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Rachel Cohen

Boudin

Garden Windows

Garden Windows

Édouard Vuillard, Foliage--Oak Tree and Fruit Seller, 1918, Art Institute of Chicago, detail




I was standing in our kitchen this afternoon, and the light from the garden was coming through the windows, garden light, unlike any other, and I started to think of painted gardens.  How it is that sometimes the paint itself is even more beautiful than the real light.


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Yesterday and today the air is full of light, sixty-four degrees, sixty-seven degrees, days like April.  The trees are rushing to throw off their silver February garb.  Green shoots are already up in the garden, although next week it is to freeze.


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A friend of my friend’s has died.  We are in different cities and cannot take a walk together.  He wrote that it would be nice to go to a museum.  


The last time we were in the same city – he was here, in Chicago – we went to the Art Institute, and looked at this and that, and what we were taken by was Vuillard. In one room, there are two beautiful earth-banners.  Landscape: Window Overlooking the Woods, 1899, is twelve feet long, eight feet high.  


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The other, Foliage—Oak Tree and Fruit Seller, 1918, is a little over nine feet across, some six feet high.  You could go every day to look at them.  


I had just seen them for the first time a few days before my friend’s visit, so we could begin together.  There is a woman on the left side, with a child, there, back in the leaves, that is the fruit seller.


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In making Foliage—Oak Tree and Fruit Seller, Vuillard used the medium of distemper, in which paint pigments are bound with melted glue.  You have to paint quickly, it dries very fast.  The wall text also points to the “closely ranged tones of the palette.”  Sage against olive against forest.  In life, friends are like this, right up next to each other, in contrast and bound in their shared medium.


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The abstraction of paint, that it may represent both the thing and the light, both the evanescent and the enduring, that would be a comfort, if we could go and look at it today.


Catalog of Time: Time and Tide

Catalog of Time Time and Tide

Eugène Boudin, Low Tide at Deauville, MFA, Boston, iphone detail


Suspension, one of the time-qualities a painter may achieve, is particularly pronounced in Boudin’s Low Tide at Deauville.  Sky over the land, figures near and in the water, boats awaiting the wind.  Just at low tide there is a pause, the water holds steady, and then it’s as if the whole scene takes a next breath, and everything begins to flow the other way.

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Time and tide, I find, are not the distinct words I always took them for.  Time and tide wait for no man.  Those two great forces, I always thought, time and the sea, the hours of the sun, the pull of the moon, the ineluctable powers of the heavens drawing movement from the earth.  But no, tide in old English was time, with no thought of the sea.  The expression began as a repetition of synonyms, two words for time, it tarrieth, they used to say, for no man.  We have this older sense, the tidings of season and time, in yuletide, noontide.  Tide came to take a sea sense probably in the 14th century, time was still its primary valence, the time of the waters.  To me the earlier version of the expression almost seems to herald the coming differentiation – it is only when ‘tide’ has a sea meaning that the expression has its great breadth and completeness, its sense of mortality.

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Boudin painted this picture in 1897, the year before he died.  Looking at the details I am struck again by the way the figures, especially the one who bends to look at the water, seem to dissolve into the air.        

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