Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Color of Snow

The Museum's recent acquisition The Broken Wall, a snowy landscape by Wilson Irvine, will soon be leaving the galleries, replaced by the spring scenes of our upcoming exhibition In Bloom. Before this painted snow melts away, let's take a closer look at one tiny section of the canvas depicting a snow-covered shrub at the base of an evergreen tree.

Though we often think of Impressionists as midsummer sun-seekers, the impression of a winter landscape was perhaps even more challenging to capture, with the sun glaring off a snow-covered scene. Courbet's snowy landscapes inspired Monet's early experiments in winterscapes. It's been said many times that the Impressionists banned black from their palettes with painters choosing instead to build their dark shades from colors such as Prussian Blue or mixed complementary colors. But what about "snow white"?

White is definitely in abundance in French and American Impressionist painting, but as Irvine shows us, white is almost never pure. The cool feeling of snow here is accomplished with a heavy dose of violet, lilac, and robin's egg blue. Irvine layers onto this icy base, adding a frosting of warmer white that tends toward a sun-faded pink. While he pushes the cool colors into the canvas, as evidenced by the individual bristle marks, he dabs on this warmer color, letting the paint be pulled from a loaded brush that barely touches the canvas.

Though in this detail The Broken Wall seems wildly painted, Irvine was no Abstract Expressionist. When viewed as a whole (see below), the painting distracts us with it's representational subject matter, concealing the multitude of abstract passages out of which it is created.

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