Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cumberland, Part 4: Final Art

I read somewhere that Beethoven worked on his fifth and sixth symphonies side by side, switching back and forth between dark drama and pastoral light.


While I was painting this scene of blood and fire, I was also starting on the art for Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. Rather than clashing, the two worlds that were crowding the inside of my head seemed to need each other, like Jekyll and Hyde.


Fast forward to 2008. The book tour for Chandara brought Jeanette and me through Virginia, and the timing worked out for us to be there and see the installation of the painting at the Mariner's Museum, the same museum where I had done the research about three years earlier. For naval history buffs of any kind, this place is Mecca.

Since the last time I had been there they had opened the new Monitor center, where they are continuing to work on conserving the remains of the U.S.S. Monitor. The famous ironclad was recovered from the sea floor in the 1970s and stabilized in tanks. Now it's emerging piece by piece under the careful attention of professional restorers. You can follow along on webcam videos.

Part of the new development at the museum, built after my painting was finished, is an immersive walk through of the Virginia and the Monitor, and a multi-media presentation that puts you in the middle of the terrible events of March 8 and 9, 1862.

When my painting was installed on a 10 year loan to the museum, I was touched by all the kind comments that people wrote in a guest book that was set up next to the painting.

I also received a letter from John Quarstein, one of the most respected historians of the Battle of Hampton Roads, and one of my consultants on the project. It was a great honor to read his words of approval: “I think you have created the most accurate and awe inspiring depiction of the death throes of the Cumberland. You have done a masterful job of luminating the story of March 8, 1862.”

The truth is, I could never have done it without the help of Mr. Quarstein, Mr. Ratliff, and the team of experts and art editors at National Geographic who answered all my questions and gave me the benefit of their life studies. These kinds of paintings are never done alone. They really do take the cooperation of a lot of people, and it was my privilege to meet people who have given their lives to bringing the past to life.

Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 1A: The Backstory
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 1B: The Research
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 2: Choosing the Scene
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 3: Acting it Out
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 4: Final Art

13 comments:

Kunst Kommt Von Können said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kunst Kommt Von Können said...

rney Journey

Blogger Kunst Kommt Von Können said...

I'm reading alot about the great german history painter Anton von Werner and he often described the same pleasure and proud, when, after month and years of hard labour, his work was honored in the way you described.

For example(excuse my bad translation...):

Edouard Detaille kindly answer my question with the help of careful drawings, to explain me the details of the uniform of a French military doctor, who had been present when the Crown Prince and his officers came into the room where they had laid the corpse of the fallen general. The Crown Prince and Mischke described me, as far as there memory allowed, the face and figure of the doctor. I had painted it and was surprised when, after many years, I received a letter from France, in which the sender, atteched his photograph from 1870, informed me that he was the doctor, who was actually there. From the photograph I saw, to my surprise the coincided with his appearance in my picture was pretty good, but I made a mistake, which he particularly pointed out: I had painted him only two strings attached to the gold cuff, whereas he was allowed to wear three because he was chief physician at that time already! :-)

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_QSV8hW-NBww/So2aDZ0DZtI/AAAAAAAADrA/bNp4oJqOdiI/s1600-h/Anton+von+Werner+-+Kronprinz+Friedrich+Wilhelm+an+der+Leiche+des+General+Abel+Douay+%281890%29+-+%C3%96l+auf+Leinwand+%28117+x+167+cm%29.JP

James Gurney said...

Kunst, thanks for that link to the Werner painting. Wow! that's a stunning piece. The expressions on the men and the light in the room is incredible. I'm a fan of Detaille, but I know nothing about Werner except what you've told me. Where can we find out more?

Kunst Kommt Von Können said...

There isn't much to find about him in english. Many scanned pictures you can find at my blog(it's my hobby, im no artist) and my pica-page:

http://picasaweb.google.com/kunstkommtvonkoennen

Von Werner was the most influential painter in germany at the end of the 19 century, for example president of the berlin academy. He was a friend of such great artist as Menzel, Munkacsy, Vereschagin or Frederic Leighton. He is one of the great allround-painter of the 19 century, today vilified as a mere history painter with no artist value.

Gary Dombrowski said...

It's interesting to see the process in creating this incident from history. I have the utmost admiration for painters that take the extra pains to get a scene as historically accurate as possible. You really brought the event to life. It sure would be great to see you do more historical subjects. ~Gary

Erik Bongers said...

Thank you again for yet another wonderful tour through the making of one of your most impressive paintings.

Pete said...

I'm struck by the thought that producing historical art and fantasy art are very similar as far as the process goes. In both cases you must produce something that doesn't exist. Stunning work!

Jesus Estevez said...

great work, thanks for sharing the process, is very ,very interesting

Bil Hardenberger said...

James, I have loved this series. You said this was going to be highlighted in your book too? I don't think that Matania or Pyle could have done a better job.

I am going to try to get to the Mariner's Museum this weekend to see your painting (among other things there, like the Crabtree collection).

I hope to see more posts like these in the future.

James Gurney said...

Bill, yes, this painting will be featured very prominently in Imaginative Realism. The image itself will be a double page spread--10.5 x 18 inches, followed by an account of the process illustrated with high res images from these posts.

Pete, you're right: the process is essentially the same for history painting, science fiction and fantasy. I guess the only difference is the level and type of research.

Tyler J said...

What a nice finishing post. Thanks again for sharing the process, its incredibly helpful and interesting.

Bil Hardenberger said...

James, I went to the Mariner's Museum today and saw your painting. I live in Richmond so it was an easy trip, even with the beach traffic.

It is prominantly displayed in the hall leading to the Monitor exhibit and dominates the other paintings there. Like most paintings, you really have to see it in person to appreciate it. It really is an awesome painting.

On the way out I saw a couple looking closely looking at all the details. The last thing I heard them say was that they wanted to take it with them, the wife said, "I want to steal it". You might want to check on it's status this week. ;o)

Any plans for a full size print of this piece in the future?

Best, Bil

James Gurney said...

Bil, Thanks for the report from the museum. Glad to hear it's still displayed nicely. No plans at the moment for doing prints. It's a little hard to market a one-off. But I'll include it in portfolios and collections in the future.