|Sonata of the Sea--Finale by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, 1908.
One of my favorite movements in art is the Symbolist
movement of the late 19th
and early 20th
artists were so free in exploring what mattered to them—personal narrative,
rich histories and mythologies, and even their own dreams. There was less
self-consciousness about if their subject matter was valid or appropriate, and
more indulgence in their artistic muse. That mindset is inspirational to me.
The work that came out of this exploration is romantic,
strange at times, but most of all striking because it is something that stands
alone and not something that I can say I have seen before. Here are several
ways the Symbolists play with landscape painting—methods that I think could
make a difference in my own work, and hopefully in yours as well.
Play with scale. Realist landscape paintings tend to be
mindful of presenting an accurate sense of scale: tree to hill to river and so on.
But if you play with scale—like turning an ocean wave into a mammoth ten-story
tidal wave—you are turning your painting from a mere depiction to something
with a keener edge.
No need to be literal. Symbolists certainly knew how to
create straightforward depictions in their landscape art but chose not to be
literal for the sake of the story they wanted to present. Fantin-LaTour's Le Soir shows three female figures
bathing on the rocky shore of a misty coast. This place could be anywhere, and
the artist left it that way because the details of the
location were not the point. The landscape was a jumping off point for the
|Le Soir by Henri Fantin-Latour.
||Broek in Waterland by Jan Toorop, 1889.
Water painting is key. Water—still waters, moving waters—is
highly symbolic throughout Western literature and art. The Symbolists presented
water in various ways—altering its color, playing with how light reflects on
it, making it seem almost airy like a mist or fog—and sometimes positioned a
river or stream in a way that seemed natural and highly unnatural all at once.
No matter if I am painting a landscape that I've invented in
my mind like the Symbolists or one that I can stand right in front of, I want
to know how to tackle certain landscape painting techniques so that I can do
both successfully. Mitchell Albala's book, Landscape
Painting, and our Urban Landscape in
Watercolor DVD contain information and instruction that I find really
helpful for landscape and cityscape painting-both of which can be explored
through narratives we use when painting landscapes of our own. Enjoy!