Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Saint Louis Art Museum - Gari Melchers and Lovis Corinth

Kimberly and I visited the Saint Louis Art Museum this week. 

This is the first time I have been back since the expansion, and I was thrilled to see a number of paintings on display that I hadn’t seen in years.

All photos by Saunders Fine Arts.

Gari Julius Melchers "Vespers" • c.1910 • Oil on Canvas

This piece takes huge risks when it comes to composition, and the result is an image that keeps your eyes moving and exploring the larger story.

The path that I find myself following starts with the stained glass window on the left. My eyes are drawn to the scale, moving from left to right, but I am then quickly drawn to the second stained glass window overlaid with the light fixture. The weight
of the light pushes my view downwards towards the figures in the lower right, but my eyes do not linger here, as the foreground figure is severely cropped. The strong horizontal lines of the pews in the background finally bring my eyes to the figures on the left, which I believe are ultimately the focal point of the piece, and from here, the journey moves again to the stained glass and starts the process again, moving in a circular composition.

All the while, the bright spots of light near the center of the painting act almost as the center hub around which every other element revolves.

Gari Julius Melchers "Vespers" Detail • c.1910 • Oil on Canvas

Notice the beautiful thick strokes of bright yellow and white paint indicating light spilling from some unseen window, most likely on the opposite wall of the church.

Gari Julius Melchers "Vespers" Detail • c.1910 • Oil on Canvas

The darker values in the light fixture bring our attention into the foreground, taking our focus away from the window.

Gari Julius Melchers "Vespers" Detail • c.1910 • Oil on Canvas

This group of figures serves to bring our view downwards from the windows. The cropping of the foreground figure, the direction of the missal she is holding, and the lines of the pews all send our eyes to the left, where we eventually land on the central figures.

Gari Julius Melchers "Vespers" Detail • c.1910 • Oil on Canvas

I believe these figures are the true final focal point of the painting. The foreground figures hold the strongest value contrast of any within the painting, and the background figure's dress contains the brightest color. More than that, the foreground figure’s head is lifted towards the altar not seen in the painting. She is the only participant who directly interacts with what we the viewers know must be occurring beyond the confines of the image.

Lovis Corinth "Nana, Female Nude" • 1911 • Oil on Canvas

Here is a painting I have not seen in decades, but it is one of the most influential in my development as an artist for its use of paint quality. It’s a piece where the application and texture of the paint itself has as much character and movement as the figure depicted.

This is one that must be seen in person to fully appreciate the beauty of the brushwork. For the most part, Corinth's brushstrokes follow the form of the figure, which can often result in a very contrived effect, but he handles this perfectly, using the direction of the strokes to enhance the movement within the painting and give the strong sense of a fleeting moment in time.

Lovis Corinth "Nana, Female Nude" Detail • 1911 • Oil on Canvas
The paint in the face of the figure is as thick as any Lucien Freud piece, but without the grotesque nature of a Freud. The angle of the head could easily have become unflattering in most situations, but here it gives the sense that the model refuses to engage with us, the viewers.

Lovis Corinth "Nana, Female Nude" Detail • 1911 • Oil on Canvas

The hand has so much weight to it created by the deep shadows as it grips the thigh.

Lovis Corinth "Nana, Female Nude" Detail • 1911 • Oil on Canvas

All of the strokes within the thigh follow the form of the figure. The paint thickens and the temperature of the flesh changes from warm to cool, culminating in the cold pink highlight on the knee, which brings it forward in space.

Lovis Corinth "Nana, Female Nude" Detail • 1911 • Oil on Canvas

The background also has a strong sense of paint texture and pattern, which balances the overall texture within the figure.

Lovis Corinth "Nana, Female Nude" Detail • 1911 • Oil on Canvas

The strong textures in the cloth overlaying the chair also help to connect the figure with the background surroundings.

Lovis Corinth "Nana, Female Nude" Detail • 1911 • Oil on Canvas

© Patrick and Kimberly Saunders, Patrick Saunders Fine Arts, 2019. 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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