Pop artist, Robert Indiana, stated in interview, “Impasto is visual indigestion.” I am humoured by his analogy but couldn’t be more opposed.
There is no artist before or after Rembrandt that paints a person like he does. The impact of his style is immense. His sitter, his pose, composed and painted by any other and the result would be a painting, but Rembrandt’s is a person – once living, once feeling. It is due to his sensual and personal handling. He sculpts the face through high impasto in oils. Yet it is not modelling alone that defines it alive, for there’s been many artists hundreds of years before who painted a dramatically realistic 3D portrait.
Enter Portrait aged 63 - It is his use of light – real, unidealised, undesirably dinghy, but cosy with dark edges that encase the figure inside further earth tones. It is the vivacity of brush stroke – it feels the motion of life, and lifts the man from the canvas. In some ways also I think it is the lack of crisp vision – our sight circles a person, when we try to make them out, we do not look in once place. Usually, as Self Portrait aged 63 does, we then rest on the face and begin to investigate, but on first sight, we do not remember the exactings of his appearance, but we gain an impression - a very positive one this is.
Turner would not finish a painting if he had created the impression he had hoped to; in fact one of his Royal Academy contemporaries described his technique as not being refined, or methodical, but that he instead ‘drives the colours about [the canvas] till he has expressed the idea in his mind.’ This I admire, as I am very much caught by ideas, but when I see one of Turner’s best, I needn’t any other thought of interest to capture my imagination.
Venice from the Canale della Guidecca, Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute&., a mouthful, but is absolutely stunning. I cannot find any fault it in. Everything is so well balanced – colour, forms, contrast, technique…The 3D effect is incredible. Yet it doesn’t grow outwards like a sculpture, like relief. It appears like a canvas, that then concaves backwards to form a stage set of surprising depth….
Well-crafted and inserted technique can make a painting. Let’s be frank, art is about aesthetics, and so aesthetics in art can mean everything.
And this, I hope I don’t sound too enthusiastic to add, is also why Rembrandt is to me the champion of the portrait, and Turner the champion of the landscape.
Pictured: ‘A Woman bathing in a stream’ 1654, Rembrandt
‘Venice…’ 1840, Turner