Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Part 5: Durand's Color


(Continuing the series on American landscape painter Asher B. Durand)

In Durand’s paintings, the colors are understated and the technique is restrained, never showy. “Waste not your time on broad sketches in color,” he advised.

"One must not “fix the attention of the observer on the nice mixture of pigments rather than the sentiment of his work....all the best artists have shown that the greatest achievement in the production of fine color is the concealment of pigments, and not the parade of them; and we may say the same of execution. The less apparent the means and manner of the artist, the more directly will his work appeal to the understanding and the feelings.” When the technique becomes so conspicuous that it asserts itself as the principal feature of the picture, “it is presumptive evidence...of deficiency in some higher qualities.”

These “higher qualities” took on an almost religious aspect in Durand’s writings about art. He believed that the artist is privileged to see “through the sensuous veil, and [embody] the spiritual beauty with which nature is animate.” By cultivating “childlike affection and religious reverence,” the act of painting from nature becomes more than a mechanical process: in Durand’s view, it is a form of spiritual devotion. 

“The external appearance of this our dwelling place,” he wrote, “apart from its wondrous structure and functions that minister to our well-being, is fraught with lessons of high and holy meaning, only surpassed by the light of Revelation.”

Durand reflected on the appeal of enduring masterpieces after taking a voyage to visit the picture galleries in Europe in 1840. He described the measure of greatness as “sober, quiet tone, depth and mellowness, transparency and glow.” A well-painted picture “draws you into it—you traverse it—breathe its atmosphere—feel its sunshine, and you repose in its shade without thinking of its design or execution, effect or color.”
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7 comments:

H4lfM4d said...

He doesn't sound like he'd be a proponent of dual brush digital speed painting techniques, =~O

etc, etc said...

Some interesting quotes. A focus on nature and the inner life of feelings...Durand seems to fit so squarely within Romantic aesthetics it's hard to believe he wasn't well read in them. Regarding pigments and mediums:

The nature of the depicted thing suffers violence from the depicting matter as soon as the latter makes use of its nature in depicting the thing. An object may thus only be termed freely depicted if the nature of the depicted object has not suffered from the nature of the depicting matter.

Friedrich Schiller
Kallias or Concerning Beauty

Anonymous said...

I love the quotes. I'm looking forward to the arrival of Durand's "Letters.."

Many are drawn to art because of the love of 'violent' color though Durand makes an excellent point about not abusing color in the slightest. There is a high art to subtlety. His work certainly pulls me in like no other and I love color.

- mp

Keith Parker said...

Sounds to me that he shared thoughts with whomever coined the phrase that can can be found on your maul stick Mr. Gurney.

Rich said...

Trees and plants are wonderful, "they grow in unison with all that is."

As to Durand's theory of "concealment of pigments" as some kind of highest virtue in painting: There may be a truth in it. But I find that statement too one sided.
Matisse for instance, would have been rendered impossible by it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this would apply to Matisse: " When the technique becomes so conspicuous that it asserts itself as the principal feature of the picture, “it is presumptive evidence...of deficiency in some higher qualities.”" though more likely, applying Durand's landscape principles to Matisse's work is like comparing apples to oranges. - mp

Rich said...

Well, in my view Durand was not confining himself to landscape only, when he said
"All the best artists have shown that the greatest achievements in the production of fine color is the concealment of pigments."

I just felt like pointing out some perhaps antiquated or obsolete notions about "greatest achievements" in the realm of painting.

It's not only Matisse; I could have quoted Chagall or Kokoschka and probably a host of others.