Andrea here, musing today about art. Yes, I do that a lot, as it’s something near and dear to my heart. In case, my thoughts have to do with research and how art can be an unexpected source of wonderful details for an author of historical novels.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a special exhibition JMW Turner watercolors in the Study Room of the Yale British Art Center. They have an amazing collection in their archives, and many are rarely shown in public. What made the experience truly amazing what that they up the painting on display tables and placed a magnifying glass by each one. We were all allowed to get “up close and personal” with the art!
Turner was constantly sketching throughout his life. The watercolors on display were from his everyday work—not grander, more famous art. They show an artist who was looking around at the everyday rhythms of life and recording them as “exercises” to keep his eyes and his hands in practice.
I found myself really focusing on small delightful details of his sketches, and realizing what a wealth of information they provided about how countryside and people of Regency England looked. For example, take the hunting scene above. It show a stone ruin that has cottages or barns built to take advantage of the existing walls. It’s an image that I can use at some point in a novel.
Then I looked even more carefully at the hunter on his horse. What he’s wearing and the firearm he is carrying offers yet more wonderful visual information. Given the length of the weapon and the shape of the stock, it appears to be a rifle. Good to know for setting scenes at a country house party. And I love seeing his hounds! More excellent references for creating an accurate picture of gentry life.
Another wonderful example is the scene of a factory town. The panorama allowed me to see how the new industry (mills, foundaries, etc.) fit into the old fabric of the town. Getting up close, I was able to study what the people were wearing, and what they were doing. Several men appear to be folding cloth that has been drying on a wood frame. Another is riding a donkey. It’s fascinating to see how the goods are strapped on the animal. The range of color and patterns of the clothing is also interesting to observe.
I found the scene of what looks to be a gate leading into a section of a large town really interesting, too. Seeing the scene from Turner’s perspective gives such an intimate look at what an ordinary day looked like. I’ve also in included a snippet of a carter. Look at his smock and footwear, and what his vehicle actually looks like.
Turner also journeyed through Europe recording what he saw. I love this scene of the Alps and the goatherd with his animals. (See the very first image.) One can almost feel the wind blowing through the rocks and the trees! Another random snippet shows a harbor detail of travelers being ferried out to a coastal packet boat that will sail them to their destinations. Again, just seeing the grouping of ordinary people and their belongings is really fun.
So what about you? Do you enjoy looking at paintings from the past? And you you find yourself looking at the tiny details that tell you about the era?