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Friday, July 18, 2014


Landscape Painting Show in Seravezza

Last evening my wife and I, along with our plein air painter friends Maddine and Joe of Etruscan Places, visited the show of 19th century landscape paintings in Seravezza, above Forte dei Marmi:

The place, first of all, was a happy find: a palazzo/villa built by Cosimo I de’ Medici as an outpost above Lucca where he could keep an eye on his marble quarries. Recently restored, the palazzo provided a lovely setting for the show of Tuscan landscape painters who, influenced by Barbizon realism, re-approached the local landscape with gimlet eye.

Palazzo Mediceo in Seravezza

Painters unknown to me previously, like Giuseppe Camino (two spectacular landscapes of the Alpe Apuane, crisp, fresh, and cleverly structured) and the amazing Andrea Markó (his Monte Forato, in the collection of the Pitti’s Galleria d’arte moderna, is a tour de force).

These were, admittedly studio works and not done en plein air, but they smacked of a freshness and clarity of vision honed in the clear light of the marble mountains around Carrara. Corot’s studio work always disappoints after appreciating his open air painting, but these artists probably (there were no plein airs to compare them to) exceeded themselves in the studio, retaining the freshness of observation but combining it with calculated effects of reflected light, chiaroscuro, and a rich, albeit controlled, palette.

If you find yourself in this part of Italy this summer, take a break after the beach and visit the show, open evenings from 5pm to midnight. Wednesday evenings, apparently, aperitifs are offered on the grounds....

Monday, June 9, 2014

Under & Through the Walls


Lucca’s walls make great subjects, whether in summer or winter. Simple, prismatic forms, they provide poignant ruddy contrasts to the green that crowns and surrounds them. Less attended to are the spaces below/within. The walls were designed to resist artillery attack, but like all defenses they also provided for counterattacks (sorties). Troops could slip out in the space between the polygonal bastions and the walls themselves; to get to those spaces one passes through the vaulted passages (the rest of the walls are, contrary to popular belief, solid earth) that link intra- and extramural worlds. Not designed for aesthetics, nonetheless they offer dramatic architectural experiences that Piranesi would have loved.

I drew this scene last summer under the Bastion of S. Martino, where the vaulted passage opens briefly to the sky and a portal for crossfire offers a glimpse of distant grass in front of the walls, before the sortie path disappears again through the arch on the left. I returned to paint it last weekend, and will probably do so again. It’s an interesting, challenging subject; part of the challenge was looking from the brilliantly lit subject to the canvas in the shadows where I stood, which involved constantly adjusting my eyes to the light/dark.


To really understand what you’re painting, you need to know your subject; right now there’s a show on the walls, with original drawings and models, at Lucca’s State Archive:

Friday, May 30, 2014

Random Thoughts

Just back in Italy, I’ll be posting new works and observations as they emerge, but in the meantime following are some random thoughts and info.

Having spent the early winter painting sets for Charpentier’s Acteón (Haymarket Opera company), which involved a woodland setting inspired by Lazio, I was interested to see Corot’s studio painting of Diana and Acteon at the Metropolitan Museum:
I have to admit I don’t find his studio works nearly as appealing as his on site paintings, especially those from his time in Italy:
For me this is related to the question of time—in the studio one has potentially infinite amounts of it, and as the expression goes, work expands to fill the time allotted to it; in the field, instead, one is constrained by changing light; thus Valenciennes’ two hour window. Speed saves, in other words.

Plein Air magazine is happily back on the newsstands:

And my friends Maddine and Joe are back in Italy again soon offering their artistic and culinary classes:

Buon Lavoro.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Winter Light

And Dark

Winter light has its own particular beauty in Italy. Or, better, the shadows of winter there are particularly beautiful, long and deep, and quickly changing, falling on complex surfaces of manmade stone, shaped earth, and a landscape that balances Nature’s beauty with ours. Capturing the light in fickle winter is different than under the long, continuous sun of summer. On a late December afternoon the sun moves swiftly. I made two studies of a small city gate in afternoon light, each one a 45-minute exercise. Between one and the other the shadows, castfrom distant forms, slide over the surfaces. The sky too is different, lighter (especially toward the horizon), silhouetting the trees that stand starkly against it.

30 December 2013
1. between 14:30 and 15:15
2. between 15:15 and 16:00
This is the light, I believe, of Bellini’s Feast of the Gods, which recent scholarship reads as a winter allegory; the quality of light, the silhouetted trees, make that season explicit for anyone who has been lucky enough to eat well al fresco in Italy in the coldest season. Bellini’s Veneto, or my Tuscany, are compelling subjects for both plein air and classical studio painting. 

Working within the constraints of on site painting makes working at this time of year more of a matter of studies than paintings proper.

Giovanni Bellini, The Feast of the Gods

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Outside the Walls of Lucca

One Smaller, One Larger

Lucca’s walls make an ideal subject for an artist interested in the juxtaposition of clear, almost abstract, manmade forms and an ordered Nature. Built to resist cannon fire, they resisted demolition in the nineteenth century when many other cities, like Florence, pulled down their medieval curtain walls and replaced them with viali—allowing the city to spread (or sprawl) outward in modern periferie. Lucca’s walls instead became a raised promenade, and their compelling exterior image almost demanded that the city maintain a greenbelt around them, isolating them from the inevitable sprawling development beyond. It is this rapport with Nature that the walls represent, as much as their image as crown to the city, that I celebrated in my Palio for this year’s feast of S. Paolino. And it is a subject I happily return to, in various seasons, to watch the light change and the forms assert themselves against their green frame.

These are two images, the first a smaller sketch, the second larger, painted on successive summer days (note the grass was being mowed in patches from one day to the next) at around the same time, 6–8pm. The photos show the work in progress. I’m outside the northern mural circuit, looking toward the church of S. Frediano.

Bella Lucca, quanto mi manca!