joy magnetism: Hail, the conquered hero

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hail, the conquered hero

Magnet #683a & 683b - Thomas Cole's The Departure and The Return

I've been waiting all day to be able to write and magnetblog these! Yes, yes, another art magnet. Even worse, you can't even see this art properly! But, here's a bigger version of the two, side by side.

I made these magnets from stamps I picked up last week at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, a great gallery I hadn't been to before.

They're companion pieces painted by the founder of the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole. Normally, I'm not really one for landscapey scenes, but these two were rather large pieces (indeed, they're three by five feet big!), and I totally got sucked into them.

What caught my eye, before I even read the placard was the majesty of them - the first piece, The Departure, and the second piece, The Return. And then I read the placard. And then I looked at the paintings closer. And then I reread the placard. And then I looked one last time. And then I walked into the next room, where the big museum collection book was strapped to a bench. And then I read the two-page essay on them.

And here's what I remember (and lightly researched):

In the 1830s, one of the wealthy Van Rensselaers of upstate New York commissioned Cole to do two paintings for him - all he stipulated was for them to be morning and night, and it was ready, set, go.

Cole went for a medieval story setting, where in The Departure (bigger version, from the warriors are all leaving for battle, fronted by the knight astride his trusty white steed ready to lead them into hell. Dawn's over the horizon, and you can see his turreted fortress castle in the distance behind them. All's well, and even hopeful, as they ride out to meet their fates.

Then come sunset in The Return, (again, bigger version, from the focus and the tone of the story has changed, somber in the wake of what's taken place that day. The angle of the painting POV has swiveled around to showcase the big foreboding gothic church, instead of the castle. You can tell it's a scenery POV change, because on the right-hand side of both paintings, you see the one common focal point - the tall temple thing (I want to say it was for some goddess).

But, there in the middle, you see just a few men have come home, and almost dead center, a processional, with the knight being carried by his men, mortally wounded, his horse riding alongside behind him.

While each painting is set against a gorgeous landscape with magnificent skies above, my absolute favorite part of these paintings are the little details in each - from the cleric standing in front of them, hailing them in the first piece and then waiting for the men near the church in the second, right down to the little milkmaid and her boyfriend shepherdboy hanging around the well in the first piece, and then quietly standing by the temple in the second.

Ok, ok. Obvi, I got a little invested in these two pieces - probably because I was already susceptible to the subject matter, given my romance editorial side. But, I really do love them.

I love that they tell a story.

I love that it was a story that sprouted from Cole's mind, not based on any one battle or love story or heroic tale, but all of them.

I love that the story doesn't even really begin or end, with so many unanswered questions about what they were fighting for, who was the knight, where's his family, what happens now, will the milkmaid get her man. Awesome.

And once again, I'm seeing that art viewed by oneself is often times the best art of all.

When you're wandering around the museums by yourself, you get to go at your own pace, you can maneuver more easily around the bobbing heads, and most important, you can absorb as much or as little of the art as you want. It was great to look at these paintings with all their tiny little people and details, even though the guard in the corner was wondering why I was loitering.

Mind you, I do kinda wish that these paintings were in the Smithsonian, so that I could visit them for free every time I'm in DC, but the Corcoran's pretty nice, albeit a knight's battle away from the metro.

But that's another magnet, I guess.
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The Geek said...

I love that you get so into things, and "lightly research" them, and then blog, and link, and share, and teach... 50 pts awarded for sheer OCD awesomeness.

joy said...

Heh. Thanks, it's fun. For me, anyway.

Sheer OCD awesomeness = sheer dorkiness. And I'm ok with that. :-)