Art Historical Notes Washed Ashore : Guest Contributions to a Brief Art History of Rain

It seems that representations of rain are definitely on the mind of artistically aware bloggers, as witnessed by the generous reactions to my appeal for contributions towards an art history of rain.

Pensum confirmed the status of Turner (1775-1851) as notorious painter of rain & fog, and furnished a precious link to Georges Michel, a pre-impressionist French landscape painter who ostensibly did not shy away from some dramatic open air drizzle .
And as to non-western art, Pensum also drew attention to Indian artists’ delectation in rendering rainy subjects . Note the explicitly pelting rain in the image (coming from a 17th Century manuscript) of Krishna and Radha dancing in the rain!
Further thinking about “Rain in Art”, Pensum also became all the more certain “that earlier tribes and peoples must have depicted rain in petroglyphs and ritual art “ – suspicions backed up by some interesting articles he found, i.a. by Renaud Ego . And indeed, in view of the importance of “rain” for human life, it only seems natural that it should have turned up in ritual images. Which leaves one speculating whether “Rain” was perhaps too much linked with pagan rain rituals to be admissible for depiction in Christian art?

However that may be, Pensum found further delightful examples of rain in eastern art (quoting his comment): “ it would seem that the Eastern traditions have been more enamoured with precipitation from early on. of course the rain has been used to good effect by oriental artists, as in this Korean painting from the late 12th or early 13th century. And though a later work, this ink painting by Maruyama Oshin from the late 18th century is a fine example of exploiting the obscuration provided by the falling rain. While in India it seems they relate rain with joy (perhaps the fall of blessings?) as they tend to like dancing in it as in this example from about 1670”

Furthermore, both Pensum and Roxana came to the rescue of my failing memory and supplied the name of the Japanese rain artist par excellence, Hiroshige ( 1797-1858), who did the famous Japanese print of a bridge in the rain.

As a superb connoisseur of floating bridges, Roxana also promptly came up with the tribute Van Gogh paid to this Hiroshige rainy bridge.
And with her exquisite Japanese art sensibility, she furthermore kindly shared yet another lovely Japanese print picturing a rainy evening.

Leen Huet from her side consulted the undisputed art expert from the Low Countries, Karel Van Mander (the 16th C Flemish-Dutch gossipy equivalent of Vasari) and came up with a charming anecdote: a painter from Mechelen/Malines, the illustrious completely forgotten Gregorius Beerings (1525-1573), seems to have specialised in Flood pictures showing nothing but a rainy sky and water with the Ark. Questioned about the absence of people in his pictures, the painter shrewdly explained that all people had either drowned (& their bodies would only resurface after the receding of the waters) or were hidden from view in Noah’s ark. According to Van Mander our good Gregorius had quite some success with his chain produced uniformly grey flood pictures. But, Alas!!!, dear curious blog reader: no pictures of this Flemish rain genius seem to have survived. ...
Leen Huet further shows a Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) Sistine fresco with desperate, drenched people seeking refuge from the flood. Michelangelo's Flood looks suitably grey & grim & miserable, but does lack, to my romantic rain taste at least, the splendid splatter of gleaming rain drops .

From an aesthetic point of view, Leen Huet also raises the question why in particular the Flemish Primitives, disposing of the technical means (oil paint!) to depict the sensual and optical qualities of rain, never did render it. Too dull and gray, in comparison with scintillating mirrors , tears, vases and gleaming copper? Iconographically speaking, Leen Huet further notes how Rain is, apart from the Flood, not very present in the bible and therefore not the kind of subject Christian patrons would ask for.

In the meanwhile, rain has briefly stopped over here, so time to rush out for some dry open air experiences.


Anonymous said...

Je interessante vraag houdt me aan het denken. Het lijkt voor de hand te liggen dat een Vlaamse Primitief de regen zou hebben geschilderd - olieverf liet voor het eerst toe om glinstering, transparantie en reflectie weer te geven, zoals Van Eyck toonde in spiegels en Van der Weyden in tranen. Maar misschien was de regen voor hen simpelweg te oncomfortabel (de kleding uit hun tijdvak, al dat fluweel en brokaat,lijkt niet bepaald waterproof) en een symptoom van algemene grijsheid, niet van interessante weerkaatsingen - er waren toen minder artificiële lichtbronnen dan nu, zoals je aangeeft. Uiteraard komt er ook niet veel regen voor in de Bijbel, de belangrijkste inspiratiebron voor hun opdrachtgevers. Ik blijf zoeken!

ffflaneur said...

ja inderdaad, hoogst verwonderlijk - met al hun vaardigheid om het stoffelijke en het atmosferische weer te geven .... Misschien werd regen als een te beweeglijke stoorfactor beschouwd: dat drupt & dat lekt & dat giet ... sneeuw blijft tenminste stil liggen! (en opdrachtgevers zullen ook wel niet verzocht hebben om een "portret in de regen").
Misschien kan iemand op het onderwerp doctoreren?

Anonymous said...

Giovanni Arnolfini, Margareta van Eyck in de regen - nee, geen gezicht!

ffflaneur said...

:-) Margaretha van Eyck met plastic regenkapje!