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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Visual Flashback: The Old Stage Coach by Eastman Johnson

Sketch for The Old Stagecoach (1871) by Eastman Johnson in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts


When time allows there is nothing Agent Triple P enjoys more than visiting an art gallery in one of the cities he has travelled to. As Triple P has been know to do the occasional drawing or painting himself we always like the opportunity to examine works of art closely. Particularly drawings; as they tend to reproduce poorly in print or digitally and the full subtleties of them can only be appreciated in person.

It is always exciting to be faced by a familiar image in a gallery, particularly unexpectedly, and in our other blog, Venus Observations, we often examine those featuring the female nude. Agent Triple P's taste in art is, as one might expect, rather conservative. He enjoys nineteenth century Victorian Military paintings, female nudes from any period, Victorian neo-classical and pre-Raphaelite works, nineteenth and twentieth century European and North American landscape paintings and maritime paintings. He does not like Late Mediaeval and Renaissance painting, still life, animal paintings, portraits, abstract art, most twentieth century art (save post impressionists). Anything between the two he will certainly look at with an open mind.


The painting illustrated here is not on the blog because it is the sort of painting that Triple P likes as such but because it provides a flashback to another period in Triple P's life. Occasionally, when he wanders around a gallery he is faced by a painting that brings him up short because it is so familiar. Oddly, before he started to acquire his large collection of art books, one of the most common ways that he experienced art was from record covers. Those who are only used to recorded music coming in cds do not appreciate the visual impact that a 12" x 12" record sleeve could have. Much of the music that Triple P had on record when he was younger was classical and much of it was illustrated by paintings.



Triple P acquired two classical records to start his collection back in 1968. These were given to him by his aunt, who had recently got married and was disposing of duplicates with her husband's collection. The two were both Angel Records of Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. One was Beethoven's 3rd (now replaced on CD) and the other was Dvorak's "New World" Symphony. This, at the time, was very much Triple P's favourite piece of music and on the cover featured a painting called The Old Stage Coach by American artist Eastman Johnson (1824-1906).


Sketch for The Old Stagecoach


So we were surprised, when walking around the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts earlier in the month, to see a sketch for this very painting (the original is in Milwaukee Art Museum). It immediately took us back to our childhood (our original LP is long gone) and, indeed Dvorak's music. Such is the wonder of technology today that we could instantly listen to the New World on our iPod whilst contemplating the painting. Whoever said that nostalgia isn't what it used to be?


The Old Stagecoach (1871)


Eastman Johnson, painted portraits and genre paintings of New England life in a way that reminded many of the approach of the Dutch masters (he had studied in Holland). He would later go on to be a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Despite the open-air spontaneity of The Old Stagecoach it was actually painted in his studio although the children were drawn from life posing on a platform in Nantucket, where Johnson used to spend much of the year. The coach was based on a sketch he made of a wreck in the Catskills. Nevertheless he has pulled these disparate elements together into one of the life enhancing paintings he produced which were so popular after the American Civil War, when the country was looking to renewal and a new beginning.


Eastman Johnson

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