Wash of the Zeitgeist

The three pictures you see below were all painted by Iowa native son Marvin Cone.  All come up for auction next week.  All are interesting – all the more in juxtaposition.

The first, just below, is titled “Sunlight and Shadows – Luxembourg Gardens Paris 1929”.  Though it is expected to draw the least interest and least dinero I quite like it for a number of reasons.  First, it is indeed pleasant to look at.  Though not exactly exuberant, it conveys a fine sense of the joy concomitant with a stroll through a park in the height of fall foliage.

  And I know that park.  It’s not far from the Louvre and my first perambulations therein followed shortly after an eye-opening Art History 101 and during a revelatory term abroad.  I fell under the spell of the ‘City of Light’ the moment I stepped off the train.

And further to that point – the painting, having been executed in 1929, came well after the height of impressionism and a decade after the creation of cubism by Picasso and Braque probably just blocks away.  I relate in a proud and positive way to the combination of naiveté and insouciance indigenous to this great state.

The painting below – “White Barn No.1” clearly, if blandly, has turned away from what some (still!) would call European avant-gardism.  Stated more positively, it is a visual metaphor for the hard working, simple and straight-forward valued folks of our nation’s heartland.

  “Farm Silhouette” at bottom is expected to make the highest bid of the three lots – $125,000 to $175,000 – and for me also has the most complex emotional tone.  On one hand it evinces a crepuscular nostalgia for rural America.

On the other, well, it made me think of the Cormac McCarthy title Outer Dark and the outer dark is not a good place to be… “They aint a soul in this world but what is a stranger to me… I’ve seen the meanness of humans till I don’t know why God aint put out the sun and gone away…”

Cone painted “Farm Silhouette” in 1948 – long after the sunset of Regionalism, after the horrors of WWII, after the incredible industrialization ofAmerica, and after he and his better known brethren (Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry) were compared with the social realists of 1930s Russia.  As an artist, on that bluff, he must have felt from afar the wash of the abstract expressionist zeitgeist.

“Farm Silhouette” is the only one of the three I’ve seen in person and an interesting experience it was.  Next to last on the scene, I took a call from a soon to arrive expert.  “Where do you have it?”  “We’re in the vault.” “Get it out of there; the blue tone of the fluorescents won’t do it justice.”

We moved to a room bathed in natural light and even though not directly before the sun, what a difference it did make.  Slapped myself in the head for the umpteenth time.*

Clearly the painting is in very good condition with original frame and stretcher.  Black light inspection showed no in-painting or restoration.  Paper trail (aka provenance) seamless all the way back to the artist.

Lot to think about…

*cf post of Sept 23, 2011.  Also, I recently listened to a tenured painting professor bemoan a temporary studio classroom lit with fluorescents.  “Unbelievably shitty…”

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