Morning Coffee

“Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

— T.S. Eliot

It’s not necessarily Sunday in Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning, as the distinction was made by someone else after the painting was made. There is no lonely worker to identify with and no specific skyline to recognize, so where is that most obvious association that we can take with us to recall later? Perhaps the painting’s most compelling quality is that our own desperate search for a metaphor or acknowledged thing of beauty yields no results, and yet we still think of that one street in our neighborhood that makes our morning route ordinary.

Sunrise (Marine) was one of Monet’s first experiments with loose brushstrokes and fleeting reflections of light. He grew up in the industrial port of Le Havre, and returned there at the start of his career when plein air and dabs of color were still considered “insane” by most critics.

On the other hand, Cézanne’s Woman with a Coffee Pot exemplifies his efforts to move away from Impressionism and develop a geometric way of treating his subjects. The plain cup, wall pattern, and rigid dress of the sitter all seem to be made from the same detached quality that separates them from their physical associations.

My Salad Days, When I Was Green

Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait often inspires observations of the realistic technique and meticulous detail as well as a vague notion that the objects and setting have some sort of symbolic meaning. There is no doubt that van Eyck used an exceptionally complex method of painting, as each layer of translucent glaze explored oil as a new and revolutionary medium. However, in his book Jan van Eyck: The Play of Realism, Craig Harbison suggests that the immediate association with realism as the aim of the artist is a modern notion based on the anticipation of the movement of Realism in the nineteenth century. But even van Eyck’s reality is “selective,” as Harbison calls it, and is not simply a direct translation of contemporary life and belief.

Courbet was known to promote Realism as the pursuit of a “truthful” representation of everyday life, and he seemed to thrive from the criticism of his contemporaries, saying that “it is impossible to tell you all the insults my painting of this year has won me, but I don’t care, for when I am no longer controversial I will no longer be important.”

If the amount of realism is measured by the time devoted to one painting, John Everett Millais’ Ophelia would be worth admiring. It took him five months of working six days a week for up to eleven hours each day to finish this work, as he sought to depict the detailed descriptions of Shakespeare’s character. For much more about it, please visit: Ten-things-you-never-knew-about-Ophelia

Perhaps your preferred brand of realism is the inherent abstraction in watery impressions of light reflecting on water.

Monet painted about 250 portraits of his garden in Giverny, seeking to capture the infinite and intangible variations of atmosphere.

Atonement costume designer Jacqueline Durran • Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet • Tracy Reese Spring 2009 at Fashion Week

Lempicka’s Young Girl with Gloves evokes that magnetic impression of pop culture that, over time, disintegrates into a geometric arrangement of form and shade. Nonetheless, every smooth fold of her green dress seems somehow relevant to the present, though the abstraction will always keep us guessing.

Tracy Reese Spring 2009 at Fashion Week • Green Still Life by Pablo PicassoTidal scarf – emerald

* the title comes from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Act I

Savage Brushstrokes

“…in our so very civilized society it is necessary for me to live the life of a savage.

— Gustave Courbet

Courbet’s body of work may seem haphazard, and it is hard to pinpoint a particular theme among the landscapes, seascapes, portraits, and erotic imagery. He did, however, approach painting with the same forcefulness that characterized his radical social ideals, and his wish to promote a more Realistic approach to representation. Perhaps his depictions of the sea are not the most literal interpretations of his craving for scandal, but they do embody the innovative quality of his ideas when applied to painting.

The texture of the paint speaks for itself, as the wild brush-and-palette-knife strokes form the turbulent sea of the Normandy coast. It is, perhaps, too gratuitous and irrelevant to immediately attribute his inspiration to Japanese prints based on likeness alone, as Courbet’s masterful savagery was entirely his own.