EUROPEAN ARTISTS : Painting Cities and Towns

Paris Street in Rainy Weather
Gustave Caillebotte

There was a young man who was an engineer. He was a lawyer, too, and he had served in a war. In 1877, this young gentleman was standing in a street in Paris. He was not to fight a war or a case in a court. Nor he was for any engineering assignment. But he was there to paint the street in Paris. His name was Gustave Caillebotte.

People have a relationship with other people. But all have relationships with the towns, cities and building they live in add they love. The European artists clearly demonstrate their love for the cities and buildings. If we want to feel the sense of a place; if we desire to experience the immediacy of a place, the Painting of Gustave Caillebotte titled Paris Street in Rainy Weather is one of the best sources. 

When the artist takes a paintbrush or a pencil in hand, firstly he looks at the views spread in the immediate surrounding. There can hardly be better and easily available subjects for painting other than our own street or the road on which we drive daily. European artists have chosen the same. They paint cities and towns since the culture of cities has evolved. The painting Paris Street in Rainy Weather is painted in the year 1877, and looking at it today would be to feel like a time traveller. 

 Paris Street in Rainy Weather Gustave Caillebotte 
Oil on canvas  1877 Art Institute of Chicago

The Feeling: While standing on a street an artist would find the structure of buildings and level of sunlight falling on the place an alluring one. The lighted area and shadows would appeal to the artist and he would be tempted to make out a painting that would represent the feeling he encountered. The resultant painting would essentially be the feeling of the artist: his feeling while he was on the pavement of the street.

For an artist, a painting is not a photographic representation of a scene. For him or her, it would be a mirror of the feeling he or she has gone through. And to mount that feeling on a canvas is the real challenge for an artist. In the end, the artist's feeling of beauty and using the skill of painting would result in an aesthetic outcome. We call that outcome a painting. Yes, the painting Paris Street in Rainy Weather is such an aesthetic outcome.

TangopasoCC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

The Painting Analised: In Paris Street in Rainy Weatherwe can see that it is geometrically divided into four parts. Horizontally divided by the horizon itself, and again vertically divided by the presence of an erect lamp-post. This creates an order in the space, making it aesthetically balanced. 
While exploring the tonal values of colours, the artist has taken care of the fact that each colour he used correctly fit in the overall scheme of the painting. In this manner, the beauty and brilliancy of light are achieved depicting full tonal values of the colours used by Gustave Caillebotte. This is the Place de Dublin from the rue de Moscou. In the place where Gustave Caillebotte painted Paris Street in Rainy Weather. Paris, 8th arr. 

Gustave Caillebotte
The artist's younger brother
René in the home on rue de
Miromesnil Oil on Canvas
The erection of residential and official palaces are the distinct activities of ours that affect the natural view of landscapes. The habitation of people in towns and cities made this necessary. 

Commercial erections like ports and roads are changing the landscapes today. Landscape artists try showing these edifices and changes, by painting the tall buildings. Cityscape is a famous type of landscape painting. Painting the attractive vistas of cities has been a favourite subject for artists.

How to paint Cityscape: While painting a cityscape, an experienced artist would not look at the straight roads or narrow streets. He or she would look at the sky and the light falling on the whole of the scene. Thereafter the first thing an artist would be making out a sketch of the cityscape pulsating before the eyes. There would be people; there would be animals; there would be the mood of the air, and there would be a silent signature of the season. All these would a painting material for an artist. The resulting sketch or a drawing would be an immediate recording of what the artist perceives and feels.  

If it is day time, the most important aspect would be the recording of the effect of light: the direction of light, the intensity of light, and the visual impression the light is making on each object. The area where the light is not falling is very crucial to remember. Painting the darker areas would add volume to the whole painting. The sketch would take care of these things.

The New Town Hall in Amsterdam Jan van der Heyden
Oil on Canvas   Louvre Museum, Paris
Rising Popularity of Cityscape Painting: Until the sixteenth century, the cityscape painting was part of religious paintings. Thereafter the rise in tourism increased the people’s interest in and popularity of the paintings wherein the cityscapes were depicted. The painters in Netherland and Italy took initiatives in such painting. The artists who preferred doing cityscape painting tried showing the harmonious relationship between the people living in cities and villages. The cities were depicted as meeting points of two cultures. Increasingly these cities would become the centres of commercial activities.

Painting Analysed: In the above painting, the artist Jan van der Heyden had tried describing the soul of the city. This painting also tries to show how the city-people looked different from those living in the villages. We can see a woman fetching water from a water pump and some men leisurely talking. Once it is sunrise,  the horsecarts started entering the city. People from other places also come to the city for different purposes. All these aspects painted here aim to create an honest picture of contemporary cities. 

In another painting, Jan van der Heyden had depicted the outer elevation of the Town Hall of the city of Amsterdam. This painting was done in 1698. During the second half of the sixteenth century, the towns of European countries had become seats of economic and political power. In some countries, the power of people was also on the rise. The cities were not only the collection of residential buildings of the rulers and noblemen. They had become part of the entire population. So they were the pride of these people in general. The cities have become the symbol of rapid changes in the life and culture of the people. 

 Ferdinand Feldhütter (1841–1898),
Madonna del Sasso in Locarno,
Lake Maggiore Oil on Canvas

The artists, while painting a landscape know that nature has its own order. The paintbrushes, colours with all of their tonal values, and hues and blank canvases: using these tools, they accept the challenge to record the order rooted in nature. 

Nature has seasons coming and going by turn. Nature has rain and snowfall as per the climatic timetable. Thus every natural event occurring on the surface of the land is more or less an integral part of an ordered system. While painting this beauty in its twist and turn in every shade and mood, the artists try to depict the beauty of Mother Earth. 

When the landscape artists include the objects created by human endeavours, they would depict their characteristics, too. How does the menkind change the looks of the earth? Men created the well-tilled farms; they planted straight rows of planted trees; they erected monumental towers; these all witness the man’s ability to affect the view of Mother Earth. 

The green shield of waving crops in farms; the water canals and the forestation of drylands depict human desire to create a relationship with nature. These activities have greatly helped the natural forces to sustain greater order in natural balance. A landscape painter puts this relationship on canvas. The artist puts it aesthetically. That is what art is meant for. That is what is an artist is supposed to re-create on the canvases. [All the images are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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