Saturday, May 9, 2015

Arcadia: Paintings by David Holt at Loop, April 25 to May 17, 2015

Arcadia: Paintings by David Holt at Loop, April 25 to May 17, 2015

David Holt, studio photo of works in progress, April 5, 2015

Bathers as an Arcadian Theme
I find it interesting the extent to which Arcadian themes, particularly nudes in idyllic landscape settings, have occupied Northern European and North American painters. Many 17th century foreign painters working in Rome (e.g. Poussin, Claude) and subsequent generations of others have been enthralled by the idea of a classical Mediterranean golden age. In their paintings they have further developed the pictorial aspects of Arcadian themes first established in antiquity and resurrected by Italian artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Domenichino, Annibale Carracci, and others.

While earlier treatments of figures in landscapes often had specific literary references (in keeping with the Italian tradition of istoria painting), other artists dispensed with narratives, considering unidentified “nudes in a landscape” or “bathers” sufficiently legitimate subjects for paintings. 

Bathers by Cornelis van Poelenburgh, a member of a group of Dutch and Flemish painters in Rome, known as the Schildersbent. He was in Rome from 1617-25.

Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675). (Dughet was Poussin's pupil and brother in law). Landscape with Bathers, pen and brown ink and gray wash, on paper; 7 1/4 x 5 7/8 inches (122 x 185 mm); Purchased by Pierpont Morgan in 1909.

Without narratives to suggest logical movements or gestures for the figures, however, figure compositions can become challenging for painters.  How does one orient the figures if they are not actually doing anything other than participating with the landscape in the composition?

Paul Cézanne, The Large Bathers, 1898-1905, Philadelphia Museum of Art

The particular ways in which a painter defines the figures' bodily characteristics, orchestrates the overall choreography of the figures with the landscape, and manipulates the paint (métier) become crucial to the sense of the painting and the formation of a visual statement about our human place within the natural world.

Paul Cézanne, detail, The Large Bathers

 Willem de Kooning, Self Portrait in the Wilderness, 1947, oil and charcoal on board, 20 1/4 by 22 1/4 inches

Milton Resnick, figures from the mid 1980s

Jean Dubuffet, 1966

Bathers as Nudes; Kenneth Clark, The Nude; Arcadia and Eden
In his 1957 book, The Nude, Kenneth Clark posited three ideas that have been important for me since I first read his book in the 1970s. First was his idea of the nude having become more of a historical form of art rather than just one of its many subjects. Second, was Clark's emphasis on the nude figure’s potential as pure visual design

Figured handle from an Etruscan cista, ca. 4th c. B.C.E.

Finally, he drew attention to depictions of nudes, especially from the late Middle Ages and later, whose ungainly or unusual proportions seemed to emphasize the vulnerable rather than the heroic or idealized aspects of our human bodies, often with a corollary thematic shift from Arcadia to Eden.

Adam and Eve, panel from the Bernward Doors, Hildeshiem Cathedral, 1015

Adam and Eve, English Brislington Delft charger, 17th c.

David Holt, four small (approx. 10"x 8" each) paintings from Arcadia, Loop Gallery, installation photo, 2015

Bujinga (Nanga)---Japanese Literati Landscape Painting
Just as idyllic Mediterranean landscape themes were elaborated by later artists from other lands, a similar process took place in Japan during the late Edo era when Japanese literati artists looked to ancient Chinese landscape paintings for inspiration. 

Yosa Buson, Enjoyment of Summer Scenery, 1771

Because direct contact with the ancient models was hard to come by, their knowledge of Chinese painting mostly came from whatever occasional works might have found entry into Japan and also from printed woodblock painting manuals such at the Ten Bamboo Studio manual (1619-33) and the Mustard Seed Garden manual (1782) both then in circulation.

page from the Mustard Seed Garden, a Chinese Painter's Manual, Brooklyn Museum

Although inspired by the Chinese masters, their distance from those ancient originals seemed to have fostered in the Japanese painters a certain freedom of invention. Of course the human references in these paintings are typically provided by figures of scholars or poets. Here too the handling of the relationship between the figures and landscape reveals the painters' ideas about the human place in the natural order. The dynamic structural brushwork used by these painters for both human and landscape elements (especially the imaginative calligraphic foliage) is something that has been especially influential for me.

Tani Bunchō (1763-1840)

Uragami Gyokudō (1745-1820)

David Holt, four small (approx. 5"x 5" each) landscapes from Arcadia, Loop Gallery, installation photo, 2015

In addition to Clark's book, The Nude, a few other books have been particularly important for my work:
Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions, Pierre Rosenberg and Keith Christiansen, eds., 2008
Roma. Naturaleza e Ideal. Paisajes 1600-1650, exhibition catalog, Prado Museum, 2011
Paul Cézanne: The Bathers, Mary Louise Krumrine, 1989
Scholar Painters of the Nanga School, James Cahill, 1972
The Poet-Painters: Buson and His Followers, exhibition catalog, Univ. of Michigan, 1974
Japanese Painting in the Literati Style, Yoshisho Yonezawa and Chu Yoshizawa, 1974

The exhibition Arcadia: Paintings by David Holt continues at Loop until May 17.
More paintings by David Holt can be seen at /