An example of a picturesque garden in Topsfield

An example of a picturesque garden in Topsfield, located at the corner of Prospect Street and River Road. The seemingly arbitrary plantings appear as though the garden sprang up on its own without human involvement. This is similar to the way Humphrey Repton would have designed the garden-to look natural and untended.
More views of the garden. I love the different scales from minuscule to grand and the variety of colors from snow white to deep crimson. I chose the large photograph on the left because the light reminds me of Claude Lorrain’s paintings with its romantic light.
Humphrey Repton would have loved to include the landscape at Cross and Salem Streets, Topsfield, into his famous Red Book.
Two of the paintings I created of River Road, Topsfield. In keeping with Claude Lorrain and his love of emotional connection through romantic light, I focused on the natural light in both of these examples.

The picturesque movement arrives in the city, 1752-1835.

The Regency in Great Britain refers to the time period when King George III (1760-1820), the guy blamed for losing the colonies to the original guerrilla warriors in the American Revolution, was deemed unfit to rule; his son ruled as Prince Regent. On his father’s death in 1820, the Prince Regent became George IV. The regency period was a time of sweeping change due to industrialization. To offset its impact, cities in Europe and the United States began designing parks in the picturesque style-asymmetrical pathways and emotionally charged vistas-for city dwellers to enjoy while strolling past carefully designed flower beds. 

And of course, Regents Park, designed by John Nash and Humphrey Repton,  named for George IV’s efforts at beautifying London, is where the great love story between Pongo and Purdy begins.

Regents Park, London

Just like Regent’s Park in London, America’s first public botanical garden was the Boston Public Garden, in 1837.

Much like Regent’s Park, the Boston Public Gardens is meant for strolling and taking in the flower beds. The riot of colorful flowers was considered garish by Victorian Bostonians. Designed by George Meacham, who was paid 100.00 for his award winning design, far less than the award granted to John Nash.vvOver 80 variety of flowers are grown in the greenhouse and planted in the garden.  

Boston Public Gardens

As an artist looking for New England scenery to capture in my work, I have long been inspired by the beauty of the Boston Public Gardens. Below are two limited edition prints of original paintings I’ve created of the gardens. Both are available for purchase.

Foot Bridge, Boston Public Garden, order here
Spring Blooms, Boston Public Garden, order here

Looking for some juicy gossip? Watch my short video about Regents Park, the king, and the gardener’s wife. Scandalous!

Paper making at home with children.

This video shows simple steps to make paper at home with children. Paper making is the perfect creative activity for home schooling or during the pandemic quarantine.

My summary of Leonardo’s Last Supper

Did Adolf Loos’ Ornament and Crime kill the artist/architect relationship?

In his 1908 manifesto Ornament and Crime, Adolf Loos laments the use of ornament as a means of architectural decoration at the expense of simple lines and plain white walls-walls he associates with Zion, the holy city (reprinted in K. Smith, Introducing Architectural Theory, 2012).

Loos believed the people of his generation had moved beyond the need for ornament and were more sophisticated that their forbearers whose taste for rich detail demonstrated a lack of cultural hegemony. It is worth noting that Loos writes his essay during the early years of what would become the most tumulus century on record, and in Vienna, Austria, no less, whose famous and overly adorned palaces and opera halls were at odds with the more modern designs beginning to show promise as one moved ever westward.

Loos supports his critique by claiming ornament of his time has no place in contemporary building design, unlike in the past when ornament employed by Gothic and Baroque artisans were integral to the form and function of their often sacred spaces.

The cult of the carts, Laon Cathedral, 1155-1205. Oxen carry the load of stone to the work site for artisans to build the grand cathedral. Ornamental stonework, and the stain glass windows that tell the story of their creation, are the hallmarks of Gothic architecture.

By the Baroque era, the practice of painters, sculptors, and architects working in unison to create multi-media works of architecture was cemented with the church of Gesu, a masterpiece of early Baroque design.

Interior nave and alter, Gesu, Rome.
Ceiling fresco with sculptural campaign, Gesu, Rome.

While Loos may have had a point-artists have been viewed as subordinate to architects at least since the decree was first made by Luis XVI in his effort to minimize the growing power of the craft guilds, the tradition of architect and artist working on site together was for the most part disbanded in the 20th century with the few exceptions of the excellent glass work of Luis Comfort Tiffany and the interior design attempts of Frederic E. Church at his well preserved house, Olana, situated high above the Catskill Valley in upstate New York.

This penchant for austerity and clean while walls begs the question: did Loos’ critique, which was meant to “free” the long suffering artist-including the shoe maker-from the grip of ornamental overlords for whom they worked for low wages, inadvertently disadvantage them by denying him/her the opportunity to engage in major design campaigns and subject them to creating smaller-and less costly-works of art destined for private patrons who exhibit the work in their own and therefore less traveled domestic spaces? All the while the artist’s work is minimized in scale and significance, the architect continues to design major creations for which the multitudes can experience. Custom built Homes, public buildings, sky-scrapers, all are grander in scale since Ornament and Crime was first published-and later supported by minimalist architects such as Le Corbusier-whose villa Savoy is a perfect example of “white Zion walls”.

Joseph Rykwert (1975) addresses this unfortunate reality in his excellent essay Ornament is no Crime in which he outlines various attitudes regarding ornamentation throughout architectural history.  He concludes that ornament may “be seen not as a problem of ornament or not ornament, but as a problem of meaning.” (as reprinted in K. Smith, 2012, p. 41).  In other words, while Loos sees all ornament as politically charged and disadvantaging the artist, plenty examples exist for positive artist/architect collaborations as previously mentioned.

Since 1908, and or more reasons mentioned here art schools have increasingly moved away from the Beau Arts paradigm of teaching students to practice working with future clients to a more bohemian model of art for art sake, while architecture programs have adopted and embraced technology such as Auto-CAD, Revit and In-design. The differences is striking.

There are signs of a resurgence between the artist/architect relationship, however. One only need look at the collaboration between Herzog and De Meuron who worked with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing as an example.

For now, the artist is reliant largely on the gallery owner and art consultant whose work is vital to connecting artists with architectural projects. One can only hope these important outlets can withstand the economic downturn apparent at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century in support of artists who hope to collaborate on major building projects. The 21st century you ask? That’s right, over 100 years after Adolf Loos wrote Ornament and Crime.

My own example of a collaboration between my studio and the architecture firm of Smith and St. John. This is a painting I created of River Road, Topsfield, for the Topsfield Town Hall. Contact me if you would like to learn more about my commission experience with architects and designers.

The picturesque comes to America, and George Washington gets in on the act

Thomas Gainsborough, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, c. 1750, oil on canvas, 69.8 x 119.4 cm (The National Gallery, London).
George Washington arrives home to Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Despite overthrowing the British Government in the Revolutionary War, early settlers such as George Washington were keenly aware of the British aristocracy and the trappings of their elegant lifestyle. Among these were lush gardens where one could stroll around “the grounds” taking in the fresh air and sounds of nature. Whereas English landscape painting tended to emphasize the aristocracy as portraiture-note the scale of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews in the Thomas Gainsborough painting compared to that of George Washington which shows him engulfed in his vast property, almost as an afterthought-American painters sought to celebrate the land itself: natural, unspoiled, and vast. Acres of raw land complete with huge trees and rolling hills suggesting miles of open space dominate the picture plane as much as Mr. And Mrs. Andrews dominate their landscape.

Autumn, River Road, Topsfield (2018). Mixed media painting, Collection: Town of Topsfield

Celebrating vast landscapes is one of my favorite subjects to explore in my own work. For the commission I completed for the Topsfield Town Hall, the viewer is encouraged to step into the composition walk down the road, rest at one of the fences or sit on the rock wall for a spell and enjoy the view.  And in the spirit of including a small subject engulfed in a vast landscape, I included my self-portrait to the painting leaning against the white fence waving back out at the viewer. To order a large (12 x 25 inch) print, click here. To order a small print, 11 x 20 inch print, click here.

Finished-Resilience, (2020), 40 x 40 x 4 inches. Mixed media painting.

Resilience, (2020). 40 x 40 x4 inches.

I named this painting Resilience to emphasize the metaphors I see within the subject of rocks and water. The rocks demonstrate resilience as they stand up to the pressures of the crashing waves. The waves in turn are resilient against the steadiness of the rocks which appear to resist their constant force and unending pressure. This, for me, is the metaphor for life, and the reason I have chosen to illustrate this subject so often in my artwork. The subject of ocean waves and crashing seascapes mesmerizes us and has filled our imaginations with awe and wonder for as far back as artists have sought to capture this subject. But, the same beauty of the seashore presents a danger-get too close and one is bound to stumble and fall. And as one who has slipped on these rocks more than once, I can testify to how much it huts. But, stay too far away from the surface, and life becomes mundane, boring, no risk, no glory. To purchase this painting, or to order prints, click on the enclosed links.

Office interior lobby . Blank wall for copy space, lots of light, sunlight scene. Black leather sofa. gray floor tiles. daylight scene. designer copy space background

Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Pest House in Jaffa

Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Pest House in Jaffa

Has resonance for today’s coronavirus pandemic.

Ha-ha! The picturesque movement enters the 18th century.

By the 18th century, the picturesque movement had taken hold in England and Germany as people grew weary of the more rational ideas associated with the enlightenment. Picturesque inspired paintings, sculpture, and landscape design featured asymmetrical compositions, twisting pathways, groves of trees, and clusters of wildflowers that appeared unspoiled by modern technology. The idea of the nature hike, a foray into an unspoiled landscape where discovery of nature’s bounty large and small was available to the courageous wanderer became a popular pastime.

Of course, as with most things “natural and unspoiled,” a lot of planning was involved. The great landscape architecture movement was born at this time with able gardeners such as William Kent (1685-1748) and Lancelot “Capability” Brown (1716-83) forever changing the English landscape. With their keen eyes and intuition for design, Brown and Kent set out to alter the English landscape creating the famous garden culture it is today. One of their most famous features was to include a “ha-ha” into their designs. A ha-ha is a ditch dug into the border of the property so that cows could graze freely without wandering off into the neighbor’s fields, and without the disruption of an unsightly fence to hold them in. When viewed from a distance a person would exclaim, “why don’t those cows wander off?” Upon closer inspection (remember that nature hike), one would come upon the ditch, at which time they would exclaim ha-ha!

Chirk Castle in Wrexham has a ‘sunk fence’ or ha-ha. Credit: National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus.

Bart Simpson, ha-ha!

My own photograph of cows grazing near the lake at Stourhead, Wiltshire England. They are hemmed in by a ha-ha, inviable from this angle.

Garden Path, after the garden in XX . Order a limited edition print available XX

The Picturesque Movement gets its start with Ursula and 11,000 of her closest friends.

Claude Lorrain (1641).  Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula. Oil 
On canvas, National Gallery, London. 

St. Ursula, a British princess (in yellow), who refuses to marry a pagan king, holds the flag with her emblem.  She is returning to Cologne from Rome-a replica of Bramante’s Tempietto in the left foreground suggests she is embarking from the eternal city-with her 11,000 companions who hold bows and arrows, the sign of their coming martyrdom. For her part, Ursula will be shot through the heart by her enraged fiancé. Although the legend of Ursula is not official Christian doctrine, 11,000 virgins embarking on a journey in front of a dreamy landscape made for a fantastical subject for 17th century Romantic artists. Note the golden sunrise in the distance which projects a soft glow throughout the composition. The ships whose silhouettes block the sun, suggest travel to distance lands full of adventure and suspense. Paintings like Ursula, with their glowing light and fantastic architectural renderings, are precursors to the Picturesque movement, a romantic art movement that acted to balance the more rational Age of Enlightenment. The idea of creating a mood using natural light is a feature common to the Picturesque, a Romantic art movement in which artists and landscapers delighted in the rawness of nature-unspoiled, beautiful, majestic, forbidding and wild. Within a century of Lorrain’s painting, landscape art and architecture will become a popular subject in English and American art and architecture.

Detail, Ursula in yellow.

Claude Lorrain is famous for his ability to paint natural light-fading, emerging, brilliant, and romantic. He became so well known for this “stroke of genius”, that “Claude” glass, a treated mirror contained in a box, became wildly popular as a portable drawing and painting aid in the later 18th century by amateur artists on sketching tours. The reflections in it of surrounding scenery were supposed to resemble some of the characteristics of Italian landscapes made famous by his capable hands (V&A Museum, collections).

Claude glass, collection: V&A Museum, London. c. 1775-1780.
Detailed painting of a woman holding a Claude glass. Claude glasses defused the light in the landscape, making for a soft yellow or pink glow, depending on the color of the glass. This colored glass enabled the artist to paint the subject more easily as the defused light softened details that could be more remissly read by the artist. The term “see the road through rose colored glasses originates from the popularity of Claude glasses.

The picturesque subject has inspired artists for centuries. For my own example, I visited Broughton Castle in North Oxfordshire, England. Using the photograph of the gardens shown here, I created one of my first picturesque inspired paintings, which I titled Courtyard Garden, in 2008.

Broughton Castle, North Oxfordshire, England.
My painting, Courtyard Garden, inspired by my journey to England to visit picturesque art and architecture. 30 x 26 inches. Private collection. Limited edition prints available