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Category: A-typical

A-typical IV

Is it French? Is it Rococo? Is it even eighteenth-century? The questions are misleading – for a reason.

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columbano

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[The answer to last week’s a-typical is: J. M. W. Turner – yes, that Turner. The painting called Jessica was viciously criticized, and it is tempting to consider this as a symptom of Turner trying his hand in something other than landscapes. The painting was purchased by the painter’s patron, Lord Egremont, but it was reviled in contemporary press: ‘It looks like a lady getting out of a large mustard-pot’, was one of the verdicts, and the poet Wordsworth even wrote that ‘It looks to me as if the painter had indulged in raw liver until he was very unwell’ (there is an excellent entry on the painting in the Tate official website). It is certainly not a painting he is remembered by, which makes it even more commendable that the brilliant David Solkin included it in the smashing 2009 exhibition Turner and the Masters]

Jessica exhibited 1830 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

J. M. W. Turner, Jessica, exhibited 1830, oil on canvas, 122 × 91.5 cm, Tate Britain, London

Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

J. M. W. Turner, Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, exhibited 1842, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 121.9 cm, Tate Britain, London (source of images: Tate Britain)

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A-typical III

A painter’s identification with a pictorial genre can be a defining condition of how s/he is perceived. Critical and commercial acceptance may further encourage painters’ dedication to one genre in detriment to others, and later perceptions of their work are invariably colored by the predominant genre (for example, Joshua Reynolds and portraiture). This week’s (and the next’s) A-typical entries deal with that problem. Also: the viciousness of criticism when painters veered from their perceived as ‘appointed’ course.

Jessica exhibited 1830 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

[The answer to last week’s a-typical is: Annibale Carracci – I will update the post later with the drawing’s information. Meanwhile, try to picture the Smiling Sun side by side with some of Annibale’s work for the Palazzo Farnese in Rome – its incongruity will become instantly apparent. The Palazzo Farnese was Annibale’s towering achievement, but by no means representative of his range, which was breathtaking – indeed, I consider him one of the most fascinating figures in the history of painting, and the quintessentially ‘a-typical’ artist]

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A-typical II

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Sometimes, something is a-typical not so much on account of who created/produced it, but because the period in which it originated is unexpected. This is the case with this week’s a-typical post, a drawing. True, including drawings here could be considered ‘cheating’. Years ago (in a galaxy far, far away…), when I was still a master’s student, our professor asked whether drawings should be included in the study of art and its history. It might seem like a paradoxical question, but it is not wholly devoid of interest. In drawings one often finds experimentations of form that would never, could never appear in finished works. I am referring to periods when ‘experimentation’ as such or ‘personal expression’ would not have been considered virtues, and would have little to do with the objects produced. Drawings therefore are, in some cases at least, the easiest way to upset timelines, and unsettle the still dominant linear conception of art history. They can offer a fascinating glimpse into the visual perception of the world, and the myriad ways it was represented in various historical moments. Drawings can also invite us to consider the values of any given society where finished works looked a certain way, but drawings another, and the distance an artist had to cover in order to get from one mode of representation to the other.

landscape_with_smiling_sunrise

This particular drawing was totally unexpected for me. The smiling sun, peeking behind the mountain, made me smile as well. It also reminded me of a scene from a movie, not a movie I particularly liked or enjoyed, and yet, there the association was. The Owl and the Pussycat by Herbert Ross (1970), with Barbra Streisand and George Segal, she playing a prostitute, he an unpublished writer thrown together by the adversities of life (as prostitutes and writers are wont to do…). There is a scene in it where he reads her a passage from his book, describing how the sun “spit morning” in the face of his character, which (understandably) drives Streisand nuts. I could not find the scene where she later tries to cheer Segal up, by ‘reenacting’ the sun spitting morning, but here is the original clip with Streisand’s reaction.

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[The answer to last week’s a-typical is: Rembrandt, Historical Scene with Self-Portrait, 1626, oil on oak panel, 90.1 x 121.3 cm, Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden – Rembrandt is the third most discernible figure, counting from the left, looking directly towards the viewer, as he usually did in later portraiture. If I’m not mistaken, Alison Botterill understood who he was from his hair. Good catch!]

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A-typical I

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In this series, I am going to post paintings (for the most part) that do not look like what we’ve come to expect from a certain painter. The idea is to stress the multiplicity of genres, visual vocabularies, representational strategies, compositional schemes etc. employed by any one artist during the entire course of her/his career, in an attempt to undermine the concept of the single (or unique) style. Style is viewed very much like personality is: there can be only one, and whatever inconsistencies are observed, they must be attributed to a process of change that leads to ‘maturation’. My friend and colleague Noti Klagka has taken Annibale Carracci scholarship to task on this point (for her doctoral dissertation), and her conclusions are remarkable. This series is dedicated to her.

(Viewers might – or might not – be familiar with the images and artists posted here. Authors will be revealed only at the posting of the subsequent image. I believe it would defeat the purpose if I included authorship, since names generate associations and many of our preconceptions are deeply embedded. If, however, you are eager to find out what the painting is, you can google the image, or use the contact form in the About section to ask me directly).

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