Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: firstname.lastname@example.org
Throughout the writing of this blog I have always been on the lookout for new artists to add to my sprawling bullet point list. Rather than picking one of those for today however, I chose to randomise the whole thing, to grab a female artist from Norway for no other reason than that she is a female artist from Norway. Her name is Harriet Backer, and from what I can gather from her scant Wikipedia page, she was a pioneer. An Impressionist best known for her detailed, moodily lit interiors.
Scanning through Backer’s work myself however, I found a motif that feels more worthy of acclaim. As in a large amount of Backer’s images there comes a distinct sense of absorption solely within the moment, a sensation that holds the viewer’s gaze as still as the image that it forms part of.
To barn og tregruppe (1885)
The young couple are at first all but forgotten before the dense shadow of the bulging tree. The tops a distinct golden in the clear sky glare; the middle branches however coming together much tighter, suggestive more of a hideaway with its gentle, streamed shade.
Backer rushes the tree with a great varying intensity of green, her mostly horizontal brushwork works well in creating a sense of the tree’s threshing movement. Its shadows too are thoughtful in their accuracy, the divide of the top canopy casting the jagged designs behind the boy & girl especially well.
A duo whose own duality is mirrored & emphasized throughout ‘To barn og treguppe’. On the left of the image for example we have a rich band of light untouched by the foliage, its own stark intensity placing into focus the heft of the trees cover. On the right we have the civilized, beaten track leading back up to the titular farm – the couple in a sense then are caught both between and beneath, as above the tree itself seems as if it were cleaved between.
Ultimately, this subtle symmetry of Backer’s gives the painting a calming, pleasing effect, mirroring the lost Norwegian summers day that it evokes so well.
Storebor Spiller (1890)
At the heart of this painting there is a three way split of attention. Initially there is the pianist herself, she who is clearly engaged deeply with her own playing. Her slightly flurried hand sneaking between the left elbow suggestive of some great intensity. Whatever she is playing matters less than how clearly it has caught the young girl beside her.
Anyone who has ever witnessed a familiar in such close quarters as they play music cannot help but be that girl – one who may have even rose from her chair against the window listening to now being perched, watching. Her eyes strictly on the playing rather than merely engaging with the reverie. The dormant violin on lid could be a signal to a teacher perhaps, but the informal nature in which the girl rests her arms and fingers above the keys suggest someone more closely known.
Then above these two who are engulfed in their own raptures, there is us. Ourselves straining at this slow, quiet moment. One that engages so deeply through Backer’s aforementioned interiors. The lush imagining lends a great heaviness to the painting. The lamps on the piano intermingle with the night outside, as well as splitting like an orange in the sheen of the instrument.
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