Thursday, February 22, 2018

Birge Harrison, part 1

Sometimes it can really pay to go back and reread something.

In my case, Birge Harrison's 1910 book Landscape Painting.

Fifth Avenue at Twilight, ca. 1910
Detroit Institute of Arts
One of his most (rightly) famous works and they do not have it on display!

I got it a while back and read it. Liked it, but wasn't particularly bowled over. A recent Facebook mention of it got me to start rereading it, and I'm very glad I did.

Having made a certain number of paintings, and logged many more miles of brushwork in the interim, his concepts now really resonate with me.

Oh, and his work? Amazingly beautiful. Gorgeous. Rich with atmosphere. I long to see one of his paintings in person.

Sunburst at Sea

I made this post a "part 1" as I have not read through the whole thing again and yet feel I have enough for a worthwhile post. There will be a part 2 and maybe more...

Here are some of his points that really clicked with me:

on Art:
"...this is the test of the highest form of art - that it should stimulate the imagination and suggest more than it expresses."

on Values:
"the best we can do is to translate the infinite value scale of nature into our sadly finite scale of pigments, and endeavor' by most careful balance, to adjust our means to our ends."

"...the most important thing to consider is the value-key of our picture. Assuming the whole scale of values from the deepest black to the purest white to be represented by the number 100, the question arises as to what proportion of this number we shall use in the particular work which we are proposing to execute.. In this matter the golden rule is reserve. We lose rather than gain in power by forcing the note, and a picture in which the whole scale from black to white should be employed would be absolutely without atmosphere, and without charm."

Sunrise from Quebec
sold at auction in 2016 for $26,000

For me, his paintings really seem to make color (and value) count by his using less of it.

You can purchase a reprint of Harrison's book combined with A. Durand's in one volume for $15
buy from Amazon

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