Monday, October 4, 2010

Water by Three Masters

Here is a section of water as painted by three different artists. Can you name them?

(Addendum: "Florante" guessed it: Joaquin Sorolla, Anders Zorn, and John Singer Sargent)

The fact that many of you can identify them—even if you haven’t seen these specific paintings—is proof that we cannot escape our own handwriting. But it’s not just the “mark-making” at work here. Nor it it about style. It’s the seeing, the understanding, that separates each of these artists.

While each of these painters was a sensitive and close observer, each captured different qualities of water’s infinitely variable and elusive nature. The one on the left is interested in the upward-facing crescent shapes of the wavelets. The one in the middle features the soft transitions of the central ripples in contrast to the hard transitions and arabesques of the reflections. The one on the right is fascinated by the riot of color that shows up in illuminated shallow water, and the simultaneous transparency and reflectivity.

Even if these artists were standing side by side earnestly trying to accurately capture the same exact view, you’d still be able to pick out each individual. That’s why I believe it’s mistaken to believe that the pursuit of realism necessarily leads to sameness. Those who describe realism as slavish imitation miss this point. One artist’s paintings can be true to nature but emphasize different aspects of visual truth compared to another artist. The way you paint is a record of how you see.
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Related GJ post: Reflections of Masts on Rippled Water.
Color in Mountain Streams

21 comments:

Charles Valsechi III said...

What a great post. I would like to see how this relates to the figure.

Don Ketchek said...

Interesting post! And yes, your comment about realism is right on. Realism has room for an enormous amount of individual interpretation. Some people, I believe, confuse realism with photo-realism, which is an entirely different category.

Greg Newbold said...

I totally agree that an honest artist leaves his artistic fingerprints all over a piece. I have my hunches on each of these artists, but I hope you will you post them and the full paintings later. It would be interesting to see if my guess is correct.

katie said...

On a somewhat-related note, saw this and had to post it here; amazing

http://www.linesandcolors.com/2010/10/04/haltadefinizione-high-resolution-art-images/

Torbjörn Källström said...

I think one could be Anders Zorn. And maybe some Pre-Rafaelite on the right? But I could just be fumbling in the dark here.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Katie. That's a fascinating post on high-res museum images. Charley Parker at Lines and Colors always comes up with the most amazing material!

Torbjörn, yes, one of them is Zorn.

DavidStill said...

Sargent, Zorn, Waterhouse? I don't really believe the last one is Waterhouse, but I can't think of anyone else with that kind of dry brushwork..

JonInFrance said...

Dry brushwork is how someone described Monet ("all scumble, scumble"). I just love Monet, by the way

Lucas1000 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucas1000 said...

I was just discussing this subject with some friends of mine. We visited Palatine and Modern Art Gallery of the Pitti Palace, yesterday. We were amazed at how many different approaches there were to painting similar type of fabrics.

James Gurney said...

Charles, you're right--this would be fun to try on figure work or drapery.

I predict Armand will be the first to guess it right.

chambersartstudio said...

I think the third one is Monet. Thank you Mr. Gurney, for being a champion of Realism. I have learned so much from your blog, and I read it every day. And also,Lucas, an exploration of drapery painting approaches would indeed be fascinating.

florante said...

hello james...i think the first one is by sorolla then followed by zorn and then sargent...;-D

James Gurney said...

Florante, Brilliant! You've got it exactly.

Glendon Mellow said...

Brilliant post! I love your comments about realism. Wonderful.

Congratulations to the sharp-eyed Florante.

florante said...

hello....woooow! thank you,james.have a nice day.

Walter Wick said...

Whoa! While I agree that artists exhibit brushwork as unique and identifiable as handwriting, I wouldn't have guessed that one could peg those artists from these samples. Yes they are all of water, but the observed conditions are so different. Hats off to Florante, and to you, James, for presenting the challenge as you did.

Best of luck in Lucca. Would it be too much to expect to see some of your plein air painting of that beautiful town?

Will Kelly said...

Wow, that was like a good sermon. Honestly, this philosophy about realism not being dull and boring is something that really came home to me after reading Imaginative Realism. I think that after I understood what realism means, it totally changed my outlook on how I draw and see the world around me. Thanks for this great post!

Dan Gurney said...

Buddhists and mystics from other traditions have long observed that there is no objective reality apart from (or outside of) mind. Could it be that "realism" is more synonymous with skillfulness?

James Gurney said...

Dan: Yes, if you define "skillfulness" as a sort of informed and practiced awareness.

Tayete said...

It has always admired me how drawing and painting is a product of our brain, not of our hands. When I try to draw with the left hand (I am righthanded), excepting that the result is jiggly for not practicing it, the style is still mine. Looking at Frazetta's paintings after he had to change his painting hand because of his illness, shows that (though with less quality strokes because of age, not his natural hand, etc...) it is still "Frazetta".

Great post Mr. Gurney, I think you have hit the nail with the last paragraph.