Friday, January 23, 2015

Composition: Plein Air Studies v. Studio Paintings

While reading American Paradise (see my previous blog post), I came across the above painting.  I was immediately struck by the modernness of the composition.  It's like a snapshot you might take on a woodland walk.   What gives it this quality is the tight, intimate cropping of the scene and the informal, very naturalistic, arrangement of shapes.  This painting might have been done by one of today's landscape painters.

(Pictured: Asher Durand.  Interior of a Wood, Ca. 1850. Oil on canvas, 17 x 24 in. Unsigned. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.)

But it wasn't.  It was painted by Asher Durand in 1850.  Unsigned, it is a field study.  Although Durand permitted such studies to be exhibited, he didn't consider them finished works.  Instead, he used them to create the more formal arrangements in the studio that we consider typical of the Hudson River School, such as this one:

(Pictured: Asher Durand. The Beeches, 1845. Oil on canvas, 6133/8 x 4 81/8 in.  Signed and dated at lower left: A. B. Durand 1845. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.)

My question to you is, Which style do you prefer?

I rather like the first one, as it feels truer.  The second one, though no doubt based on similar, truthful studies, feels more like a fiction.

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