Source Material

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In 1845 William Parson looked through the world’s  biggest telescope, then in Ireland.  He found and illustrated a spiral nebula, as he called it (example 1). Later we would recognize this as another galaxy.  In 1845 the idea of multiple galaxies was as farfetched as the telephone. His spiral image was widely disseminated in a popular book on astronomy. A copy of the book found its way to a French hospital in St Remy En Provence, St Paul de Mausole. This is where the astronomical spiral crossed path with Vincent Van Gogh, a patient in the hospital.

Van Gogh had already been using other artists as sources especially, the compositions of Jean-Francois Millet as foundations for his experiments. He was always looking for new ideas. Van Gogh began his painting process with drawings often using quill or steel pen. He might rely on the color of the brown ink or add touches of water or ink wash-color (example 2).

Example 1. William Parson’s  astronomical illustration,

Example 2. Van Gogh’s study for Starry Night,

Artists, architects, musicians, engineers and you and I all look to precedents to provide models and inspiration. Awareness of sources gives the artist greater ability to invent through additions and changes to the source material.

Below I have a collection of images reaching back over 150 years which provide evidence of the mutual and continuing influences on artists. When I present my own work in Example 9 you will be able to see the influence of the conventions as expressed in the following examples.

Going Chronologically I arbitrarily stick my art historical finger into 1862 and find a work by a Macchiaioli Italian painter, Vincenzo Cabianca (example 3).  The Macchiaioli artists were a cross between the French Barbizon painters and the Impressionists.  Cabianca has a cluster of backlit trees standing on the left and a waterway turning into the painting. These qualities are evident in my own example.

Example 3. Cabianca with a plein air oil sketch from 1862,

The next example (4) from Ferdinand Hodler is a cluster of grasses and trees divided by a stream.  Notice his light, slashing strokes to suggest flora and a blended edgeless set of colors to suggest the surface of the stream.

Example 4. Hodler from 1888,

Example 5 Represents American Tonalism in the work of Lorinda Epply from 1913.  Tonalism and Impressionism were already passé in France but, in the America’s they continued to be seen as contemporary until this year of 1913 when the Armory show introduced modernism to New York.  Ms Epply’s work was created on ceramic at Rookwood Pottery studios. Notice the similarity between her backlit line of trees and Cabianca’s trees as well those in my own example.

Example 5. Lorinda Epply and American Tonalism,

Example 6 brings us up to the Impressionists with the work of Theodore Von Hormann from 1890. By 1890 Impressionism was an esteemed and established method used by artists across Europe. Observe the meandering hour glass shape of the meadow. If you were to narrow the meadow at its high waist then you can detect a similarity to the shape of the stream in my work.

Example 6. Von Hormann’s Impressionist work from 1890,

Laying a light luminous stream through a painting continued to be a useful convention in 1900 in Austria as you see in Wilhelm Bernatzic’s painting of a Pond (example 7).  His painting shares compositions and subject matter with his Viennese contemporary Gustav Klimt. His viridian green is taken from the Impressionist palette of Renoir and Monet.

Example 7, Wilhelm Barnatzic’s painting of a pond in 1900,

Just to make certain you see how conventions are reused and refitted I have one more historical example by Bruce Crane from 1901 (example 8).  Again we have a meandering waterway winding through a shallow forested and meadow flanked valley as you will also find in my work. The palette is warm with burnt Sienna and ochre’s.  Flip this image  or example 7 horizontally and notice the greater compositional resemblance to my own example 10.

Example 8, Bruce Crane pastoral painting from 1901,

Example 10 finally introduces you to how artists  borrow from art historical themes, patterns and palettes. Materials have changed because I am working on a faux brushed silver enameled laminated aluminum surface which is more reflective than my predecessors’ surfaces. I have access to a greater range of tools and pigments. But, the work is clearly a descendent of a mix of traditions. Example 9 represents step one of the painting. Example 10 presents the painting in its present state.

Example 9. Step one, the blocking in of palette and initial large shapes,

Example 10. Step two, the image in its present state.

Join me this spring at the Huntsville Museum of Art (Huntsville Alabama) for a Master Workshop there, Natural Elements: Painting with the masters, Old & New Techniques with David Dunlop”.  The workshop is part of the Museum Academy program. Thursday May 3rd – Sunday May 6; 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. Register on line at or call 256 535 4350 ext 215.


7 Responses

  1. Patricia Scanlan

    What a colorful walk through history. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  2. Bill Moehl

    Superbly Rich, informative presentation of Artistic Chronology! Thank you Mr. Dunlop.
    Still a fan…Bill M. St . Louis MO

  3. Annie

    The colors in your painting are so rich, and the history and references even richer! And although I can’t attend the workshop, thank you very much for the inspiration you bring to my own painting process through the Landcapes Through Time programs. They are wonderful!

  4. Charlotte Rollman

    David, are you living on a houseboat? Love that shared ?ride down your sweet river.

  5. Kathleen Baker

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and talent— you provide a treasure trove of both.

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