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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Torrents of Rain and Gusts of Wind

Jean-Francois Millet, The Gust of Wind, 1871-73, National Museum of Wales

It's disappointing that the Corcoran exhibition, From Turner to Cezanne, had to be taken down early as a precaution over environmental concerns......I was counting on going Friday, April 9, three days after it abruptly closed. What am I missing? A spectacular collection from the National Gallery of Wales, little-known paintings of well-known artists that are seldom seen in the US..................... Torrents of Rain and Gusts of Wind.....

Vincent Van Gogh, Rain, Auvers, 1890, from the National Museum of Wales
Vincent Van Gogh's suns, stars and flowers from sunny Provence express the intensity he experienced in the South of France. But in May, 1890, he moved north of Paris to Auvers-sur-Oise and painted Rain, Auvers in July. This painting conveys a heavy impact of rain with Van Gogh's uncommon ability to combine actual texture of the paint itself with the tangible, tactile sense of objects painted. I really wanted to see Rain, Auvers to experience the downpour. Exaggerated or not, Van Gogh has the power to create a reality that makes us feel its presence more keenly. But the rain in this painting, deliberate gashes to the canvas surface, warns of a downpour more powerful than rain, the artist's impending doom--he shot himself July 29th.

Even more than the Van Gogh, I was also looking forward to seeing paintings by Daumier and Millet, two mid-19th century French painters who are often overlooked, particularly in their gifts of great draftsmanship. Van Gogh seems to have admired them. One of Millet's paintings from this Davies Collection at the National Museum of Wales is The Gust of Wind, 1871-73. Millet conveys the full fury of a storm in the countryside. He captures the birds, leaves and branches with jagged, undulating brushstrokes. Along with the wind, his tree is uprooted and the birds, man (a shepherd whose sheep can barely be seen) and flock scatter in a fury, as the luminous colors of daylight poke through the background.

It is commonly understood that Van Gogh's paintings of The Sower were inspired by Millet's The Sower. No doubt Van Gogh knew many paintings by Millet and shared his appreciation for man's connection to the land. He adopted Millet's expressive lines, but thickened the contours and turned up the volume on color. Brandon, one of my students, was amazed to discover the wind that Van Gogh captured in The Olive Orchard, now on view in the Chester Dale Collection at the National Gallery of Art. Certainly Millet was one of Van Gogh's most inspiring teachers, along with the Japanese artist Hiroshige, whose woodcuts gave Van Gogh the motif of diagonal cuts for rain.

In May and during most of the summer, this exhibition travels to Albuquerque Museum of Art in New Mexico. However, while the O'Keeffe exhibition remains at the Phillips until May 9th, its worth seeing the weather photographs of Alfred Stieglitz and comparing them to paintings about weather.
Ando Hiroshige, Rain Shower on Ohashi Bridge, 1857
woodcut, at the Library of Congress. The rain, treated like gashes in the wood, influenced the gashes in "Rain,Auvers"

Van Gogh, The Olive Orchard, 1889, Chester Dale Collection,National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

detail, The Gust
of Wind, shows
how Millet's lines influenced Van Gogh


  1. Wow! Thanks, Julie. Those were good!

  2. With these comparisons Van Gogh may end up looking less original than most people think. However, whatever he borrowed, he ends up expressing it more emphatically than was done previously and we recognize nature and objects acutely in his eyes.

  3. Van Gogh's painting, Rain, Auvers, captures the beautiful and complementary colors of landscape but this bright view is partially obscured by long, vertical lines which are closer to the viewer as if looking through a screen. Without knowing the history about where Van Gogh was when (mental hospital) he painted Rain, it just floored me because of the rain reminding me of a screen just as he may have seen it. He must have felt obscured or shielded from happiness and beauty. Rose D

  4. Painting: Gust of Wind, Millet 1871-73

    This painting has an impressive amount of spatial depth and movement. The diagonal lines of the uprooted trees and blowing leaves create intense movement. The diagonal outline formed by the grassy green hill further emphasize forceful movement. In addition, the repetition of diagonal line seen in the human form adds to the movement of this painting. It gives a feeling of being pulled forward and down without control.
    Aerial perspective is created by the contrast of color between the outline of the dark green hill and the lighter, more nuetral color in the background.. The illuminated bright yellow colors in the horizon produce light and shadow, which increase the spatial distance between the viewer and the painting. The pathway leading to the similar shaped figures in the distance, add to the distance.
    In the forground, there is more dark green color and rock shapes that add texture. The green dark color makes the front edge of the painting appear larger thus creating more depth. This is an amazing composition.

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