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Rachel Cohen

Vuillard and Vegetation

Vuillard and Vegetation

Édouard Vuillard, Landscape: Window Overlooking the Woods, 1899, Art Institute of Chicago. Detail photos Rachel Cohen.

This week I want to think about vegetation and growth. I have been reading a long poem by Francis Ponge from Le Parti Pris de Choses, which my friend Massimo sent on to me – happily, since I cannot find my copy of it. In the poem “Faune et Flore” I find the line: “Il n’y a pas d’autre mouvement en eux que l’extension.” Extension is their only movement.

It has rained enormously over the last few days. The last five springs have been the rainiest five years on record in Chicago and the surrounding farmlands. It is impossible to continue to grow certain crops, like apples, at these rates of rain, and this is accelerating the closure of family farms in our region. Apple-picking is a part of the fall for Chicago children, but last year, there was nowhere to go.

This morning, the door to our back garden was still steamy from the rains. Through the thick dripping mist, I could see that the garden has grown inches and shades – the solomon seal, the ferns, the goat’s beard, bittersweet, and climbing hydrangeas have all shot upward and outward, the space between the plants has filled in and overlapped, dirt is almost no longer visible, and the whole garden has darkened and come into a mid-spring green, where yellow is less prominent, but not yet the darker shades of summer, an intense middle green, like the greens of grass, with some gray and white, here and there red undertones.

The Vuillard, Landscape: Window Overlooking the Woods, from 1899, was meant to invoke a tapestry. The borders and edges are deliberately handled to remind a viewer of medieval and Renaissance tapestries, with their areas of flowered ground, their banners and undulant terrain. It is made in textures of growth.

Today I am struck by the urgency of vegetal growth. The plants making themselves out of the soil in phenomenal bursts. That color green which is so sensitive to light, and derives extraordinary propulsivity from light.