Gray, Bland, and Dull

It’s a rainy day today, but it is welcomed as a sign of spring. Sunlight has been a rare commodity around here for the past few months and therefore the gray weather is more a reminder of absent sunshine than lack of light. George Hendrik Breitner‘s Wikipedia page says:

Breitner has the honours of being one of the few Dutch painters who is being referred to in a Dutch saying in Amsterdam: when the streets of Amsterdam are grey and rainy, people of Amsterdam whisper grimly “Echt Breitnerweer” (Typical Breitnerweather).

It’s Breitnerweather.

When you walk around in Musée d’Orsay and begin with the Impressionists, Breitner’s Clair de lune has a similar effect. Desipite the horrible reproduction here, I assure you it is an amazing, rich painting.

Source: Wikipedia

Time for a confession. When I was younger I used to draw and paint a lot. I did it as therapy and when I felt my mind was going, making pictures helped. Technique-wise, I eventually ended up with paper and black ink, brushes and dip pens. This made me appreciate black, white, and gray. The color explosions of the Impressionists, Pointillists, and Expressionists are great, but gray — black and white included — is home. That is, I like to think I know what I’m talking about when I say Breitner’s painting is one of those that makes the visit to the museum worth the effort. I probably don’t, so you might want to go check it out for yourself.

James McNeill Whistler isn’t best remembered today for his abrasive personality and run-ins with the giant of art criticism that is John Ruskin, or his whites, or his relationship with Oscar Wilde and the aesthetes. He is known for one painting: Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother or Whistler’s Mother. And that painting is known because it appeared in that horrible Mr. Bean movie.

Source: Wikipedia

This time, the picture here does not convey the grayness and blandness of the painting. It’s very, very gray indeed and when I saw it at d’Orsay I was very much surprised. First, because I saw that awful Bean movie I thought it was in the National Gallery in London or somewhere a bit more English than France. Second, it is an actual masterpiece despite its cheap movie role.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Rowan Atkinson and Mr. Bean. Blackadder’s humor and his live show have made me the man I am today. I no longer have to paint and am in all things a healthier, kinder, and, dare I say, more intelligent person because of him. His work truly is a blessing to us all. But the movie was bad, very bad. The second one was pretty bad, too, but at least that had the advantage of being a road movie that takes place in France. Who wouldn’t love that. The movies try to make Bean less gray, a colorful character. This has been a huge mistake, because his charm lies in his overarticulated ordinariness, that common quality without quality that we all have and treat as bizarre. His blankness sustains him and it is the quality we who are not geniuses find the thing we can identify with in the art of those who are.

1 Response to “Gray, Bland, and Dull”



  1. 1 Art in Paris « nonvisedvoce Trackback on January 30, 2012 at 22:39

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