Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Gilcrease Museum

Kimberly and I made a stop at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this week, hoping to view "Old Town, San Diego", one of our all-time favorite Nicolai Fechin paintings.

Due to a large exhibition of Albert Bierstadt work, that painting and all of museum's Fechins are currently in storage, but it was still a treat to view their small collection of excellent Frederic Remington works, and one of John Singer Sargent's haunting WWI paintings.

The Remington works are always best viewed in person, as the color in reproductions varies dramatically, but I have to add that Kimberly's photos here are spot on.  All photos by Saunders Fine Arts or me.

Frederic Remington, "The Stampede" (oil on canvas)

This piece grabs you as soon as you enter the room. Such a sense of frenzy and fear is conveyed with every aspect of the image. The cowboy is not the center of interest, instead it's the horse, and in his face, we can see true fear echoed by the cattle just beyond. The angle of the lightning bolt and even the direction of the thin brush strokes indicating the rain drive everything in the painting in one direction. This right to left movement within the painting directly collides with the left to right way in which we view the painting, creating an incredible amount of tension.

A closeup of "Stampede"

This gives a much better view of how Remington handled the rain - strokes of transparent paint throughout the sky and across the cowboy and cattle. This effect is barely visible on the horse, which makes it more the center of interest by contrast.

Frederic Remington "The Hungry Moon" (oil on canvas)

This painting is a masterpiece of design. The piece reads perfectly from across the room. I was immediately struck by the pea green color of the snow. There's a haunting quality to the painting, and critics have written that this painting suggests a fear of death. I don't get that sense. The element that pulls me back is the horse head on the right. The choice to crop the horse is deliberate, and suggests that there is something more to the story, whether it is the larger tribe or the prospect of the day and life beyond this night.

This is a closeup of the textural quality of the snow in "The Hungry Moon." This texture adds a weight and a depth to the snow that might otherwise become a flat area within the painting.

Frederic Remington, "An Episode of the Buffalo Hunt" (oil on canvas)

This piece has almost a comical feel, but I was particularly struck by the "s" shape of the composition. The eye follows the path of the buffalo to the horse and culminates at the figure, each one looking just as surprised as the next.

A closeup of the texture of the buffalo in "An Episode of the Buffalo Hunt." It's this texture which holds the viewers interest in the painting and pulls the eye back from the figure to once again travel the "s" shape of the composition.

Another detail from "An Episode of the Buffalo Hunt." Not much to the face of the figure so that we don't dwell there.

Frederic Remington, "With the Eye of the Mind" (oil on canvas)

Another simple yet masterful composition. The viewers eye passes quickly over the clouds in the upper left to the figures, where we are driven right back to the cloud by their gestures and eye lines, only then to discover the cloud is the focal point of the painting.

A closeup of "With the Eye of the Mind." Small dashes of paint say so much, without keeping the viewer focused on the faces of the figures.

Another closeup of "With the Eye of the Mind." Once again, texture. This time, the clouds, the ultimate focal point of the painting.

John Singer Sargent, "The Arrival of American Troops at the Front" (oil on canvas)

This isn't a particularly large canvas for Sargent, and I initially thought it might have been painted from direct observation due to the simplicity of the soldiers' faces. This is not the case, as I have found preliminary watercolor sketches used to prepare for the final. Instead, it appears that Sargent was making a statement regarding the American army heading to the front. There's a contrast between the fresh crisp and untested American troops on the left and the battered British troops on the right headed in the opposite direction. The landscape beyond with the shattered trees enhances this juxtaposition.

The faces of the soldiers are intentionally left blank. The painting is not about their personal emotions as they head into battle, they are simply part of the massive American war machine. I get much more of a sense of emotion from the British troops on the right as they turn to face their American counterparts, but the emotion is vague. Is it hope or a sense of foreboding for that which they do not yet understand?

A closeup from "The Arrival of American Troops at the Front." Sargent uses value and color contrast to make these figures the center of interest in the painting.

© Patrick and Kimberly Saunders, Patrick Saunders Fine Arts, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s authors/owners is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Patrick Saunders for painted works, or to Kimberly Saunders for photographs and/or videos, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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