Harriet Backer (1845 – 1932)

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: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

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)

90503643_3949747_32

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)

Harriet_Backer-Storebror_spiller

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.

Enjoy reading that? Click HERE to see a list of all the art analyses on Kweiseye to date.

To keep up with the blog and all the art I write about, follow me right here on this blog or here @tomkweipoet

Advertisements
Standard

Leonor Fini (1907 – 1996)

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: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

Leonor Fini would dye her hair gold, blue or orange and attend private viewings and parties dressed as a man or wearing nothing but boots and a cape of white feathers. Leonor Fini produced the first erotic male nude ever painted by a woman. Leonor Fini though now, through whatever wild reason governs popularity, is barely outside her native Argentina. Which is a shame considering the widespread talent of her work, as well as the intriguing thematic thread throughout of fantasy made hyper-real. Both arcane & urbane, Fini’s work is unsettling in its verisimilitude. A Rene Magritte perhaps of a more exotic, sensual persuasion.

La Toilette Inutile (1964)

8e86c54fd84a0f950bf2ed4a598b3cfa

By positioning the viewer uncomfortably above this morbid, intimate image, Fini challenges us head on about how to feel with what we see. As, on one hand, there is a great level of macabre in the work, with the corpse’s pale, weak hands rising as that of a puppet pulled upwards by unseen strings. The face too is skeletal, its drained skin as white as the dead’s gown itself which gasps up around the collar area.

But, on the other hand, through its deep, complex wash of autumnal red, there is a majesty here. An exuberant technique that boldly contradicts the passing at the painting’s core. The dress is just wonderful, a detailed concoction that shifts and bubbles volcanically. With certain sections rising and establishing themselves around the pale of her body and the deepspace-black of the work’s edges. At once both furnace flamed in certain sections and as subdued as chalky fingerprints in the next – the outcome is intoxicating.

Yet, perhaps, also quite meaningful. As within this summoning of opposites, Fini appears to be suggesting some equanimity, some reason to death. The funeral dress after all appears to be engulfed in what only really can be described as energy. The inference seeming then to be towards the duality of death, how one’s passing in a sense provides new life and opportunities for others in the same world. An existential uncertainty  told beautifully through the delicate skill which Fini employs.

Red Vision (1984)

tumblr_m94v7msDuk1qghk7bo1_1280

The fiery technique of ‘La Toilette Intutile’ returns 20 years later in ‘Red Vision’, which finds two apparitions encountering each other, with  the only recognisable human form of the image having his back turned, ignorantly looking out the window.

For such a fantastical scene, Fini’s eye never strays from the telling body language. On the ground, the young, translucent girl is full of innocence and curiosity. Her guiding hand suggests that perhaps this something she too had just came upon, her eyes our eyes, both transfixed on the hovering demon who takes on a more mythic quality in his smudged, yet perceptive features. His face old, judgemental. The cues here are altogether difficult to take, but the surreal meeting’s effect is not lost. Neither is the unsettling, incongruous nature of the floating form.

Around the two, rooms are imagined in heavy block shapes, but lifeless outlines that hang show onto nowhere and push our glance back to the centre. Fini attacks from all angles here: the forms themselves fascinating and different, the messaging obscure, indefinable and, finally, her intelligence to imagine the hallway as opening onto the viewer as if we were privy and others, such as the window learner, not so. The sense is of a secret begin shared, an unseen thing occurring in the most banal of locations.

To keep up with the blog and all the art I write about, follow me right here on this blog or here @tomkweipoet

Standard