Monday, January 20, 2014
Young Mother, Cont’d
I received so many responses to my previous two posts (Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover and Don’t Judge a Painting by its Subject) I decided to sum up this exploration before I move on to another topic.
Your responses verified an assumption of mine. Each of you, based on what I described, added your own viewpoint, and your description enlarged and enriched what I had discovered.
I often tell students no two people will describe the aesthetic content in a painting exactly the same way. Each will approach the work of art driven by interest, life experience, and adeptness in making connections among the visual ideas represented in the traditions of art. This does not mean, however, they can say things we cannot verify by examining the painting. They cannot say a unit of color is red if it is blue, or a line is straight if it is curvy.
Here is the painting:
Renoir, Young Mother, 1881, Barnes
I concluded my analysis this way:
Renoir presents the seated woman bending slightly forward, the baby enveloped in her arms and held in place by her right hand supporting the baby’s raised right arm and her left hand sandwiched between the baby’s left arm and left hip. Her head, slightly lowered, is directly above the baby’s head. The baby’s head turns to the right. The chair and the mother’s lower body tilt to the left. So do the baby’s legs. The mother’s right foot sinks into the floor at the lower left; her left foot, balanced on its toe, sets back on a diagonal to the right. The two chair legs repeat this, but the diagonal tilts slightly to the left. While the upper half of the woman’s body together with the upper half of the baby’s body form a stable pyramidal composition, the entire ensemble of both figures, the chair, the jug and basin, the background, and the space of floor between the woman’s feet form a diamond composition. This gives the ensemble both stability and in-and- out, back-and-forth, dynamic movement.
Here are two comments of the many you shared with me:
In Young Mother Renoir captures and expresses the physical movement of a mother holding a baby on her lap through subtle rhythmic repetitions. He has given us a view of motion in a quiet setting. Daumier, Degas, and Lautrec also were masters of movement expression, the change of active planes in a painting or drawing.
With Renoir's mother and child, a simple composition expresses a pause in action as if it just occurred—and will not last. I see the child's upper body receding, leaning back into the mother's body, while the mother leans slightly forward over the child. The child's legs extend outward and sideward in movement. Though the mother's right foot is placed flat on the tile floor, her left foot is tucked under her body and the chair, with weight on the ball of the foot, ready to move quickly in order to balance the child's torso and legs. The grasp of the mother's and child's hands counterbalance each other in planes as well—for an instant.
The intersections of the planes do not always balance. The child's torso leans back more than the mother's goes forward. The mother's legs are not at the same angle with each other—or with her upper body. The child's head is more upright than its body. The figures contain many complex perspectives.
Your description of the scarf and other motifs reinforce the intersection of planes of movement, as does the crisscross of the tile, the brush strokes on the wall paper background, and the integration of the brush strokes and motifs in the painting generally. The little flowers on the wallpaper, the design at the bottom of the skirt, the scarf, are all decorative touches that add movement to the painting for our eyes to follow.
Physical movement expressing dynamic motion in three-dimensional space is the theme of this painting.
Barbara wrote: “A 1917 essay titled "Art as Technique" by Viktor Shklovsky helped me grasp the purpose of art. In it, Shklovsky argues art exists to help us feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.”
These two give you the gist of what most of you experienced.
As you uncovered the aesthetic meaning in Renoir’s Young Mother, you enriched your visual appreciation for subtle in-and-out, back-and-forth rhythmic movement. Art expresses the quality of things (i.e., makes the stone stony) and teaches us new ways of seeing (i.e. the drama of light and dark). Put even more concisely: Art teaches.
To conclude, I will add this note, but not because it has anything directly to do with Renoir’s painting.
Today, in Metropolitan Diary, a section in The New York Times, Morton Landowne wrote:
Perhaps it caught my eye because I was still entranced by the mastery of light I had just seen in so many of the paintings from The Hague’s Mauritshuis museum at the Frick. So while walking east on 70th Street, I noticed a woman approaching, out of the evening darkness into the dim glow of a streetlamp. She had an angelic face and blond locks, loosely framed by the hood of her jacket, and was glancing down at a cellphone, parallel to her chest. The illumination from the phone evenly lit her face, and only her face, as if from candlelight, and as we passed, I felt certain I was seeing an image, contemporary yet timeless, worthy of being immortalized by Vermeer (p. A13).
I conclude with this perception about Vermeer’s work for two reasons: (1) it sums up what we learn from works of art; (2) because I spent yesterday in New York City at the Frick Collection.
I had avoided going to see “Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting From Mauritshuis” because I knew it would be crowded, and I had already seen the paintings included in the exhibit at the Mauritshuis several years ago. In fact, The New York Times estimated 235,000 will have entered the exhibit by the time it ended yesterday. I was one of them.
This is how it happened: Last week, when I visited my daughter, I recommended she read The Goldfinch, the blockbuster novel by Donna Tartt. My grandson overheard our conversation and exclaimed, “Grandma, if I go see that painting I can get Brain Points for my gifted program.”
How could we not go?
I told my grandson I would get the tickets, and he and his dad would meet my husband and me in New York. That is what we did.
I am not sure what I will write about in my next post, but it will have something to do with our visit to the Frick Collection.