a word on art

Gladwells Rutland Window Curation

Given that we have all been confined to the same places and spaces for the better part of a year – we thought that we would start our first window display of lockdown with two striking and colourful landscapes for some escapism and colour in January!

Henri Le Sidaner and Kenneth Webb are two artists who express very distinct styles and biographies, and they give us the opportunity to look at two very different approaches to two very similar aims – a colourful landscape! We are really lucky to have such a range of works here at Gladwells Rutland, in this case French Post-Impressionism and British Contemporary, and it is fun for us to get to put these two works together in dialogue (when they normally would not be). We have put some biographical information and some of our observations on the artworks up, alongside some direct comparisons between the works; however, if you are particularly struck with an image then please don’t read it and just enjoy.

Part of the reason behind comparing these two works from different periods, styles, and countries is that they can be used to engender a discussion about the difference between impressionist and expressionist approaches to painting. Landscapes form such a large proportion of the art that we buy and look at that it seems valuable to explore this distinction in technique. Impressionism and Expressionism are two terms that have become almost ubiquitous in discussing art of the last 150 years. But how do we apply them to a painting, and is the line between the two as clear as these large terms suggest?

We hope you enjoy this display, we have put up some questions, to which there are certainly no right answers, and we would love to hear any thoughts you have on the works. Even when you spend most of your time around art they don’t get any easier to answer!

1. Le Sidaner

‘Le Sidaner invests the scenes he depicts with a romantic, a mysterious poetic essence, which appeals poignantly to our emotions’, The Collector and Art Critic, November 1906.

Henri Le Sidaner (1862-1939) is an artist that defies easy categorisation. Generally seen as an Intimist painter of quiet interiors, he worked in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist circles in a career spanning some of the most significant stylistic changes in the History of Art.

A 1906 summary of his career to date in The Collector and Art Critic described his style as ‘elusive and delightful, stamping him as one of the most original, one of the most exquisite of France’s younger painters’, and his work was highly regarded and collected in his lifetime (not a given for all artists). Well known for his nocturnal images of northern France and Flanders, it is evident that the main preoccupation of his landscapes and townscapes is light. The 1906 article is full of praise for this focus, contending that ‘what Sidaner does not know about light and the method of reflecting it on canvas seems scarcely worth knowing’.

This fascination with light is evident in Le Matin, Villefrance-sur-Mer a seaside town on the French Riviera that Le Sidaner often visited towards the end of his life. Studies of the intense light and colours of French coastal scenery was common amongst the post-Impressionists, with each artist bringing a unique stylistic approach to its depiction and Le Sidaner is no different. With an almost complete absence of human figures, the focus of this painting is clearly on the timeless quality of the interacting water, boats and town, all unified by the bright light of the early morning.

Le Matin, Villefranche-sur-Mer

We are immediately told that this is the morning in the title, and moving up the painting one can find increasing light and colour, with the boats still shrouded in almost night and sun starting to hit the houses and water above. While a profusion of yellows, greens and greys would often imply a more lurid or sickly image, le Sidaner imbues this piece with great warmth. With colours more vivid than those seen in life, one feels that this work is almost dreamlike or fantastical in quality – a saturated memory of the profuse light and tones of the French Riviera.

In addition to this colouristic focus, one of the defining features of this work is its heavy use of impasto (thickly applied paint raised above the surface of the canvas) especially in the upper register of the work. This adds an almost three-dimensional quality to the work, and texturally draws the viewers eye. Given that the most pronounced example of this technique can be found in the yellows and oranges where sunlight hits the houses, water and sails it is evident that the artist’s main preoccupation in this image is capturing the effects of early morning light. It could be said the rich morning light is itself captured in these built up layers of paint.

Although le Sidaner is difficult to categorise, Le Matin, Villefranche-sur-Mer is related to both pointillism and divisionism in its style, two techniques which use smaller and larger points of colour respectively that optically interact to create the sense of profuse light. The juxtaposition of colours creates a brightness that is actually far greater than is experienced in life, consequently even the transient light of the morning assumes an idealised brilliance, contributing to the mystical beauty of the work.

2. Webb

Kenneth Webb’s work is an homage to the secret life of colour. Though his paintings are intense icons, you never have the feeling that form or content are forced or contrived. He has managed to penetrate to some deeper level from which the painting is able to assert the dream of its own shaping … If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, then Kenneth Webb is a graced and gracious beholder’ – John O’Donohue, Poet.

Born the year that Le Sidaner painted his image of Villefranche-sur-Mer, 1927, Kenneth Webb’s career and artistic identity began in earnest when he moved to Ireland in 1953 to teach art. Throughout his career he investigated myriad styles and subject matters, but all of them are united in their exploration of the natural world, and no subject appears more often than the bogs, hills and open skies of West Ireland. It’s wild and rugged landscapes, particularly those of the Connemara national park, inspire a dramatic colouristic approach from the artist.

Webb’s work is often seen as a celebration of colour, and this is evident in Elemental. Heathers, grasses and poppies (a favourite subject of the artist) appear in deeply saturated reds and oranges, outcrops of rock often assume a deep blue hue, and his water comes across with a crystalline brightness. As Webb stated, ‘I would wish to paint a picture which has the ability to move me as does music; to turn the ear, not merely an impeccable example of craftsmanship’, and this is evident in the heightened brightness of his works. His images often move beyond ‘naturalism’ into a more mythical exploration of colour.