Haunted People, Haunted Places

22 Mar

William Merritt Chase, The Veteran, date unknown

Thomas Eakins, The Veteran (c. 1886)

Note: click on any image to enlarge

In this post I wanted to focus on portraits and landscapes that evoke a particularly haunting mood — people and places with a sense of mystery or longing.  Each of the selected works has a special “something” that captures the romantic imagination.  Each gave me pause in some way.

I’ve always been captivated by the portraiture of William Merritt Chase and Thomas Eakins, and their respective depictions of war veterans  (immediately above and below) are especially strong.  The veterans in these paintings really look as though they’ve seen some things.  The haunting mood is aided by the dark, shadowy background and the warm coloring, but it’s the eyes of these men that really tell the tale.

Just as evocative are Eakins’s Portrait of Maud Cook (below, top) and Rembrandt’s The Man With the Golden Helmet (below, bottom)The look in Maud Cook’s eyes speaks eloquently of loss or longing — you want to speak to this woman.  The attribution of The Man With the Golden Helmet to Rembrandt is now (apparently) disputed, but what cannot be disputed is the visage of this man:  like Chase’s and Eakins’s veterans he has been places we don’t want to go. 

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Maud Cook (1895)

Rembrandt Van Rijn, The Man With the Golden Helmet (1650)

I’ve always been intrigued by T.C. Steele’s mysterious rower in The Boatman (below).  The mood is so ethereal.  Who is he?  Where is he headed?  The mood is murky, almost the stuff of dreams.  This rower is a bit spooky — he could be a character straight from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Melville’s Moby Dick.

T.C. Steele, The Boatman (1884)

Corot and Sisley shared a close artistic kinship, and in The Gust of Wind (below, top) and Le Couple, Environs de Louveciennes (below, bottom) they give us arresting images that could’ve been torn from the pages of a Gothic novel.  While each landscape contains beauty, each is also dark and somehow forbidding in its own way and we see solitary figures moving through them at a distance on some unknown mission.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, The Gust of Wind (c. 1865)

Alfred Sisley, Le Couple, Environs de Louveciennes (1873)

Owen Merton, Dutch Windmill Near Amsterdam (1909)

Owen Merton shows us a lonesome, dilapidated windmill and a solitary figure in Dutch Windmill Near Amsterdam (above).  In May Night (below) Willard Metcalf depicts a grand mansion at night, washed in moonlight and warm side-lighting coming from some unknown source.  A solitary female figure moves through the night, we know not why.  Once again there is a gauzy, dreamy aspect to both works that captures the imagination.

Willard Leroy Metcalf, May Night (1906)

James McNeill Whistler was famous for his moody, Symbolist landscapes, and  Cremorne Gardens No. 2 (below, top) is a classic example of his artistic power.  Leon Dabo was a student of Whistler, and we find a similarly haunting mood in his great Fog and Mist (below, bottom).  Each  painting is as much dreamscape as landscape.

James McNeill Whistler, Cremorne Gardens No. 2 (c. 1872-77)

Leon Dabo, Fog and Mist (date unknown)

It’s interesting to me how artists from such divergent traditions conjure up a haunting mood.  The common thread is the use of darks and grays — the landscapes depict nighttime, twilight, moonlight, fog and mist.  In the portraiture the figures emerge from primordial darkness as if from history.  All fascinate.

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