“Only through art can we escape from ourselves, and know how another person looks at a universe that is not the same as ours.” Marcel Proust.
The landscape is revealed the moment it is remembered. James Abbott Whistler’s landscape series that he called Nocturnal, reach such a reduction in the visible that they evolved into almost abstract color compositions. He painted these landscapes from memory, and was inspired by works by Japanese artists of the Edo period. In the Night Blue and Gold, battersea bridge the bridge that is presented in the foreground, with a size out of proportion, in an aesthetic boldness, is inspired by Hiroshige’s engravings. What makes this landscape an unreal work are the mists with which the structure of the bridge veils, the combination of electric blues that blurs the objects, making them almost disappear.
In Whistler there is no intention that we let ourselves be carried away by figures or miniscule aspects of the landscape, he wants us to abstract ourselves with an atmosphere, that we let ourselves be carried away by the tones, the composition, the temperature of the work, with the emotion of color. That melancholic peace that awakens, the silence of blue. In another piece he breaks again the limits that he had already violated, in the Night Blue and Silver, the fog that covers the port is the fog of memory, it is that remoteness of what is no longer present, that exists in the place where we deposit its image to see it when we need it, in the depths of our memories. The canvas is divided in two, the distant shore of the earth is reflected in the sea, its cold colors, we do not see a building or mountains clearly, we see the presence of the concept of distance, in time and space, we see the idea of nostalgia, of a distant place, there is no reference that tells us where that place is, so we understand that it is within Whistler’s gaze, in his memory. Whistler evolved the landscape to tell us that this is not a place, it is an idea, it is a metaphor for distance, the landscape can be a state of mind, an emotional moment, not a geographical location. Your vision should tell us about these sensations, not about a place that we can locate on the map.
Whistler, who loved controversy and was involved in a fierce fight with the art critic Ruskin with these paintings, also distanced himself from the Impressionist movement. He fought for an individuality that had already been won with his work, he defended that independence of the artist to create without movement and to experiment with his technique and his style. This series put an end to the classical conception of landscape, and opened the door to abstractionism, as did Turner’s work. Proust, who admired Whistler as a true fan of his work, in his novel in Search of Lost Time investigated the mystery between memory, perception and art, the character Marcel tells the painter Elistir (inspired by Monet, Whistler and other painters) “Painting makes me love and understand things more than themselves, a landscape, the silhouette of a woman on the beach, perpetuate her beauty for me and reveal her beauty for me ”.
By Avelina Lesper
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