Thursday, 6 October 2011
Painting Time In Oils
At the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille I saw close up, one of my favourite paintings – The Concert in the Egg by Hieronymus Bosch. Yes, there are wonderful minor details such as for instance the lute player pinching the monk’s purse, another hand stealing a fish, the man at the back wearing an inspired item of millinery And I wish I knew what the birds signified.
But what held me for so long were the faces. Strip away period costume and you have peculiarly modern faces. There are no two ways about it. They’re as modern as smart phones.
I can see E.E.C. bureaucrats, former Labour cabinet ministers – I’m sure that’s Alun Michael in the pointy cap, and John Prescott reluctantly playing the harp. I’m sure any American studying the canvas would recognize Democrats, Republicans or minor executives
It’s quite similar to his, perhaps better known Ship of Fools where there’s more drinking and less singing, though the message is equally critical. In the second painting though, the faces are less finely drawn.
In the basement of Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille they have a wonderful late medieval section. The carvings are immensely powerful but one painting rang some very loud bells. Where had I seen this picture before?
Portraits of Louis de Quarre and Barbe de Cruysinck
But I was wrong. I hadn’t seen it before. Not this particular painting. I had however seen this.
The artist Grant Wood claimed his inspiration was sparked by the gothic style window in the building behind and he decided to paint it with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." A nice story, but splendid that the building is known as ‘The Dibble House’. So that's where Officer Dibble was born.*
From what I know, Louis de Quarre and Barbe de Cruysinck were reasonably happy with their portraits. The artist, Grant Wood, had problems with American Gothic. For a time at least. Iowans apparently objected to their portrayal as ‘pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible thumpers.’ One farmer’s wife threatened to bite Wood’s ear off. Way to go Van Gogh.
Grant Wood was supposedly influenced by Northern Renaissance art - ‘the highly detailed style and rigid frontal arrangement of (its)figures,’ I just wonder whether there was a more specific influence, conscious or otherwise.
* From Top Cat