Saturday, January 10, 2015

Bridge Anyone? (part four)

Today's installment, the next to last of this essay, will move to a focus on works produced on this side of the Atlantic during the 20th Century by American artists. But, before we head to Brooklyn, New York, I want to briefly touch upon works of an Oriental flavor whose compositions focus upon bridges as a central theme.

In the three images seen above, the central and right hand works represent just two of the vast output of Utagawa Hiroshige, considered the last great master of Ukiyo-e woodblock printing. Working primarily in the first half of the 19th Century, Hiroshige produced Bikuni Bridge in Snow (figure 49) and Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge (figure 50) at the height of his creative talents. Both works focus on the activities on and surrounding bridges in the typical straight forward Japanese woodblock style, but certainly call to mind several other compositional designs mentioned and illustrated in previous installments, for example that of Whistler (Nocturne in Blue and Gold) in the very first posting and Pissarro's Old Chelsea Bridge.

The third work of this trio (figure 48) also encompasses much of the character of Hiroshige's prints and is a wood engraving from the British artist, Sydney Lee, done in the first years of the 20th Century. The Bridge - Staithes really does cast a very Oriental flare through simple forms, large blocks of color and simplicity of line while placing major focus on the bridge as in the two Hiroshige works.

And now it is time to travel to Brooklyn during the first decades of the 20th Century with this grouping, below, of four portraits of the bridge, the first (figure 51) by Childe Hassam is Brooklyn Bridge in Winter. Just as Monet chose to feature a myriad of works based upon the bridges of the Thames and later those along the Seine in France, quite a few early 20th Century American artists focused upon the structure and form of the Brooklyn Bridge as a subject of choice. 

Max Kuehne in his version of the Brooklyn Bridge in Winter (figure 52) also chose a roof-top view of the entire expanse of the bridge, as did Samuel Halpert (figure 53) from what appears to be almost the exact same spot and angle of view. Edward Willis Redfield's more atmospheric and subtler rendering of the bridge in figure 54 completes this quartet of portraits of the iconic structure.

Stepping back in time, just briefly, from the time frame of the works mentioned above, no treatment of art works with a bridge as subject or theme could pass without mention of Thomas Eakins and his marvelous several works of rowers on the river in Philadelphia during the mid 1870s. This work below, The Pair-Oared Shell (figure 55) is perhaps one of two of his best known renderings on the subject. Of course the rowers are a focal point of the work but the mass and weight and importance given to the bridge support is what really gives the work a more distinct character; in my estimation, a very gutsy compositional design.

The final trio of works for today's installment appear below. Emile Gruppe, more well known for his New England land and seascapes, did spend some time in Europe and his Paris, Eiffel Tower is seen in figure 56 below. Many have compared some of his painting style to that of Monet and I can see that reflection in this work. Figure 57, The Red Bridge painted by Julian Alden Weir at the very end of the 19th Century, has a similar atmospheric quality to the brush work in Gruppe's painting and like several other works already discussed in previous days, the bridge in this work melds into the other elements of the composition because of the subtle qualities of the palette used but holds just enough strength through the intricacies of the structure and its more vivid color to become the focus of the work.

Frederick Oakes Sylvester's The Shadow of the Bridge (figure 58) rounds out the trio and calls to mind the compositional view and design of many of the Impressionist works noted earlier with its stark angle and viewpoint; a design concept I frequently find appealing as I consider a new composition myself.

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