National Gallery of New South Wales always has so many exhibitions going on all year along. But none had the lure for me, as much as this one did.
Last November, NSW Art Gallery put on show the famous paintings from National Galleries of Scotland, and titled it as “The Greats”. And very aptly named the exhibition was too! 70 outstanding works of world renowned painters, covering 400 years of art from Renaissance to Impressionism, with names like Boticelli, Rembrandt, Leonardo, Raphael, Monet, Gauguin, Vermeer, John Sargent, Raeburn, John Constable, etc popping out of the audio guide.
Now I am no art connoisseur, very much a common man (woman) when it comes to describing or critiquing art. My knowledge of drawing and colours can be put on paper smaller than a chit of paper. My favourite period of art were the impressionism times. I heard Monet was on display and I do love Monet paintings (who doesn’t ?). Anyway, all I knew was- there were some amazing paintings on display and I had to see them. This was a rare opportunity for me to see, contemplate and feel awed of the images on display. And awed I was.
After spending a whole day at the exhibition, I found my eyes being captured by some very distinctive paintings. I decided to try to put in words what I felt when I saw these paintings. And so- here goes, an art idiot’s perspective.
- Rising Mists – Peter Graham (1836-1921) created this one around 1887. Scotland must truly be a place full of magic and mystery if one goes by the paintings drawn by this British (Scots) artist. This painting seems to celebrate the essence of what I think are called Scottish Highlands in all their glory.
The image here is not the actual painting but a print, thus far more clear than the painting I had sat looking at for about two hours. At first glance, the eyes seem to focus on the white mist rising in the air, thus justifying the name given to it. And then, an eye wanders and starts to widen with awe at the details. Both eyes drink in the image. One must sit down in comfort and take their time to gaze their fill at the image and focus better. My eyes saw this:
Once you start covering the painting inch by inch, there is a lot to discover. The whole painting seems to talk; with meanings direct and implied. I now see the grassy mountain from which the mist rises. A shard of light falls, as is I think, intended by the painter, to brighten up patches of grass and rocks, giving the impression that the mist is actually rising out of those patches.
A little below, the river flows fast. I close my eyes and imagine this torrent. I can almost hear it if I open my eyes now and look at it; bouncing a bit, as if dancing. When it comes near the rocks, it dashes against them, and splashes herself noisily, as if laughing. Further ahead, the noisy torrent calms down and flows smoothly over. It put an analogy in my head. Think of a young woman; flirting and giggling with impertinence, as she meets several men (rocks) during the course of her life. As seasons pass by, she becomes mature and calm, not responding to every admirer that comes her way.
Where the river flows fast and fierce, the waters are brown and muddied; looking dark and menacing as you look closer. As it calms down, flowing away and far from the rocks, it seems to given an illusion of becoming white- or should I say pure?
My eyes now stray to the left of the river, where the river bank has been defined. Mr Graham’s hand seems to have been in a mood, for sharp edges and pointy rocks define the cliff. A part of it seems to inch into the river, like giving it a hand to come up. (Laughs)
Coming closer to the painting, my eyes focus on the wild Highland cattle, slap bang in the middle of the painting. Brown and black, and more of it behind them. A patch of grass glistens, and one imagines how much the cattle wants to eat it all. The first of the cattle certainly seem to be eyeing it.
Getting up and moving two steps to the left, and more of the painting became clear. Now I see a sort of trail that the cattle might have followed. How astute of the painter to capture it exactly as it is! The mark of a true landscape artist in my eyes!
Far away, on the top left corner of the image, dark clouds have gathered, and the mist is no more white; but a smoky grey. In fact now that I look at it, I find colours emphasising the landscape are not as white as the mist, not even the mist really. It is eerie in actuality, perhaps the impression that Mr Graham wanted to give, which I only now understand. The painting is steeped in dark colours, red and black and only sometimes green. Looking at the painting, I see the middle now and I find glimpses of white? giving an impression of snow on the mountains far, far away.
There! That is what I penned down when I sat by the painting. What do you think of the painting though? Don’t forget to leave your comments! The next part will talk of John Constable’s “The Vale of Dedham”.