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August 12, 2008

Nocturnes - Night Pictures

I'm almost always outside early mornings while it's still dark, and if there's no moonlight there are still the stars to see, and the also there's the occasional meteor burning up as it enters the atmosphere. Sometimes there are even bats squeaking just a few feet above my head.

It's still so dark that if you didn't know, on a moonless night you couldn't tell in what direction the sun was going to rise from because it's no lighter in that direction than in any other. I love being outside at that time (yes I'm sometimes a bit nervous, wondering what - or who - might be lurking in the darkest areas, but it's worth it).

In the daytime it's another place entirely ... glaringly bright everywhere, hot, crowded, and noisy, and it's not so easy then to think of what exists beyond our planet, or even beyond this block I live on; at night I feel part of something amazingly huge and wonderful, beyond what I can ever imagine. I'm hardly aware of my body (unless it's really cold), as it blends in with the night and my mind is set free. I don't feel alone, but in the company of everyone else on earth who's outside in the dark at the same time (or has ever been), and I feel also in the company of coyotes and rabbits and other creatures roaming about and of the birds sleeping in trees and bushes and even of the neighborhood dogs outside in their yards who don't seem to sleep at all at night.

And so I am attracted to night pictures: Nocturnes.

Originally the term applied only to music.

nocturne: literally means “night piece”; a musical piece that is generally quiet and reflective in nature.
From Music Arts Toolkit Music Glossary

nocturne: n. A painting of a night scene. An instrumental composition of a pensive, dreamy mood, especially one for the piano.
From American Heritage Dictionary

Below are some examples of nocturne pictures that I happen to like, and there are also two videos you can watch from this page showing paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw who painted many very beautiful night pictures. Further down there are links to many other Nocturne paintings and drawings on the web.

Moonlit Landscape with Bridge - 1648-50
oil on panel
Aernout Van der Neer
Dutch painter - 1603 - 1677
Picture from Wikipedia
Aernout Van der Neer article on Wikipedia

The Bridge: Nocturne, 1910
Julien Alden Weir
American painter - 1852-1919
Picture from Wikipedia
Julien Alden Weir Online

Nightfall on the Thames - 1880 - oil on board
John Atkinson Grimshaw
British Painter - 1836-1893
Picture from Wikipedia

John Atkinson Grimshaw's night paintings are all very intriguing. I love looking at them. Below are a couple of videos featuring his art -- Please pay no attention to his pictures of fairies and damsels! They seem so odd interspersed with his wonderful night paintings, as if he were two different artists (it's like seeing Felix Vallotton's very odd nudes among his quite, quite different and much better other pictures).

Atkinson Grimshaw


Left-Click once gently on arrow to begin.
Commentary on Painting:
Under the Leafless Trees by John Atkinson Grimshaw


Left-Click once gently on arrow to begin.

John Atkinson Grimshaw Online at Artcyclopedia
James McNeill Whistler - self portrait - 1858James McNeill Whistler (American-born, British-based painter - 1834-1903) is probably the artist most identified with nocturnes. (He called some of his other pictures "symphonies.")

Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge
1872-77 - Oil on canvas
James McNeill Whistler
If you click on the picture, it gets bigger; click again and it shrinks back down.

Nocturne in Blue and Silver - Chelsea
1871 - oil on wood
James McNeill Whistler
If you click on the picture, it gets bigger; click again and it shrinks back down.

Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights
1872 - oil on canvas
James McNeill Whistler
If you click on the picture, it gets bigger; click again and it shrinks back down.

Nocturne in Black and Gold - The Falling Rocket
1875 - oil on wood
James McNeill Whistler
Click on small picture to see much larger version.

Nocturne in Blue and Green - Chelsea at Olga's Gallery.
1870 - Oil on canvas
James McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler Online at Artcyclopedia

Childe Hassam
American Impressionist Painter - 1859-1935
Nocturne, Railway Crossing, Chicago
Watercolor - 1892-93
Childe Hassam Online at Artcyclopedia

Armin Landeck -
American realist graphic artist - 1905-1984
Manhattan Nocturne at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Drypoint - 1938
Armin Landeck Online

Knud Andreassen Baade - Norwegian artist - 1808-1879
A Norwegian Fjord by Moonlight on The Athenaeum.

And, finally, here is my own drawing.
Conte crayons on red-brown construction paper

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Brian McGurgan said...

I like your very atmospheric drawing very much and might have guessed it were painted in oils had I not been told it were Conte crayons. The moon has a luminosity that is really quite amazing, and the rich purples and pale reds are very beautiful. I also like very much the watercolor by Hassam and wasn't familiar with this work before - it feels like I'm there watching traffic pass on a very wet night.

One of the downsides of living in the city is that you never quite get that sense of darkness - of being part of a starlit universe - that comes with living in rural places. Being able to walk outdoors into pitch darkness in the countryside and look up into a richly dense array of stars is magical. Thanks for a great post!

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