Thursday, 12 July 2012

The rain that is not there

Scandinavian Landscape, Allaert van Everdingen 1621-1675

We have had so much rain in recent weeks I was just beginning to wonder about painters' depiction of rain and realised that there is very little in European art before the nineteenth century. There are tempests (see Giorgione / Titian) and there are dark thunderous clouds, but not the actual rain as it falls or hits earth or water. Maybe Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed is an early 19C example, maybe Corot has something.

Before then I'd look to 17C Dutch art, particularly Salomon or Jacob van Ruysdael, and Salomon does give us an After the Rain 1636 but not the rain itself. The painting above by Allaert van Everdingen might show rainclouds and actually be about rain but it does not show the rain.

So no rain as such. Why is that? The Japanese artist Utaware Hiroshige (1797-1858) managed it in a woodblock but he too is 19th C and he had a graphic tradition that allowed for lines. (Van Gogh copied the one below here)

The lines are a clue. Western artists became interested in landscape and, later, weather, just at the point that paint itself became ever more capable of depicting effect rather than object.

Objects, as far as depiction is concerned, are ideas that may be lineated. An early Renaissance tree is a trunk plus its branches plus its individual leaves. Object + object + object. By the time we move to Titian individual objects have become part of a field of vision that just about allows for linear forms like spears for instance, but not for lines themselves. Depiction is the registration of general presence, not the sum of known components. 

How do you show rain under such circumstances? Rain is the effect of rain not raindrop on top of raindrop. And the effects of rain are best seen if we don't obscure them with rain itself. So away with rain. Show massed clouds, show bending trees, show  umbrellas, show the effects of wind as though it were a gusty shower. In any case, is rain in itself a subject at all? No, not even in the great Flood. It is what rain has done  or is about to do that matters. 

Fire is different: it gives out light rather than obscures it. Fire can be painted. 

Rain is wonderful in films (oh to compile the top ten best rain scenes in movies, let's do it!!) and as a mood for songs. Such as this from several decades ago.

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