The Port of La Rochelle, Low Tide

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The Port of La Rochelle, Low Tide (Albert Marquet, 1875 – 1947)The Port of La Rochelle, Low Tide (Albert Marquet, 1875 – 1947)

Albert Marquet was born into poverty in Bordeaux, France. He went to Paris where Henri Matisse befriended him and introduced him to members of the Fauvist movement. They were roommates while he studied at the School of Decorative Arts under symbolic artist Gustav Moreau. It must have been wonderful to share time with that great genius.

From early on, light and colour fascinated Marquet. He became an artistic tramp as he travelled across Africa and Europe in search of it. He stayed with painter friends he met, until he suddenly became bored and moved on as unexpectedly as he had arrived. He never married, he never had a steady job and he never accumulated wealth. Does this mean he was a failure?

After he died of cancer critics wrote him off as a minor, unimportant painter. I am inclined to think the opposite. The uncompromising simplicity of this picture is as remarkable as the panels of colour that are the sails of the two boats.  The English painter John McLean said of him ‘his feeling for colour, the lightness or darkness and saturation of it, its weight, is nothing less than astounding’. Albert Marquet was no failure, just a happy, carefree, creative prodigy.

The Gulf Stream

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The Gulf Stream (Winslow Homer, 1836 – 1910)The Gulf Stream (Winslow Homer, 1836 – 1910)

Homer was the son of a hardware merchant in Boston, America, but was only really interested in fishing as a child. After he graduated from high school, his father – who was always chasing after gold rushes and get-rich-quick schemes – apprenticed him to a commercial lithographer in the hope of making money out of Winslow.

The boy found the work a drudge and turned to illustrating for popular magazines instead, where he proved successful. He later remarked ‘from the time I took my nose off that lithographic stone I have had no master, and never shall have any’. After he settled on the coast of the American State of Maine in 1882, he developed an obsession with depicting the might of ocean waves, and dramatic sea rescues.

Pictures like the one we illustrate caused him to be regarded as one of the foremost painters in 19th-century America, and a distinguished figure in American art. In it, he depicts a lonely man on a demasted, rudderless boat tossed by stormy waves, and surrounded by hungry sharks. He followed up with a sequel of the man washed up on a lonely shore unconscious but alive. They had no radio, television, movies or internet back in 1889. The artist was the great entertainer and Winslow Homer did that well.

Ferry Across the Rokugo River

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Ferry Across the Rokugo River (Torii Kiyonaga, 1752 to 1815)Ferry Across the Rokugo River (Torii Kiyonaga, 1752 to 1815)

Some say Torii Kiyonaga was the grand master of Ukiyo-e prints. He produced these using a series of carved wooden blocks, and intended them to decorate the homes of prosperous merchants. This picture is what is left of a set of three panels called a triptych. I do not know how or when the left hand panel went missing, but I know it was a great pity. I would have loved to see who else is in the boat.

Torii Kiyonaga lived at a time when Japanese people were obsessed with the minutiae of human life, including what went on behind closed doors. I prefer to ignore these aspects of his work, and focus on his social landscapes such as this one instead.

He introduced a less formal style of painting, and was especially interested in the female form as depicted here. His deep sensuous tones contrasted by delicate shades are almost extraordinary for his times. I find the delicate expression of the horizon in the background quite superb. It is as if he wished he were a young boy set free to go fishing and climbing mountains again.

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