Turner and Constable: The Inhabited Landscape at The Clark Art Institute


I never know what part of a show is going to resonate with me. In this case it was not really the show itself but a comparison between Turner’s painting, Rockets and Blue Lights, which is in the show and several Winslow Homer paintings in the museum’s permanent collection. The paintings are all ocean scenes with waves crashing on a beach.

As an artist who has always appreciated Homer, I was surprised how flat and stylized his waves are when compared with Turner’s energy packed monsters. Turner’s personalized painting style, despite looking very chaotic at first glance, really does convey the strength of nature. The more I investigated the Turner painting, the more powerful it became. Turner really gets to the soul of nature, whereas Homer is showing us what it looks like.

The show itself had quite a few Constable oil studies as well as drawings, all of which were worth seeing. Turner was not as well represented. Most numerous were his small, tight, watercolors done as illustrations for various publications – not at all what one thinks of in connection with Turner, but I always appreciate being reminded of all someone’s facets. Rockets and Blue Lights was Turner’s only large canvas.

There were two other, smaller, oil paintings. One was a beach scene in Turner’s exuberant style, while the other, a bridge, was in his tight illustration style. These two show the advantage of learning a skill and then applying it where one wants. The show included numerous watercolors that were not in his tight, illustration style, but none that gave off much in the way of energy.

Rockets and Blue Lights rewarded me for taking the time to stand in front of it. No ocean ever looked like what Turner painted, however, it did feel like nature displaying all its might. In the painting Turner’s figures are, both literally and figuratively, almost engulfed by the raging sea. The primary function of figures in a landscape painting is to give scale and Turner’s figures are a prime example of this.

What Do Farmers & Artists Have in Common?


What do a farmer and an artist have in common?

Despite the appearance of an idyllic life, we both put in long and strange hours. Yesterday at 4:30 a.m., I left for The Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts to catch their show Turner and Constable: The Inhabited Landscape. (More on that in another post.) This morning, our neighbor, Jamie, started out at the same hour to spread chicken manure on our hay field.

Jamie grows organic grain for an organic chicken farm from which he collects the manure for spreading on the fields to keep them productive. The spreading had to be finished before the field started to thaw in morning sun and we were expecting the first of a number of warm days. Once the field starts to thaw, the hillsides become too slippery for the tractor.

The hay from the field goes to mushroom growers who compost it into growing medium for mushrooms. We use spent mushroom soil to mulch our gardens, both flower and vegetable.

Such are the products of our neighborhood and the cycle of their production. Lucky are we who do what we enjoy, despite the sometimes strange hours.

Gainsborough Family Album; A Review


The benefit of looking at an unfinished painting is that one can get a peak into the mind the painter, in this case Gainsborough at the Princeton University Art Museum. Clearly visible is how he worked up a painting, starting with sketching in his composition on the canvas.

The show, Gainsborough Family Album, is just that – portraits of his extended family. There are numerous unfinished works because with family members, unlike commissions, Gainsborough could take a painting only as far as he wanted or maybe as far as he had time to. In any case, these paintings provide a great opportunity to gain an understanding of his approach to painting.

With a few lines on the canvas he would first note the composition, including a careful outline of face with placement of the eyes and nose. From that point he seems to have concentrated on the face only, adding hair and clothing notations as he felt necessary to keep the face from becoming isolated. His edges and turning points are soft bringing to mind Leonardo da Vinci. The soft gray of the ground supplies the shadows shaping the face. The ground’s tonality is not far from that of the light masses of the face. The whole painting is done with great economy of both paint and detail. The beauty is that, despite the softness of his faces, the portraits carry great character.

According to the catalog, one of the reoccurring complaints about Gainsborough’s portraits in his day was the lack of finish that he gave the sitters’ garments. In my view, had Gainsborough used a more academic finish on the clothes, they would have reminded me of an ocean roller crashing around a rock on the beach: a lot of action surrounding an immovable object. Leaving the clothes to softly flow around the face like a gently rising tide works well – unobtrusive, but present. In the portraits where he gave the garments more development, he also further developed the face, which kept both in harmony.

You can almost see Gainsborough thinking as he paints – working out new ideas and never feeling compelled to complete the painting.

Parking near the Princeton University Art Museum may be a challenge but that is a small price to pay for this show. This excellent show runs through June 9th.

J. Clayton Bright

What a Gift! by J. Clayton Bright



At this time of year there are a lot of comments on presents. What’s fun about presents is receiving something you didn’t know you would enjoy, but once you have it, you do quite enjoy it. That concept also holds true at a good museum show. The present, in this case, is the discovery of new artist or a new work that you didn’t know before, but with which you become quite enamored once discovered.

A case in point is at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., where there currently is a survey of Nordic art from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a major survey of Nordic art spanning nearly 200 years. It features works by 53 artists from Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as the self-governing islands of Åland, Faroe, and Greenland.

I have a special affinity for Nordic art. I enjoy the atmospheric light, the uncluttered compositions, and the sense of calm which the paintings have. One could never mistake an 18th or 19th century Scandinavian painting for a French academic one.  Nor could they be confused with a 16th century Dutch still-life with so many fruits crammed onto a table that the table itself would need special supports to keep it from collapsing. Their restrained sense of color adds greatly to the relaxed impression with its cool/warm balance that is just that – a clear balance.

To my eye, the two greatest “presents” of the show were a 1903 self-portrait by Elin Danielson-Gambogi (1891-1919)  and Braiding Hair (1880) by Christian Krohg’s (1852-1925).

Danielson-Gambogi was sparse in her use of paint, color, line, light, even varnish. (The finished portrait has a flat, unvarnished surface enhancing its sparse coolness.) However, there is nothing sparse about the capturing of personality.  Using an unusual, low, view point the painting states quite clearly Danielson-Gambogi’s inter-strength and mood at the time.  The character statement is in fact so strong, that one has to remind oneself to look beyond it to see how the portrait was painted.  Danielson-Gambogi plays the thin paint film to great effect, particularly in her hair. Close inspection revels how she changed her dress’s shoulder to simplify the line running up her shoulder, along the side of the face, across the forehead, and down the other side.

Christian Krohg’s painting is at the other extreme. The paint is thick and lush, the atmosphere is warm, and it’s about relationships, not personality. He creates great volume in his handling of the dresses; real people are inside those dresses. The warmth of the background is offset by cool blue of the dresses, while the well-lit hand and face of the mother provide warmth in the painting. Take note of how the shape of girl’s part mirrors her mother’s hand – a neat means of tying them together with great sympathy.

The Gift of Natural Realism

Clayton’s video, Art is a Gift, can be seen on his Facebook Page and on his Instagram account.

A sampling of Clayton’s paintings, giclée prints, etchings, and sculptures on his new shop page https://www.jclaytonbright.com/shop/  can be purchased directly. A complete array of his paintings and sculptures are also for sale under their own headings on this web site. You may always contact us at StudioJCB@aol.com

New Painting, No Title

In gardening, as in painting, the unplanned can sometimes produce “a happy accident.” In this case, a pumpkin planted for its pie-making and a vine planted for its magenta-violet flowers enhance each other on the courtyard wall on a late October day.

The pumpkin (Cucubita pepo  Early Sweet Sugar Pie) is not a long keeper, but makes a wonderful pie which has great flavor without needing disguise through spices. It color is such a rich, deep, orange one would think it had been bred for color alone. The Asian vine, Hyacinth Bean (Dolchos lablab), bears magenta-violet flowers which are a visual treat as well as enhancers of salads. The purple bean itself, however, has to be specially prepared before being eaten. Planted by our courtyard wall, this energetic vine reaches up 15 feet to where it somewhat camouflages the martin house before a frost puts an end to it.

The combining of these two culinary and visual delights was a chance event, but sometimes in gardening we just luck out

Autumn Painting

Clayton enjoys painting at this time of year when the colors are vibrant and the air crisp and clear.  In this instance, Clayton was attracted to the orange of the pumpkin contrasting the purple hues of Grape Hyacinth, both flower and bean.  Autumn sunlight filtering through the green leaves created a variable background, while the old stone wall provided a subtle, textured base.

Quail Sculpture Commission Ready to be Cast

Clayton received a request to sculpt a life size quail and since he sculpts using live models, his first step was to find a quail. Next he needed to determine where the quail would live, since they are not indoor animals.  He found a suitable cage, big enough for the bird to run around in and purchased food that would keep the quail healthy. The model, though shy, became used to Clayton’s presence.  As with all wildlife, she didn’t pose per se, but Clayton observed her habitual body carriage and behavior, and set to work sculpting in clay.  When he finished the sculpture, he released the quail “in a soy bean field with about 7-8 inches of growth. The edges of the field had been left in a wild state with every kind of “weed” and sapling all mixed together. The early morning sun light poured in between the trees to my right. When I opened the box, the quail scrambled, and then gracefully took off in a curving flight to the left: a vision to be treasured.”

Pictured is the finished piece in clay, ready to go to the foundry to be cast in bronze.

Teaching Sculpture

Clayton recently taught a sculpture class, using the same techniques he consistently uses: starting with an armature, using a live model, and leveling the sculpture stand at the beginning of each session.  Having a local live model that was cooperative and patient was important, so Clayton provided Georgia, a horse, in a large turnout shed which provided shade for the participants. The series of photographs show start and finish as well as some intermediate stages below.  The students (all adults) worked hard and learned a lot during the week-long class.  Clayton enjoyed teaching the group of ten, and when asked if he would teach another class next year by his students, readily agreed.

Witch hazel!

A mid-winter warm spell fills the air with witch hazel fragrance. Clayton planted this witch hazel and others years ago along the way to the barn, for just such a day. Hamamelis vernalis, commonly called Ozark witch hazel, is easily bypassed since the flowers are small and unobtrusive.

Clayton exhibits at Chester County Art Association

Clayton currently has a sculpture show @Chester County Art Association  with three other sculptors.  His talk about “More than Meets the Eye,” concerning the essential elements of paintings preceded the show (see News Post November).  The show opened January 11 and runs through February 1, and includes a panel discussion. There is a lot going on here.  Thank you CCAA!  Interested in Clayton’s art other what you see there? Browse the rest of his web site to see all the areas in which Clayton’s artistic outlook manifests itself.