.aspx
“Regardless of subject, Claude’s focus was always landscape and light, which unified his pictures. Thin, semi-transparent layers of oil paint created extraordinary luminosity, and every element was subordinated to the poetic feeling of the whole” ref:http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=678
Claude Lorrain, Landscape with Country Dance, a drawing
This is described on the British Museum website as a brown pen and ink drawing with brown and grey washes. First of note is the composition–two large trees frame the central animals and behind them figures and the images curve into a background consisting of bridges and castle. The foreground of the picture appears to be black or grey (apart from the one animal which links background to foreground by it’s colour) brown tints dominate as the image fades into the background and areas of white zig zag from front to back giving an impression of light falling on the scene, a light which emanates from the background and casts long shadows.There are relatively large patches of brown or grey and onto these are drawn outlines and details with a dark fine line. The lightest area is the sky on the left, made even lighter by its approximation to the dark tree. The feathery leaves of the trees are a soft bubbling line filled in with shades of brown or grey. The central figures are dancing and in blissful ignorance of a goat which is falling off the cliff –a part of the picture which I find amusing. Are the goats, like the humans also “playing around” but with evident consequences-is their a moralistic message in the picture? The image is not as tranquil as many of Lorrain’s pictures probably due to the human and animal activity and amusement. I like the drawing, I dont like the positioning of the people behind the animals -they appear too big and almost standing on the animal’s backs.
Claude Lorrain, A Bank of Trees, a drawing
Italy, about AD 1645-50 ref: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_image.aspx?image=ps038965.jpg&retpage=21419
According to the British Museum’s description of this painting it is done in ” Black chalk, brown ink, washed red chalk and white heightening are all applied to create a more ‘painterly’ scene, though on blue paper. The emphatic use of chalk, applied like a thick , and the precise chiaroscuro (light and shade) of the trees in particular give the drawing more solidity and natural drama.” ref: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pd/c/claude_lorrain,_bank_of_trees.aspx
This is a more romantic picture in that there is no human or animal activity and so peace, but also rich in the manner in which the leaves on the trees have been depicted. The small light, almost speckles of pale colour make the trees look soft and inviting. There are fine lines depicting these clumps of leaves but otherwise no evident dark lines in the drawing apart from a few small tree branches. In front of these light decked leaves is a patch of brown earth also much lighter than the foreground and done in a large patch of ?smudged colour. At the front of the picture -all turns to shadow with black and dark red heavily applied and patches of lighter areas (not as light as the background) giving form and texture to the tree and bank. Close up leaves and a fallen branch give further interest to the foreground.
Lorraines greater detail and greater filling of the picture frame makes his picture feel more inviting and opulent then that of Durer’s “Landscape with woodland pool ” above. Both artists use the golden section to compose their trees but the one has rich southern plenty and the other scant Northern grimness.
L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) and town scapes
Lowry came from my “neck of the woods” -Northern England, and drew many of the towns that I have known well -some of them at a time when I was young (the 1950s) and could remember -I still dislike Manchester for those memories of post war desolation. I don’t think the people however were quite as depressed as he depicts nor as isolated in their thoughts, at least no more than the present generation who are tied to their computers. I like Lowry for the amusing and over the top social record he has provideed but was shocked when my aunt bought one, wondering how on earth anyone could put something so lacking in colour and grim on their walls-however she was moving to Canada and maybe wanted a reminder of her roots….( Lancastrians like to play up the dark side of their county).
Lowry was born in Manchester, worked as a rent collector and took art lessons and painted in the evenings.
“”Mr Laurence S Lowry has a very interesting and individual outlook. His subjects are Manchester and Lancashire street scenes, interpreted with technical means as yet imperfect, but with real imagination… We hear a great deal nowadays about recovering the simplicity of vision of primitives in art. These pictures are authentically primitive, the real thing not an artificially cultivated likeness to it. The problems of representation are solved not by reference to established conventions, but by sheer determination to express what the artist has felt, whether the result is according to rule or not…” ref:http://www.thelowry.com/ls-lowry/his-life-and-work/ quoting Bernard Taylor of the Guardian
Lowry felt that drawings were as hard to do as painting. He worked the surface of his drawings by smudging, erasing and rubbing the pencil lines on his paper to build the atmosphere of the drawing. He was always doing quick sketches on the spot on whatever paper he had in his pockets. ref:http://www.thelowry.com/ls-lowry/his-life-and-work/
Behind Leaf Square ref: http://www.lowry.co.uk/lowry-original-behindleafsquare2.html
A large rectangular building with regimental windows is drawn in soft body colour with very little texture almost totally across the page. Small cross hatched shaded people walk across the picture and gather before the doors. Fences dance in front of the building leading the eye this way and that but predominantly to the large door. The outlines and fences are drawn in fine dark line many as just one stroke and all else is coloured in in flat smudged shading without texture or tone, even the people have no shadows.There is a little attempt to depict the light and its direction which merely adds to the atmosphere of foggy Manchester.
By St Phillips Church, Salford ref:http://www.lslowry.org.uk/lowry-stphilipschurchsalford.html
Another picture drawn very similarly, smudged flat tone for the road and houses (with some visible texture in the two closer houses), line for the railings and the outlines of the buildings, fine lines almost Van Gogh in nature in the hedge on the left and the people depicted dark or light against the background. The most dominant part of the picture being the dark looming Church spire against the featureless grey sky. I can neither like nor dislike as I know it and it rings true(except nowadays it is made even less attractive by lines of cars).
I think out of these three artists, I like Lowry the best –He does not, like Lorraine try to change something to arcadia and by doing so elevate his own importance, and although he has the grimness of Durer he doesnot take it into a drama but just accepts and muses at the Lancastrian’s fate.