Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Lieutenant River- Plein Air Painting

copyright 2009, Jan Blencowe, Connecticut, USA
8x10, acrylic, on Canson board, sealed with an archival varnish, unframed
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Light is always a fascination for plein air painters, places with a particular quality of light draw artists from far and wide, beckoning them with the shimmer and glow of something sublime. Artists throw themselves into the pursuit of capturing the light with mere paint and canvas a pursuit that can last a lifetime. Old Lyme, Connecticut and the Lieutenant River that runs through it is just such a place. Artists have been painting at this spot for more than a century.

The Florence Griswold Museum keeps alive the history of the art colony that formed here at the turn of the century, hosting American artists such as Henry Ward Ranger, Child Hassam and Willard Metcalf. This summer they have a marvelous show I encourage you to view, Lyme in Mind, the Clement C. Moore Collection.

If you can't get to see Dougherty's work in person let me suggest you get the catalog, which documents many of his installations all over the world. I love mine, well worth the money. Purchase it here.

Now a little lesson in art history!

Below is a photo of a female art student painting along the Lieutenant river circa 1904 courtesy of the Florence Griswold Museum

Above is the Old Bow Bridge, across the Lieutenant River in Old Lyme

Robert Nisbet (1879-1961)Bow Bridge, 1903, Oil on canvas

Edmund Greacen, Bridge at Old Lyme, 1910

Gifford Beal, The Old Bow Bridge, 1903-1904

The bridge in my painting above can be seen from the edge of the Lieutenant River behind the museum. Halls Road runs across the bridge and I've painted it a number of times in the past. Most were smaller plein air studies, but one was a large commssioned piece.

Both Greacen's and Beal's Bow Bridge paintings above are on display as part of the current show at the museum, Lyme in Mind: The Clement C. Moore Collection, "which celebrates the promised gift of an important group of American Impressionist paintings to the Florence Griswold Museum by one of its longtime trusees, Clement C. Moore" according to Jeffery Anderson, the museum's Director.

The new bridge doesn't seem as charming and pastoral as the old Bow Bridge but my painting does have something interesting in common with the Greacen painting, a dilemma, he and I both faced, utility poles! Here's a little excerpt from the show catalog that illustrates the situation...

"The town of Old Lyme had recently been electrified, with powerlines and utility poles dotting the formerly pastoral landscape. Most artists who recorded this view of the bridge ...actively edited the modern elements out...Greacen on the other hand incorporates the line of utility poles" ~ Amanda Burdan

So I too struggled with whether or not to include the utility poles. In the end I decided to include them for two reasons. First, above ground utility and telephone lines are becoming less abundant as many are now underground and now rather than being a sign of modern times are becoming a sign of older times and therefore are beginning to take on sense of nostalgia and charm. Second, they provide a nice gentle diagnol in a composition dominated by horizontals.

So in a sense the more things change the more they stay the same! Enjoy!

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