Friday, January 09, 2015

Bridge Anyone? (part three)

Like Claude Monet, spotlighted yesterday, Vincent Van Gogh painted many canvases where a bridge took on a leading roll and in this first group of works in today's installment, below in figures 30 through 32, I've spotlighted three that I find most exciting due to their sharp angles, interesting perspectives, and typical Van Gogh brush work. Painted very close to the end of the 19th Century, all three have a very "modern" feel and seem to offer a glimpse of what is yet to come from some of the painters working at the same time or shortly after, and those who came into their own at the dawn of the 20th Century. My favorite of this trio, Railway Bridge Over Avenue Montmajour - Arles, is the work on the lower right - that exaggerated view beneath the bridge with its very moody feel; the pronounced perspective is very inspiring to me as it is the sort of compositional design that I'd be inclined to work with.

The very calming and rather idyllic four works that make up the next grouping, above, all might appear to have been painted by the same artist but actually come from four different easels. In figure 33, Bridge in Abromtsavo, Ukrainian Ilya Repin used his bridge as a stage setting for the figure, the angle of the bridge helping to bring the viewer's eye into the work. On the other hand, Irishman, Sir John Lavery's Bridge at Grez (figure 34) is a quiet work where the bridge becomes integrated into the background allowing the boaters to take on a more prominent focus with their brighter colors and perceived movement, but he has added enough importance to the bridge by the addition of the two figures upon it, one seated and the other leaning over with their attention directed back toward the more centralized figures in the boats. Once again, it's a compositional idea that, though seemingly rather simple in design, offers a great deal of interest, movement, and makes good use of the bridge element to help guide the viewer's eye throughout the work.

Figure 36, River Under Old Stone Bridge, is a work by one of Sweden's most well respected painters of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Anders Zorn. Zorn's bridge is not just a stage set or an element of a layered background, it has much more importance than in the previous two mentioned works and though the river itself leads the eye into the work, the arch of the bridge acts as a sort of window, framing the distant hazy landscape, helping to bring strong focus on that important area in the composition and direct the viewing eye towards it.

The Rialto - Venice  (figure 35) by John Singer Sargent completes this group of four. His under bridge view is very atmospheric with the curve of the bridge abutment becoming the backdrop for the action of the boaters. I really enjoy Sargent's positioning of the standing oarsman right at the convergence of the arched lines of the bridge, his long oar handle pointing directly down to the foreground figure stretched out in the partially seen boat. The composition is very well thought out as to the placement of all the actors and props, but the mass and strength given to the underside of the bridge is what really dominates and guides the viewer's eye into the work.

In the grouping of four works above, several are from the latter part of the 19th Century and others from the early 20th Century but they all have a similar modernist character and feel. Paul Cezanne's 1879 Bridge at Maincy (figure 40) is the oldest work of the four and perhaps, the most atmospherically creative in approach. The horizontal movement of the bridge is matched by the equally important verticals of the trees but the two vividly painted arches of the bridge help to give it the predominant focus in the overall staccato brushwork of the entire canvas. 

Frenchman, Emile Henri Bernard, who became friends with Cezanne, painted Iron Bridges at Asnieres in 1887 (figure 38). At the time of this painting, Bernard was close to Van Gogh and I can certainly see the influence that each of them may have had on the other. I very much like the stark geometric forms and flat areas of color that form the composition; the bridges here blending nicely into the overall unity of the work with no one element really overpowering another. 

The 1905 painting (figure 39) by Frenchman, Henri Martin, The Bridge in Labastide du Vert reminds me a lot of the structure of Cezanne's bridge painting with the strong focus on the two arches, the horizontal of the bridge, and the verticals of the trees balancing each other nicely as well as the very strong reflection of the bridge in the water. Though brighter in color and simpler in form and brush work, the Martin work seems almost like an updated version of the Cezanne.

The final work of this group and latest as to date of painting (1927) is by Edvard Munch. The Girls on the Bridge (figure 37) is lesser known than his more famous (infamous?) scream painting, but I'm very drawn to it with its sharp angles and blocky shapes. No accident that I have placed it and the Bernard work together on the left of this grouping as I feel a very strong kinship between the two works, one acting as almost a mirror image of the other as to shapes and form and compositional structure and balance of color.

Above, in this trio of works painted in the early teens of the 20th Century, a couple on this side of the Atlantic and the other on the opposite side, all three have strong angular compositional structure with the bridges holding very dominant placement and importance. Each has a completely different feel, though, from soft and misty to sharper and more hard-edged. Spring Night, Harlem River (figure 41) by Canadian-American, Ernest Lawson sort of falls in between the other two works as to its feel. It's very painterly in approach with dabs of color blending into an overall softness with the sharp, strong shadows of the bridge structure making it the strong focus of the work.

Childe Hassam's Winter Day on Brooklyn Bridge (figure 43) portrays more action and sharper definition to the various elements of the composition, but the more muted palette helps to soften its overall character. As in many of the other paintings already discussed, Hassam's viewpoint of moving the viewer into the work, up and along the walkway toward the vertical supports of the bridge, makes for a very appealing image and gives the bridge more than a supporting role in the overall composition.

The final work of this trio by Pierre Adolphe Valette (figure 42) is the most atmospheric of the group, the softest and subtlest, but I also feel the strongest in its portrayal of bridge structure as the predominant subject matter. Other than the lone figure in Under Windsor Bridge, Valette's painting is all about the bridge. As in the other two works of this grouping, and many of the others before, there is strong angular movement to the composition. Entering at the dark figure, your eye can't help but be pulled back toward the soft, hazy, distant verticals of the bridge structure with all those strong angles directing you there. Yet another compositional idea that is very much to my liking.

As today's installment comes to a close, I wanted to touch upon a group of works that are much more expressionist in their portrayal of bridges by artists who were experimenting at the beginning of the 20th Century. The four works cited above, were all painted between 1905 and 1915. In figure 44, Pablo Picasso's Landscape with Bridge, one of his Cubist works, the bridge is one of many integrated elements of the overall geometric structure of the painting yet the bridge is given a bit more focus through his use of the blue tones, indicating water, which help to separate those elements from the remaining monochromatic pieces of the rest of the "puzzle".

Maurice de Vlaminck (figure 45) and Andre Derain (figure 47) were both principle artists in the Fauve movement of the early years of the 20th Century, the movement that pushed limits in the use of sharp, bright and intense color. Derain's work, Charing Cross Bridge plays those intense colors to a stronger degree than does de Vlaminck in his Pont de Chatou, but both works make strong statements about the bridge being the main focus. 

Austrian, Egon Schiele may be more well known for his figurative and portrait work, but in figure 46 he's put focus upon a bridge and its intricate structural elements in his painting, The Bridge.

* Come back tomorrow for the next installment * 

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