Tag Archives: Rubens Het Steen Pissarro Cotes des Boeufs house of the artist

Peter Paul Rubens: 'A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning', 1636. Oil on Oak. Oil on oak.131 x National Gallery, London
Het Steen

The behaviour of gallery goers is endlessly fascinating. Apart from the usual schoolchildren (poorly behaved and French today) others trudge through the galleries, is this a form of nomadism? A pilgrimage? Something dutiful, done with little interest, the journey is the penance, the reward comes at the end. Although some are clearly fascinated and will stand entranced. Is gallery going a useful space to think about life outside the gallery?
Woman on cart has red blouse/ shirt and blue dress; contrasting complementaries. Only just noticed that the man driving the cart is actually on top of his horse, not on the right of the woman as I had always assumed. He (looking vaguely like a younger Rubens, with the hat to hide his baldness) is sitting on some sort of saddle and the two horses have a heavy bridle between them to pull the two wheeled cart; a fairly agricultural affair. She sits on hay with the brass jug (by the way there is a very similar jug in an equivalent late landscape ‘Landscape with a Rainbow’ 1635,

Rubens: 'Landscape with a Rainbow', 1636. The Wallace Collection, London

a peasant balances it on her head). In front of her is the deer.

Paintings change according to the light that falls upon them, in some cases this is merely a matter of it becoming more or less visible. Het Steen perhaps because it is so obviously an internally lit landscape, changes tone completely. The National Gallery lighting system is unsubtle, to put it mildly, but there is diffuse neutral top light. This set up can move the landscape from warm to cold, from fertile and misty to grim and frosty within moments.
Which begs a question, well a series of questions, based around the autonomy of the text. We have a tendency to give agency to figures in art, the Pygmalion complex. If the tone of the view is changing, is that change:
1: Analogous with the state of mind of the viewer in a form of pathetic fallacy, Horses eating themselves. Foul and fair weather etc.
2. Is this scene and its changing weather, independent of human action? The clock maker winds up his clock and walks away, or more likely those mini landscapes within a huge glass bottle that I remember being fashionable in my youth, it was a sealed ecosystem, is this?
3. Solely a matter of subjective over interpretation, changing external light can have no bearing on our approach to the painting; it is fixed and immutable. All this composition of paint can do is decay from the moment that Rubens laid down his brush.
To continue from where I left off, searching for Rubens in this work. Who is the witness within? Do we see from the point of view of the hunter, new ways of spying the land? I have always assumed that we stood as Rubens himself stood, I am surveying all that I have made and it is good. But given the height of the viewpoint, some twenty foot off the ground and our previous identification with the hunter and our nose to the ground, is it too fanciful to assume:
A: that we are being shown this land by a proud owner
B: that the person to whom we are showing it is in some way elevated, notice the centrality of our viewpoint, and yes I know viewpoints are usually central, but they can be skewed, think of most Degas paintings, ‘The Ballet Rehearsal on Stage’ for example, when the stage veers away to our right as though we were sitting in a box watching the young girls rehearse, in a similar manner to the Jockey Club member actually on stage left. That elevated, central viewpoint, and back to the personal sun. In other words is Rubens showing off his estate to a king? To those his diplomatic skills have flattered and who have presumably, in effect, paid for all this land and the house.
If it is autumn, only the big trees in the foreground are starting to turn, especially the dead leaves from the fallen tree and from the lower branches of the –oak? – in the centre island and the other trees to the left of Het Steen itself. Notice by the way that the sapling, or the part of the tree that has fallen with it, echoes the shape of the ditch and one of the circular ditches radiating from the island. Apart from the hunting and fishing (man on the bridge) and maybe the fungi showing the bounty of autumn, where are the fruits?
Northern Damp
Looking at the Bacon-esque smears of white paint that run horizontally from under the horses hooves across to the fallen tree trunk, they have some of the qualities of water about them. What could be construed of the path/ track that runs around to our right of the tree island is a murky indistinct series of smudges in a grey brown. Taken in parallel with the white, can this also be read as water, is the cart coming through a stream/ ford. The mushroom/ fungi on the fallen wood certainly tell us how damp it is.
To the left of the drawbridge, into the front of Het Steen, further horizontal smudges that could be read as more people, at least three of the smudges go down to the ground; therefore skirts.
I am here after a GCSE inset course on the new specification, needing consolation after all those numbers and phrases and procedures. So, here I am putting in a bit of critical and contextual study of my own. Is the light of the sun, rising we think, the light of nature? Or given that we are considerably post Reformation, the Light of God? Or I suppose, given that this is painted by an artist in some sort of retirement, the light of art? A raking light from upper right to lower left, almost as if Het Steen has it’s own personal sun, painted by a man who had, in his relationship to the Stuarts and the Hapsburgs, been close to a Royal Sun/ Son.
If standing, the central tree would exactly bisect the image, it would become a diptych. Whilst there is little in the way of overt cultural symbolism here, an accumulation of narrative perhaps but few other attributes or linkages. Nonetheless the fallen tree, much drawn in Northern European art, must bring with it a series of meanings. Old age? The power of nature? Fittingly perhaps, a man with a briefcase has just sat down next to me go through a set of auction papers referring to a range of different lots. Property, past relevance to one person, sold on to the next. Time to go
The first time in the National Gallery with my new middle distance glasses, the Dutch landscape is in almost hallucinatory detail when seen from the leather bench in front of it, although now I can’t see what I’m writing.
For the first time I notice that the lights are on in the windows of Het Steen itself. Points of yellow light downstairs left, clearly lit with at least half a dozen strong highlights and smaller points of light in the centre windows above the door and the first floor front above the highly lit ground floor. Smoke is rising from chimneys on the left of the house, ie those areas that have light in the windows. Bright lights, beeswax candles, whale oil or what I wonder? That brightness from this distance in those warmed rooms could only be the best and strongest form of lighting, another demonstration of success?
There is no real piano nobile here, we are not looking at post Albertian classicism, look at the gables. The ground floor seems to have the higher windows and contains more internal light; why? How dark would it be inside the building in the morning when sunlight should be flooding in from the East. I still think we are looking at a morning scene: the directions, the milking (although thinking of other sub rural fictions, I have heard evening milking on the Archers I’m sure). The cart off to market and the white on the green on the fields in the mid ground that looks very like the visual effects of early morning dew. Do birds, the ducks centre in the sky, come in to roost/ land in the morning. And what about the three people, well dressed outside the house. A fourth woman appears to be kneeling down, perhaps collecting water? The woman above her is sitting with something in her lap. Are they watching the sun rise, or set, waiting for Peter Paul to finish his brightly lit breakfast, or for the next cart to market?
Looking at this little group prompts one of the questions raised by traversing the landscape as a dog walker; either as the grand owner of show dogs or the romantic questing huntsman. Why are we looking at this view, why not a straightforward portrait of the house set firmly into the centre of the view, or a view from that ground floor lighted window?
We are being presented with the a panorama of the land, our eye slowly drawn to the tower on the horizon. So we must assume that the best spot for that panorama is from where we see it here. What sort of landscape, how should we understand it, from what informing ground are we being expected to stand? Think back to the questions about the uncleared landscape, the route the cart is taking out of the pictorial space, stage right. It’s route is marked by a fallen tree trunk, a long time fallen trunk with a prominent bracket fungus indicating that it has fallen from the upended tree. The trunk has not been cleared away, we are in the picturesque, the land of the hunter of attractive perceptions. To further this hunting theme, there is the dead deer on the cart, shot we assume by the hunter, and a man fishing from the moat on the bridge into Het Steen and the standing man in the small waiting group is leaning on something that looks very like a gun.
Yes of course the huntsman does have a dog; I don’t see how I could have missed it. A large brown and white hound, pointer type, its nose low, on the far side of the hunter from us, the mans gun is in his right hand, held steady with his left hand. The hunter is crouched forward, weight over his bent left leg, right leg stretched out behind him, the dogs legs are bent, it is waiting poised to rush out and collect dead ducks I presume. I have to say that Rubens’ dogs are not very convincing. Look for example at the ‘Landscape with a Shepherd and his Flock, 1638. It is in the same room and features landscape from around Het Steen. The Shepherd’s dog looks like an inflated sheep. Or Cephalus’ hounds in a sketch from 1636, they are more elegant, as you would expect, your average God would have a better sort of sort of working dog. Cepahalus’ hound was in fact Laelaps, a present from the goddess Eon to his wife Procris in a rather complicated attempt to get her to be unfaithful. Nonetheless the animal in the sketch is a simplified and anthropomorphic affair, not looking capable of chasing the monstrous fox that ruined Thebes as the original had.
All this wandering (or wondering?) around the room brings me to thinking about what it is really like to look at art in these circumstances. There are many layers of thought going on here, the top layer being constant irritation and surprise at ones fellow gallery goers. Next to me a very fat young man dressed inevitably, in sporting clothes, is playing a game on his phone; he has not looked up once. To the right of Het Steen a young girl, Year 10 at a guess, is copying the outsize flowers, a heavy line drawing in her A3 sketchbook, no tonality from an entirely modulated painting. She stand very close to the right hand side of the work, then comes to sit on the bench to make written notes when her legs give up; art is very hard on the feet. I notice that she has dotted every letter I with a little heart.
Large groups are constantly shepherded in front of the two versions of the Judgement of Paris that flank either side of Het Steen, the younger version on the left, the older on the right. Up to now I have ignored this arrangement, but it occurs to me that the themes behind the Judgement, and I notice the clearly Flemish landscape behind the later version, might have something to guide us into further knowledge of Het Steen itself. A large Spanish group with headphones appear, time to go I think, but not before I ask the question: who is the witness within the later Judgement? An elderly Spaniard in Picos de Europa dot com cycling gear has sat next to me as I stare at this painted dog, tight lycra should be banned on all but the most lythe, he is certifiably not, Juno looks like a size zero next to him. And to notice that the vast and again unconvincing dog beneath Paris is part of a by play with Juno’s peacock.

Thinking about what I have written so far, what stands out immediately is the need to make a response to work seen, and through that response know more about the work and the act of seeing. It is interesting that Clark (in ‘The Sight of Death’ which is of course the major inspiration for most of this) does this through poetry as well as through text. One of my major problems with many art historians is that they see paintings as merely the ‘index to the archive’. They understand so little about the hows and whys  of making something, however much they might know about technical properties of materials, and how little importance art historians usually attach to the ‘journey’ of the work. At least Clark goes a long way to acknowledge this and In Sight of Death returns to the priority of looking constantly.
I came across this from Leonardo, as quoted by Kemp recently, it was about the human figure but the central point is still relevant I think:
“With what words O writer will you describe with similar perfection the entire configuration that the drawing here does…You who claim to demonstrate in words the shape of man from every aspect dismiss such an idea, because the more minutely you describe, the more you will lead away from the thing described”
If then we are trying to get closer to the thing described, this sort of research must be ‘prolonged and active’, and I think Clark hints at this too, the form of the response should follow the form of the work studied. If working in text for example, the approach to the words written ought to follow the qualities of that written about. The vigorous confident swirl and notational strokes of Rubens, as opposed to the careful precise repetitive stroke of Pissarro. The gestures inherent in Cotes des Boeufs remind me stripping gooseberries one by one from thorny bushes. If writing about Rubens I suppose one could adopt a Will Self style, and for Pissarro someone like Alice Munro.
Witness within: Het Steen
‘The witness within’ and I suppose ‘without’ the paintings is perhaps the route to follow. For example, thinking about what I have written before, and making the role of the ‘witness without’ evident, one of the ways I have always looked at pictorial space in landscapes is to think of how a specific viewer interacts with it.
For example, the space as a walk one might be taking with a dog. Perhaps this comes from the childhood game I can remember reading about and probably playing many, many years ago. When on a long car or train journey you imagine a horse and rider parallel to the moving vehicle, the horse jumping each obstacle as it comes, at the same speed as the vehicle but with much greater grace. So looking for example at the Rubens, and transposing the game to dog walking in pictorial space, are we walking out proudly from the grand gate of Het Steen, with two sleek borzois, or wolfhounds, an elegant, tooled leather lead on either hand? It is the sort of space and colour range that makes me think we would definitely have a pair of dogs, large and lively, perhaps like the landscape, slightly tamed, but not quite in control, much like the dogs we had as children in fact. Our route would be a serpentine, ‘Lord of all I survey’ promenade, down the hill to cross the small bridge, stopping off at the cows, circling between the trees across the broad sunlit fields, past what I think are more cattle, or perhaps deer, then returning to the house. The dogs panting heavily to spend the rest of the day lying across doorways and generally getting in the way, as only large dogs can. Such an imaginative fancy gets us closer to the pictorial space as laid out in a series of gently unfolding, slightly rounded circular planes centred on that little sacred grove. The planes tilt gently down to the fertile plain, an ambulant or perhaps equine landscape, comfortable, undemanding walking; expensive wellies in the morning dew sort of place. Pushing this a bit further, I have been thinking further about the prominence of the hunter, are we being offered two forms of promenade within this work? An ambivalence or duality on the part of the artist in describing his domain. Bearing in mind that we are looking at a painting that celebrates Rubens success, and I suppose some sort of settling down, does the hunter offer another way of roaming the ground; nose in the landscape, experiencing without grandness. Our elevated viewing position shows the proximity of his prey, his hunt will be successful, easily so. There are a series of parallels one could make between the processes of hunting, as shown to us here, and the ways in which an artist makes experientially based art work; emotions recollected in tranquillity etc. As a hunter, the route one would take across the landscape, following the trail of two bouncy spaniels of course, would be different to the grand procession of the successful diplomat/ court artist. Hence the profusion of brambles, fallen trees and rough textures through which to squeeze across the foreground, and hedge bottoms to crawl along, into the distance. As a hunter you would return as the shadows get longer and longer across the plain, a heavy canvas bag across the shoulder, through the kitchen entrance at the back of the building, to proudly drop the still warm, bleeding bodies of shot birds on to the worn kitchen table. The dogs, smelling heavily of mud and filthy water, would instantly fall asleep under the table. Two ways of experiencing the land that points at something quite interesting about the painting I hadn’t thought about before, and worth pursuing, I think.
Cotes des Boeufs, by the way, seems more of the dog on a string tied to a post sort of land (in the rural, not the Big Issue urban sense by the way), there’s not much recreational strolling in a Pissarro painting. I have never seen the dogs that presumably went in dog carts, but this seems the sort of land that they would inhabit. (After a bit of searching I discover that dog carts were used in France and Belgium for delivering churns of milk from small farms to the dairy.) Although the cart track in the bottom left hand corner curves away from us, I do get the feeling that the curve is perceptual. All the walked points between places appear to be A: short and B: in straight lines. This is an efficient, hard faced, working landscape, the people who struggled in it had enough to do without taking the pretty route.
Pissarro and Propositions
Continuing further with the ‘proposition’ that Pissarro’s painting is of ‘edges’, and the worlds from which he was excluded, I find from reading his biography by Kathleen Adler that his parents marriage had been forbidden. The Pissarro family had moved from Bordeaux to St Thomas in the West Indies in the 1790’s (originally Sephardic Jews from Portugal). Camille’s Pissarro’s father had married his uncle’s widow when he made her pregnant. The Rabbi of Copenhagen and also the Rabbis of London, Paris and Bordeaux apparently declared the marriage invalid and the children illegitimate, although the King of Denmark, of all people (St Thomas was a Danish colony) gave it his blessing. The marriage was declared legal after the fourth son was born (Jacob Camille was the third in 1830), but the Pissarro’s were always isolated from the rest of the Jewish community. Interestingly Camille’s marriage upset his own family, he married a non Jewish French girl, from what was considered a lower social class, his mothers French maid in fact.
There is another obvious issue from Pissarro’s early life, Denmark had moved to gradually abolish the slave trade from 1803, France from 1847 to be complete by 1859, in other words the young Camille would have been extremely aware of slavery in all it’s forms, and of the various violent uprisings and suppressions in the West Indies. Especially in 1847 when Camille returned to St Thomas after a period in school in France.
Exhibition and useful comparisons
According to ‘Art in the Making, Impressionism’, a 1990 London National Gallery catalogue that I have, Cotes des Boeufs was shown at the 1877 Third Impressionist Exhibition. It was shown as a major painting, probably next to Renoir’s ‘Bal de la Moulin de la Galette’, I might try comparing the two. The other obvious comparison, and much made by critics is with a painting by Cezanne, ‘Cotes des Boeufs’, from the same period and almost exactly the same spot, The tree grid is, as you might expect, far more dominant and structural in the Cezanne.
Odd the order of painting as shown by the overlapping of oil paint. The trees in the mid ground appear to have been put in first as thick white, then thinned washes to give them colour, a traditional process but why start there, not elsewhere?
Still interested in the circular grove of trees, looking at the land around them, if we are in mid air, then the grove is, just about, the highest point and a series of concentric circular ditches fan out into the countryside, if we assume those ditches carry on around us. Is this an iron age fort? Probably not, apparently the land around Steen is very flat. Would Rubens have knowingly made or described such a construction. Here since time immemorial? The inheritor of tradition through his own efforts etc. Did such a theme exist in the 17th century Netherlands. Had we been looking at a painting of Maiden Castle, the associations would be relatively straightforward, are they here?
I have been looking at a catalogue of Rubens drawings, the uprooted tree comes from there, but I still find it jars with the celebration of the estate as shown by the cows. Thinking of the ‘Good and Bad Government’ frescoes in Sienna, we have an interesting mix of both here. Is the uprooted tree a particular Dutch Iconograph?

Cotes des Boeufs

One would assume from looking at it that the vertical poplars were laid in first, then the rest built up around it and the trunks worked over again, ie starting off with a horizontal vertical grid. There is a sort of system to the brush strokes, the foreground with the currant bushes and the largely viridian ground is laid in with horizontal strokes that move to the diagonal by the figures on the left and tend to the vertical for the rest of the painting. Light also comes in from the right, shadows on the poplar are on the left and the chimney on the slate roof casts a darker shadow on the left. To cast such a shadow the sun must be reasonably bright. None of the other chimneys cast shadows, which is not what you would expect, they are all in roughly the same plane. Is this evidence of different sections being painted, firmly en plein air at different times of the day? To have consistent shadows when painting at such a scale and with such detail clearly demands carrying out the idea of landscape, rather than documenting the changing pattern of light as it circles planet artist. Pissarro by the way later described his work  from the period as ‘rough and rasping’s and only visible when lit from the front’ I’m not sure about the rough and rasping but the second part is still true.

Het Steen as an analogue for the artists good fortune?
The light in the rooms is changing rapidly according to light coming in from outside; this would accord with the descriptions of the rooms for which Rubens made then… perhaps.
As the daylight dims from above, the sun behind the clouds, on the horizon to the right, really starts to brighten. The pale yellow, ringed with a penumbra/ aurora of deeper yellow in a vaguely equilateral triangle in the centre of a cloud arrangement glows. The glowing yellow sitting on a blue horizon, the classic complimentary contrast to brighten up that corner. By the way, the blue of the sky on the right where the sun catches the rounded trees is surprisingly intense, presumably ultramarine and quite pure, but muted when you stand back. The dimming daylight brings out the brighter yellow sunlight on the tops of the cloud above, then the light on the right hand side of the silver birches to the left of centre. What are these climactic conditions, we seem to have a mackerel sky here, an actual feature? Or just something suggesting ‘good weather’ ahead.
Our huntsman, carter and female companion look very like stock characters, the sort of figure that people such landscapes, they remind me of Catalan Nativities, where you always have the crapping man for example. Why for example does she have the big brass bowl, is it the attribute of a housekeeper? If you come into the National Gallery from the Orange Street entrance as I do, often after having spent too much money in Cass Art on Charing Cross Road beforehand, You can stop off to see Cuyp’s painting of some very self satisfied cows and surprisingly Alpine scenery for a Dutch artist (River Landscape with Horseman and Peasants 1658-60). This painting also has a man with a gun, his weapon has a ludicrously long barrel, he has a large grey and white dog (there must be a dog in ‘Het Steen’ somewhere) he steadies the gun with one hand under the trigger and rests the barrel in the tree, also aiming at ducks, another stock character?
 Are the trees in the central island a sacred grove? Looking more closely there are at least one, maybe two oaks, at least 4 x silver birches. Or is it an elm rather than an oak? Recently at school looking at Sisley’s paintings of Henley Regatta from 1875 with students, I had to explain what the trees where, they had never seen big elms, after Dutch Elm Disease they don’t exist any longer; only in art. Oaks have of course been sacred trees, are these? Why has the tree overturned? Why has it not been organised, removed renewed?

Cote des Boeufs
Even more struck than usual by how the vertical poplars act as a barrier, bringing to mind as before Pissarro’s own position the painter of edges, of suburbs, of no-wheres, of places without status, like him. Is this an oversimplification, an over-reading, is this the finding of a ‘proposition’ as Clark would term it. (I have just finished The Sight of Death which will no doubt change how I carry on looking at these two). You could push this analogy further if you assumed that the building behind the thickest vertical trunk on the upper right is in fact the red tiled roof and rounded apse of the church at the highest point towering over the smaller buildings of the village, and of course barred to Pissarro, as it appears to be barred here.
Ads the light changes from the overhead skylights and the room becomes dark, the painting really comes into it’s own. There is a short gap before with a whirr the automatic lighting comes on. That lighting really kills the colours, it flattens every contrast. In dim light the emerald green/ viridian beneath the fruit bushes sings out and is at last balanced against the dark patch of ivy on the left hand middle tree trunks. Otherwise in bright artificial light that dark patch makes no sense. Pissarro was too much of a Corot-iste not to balance his tones; you can only see that balance when the lighting is dim and natural. I have found this myself, I’ve just brought a landscape of my own back to the house, it is currently on a wall at right angles to a large window, the changes in colour balance as the daylight changes are extraordinary. We make these things now in studios, usually at night under constant light. Our forebears made do with natural light and knew exactly how oil paint reacted to different densities of it, and presumably painted accordingly.
Het Steen
The first element to catch my eye today is the central triangular form of the uprooted tree (Rubens himself uprooted?) if you keep this in your central field of vision, given the size of the work other shapes seem smeared against a wall of peripheralism, a curved space corresponding to the curve of the perceiving retina? This might account for the perceptual distortions. The hunter seems nearly twice as tall as the driver and passenger, the flowers to the right standing behind a small hillock (some sort of daisy) are huge, every bloom would be near enough the size of the coach drivers face. The ducks/ partridges behind are enormous, the size of sheep. The trees on the grown out hedge line, perhaps not the perfectly worked land one had first thought, are correspondingly smaller. There are more ducks to the right in another fallen tree and two in flight to the left of the birches. With cows in the field, an extravagantly tall dairy maid (I assume going to milk them, fowl in the air, no doubt fish in the stream and crops in the field, trade shown in the market journey, there is all that a man might need. Note also the three figures down by the house, staff or family?
5 x silver birches and 1 x oak (must compare to Ruisdael) growing within a low circular wall. Light golden, lowish in the sky, golden sun just above the horizon on the right. Unusual position of the sun. Could this be due to the intended position of the painting in the room in Het Steen, site specific work?
If the carter is off to market, then it must be early morning, sun rising in the East so we must be facing North East
By the way, this is a link to some images of the House now-ish
Cotes des Boeufs
One always forgets how bright this painting is, especially when compared to its reproductions or the thin brown glazes of the Rubens; the zinc white powers out from behind the tree trunks
 Languages of technology/ modernity
The central trunk appears to be an almost precise central axis, if you compare these to the two trunks next to it, are we looking at a sort of Fibonacci series, it might be possible, but unlikely, certainly before his involvement with Divisionism in 1885/6. Does the foreground blur in parts, a la Gerhard Richter? If photography dates from the 1820’s the focus/ haze/ distance indistinct visual fields we are used as part of photographic language are chronologically possible, but splendidly pointless in such works based on plein air principles.
It is noticeable how much more difficult it is to see this painting, the Impressionist rooms are far more crowded, the painting is portrait proportions so that one person, or rather a pair, everybody looks in couples it seems, can easily block the whole work. The Rubens is big enough to always see a part of it, unless there is a whole Japanese tour party in front.

Rubens ‘Het Steen’, 1636 and Pissarro’s ‘The Côtes Saint-Denis’ or ‘The Côtes des Boeufs’ 1877
First thoughts: a clearing of the ground until we work out what might be said, after a few visits with some time in front of each painting and some preliminary reading
To what extent are these both paintings about journeys? Not just the implicit artists journey to get this far perhaps to live in the houses we can see in each work; more obvious certainly in the Rubens, but also the journeys within the worlds depicted. Our couple going off to the Market, or the two peasants walking down the path through the trees at the Hermitage. Are we walking that path with them to pick soft fruit, do we walk out to Het Steen, or join with the hunter or down through the trees over the stream to the cows being milked?
‘An autumn landscape with a view of Het Steen in the Early Morning,’ 1636,
painted as one of a pair (same view in the late afternoon)
Where and who is the internal spectator?
What is the role of vision denied, particularly noticeable in the Pissarro
What do these two works celebrate? Apart from a joy in examining the visual qualities of the overlooked, the edges of brambles and ordinary trees. These are both worked landscapes, although the Ruben’s is of course much grander, the light is more golden. That working in Ruben’s case appears to celebrate his possessions as he moved to the seignory of Steen, a sixteenth century manorial castle. The perfect working land, not dissimilar to the well ordered space celebrated by Gainsborough in his image of that glum couple, Mr and Mrs Robert Andrews. In fact he only lived at Het Steen for less than five years: between November 1635 (moved in) and died in Antwerp 30 May 1640
The space in the Rubens seems to depend on some of the tricks of the Northern Renaissance, scale changes eg the partridges and the cattle, are we taking the position of the man with the gun seen bottom left of centre. Involves a hunting figure, he painted many hunting scenes for aristocratic patrons, but apparently didn’t hunt himself. This is a fertile, sustaining land
Rubens a Catholic, against Pissarro’s understated Jewishness
It is large painting, history painting size. Ruben’s landscapes made on all sorts of odds and ends of wood, grains running in all directions, probably not made for sale, and one of eighteen landscapes in his studio at his death. He paid great attention to landscape painting towards the end of his life apparently; and it is probable none of his landscapes were commissions.
The physical painting suffered the real effects of climate when it fell apart in the great frosts of 1947, all those bits of wood parted company.
One of a series of paintings featuring carts moving, images of vehicles under way
Villa in the country, the retreat from the town, Pliny?
Het Steen is a Mediaeval Manor, the tower, which turns up in many other images of the period, including a mediaeval capricchio, has now been demolished. Noticeable that our viewpoint seems to be equally high up, the height of a tower window.
That high up panoramic viewpoint could be seen to be part of the Netherlandish tradition you can trace back to the first real landscape painter: Joachim Patinir (1515-24). One of Patinir’s characteristics was the view as if from a mountaintop or passing bird, showing the curve of the earth (as indeed one can see on Het Steen’s horizon. Patinir shows us a world view, suggesting in his religious paintings, the hugeness of God/ nature and the smallness of us. In Rubens perhaps this is the other way around. The internal spectator is God. Patinir’s system eg The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (which incidentally features a building amongst the trees on the left) was developed by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, one of whose landscapes was owned by Rubens (Flight into Egypt 1563) perhaps one could make a comparison of that painting with Het Steen later,
Scene and place: Autumn and at dawn
No extant drawings for this, in fact ‘only twelve drawings from nature by Rubens are known’, probably worth comparing with Rembrandt here.
The tangle of roots and brambles, a drawing for the study of a tree 1615 and a fallen tree also 1615, Netherlandish significance of the fallen tree?
Thinking of the different ways we see things, perhaps get a genuine oil painted version/ copy/ print of each painting, how do the remakers of each image/ change/ reconstruct/ dilute their subject?

Pissarro, Cotes des Boeufs
also one of a series, though less obviously programmatic than the Rubens pair, Most of the paintings of this subject, eg the Musee d’Orsay version presumably sited slightly to the right and in brighter sun than the National Gallery version. Set near Pontoise. The Pissarro does not reproduce well, most of the details get lost.
Notice the pictorial structure, the strong verticals. There are two echoing curves here, a long right left curving trees set just in front of the forward line of poplars. This curve takes the eye from where second upright poplar from the right hits the upright edge of the canvas to make a sinsusoidal curve (if turned through 90˚) ending on the same line as the figures walking down the path. That curve is echoed by the propped trees that dominate the bottom right of the painting, these curving trees back up against the longer right hand vertical (poplar?) in the way that Pissarro has treated the pictorial space, in fact there are several rows of fruit bushes between the pair and the first upright poplar.  This pair of sinusoidal curves are flatly parallel to the picture plane. Is it too much of an act of imagination to notice that the two ruts of the track on the left hand side, leading into the pictorial space, appear to follow the same curve as the trees? So what we have are paired curves parallel to the picture plane flattening that space, marked against geometric vertical axes, contrasted with the same curves creating pictorial space as they lead into the left hand side. Is this Pissarro drawing the attention of the viewer to the process by which space is made, laying out the tools of the landscape artist as it where?
Our track is balanced by those curving, paired trees on the right hand side which form a visual route into the painting. They are a rare isolated area of detail, the strong shadow on the left hand, the behind tree that bends to the right has a strong shadow on the left side. A shadow that creates a round tubular form, but also anchors the turning almost anthropomorphic form, almost traditional chiaroscuro. Interesting to notice that curving tree form turns up often in that period, eg ‘A Gust of Wind, Pontoise’, c 1877  a far less worked up painting that features a group of trees bending in surprisingly Rococo forms in a strong wind. Richard Brettell emphasises “The wrist gestures that embody a wind bent tree”, in other words shapes that represent, by at least one distance, our ideas of trees in the wind. What he calls ‘gesturally positive’ images that stress, for Brettel anyway, the nature and act of painting, prefiguring abstractions to come. Whereas his bent, trained, wrestling sticks are specific trees described and analysed.
Trees as screens, screening what from whom? Can one relate this screening to Monet’s ‘Poplars on the Epte’, 1891 also in the National Gallery. Bright sunlight through trees, notionally similar, but, no artist’s house, a brief ‘Impression’, with no sense of texture, silver bark, the density of edges  and foliage that seems to characterise thes two paintings; the jumble and muddle of the overlloked .
A technique used by Corot, ways of working with pictorial space as a way of organising his sensations?
Time of year
Pissarro: autumn? silver light blue sky top light. Complementary colours, standard impressionist practice in this case red and green. Shown at the Impressionist exhibition of April 1877? No, probably one of the paintings made in the summer with Cezanne, Pictorial structure, the student teaching the teacher. The detail and the tiny touches make this a painting about work, the industry is evident, as is the landscape which is clearly worked by man, as is characteristic of all Pissarro’s landscapes, man’s industry is always evident. Look for example at his painting of a beet factory (Factory near Pontoise, 1873), Pissarro always went for the deliberately un-picturesque. There is no obvious motif here, in any sense.
One of a series of paintings of different gardens, but these are jardins des poottagers, not the suburban flower gardens Monet painted.
Joachim Pissarro wrote about the motifs that characterised Pissarro’s Pontoise pictures: ‘These endless combinations of contrasts and variable forces lend themselves to a thematic three-part opposition – intrinsic to the suburban world – between town, country, and their limits, or the intermediary formations that bind them together: the fringe, the villages nearby, the paths that lead to the town, the river, the kitchen gardens – all forms of transitions between field and town […] Tensions of this type – rural/urban/suburban; nature/architecture/path; fields/path/building(s); city/river/bridge – are absolutely central to Pissarro’s output in Pontoise, and clearly represent the focal points of his grasp of the antinomies inherent in suburban spaces. Out of these, Pissarro composed a poetical-pictorial ensemble with resounding evocative power. There emerged several possibilities: he may be seen at times creating an equilibrium between architecture and nature; the jardins potagers (kitchen gardens) offer a privileged vantage point from which to study such contrasts, as seen in Potager et arbres en fleurs, printemps, Pontoise […] and a motif also studied by Cézanne and studied again a few years later by Pissarro in Kitchen Gardens, Pontoise .
Pissarro’s Jewishness/ outsider, hence the role of the screens?
From The Goncourt Journals 17th Feb 1883 Page 302
“looking at the Jews I know growing old around me, I am sometimes astonished at the peculiar ugliness which the years bring them. It is not our decrepitude but a moral ugliness. What is the explanation? I believe that it is to be found in purely material appetites and desires, in a life with no other object than money”
What a comparison with Rubens the consummate insider?
Rubens equally autumnal, but reached through close gold, yellow pale green tones.