Friday, January 27, 2012

The Melbourne Notch by Frederick Simpson Coburn

Its time to celebrate the season in art.  'The Melbourne Notch' was painted by FS Coburn in 1928 and was deposited in the National Gallery by the artist, in 1929. Its about 64 x 80 cm in size.

This is the first painting that I have presented on 'The Portrait' by Coburn.

This painting has several noteworthy features. Its a 'big sky' picture but yet the sky is an insignificant part of the work. Aside from a couple of nondescript clouds, nothing much happens there.  And that's the point.  Because nothing much happens its an artistic throw away.  Its purpose is to create atmosphere or mood to the work.  I will return to this thought in a moment.

The action of the painting takes place at the bottom.  We see a team of horses pulling a driver and a sled with what I imagine is a load of wood and there appears to be a farm in the background.

The farm is an incidental part of the painting.  Its a part of the background. Its diminutive in size and its surrounded by trees.

The real action is with the horses, sled,  and driver and its wedged into an area of snow, surrounded by shade and woods. When we look at it in this way we see that what happens in this work, is contained in a very small space within the canvas. And that's the point.

This is a painting which makes a statement of power. Or, more precisely, a lack of power.  Human life is inconsequential. The immensity of the sky and the amount of space used to express human life tells us that humanity is almost meaningless in the big picture. Mankind operates within an area controlled by the vastness of natural elements.

Coburn was from Melbourne, Quebec so we can conclude by the title this is a painting from the area of his birth. When we look beyond the painting and see that it was done in 1928 and at that time the  people of Quebec were caught between such large external forces as WW1 on one hand, and the pending depression on the other. If a painting could make a statement it would be that its an insular world in the Melbourne Notch,  but its ok. Mankind is surviving and being pulled through it all, spite of his own small place in the bigger picture of things.

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