Thursday, October 13, 2016

Grandma Moses Palette and Landscape Envy

When it comes to painting, my interest definitely is classical still life. Landscape might as well be moonscape. And I guess that's why I'm so intrigued (that... and the fact that's so damned difficult).

Recently, I saw the landscapes of Anna Mary Robertson Moses, aka Grandma Moses, at the Bennington Museum in VT. After trying my hand at plein air painting, I have a better appreciation for her landscapes. Although to be accurate, Moses did not paint out doors; she worked from printed images. Not to take anything away from the woman: she started painting at age 76! Arthritis had made it too difficult to create her scenes in needlework. You could say she settled on painting when the lady-like craft of needlework was no longer an option. I say she had determination as well as skill. A lesson for all artists.

The primitive style and casual busy-ness of her landscapes dotted with rural structures is what we generally admire. But on this day, as I took photos of my "favorite" paintings throughout the museum, the theme that emerged was about color.

Below are two landscapes with delicate palettes by Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses.
landscape, delicate palette

Vermont landscape, delicate palette
(My apologies for not noting the titles of Grandma Moses' works.)

This painting, "Old Mountain," is by another Vermont painter, Milton Avery, whose work is also shown at the Bennington Museum. It bears a striking similarity, palette-wise, to the snow scene by Grandma Moses above.
Vermont landscape, delicate palette
Old Mountain ©1943 Milton Avery
The painting immediately below is Grandma Moses, and below that, another Milton Avery which feels almost like an abstracted version of the Grandma Moses painting. So interesting that both drew me in!
Vermont landscape, delicate palette

Mountain Meadow ©1960 Milton Avery
The landscape below by Lorenzo Hatch also caught my attention. He captured this scene beautifully with a lovely, sensitive palette. If you think about what you actually see looking at a woodsy scene it can get really green very quickly - there is generally more depth of color. I love that this painting renders the environment so exquisitely without being overpowering in it's green-ness. And, of course, you have to admire his outstanding drawing skills.
Vermont landscape, delicate palette
Indian Summer ©1904 Lorenzo Hatch
These paintings were in different exhibits on different floors throughout the museum and I hadn't set out with an agenda in mind, just taking photos of images I liked. It was after reviewing the photos that evening that I noticed certain similarities seemed to have "spoken" to me. Most likely filling a need after my recent oh-so-green plein air attempts!

figure in landscape
May Palmer ©1901 Frederick MacMonnies
This painting by Frederick MacMonnies is a lovely Sargent-esque figure and the background landscape is very different from those above. It's boldness stands in contrast to (and reinforces) my preference for the sensitive palettes of the Avery and Moses landscapes.

The real reason I photographed this painting was that I admired how simply he indicated the glittery sparkle of her jewels. Not that I'm a figure painter, but the same effect is sometimes needed in still life.

Looking closely at the woman's white dress in the insert below, you can see how non-white it actually is.

I sampled the dress color in Photoshop and the square of taupe is the same color as her dress in that area. Totally grey-brown. And yet, looking at the figure, it still reads as a white dress. That darker background is what allows the pearls and gold to shine in contrast. Voilà!

close-up sargent style

This painting is in the Bennington Museum's Gilded Age of Vermont exhibit, a lovely room in their permanent collection that includes furnishings as well as sensitive portraits by William Morris Hunt and trompe l'oeil by William S. Reynolds. If you are heading north for "leaf peeping" this fall you should put the Bennington Museum on your list of destinations. It's worth a visit.

Thanks for joining me on my painting journey.

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