Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Baroque Take on Winter...

A beautiful flaring and flaming sky to open the day... but the warmth ended there. The thermometer never rose above -16 C and the windchill weighed in with a feel of -26C throughout the entire day. The forecast for tomorrow promises between 15 and 25 cm of snow. Not good news for this plein air painter. Just the few minutes it took to kindle up this evening's fireplace supply told me that today was at best a studio operation. No more frozen digits... and besides, I had anticipated that such days would most certainly arise sometime during February and that it was best to have a "Plan B" to keep my Challenge moving along.

On my walk down Old River Road on my way down to The Lighthouse Variety Store for Deb's newspaper, I happened to notice a really cool mailbox. I collect digital images of such oddities. I stopped to look at it carefully and was intrigued with the detail and craftsmanship that had been given to this mailbox. It was obviously important to the maker to have spent so much time and energy in its creation. It was quite simply... a veritable work of Art... capital "A" very much deserved!

I immediately wondered who it was that made it... and if it might have been commissioned. Glancing across the road ... the answer was immediately obvious. The white frame house that my eyes now rested upon... was exact in every detail to this mailbox. What pride this owner must have for his home to have a mailbox unmistakeably  mimic it... even to the dual aluminum chimneys on either side. I was so captivated by this find that I immediately grabbed my camera when I returned home with the paper and went back to record this piece of Canadiana.

As I stood there... sizing up my shots of the mailbox, a Baroque "idea"... "Silly ol' bear!... shot through my head.A very strong memory from my university days. The art history course spanning the Baroque period was highly interesting to me. It was a golden age for Western painting, sculpture and architecture... an age of highly ornate interests and wild accomplishment and embellishment. One painting of that period, "Las Meninas" (The Maids of Honour), painted by Diego Velazquez really captivated me. Velazquez was the court portrait painter for the Spanish King Felipe IV. Though he created numerous portrait masterpieces of court members, this one was a group painting of the entire royal family.

 Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour) by Diego Velazquez in 1659 (From the Prado Museum Collection in Madrid, Spain)

 Mail's in!.... Sun's out!

A Rockport "Baroque" moment... for "Me" at least!

What captivated me about this one painting was that it was a "triple portrait"- three portrait settings within one painting. One level of this single portrait records the children of the King and Queen looking out at you, the viewer. In the same portrait, one can see a self-portrait of Velazquez palette and brushes in hand, engaging you as well. And in a mirror on the back wall is registered the portrait image of the King and Queen together... giving the feeling that they are standing with you viewing this portrait session. It is a coup in the world of portrait painting and has been repeated by many painters after Velazquez. This morning... looking from behind the mail box directly at its inspiration... the white clapboard home and at my shadow on the road, I smiled at the Baroque notion that had been summoned up from my past experience... to Rockport. How strange!

So my challenge for the 7th Day came out of  this totally unexpected and "chance" discovery on a walk. Sometimes... "ideas" for paintings are all around us... if we get out... pay attention... or simply use our imaginations. As well, when we raise the bar and extend ourselves by creating our own unique challenges and projects, we open up new paths and directions for our painting. I hope that my challenge offers each of you food for thought and perhaps motivates you to reach out beyond the everyday. I hope you enjoy today's studio painting... sent from my studio to yours!

"Triple Portrait... A Baroque Moment in Rockport"- Oil painting on  10x8 inch panel
This perhaps could be considered a quadruple portrait... if you add in the painting itself as a portrait of "The Group of  Three"... together! HA HA!!

A Post Script... Nature.... adding to "The Baroque"

This was the fireworks which ushered in our day this morning. Brief though it might always be... it never fails  to conjure up awe and wonder within "Me." Later in the day... while painting and preparing the post... and revisiting my Baroque memories I came across this quote. All of the Arts flourished ... though floridly in the Baroque. Great masters arose and created monuments... markers upon which future Western Art would revolve. Painters included Velazquez, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Reubens and Caracci... just to name a handful. And then there was Bernini... master sculptor, architect and painter... successor in the 17th Century to Michelangelo. His emotive "Ecstasy of St Theresa" and his St Peter's Square and Baldachin in Rome attest to his greatness and the power of his creative genius.

Literature in the period flourished as well... and still to this day drives our thought and our preoccupation with the same metaphysical interests. Most art forms demonstrated a great preoccupation with the reoccurring theme of "illusion vs reality" in Baroque culture as a whole. "Don Quixote" is such an example which ewe all have met in some fashion along our journeys. A lesser known example from Calderon de la Barca is his "Life Is A Dream." I found this quote interesting...  thought-provoking and worth leaving to end my Baroque "babbling."

What is life? A frenzy. What is Life?
A shadow; an illusion, and a sham.
The greatest goodwill is small, it seems
Is just a dream,
And even dreams are dreams.

Sweet dreams !...All...

And Good Painting!!

PPSS It would be a sham(e)... if one viewed Life as a sham. I share no view of Life in that way! Life is a precious blessing for "Me"...I go out to it... embrace it and celebrate it each and every day... even in its very coldest times! I love Life fully... and am deeply blessed...


  1. Oh look at how you painted in your own shadow! Fabulous Bruce!! This particular baroque painting by Velasquez...I have to admit I've always wondered at the children. They look like rather adult little people, if you know what I mean. (I do not know how to be politically correct at the moment...not enough coffee yet?)

  2. Good Morning Sherry!... Thanks for your observations about the painting and about Las Meninas. Yes... they do look odd... but that was perhaps intentional, given the concerns that Baroque culture had for illusion vs.reality.Therefore, perhaps intentional to be in vogue... "with it"!... Cool Man! HA HA!!

    And yesterday..."Me"... doing the same thing... the illusion of my Self on the road??? Wiarton Willy of the St Lawrence! HA HA! Better go back into my burrow and wait for better weather to get "out there." Not a chance!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Dear Bruce,

    I have been enjoying all of your post. I think this one is one of my favorites. Love everything about it, your choice of palette as well as composition. I must admit I also really liked your previous post of the the yellow house, using your artistic license. Bravo Bruce, keep them coming.

    All the best to you,

  4. Good afternoon Joan... Thank you for taking time away from your lovely daffodils... to leave such encouraging comments!

    I have discovered that this challenge has caused me to approach my painting with more vitality... less adherence and dependence upon the safety net which I had found myself caught up in. By shifting my focus each time I went out or to the easel... I feel both a tremendous sense of renewal for me spiritually... and a freshness in each new work.

    I am so glad that you and others are finding food for thought and encoouragement from these pieces too.
    Stay tuned... more on the way... later today!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  5. Hi Bruce - a clever painting and successful too. I like the way that you've created a visual pathway from the viewer, through your shadow, then the mailbox, to the house in the distance.

    The Baroque period certainly produced some wonderful things, although I find the Mediterranean art and architecture a bit too elaborate for my taste now. I prefer the more down-to-earth Northern European art. Music is another matter though, and I share your love of Vivaldi.

    All the best,

  6. Hi there Keith... Thank yopu for jumping in with your own thoughts and tastes re: Baroque Art!

    I'm glad that you enjoyed the painting for what is was... an illusion in concert with reality! Fun to paint!

    Yes... Vivaldi will always be my favourite classical composer. His music breathes... and is alive with colour and vigour! It never fails to stimulate me and add great comfort . I actually went to a chamber music evening in Vivaldi's church... where he was baptized. He was as well, the choir master in that parish in his later life.

    It was such a memorable evening and experience which I will always remember and treasure. I sketched the harpsichord player during the concert. It along with my Venetian sketchbooks now belong to Allison!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,