Saturday, June 05, 2010

Art for art's sake: Leonardo, Constable, Turner

Well... back to blogging.

I got back from England on Thursday, late in the evening, and it's been a fairly busy couple of days since. And it doesn't help that I'm a bit jet lagged, certainly by this time of the night.

I'll get back to political blogging tomorrow, as I just don't have much to say tonight (and am too tired to think all that much), but I did want to post something, and I remembered recently that I haven't posted any art in a good long time. As some of you may remember, I used to break up the political posting with posts not just on music, mostly YouTube clips, but on art, a long-time passion of mine going back to childhood, not as an artist, as I seem to have little artistic talent of my own, but rather as a critic and historian. At Tufts way back when, I thought about double majoring in history and art history, but while I generally enjoyed the art history courses I took -- notably on expressionism and medieval illuminated manuscripts (both of which remain of great interest to me) -- I ended up shifting to political theory and becoming a Straussian (long story, some of which I've told here already).

Anyway, while in London last Friday, I went to the National Gallery, one of the world's greatest art museums. I'd been there many times before, but it had been several years since my last visit, and I wanted especially to see the Leonardo cartoon and the Turners and Constables, some of the most magnificent pieces in what is a truly magnificent collection. I usually comment on the art I post -- and you can find most of my past art posts here -- but for now I'll just let these stand as they are.

(Except to note that, to me, the Constable and Turner pieces, and the two artists generally, are deeply connected in terms of their relation to English social, political, and economic development in the 19th century. In a matter of just a couple of decades, the pastoral serenity of Constable's English countryside was overtaken by the technological dynamism of Turner's industrial modernity. Turner's train is literally speeding past, or through, Constable's hay wain, destroying it for good (or for evil). If you look closely at the Turner, you'll even notice a hare running for its life as the train bears down on it. The message is pretty clear. Now, Constable's England still exists, in a way. I was there, in the middle of it, out in the country between London and Oxford, but it is hardly what it once was, for better and for worse. In this particular work, Turner points the way to England's future, with Constable receding into the past, and it is that future that is the England of today, only much more so. It is a development that is common to much of the world, to all that has been touched by modern technology, with its high-speed transportation and high-speed everything, and so in these two works we see not just what is specifically English but what is increasingly universal in terms of the human condition.)

-- Leonardo da Vinci: The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist;
-- John Constable: The Hay Wain (1821); and

For more information, click on the links. I wrote about The Hay Wain, one of my favourite paintings, in July 2007. You can find that post here.

Needless to say, viewing these masterworks on a computer screen hardly does them justice.

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