I recently spent a Sunday afternoon at the Dallas Museum of Art, which is located on Harwood street in downtown Dallas. I had been to the Museum before, but my previous visits were quick walks through the building while I absorbed as much information about painters, Painting Kits, and popular painting styles as I could in a short amount of time. On this trip I decided to concentrate on one section of the museum and just a few artists; I would save other sections and subjects for another day. In order to exercise my art evaluation skills, I decided to focus on paintings of one subject and just a few artists. The paintings would be appealing to me at first glance and they would be paintings that I had not seen or studied in the past.
After having walked around for a short time, I came across what has become my favorite oil painting. Mountain Landscape with an Approaching Storm by Claude-Joseph Vernet was painted in 1774 for Lord Shelburne, an English collector, at the height of Vernet’s career. This large, detailed painting is of a lightning storm that is bearing down on a village and the people at work on a nearby river. The painter uses slanted lines to show the force of the wind against the trees and people, and his color selections in the clouds and foreground make the viewer feel as if he is part of the painting. I think the detail of this painting is amazing; a viewer can see the hurried expressions on the faces of the people as the women gather their children to start home and as the men pull in their fishing nets. He has also added some humor by showing a stubborn donkey that refuses to budge. This painting shows how helpless man can be against nature, and in my eyes is one of the best paintings of that time.
The next painting that I viewed was Claude Monet’s The Seine at Lavacourt, which is a simple landscape painting that was produced for submission to the Official Salon in 1880. The painting is of the Seine river as it runs past the Lavacourt as Monet viewed it from his own property, and it is typical of his style; textured brushstrokes and light colors. The town’s reflection is shown in the water, and a large bush in the foreground is a highlight of the painting. The picture has little detail, and the people and boats are but a single brush stroke. The light shades of blue give the work a tranquil feeling, and the painting has a soothing effect on the viewer. It is interesting that this painting was produced in his studio from previous versions of the same subject and not outdoors.
After spending some time viewing these two artworks, I tried to understand and compare in my mind why I liked one painting over the other. Both of these oil paintings appealed to my eye; both were created by skilled artists, and both were a depiction of the natural world that surrounds us. One artist chose to create an exact duplicate of what he saw and felt, while the other artist created an ideal of what he felt the viewer should see. If I had to select one painting over the other, my lean would be toward Approaching Storm because this painting makes me feel as if I were a part of the moment and I believe that is what a painting should do. I really enjoyed my visit to the Dallas Museum of Art and look forward to my next trip. Before leaving I noticed a beautiful painting named The Icebergs, by Frederic Church that definitely deserves some more of my time.