Tuesday, January 3, 2012

William Brymner's 'Bonsecours Church and Market' and the Ephemeral

William Brymner: Bonsecours Church in Market
painted: 1913
Watercolour on Cardboard
National |Gallery of Canada

My day was made complete when I discovered this work online.  Until viewing it, I was unfamiliar with William Brymner's personal history and his art.  Because my interest in this blog is primarily focused on my love of painting, I will focus on this work and let you take the extra step and read his abbreviated life story on Wikipedia by clicking here.

I was attracted to Brymner's diffusion of light in this work.  It appears to me, that Brymner has employed the drybrushing technique to diffuse his paint on the canvas, and to give it a grainy sensation of scattered light. Let's face it - colour is a frequency of the vibration of light. When we think of it this way and we look carefully at the painting, we can see how this painting vibrates with an undercurrent of natural energy. I find myself thinking of Wordsworth's poem, 'Composed Upon Westminster Bridge':

This City now doth, like a garment, wearThe beauty of the morning; silent, bare,Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky;All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

This sense of vibration can also be seen in the soft edges of buildings. Look at the effect the light plays on the dome. It shimmers.  Look at the loosely defined ochre cloud which surrounds the dome, and the misty continuation of light down onto the street.

Lets expand our imaginations here. Mist is both ephemeral and intangible. If you look carefully at this work you will find a blurring between the solid structure of the buildings and the surrounding air, and this carries right through to the undefined people in the foreground.

But there's more.  There is an association between what we see and what we feel.  Wordsworth nailed it with the words;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
Wordsworth takes us from the external to the internal domain of feelings with the transition being made through glimmering, shimmering light.  Brymner takes us on the same journey. Dry brushing, soft edges and even a minimal palette, help him to create misty atmosphere and shimmering, translucent light. All in all its a masterful work.

 There's an old saying in art, that its not about the subject as much as its about how the subject is painted. This is a good example of what its all about.  On the surface, you won't find a landscape painting much simpler then this in detail. You have a church, some buildings, some suggestions of people, and you have a sky, a street and a few telephone poles. Thats about it.

But taken together with the right technique you get an overall unity and this is what its all about.

Take a look at Wikepedia.  Brymner is not all that well known today but his work was well recognized in his day.

I guess my only question about this work is, "How did he ever manage to create such a painting on cardboard?"

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