27 January 2021
20 January 2021
13 January 2021
Image: Pierre-Auguste Renoir - The Luncheon, 1875, oil on canvas, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
06 January 2021
05 January 2021
these guys are: I'm bored.
It's been raining like hell all day long
and there's nothing to do."
- "At the California Institute of Technology" by Richard Brautigan, January 1967
Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) is remembered today as a novelist, and an experimental one at that, but he began his writing career as a poet in the 1960s. Brautigan was appointed Poet in Residence for the spring semester in 1967 at the California Institute of Technology. As you can tell by reading this poem, he was not favorably by impressed by the weather in Pasadena. An odd sentiment for someone who came from Tacoma, Washington. But rain in winter seems more depressing somehow than spring rain; the earth stays inert and dull looking. The palette Richard Haines uses for Winter Rain is drab, with only touches of blue and yellow to underline the vertical displacement that figures seen through rain take on.
Rain is one of several subjects Vincent van Gogh painted over and over, as though the subject was inexhaustible, as it was for him. There are van Gogh rain paintings that I would do without. His shoes were another favorite subject and I have linked to my earlier post about Vincent's love of books and the ways he included them in paintings.
The arrangement of the figures in Winter Rain comes from the years Richard Haines worked on W.P.A. mural projects during the 1930s.
Richard Haines (1906-1984) was born on a farm in Iowa and began working as an illustrator for greeting cards and calendars before formally studying art at the Minneapolis School of Art. While there Haines became interested in painting murals ( a popular medium in early 20th century America), winning a scholarship that took him to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1933. Moving to Los Angeles in 1941 to work in an aircraft factory, he stayed after the was ended to teach at the Chouinard Institute of Art and later headed the painting department at the Otis Institute. His work itself as well as influence on his students.is evident all around the city.
Image: Richard Haines - Winter Rain, before 1948, watercolor and charcoal, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
01 January 2021
In 1878 van Gogh came to the Borinage, a coal mining region in southern Belgium, where he had been assigned to minister to the people of the village of Cuesmes. At twenty-five, Vincent's trajectory in life seemed to be heading determinedly downward. The eighteen year old who had shown such promise as an art dealer at the prestigious firm of Goupil et Cie in Paris erred by revealing his wealthy clients his candid opinions of the works he was selling. He liked to read so he tried his hand at bookselling in Amsterdam but ignored potential customers. Then, thinking he could follow in his father's footsteps by becoming a minister, Vincent only succeeded in putting his parishioners to sleep. And so he was consigned to the lowest work the church offered, as a missionary to the poor coal miners of Cuesmes.
Persuading an elderly miner to take him down into the mines, van Gogh entered a living hell, a bee hive of cramped chambers where entire families labored because women and children were smaller than the men, and could navigate the narrow passages more efficiently. Emile Zola's masterpiece Germinal, published in 1885,describes their plight in harrowing detail while Misere au Borinage, a famous documentary made in 1933, showed how little had changed since van Gogh's time.
While conducting bible studies in the homes of the miners, van Gogh was stricken by their squalid living conditions. He became obsessed with the desire to share their plight, giving away his clothes and food and even going so far as to give up bathing so that his skin would be permeated by the grime that the miners could never seem to wash off. Vincent's identification with the suffering of others lacked boundaries and so it would be, sometimes, with ruthlessness. The same Vincent was capable of killing a butterfly the better to paint it.
When a church official named Rochedieu (means Rock of God - a name fit for Pilgrim's Progress!) came from Brussels on an inspection tour, he was horrified by van Gogh's condition and sacked him on the spot. Losing yet another job when he yearned to give of himself to others devastated Vincent. (It was the inability of his French-speaking superiors to spell van Gogh correctly that led the artist to refer to himself as Vincent.
Van Gogh had been living in a little miner's house where he retreated in despair for a year. It took another year of struggle for him to assemble a group of drawings to take with him to Brussels; his letters to his brother Theo describe how, through his anguish, Vincent found his vocation.
Vincent took his drawings to Brussels in 1880 where he showed them to his mentor, Reverend Peterson, who saw something in them that transcended Vincent's lack of formal training and so Vincent persevered.
1. Jean-Paul Grandmont - The house where Vincent van Gogh lived in Cuesmes, photograph, 2005. (Note: the Miason van Gogh is now a museum)
2. Vincent van Gogh - Coal Miners, September, 1880, pencil on paper, Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterloo, Netherlands.