Adventures in London; May 24, 2013

Extrapolated from my drawing notebook:

We spent seven hours at the Victoria and Albert Museum and did not see even half of what they have on display!  I focused on the areas most related to my current studies:  European art, particularly painting, drawing, and sculpture. They have a stunning collection of sculpture:  Rodin, medieval wood carvings, Renaissance sculpture, portrait busts, and art from all different cultures.

From there to Raphael’s cartoons:  seven enormous drawings in full tempera color and one tapestry taken from one of the cartoons.  I saw the same use of warm and cool colors that we looked at so much in Italy.  Even the smaller parts and the lesser figures in each image were compositionally powerful – darks against lights and lights against darks, shapes leading the eye from one part of the image to the next.  Reinforces my conviction that composition is one of the main elements differentiating the real artist from the technician.

At the end of the vast hall that held these cartoons was an alter with a beautiful tempera painting of St. George slaying the dragon, surrounded by smaller tempera paintings and lots of gold.  Once again I was confronted with one of the most powerful paradoxes in art:  how something so horrific can be so beautiful.  Each of the smaller panels featured one of the many macabre and gruesome forms of medieval torture:  sawing people in half, boiling them in oil, drawing and quartering.  All exquisitely painted.

I discovered Constable at the V&A.  Two rooms full of his paint sketches,  in oil mostly on paper.  Free, bold, loose, carefully observed.  I like them better than his final paintings; although the finished works are sensitive and detailed, the sketches are filled with energy and power.  I saw the things my professor Domenic Cretara tells us to do.  Constable made decisions while he painted.  He mixed his colors, put them down, and did not change them.  Sometimes he put a more detailed layer on top.  He found form in the bushes and trees so they had shape and substance in the landscapes.  His skies were often the most powerful part of his paintings, dwarfing the land, which in turn dwarfed the figures.

And Turner.  Who knew?  The reproductions of his paintings simply do not catch the luminosity.  I surprised myself by liking the painting that had the least amount of form the best, because it was filled with light!  Light and energy.

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