web analytics
April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » Sections » Arts »

Jewish And Non-Jewish Landscape Isaak Levitan, Thomas Cole And George Inness

Share Button

Russian Landscape in the Age of Tolstoy.

June 23 -  September 12, 2004.

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London.  

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

 

George Inness and the Visionary Landscape.

September 17 – December 28, 2003.

The National Academy of Design, 5 East 89th Street, New York

http://www.nationalacademy.org/

 

 

 

He sits somewhat accusingly atop a stamp issued in Russia, remembering the 50th anniversary of his death in 1950. His eyes look tired, if not depressed, and his shoulders slouch. He looks, perhaps, as if he just lost a punishing boxing match. In an essay entitled “Lithuanian Jews on Postage Stamps” posted at jewishgen.org, Vitaly Charny says, “It seems strange that a Lithuanian-born Jewish artist who worked in Russia during the time of the pogroms and at the height of official anti-Semitism would become the most quintessential Russian painter.”

He refers to Isaak (sometimes Isaac) Ilich Levitan (1860-1900), whose portrait, painted by fellow Jewish Russian painter Valentin Serov, adorns the 1950 stamp. His works hung with 14 other artists at the Russian Landscape exhibit in London. The exhibit hung across the ocean and is no longer on display, but Levitan serves as a wonderful launch pad for discussing Jewish scenic painting and its relation to the secular landscape scene, and his work relates to a large extent with the recent exhibit at the National Academy of Design in New York that showcased George Inness’ work.

The National Gallery exhibit, “Russian Landscape In The Age of Tolstoy,” featured works of 15 nineteenth century Russian landscape artists which the museum called, “70 of Russia’s Best Known and Loved Paintings.”

“Landscape plays a central role in the Russian imagination,” said the National Gallery’s Curator of 19th Century Paintings, Christopher Riopelle. “The emptiness of the country’s vast reaches, the rigours of its climate, the difficulties of transportation, and the intense isolation that long winter months impose, all contribute to a specifically Russian sense of nature, different from – perhaps more fatalistic than – that found elsewhere. In the age of Tolstoy, the landscape simply dominated the lives of most Russians.”

I am not sure I completely agree. Take “The Vladimirka Road” (1892) by Levitan. Seventy-nine by 123 inches, Vladimirka is large, and it features a horizon line set just below mid-painting. The painting depicts the road that routinely led prisoners into Siberian exile, and though it now evokes cheerier images of “Fiddler on the Roof,” it carries dangerous undertones. But the critics see no Fiddler; instead, they have described Vladimirka as “philosophical,” “mature” and a “meditation on man and the world.” It is cast as a paradigm of the genre called “mood landscape.”

The viewer can focus on the ominous clouds and the dark, shadowy horizon, telling tales of fate and doubt. Careful analysis exposes brown, earthy shades that tone down all the pure colors and mute the whole effect. Yet, the painting simply represents a pretty picture, and all lyrical explanations provide externally imposed narrative. The composition is fairly expected, and reminds us of a postcard we might purchase as tourists on the road to Siberia. It is strangely dead. In this sense, Levitan recalls much of the Hudson River School’s work.

Founded by Thomas Cole (1801-1848), the Hudson school forged the first real American school of painting, and it sought to parade the beauty of the virgin American landscape in a grand marriage of nationalistic public relations and painting. A student of Englishman John Constable and the French landscapist Claude Lorrain, Cole popularized the landscape genre, previously a second-class citizen behind historical and mythological scenes and portraiture. Long before the Impressionists, Cole studied how light unfolded across nature, and though he lacked the paint tubes which allowed Claude Monet to paint in “plein-air” – outdoors - Cole studied the actual landscapes vigorously, only later adding stylized, symbolic details.

Where Levitan’s landscapes buckle and seem immobile, Cole’s prove very much alive and seem to have a perpetual energy machine for a heart. Whenever possible, Cole opts for rainbows, lightning storms, waterfalls and whatever natural explosion of color he can discover – and he records every detail. But both Cole and Levitan paint pretty pictures that only yield superficial interest. Like the stage, landscape painting must be judged by “believability of form.”

By this, I mean that a character on stage fails if the audience cannot conceive of what he or she does offstage. Hamlet can “be or not be” all he wants, but if the actor does not convince me that Hamlet eats breakfast every day and gets headaches, then he is not a believable character, even when he is on stage.

The landscapes of Levitan and Cole do not convince the viewer that they extend beyond the picture frame. In her essay in the catalog to the National Gallery exhibit, Henk Van Os writes, “Generally speaking, painted nature has something reassuring about it… After all, it’s only a picture. And however inhospitable or overwhelming painted nature may be, it’s always placed inside a frame.” I agree with her estimation of Levitan, but not of landscape painting in general.

George Inness (1825-1894) manages to paint outside the frame. “Art is a subtle essence,” he wrote, “It is not a thing of surfaces, but a moving spirit… like the humanity of G-d, it is personal only to love; unknown to the wordling; a myth to the searching intellect.”

“For every hour that Inness spent painting,” says Adrienne Baxter Bell, in the National Academy of Design’s catalog – George Inness And The Visionary Landscape – he seems to have spent another hour harvesting metaphysical problems and ideas.”

Inness recognized this himself when he declared, “Then I take to theology. That is the only thing except art which interests me. In my theory, in fact, they are very closely connected. That is, you may say it is theology, but it has resolved itself gradually into a scientific form and that is the development which has become so very interesting to me.”

Although much of his thought seems to border on the cultish and draws heavily from Swedenborg, Inness manages to capture a moving spirit in nature and to combine the theological and the aesthetic, happily. “Evening Landscape” (1862) features a horizon line set about where Levitan sets his in Vladimirka, and the road converges in a similar triangle. But how different are the tones and the movement! Inness’ composition works like a machine: every part functions to better the whole. Motion extends beyond particular shapes to rally multiple objects as vectorial movement. In short, the structure has a soul that breathes life into the work and achieves a religious context that Levitan and Cole never could. Though he is not a Jew (nor is Cole), Inness manages to paint much more Jewishly than does Levitan, who is hopelessly lost in the world of iconography.

Thus, whereas Anton Chekhov writes in 1891 that “Compared with the landscape painters I have seen here, Levitan is king,” I only find Levitan king of the nostalgic. He demonstrates tremendous technical skill. But Levitan says, “I wish to discover and locate in my own country the most simple, the most intimate, the most commonplace and the most emotionally moving, that which often causes a sense of melancholia. The spectators should be touched in the depths of their souls.” That he surely does, but his work focuses on narrative and feeling, and not on relationships of forms and color and line.



Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the Yeshiva University Commentator. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art. Menachem may be contacted at: mwecker@gmail.com

Share Button

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “Jewish And Non-Jewish Landscape Isaak Levitan, Thomas Cole And George Inness”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
ancient skull discovered Gush Etzion
Hikers Find Human Skull and Bones in Gush Etzion Cave
Latest Sections Stories
Schonfeld-logo1

Regardless of age, parents play an important role in their children’s lives.

Marriage-Relationship-logo

We peel away one layer after the next, our eyes tear up and it becomes harder and harder to see as we get closer to our innermost insecurities and fears.

Gorsky-041814-Torah

Some Mountain Jews believe they are descendents of the Ten Lost Tribes and were exiled to Azerbaijan and Dagestan by Sancheriv.

Baim-041814-Piggy

Yom Tov is about spending time with your family. And while for some families the big once-in-a-lifetime experience is great, for others something low key is the way to go.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Dear Dr. Yael:

My heart is breaking; my husband’s friend has gotten divorced. While this type of situation is always sad, here I do believe it could have been avoided.

The plan’s goal is to provide supportive housing to 200 individuals with disabilities by the year 2020.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the U.S. – the estimated Jewish population is 70-80,000 – Las Vegas has long been overlooked by much of the Torah world.

She was followed by the shadows of the Six Million, by the ever so subtle awareness of their vanished presence.

Pesach is so liberating (if you excuse the expression). It’s the only time I can eat anywhere in the house, guilt free! Matzah in bed!

Now all the pain, fear and struggle were over and they were home. Yuli was safe and free, a hero returned to his land and people.

While it would seem from his question that he is being chuzpadik and dismissive, I wonder if its possible, if just maybe, he is a struggling, confused neshama who actually wants to come back to the fold.

I agree with the letter writer that a shadchan should respectfully and graciously accept a negative response to a shidduch offer.

Alternative assessments are an extremely important part of understanding what students know beyond the scope of tests and quizzes.

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

Weck-051812

It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewish-and-non-jewish-landscape-isaak-levitan-thomas-cole-and-george-inness/2004/10/27/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: