Wikipedia: "Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal's syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art."
I often went back to pictures of the painting, online and in books, but it never gave me the same feeling again. Still, even the pictures stirred something within me and even moved me to tears at times, but on a less profound level, almost as if the experience was an afterimage of the original one. I realised that coming face to face with the original work had had a magical effect on me. It could have been the actual size of the painting, perhaps seeing the paint and canvas from up close. Maybe even it was the actual aura of the work of art. Maybe Walter Benjamin was right, and were the "Unnahbarkeit, Echtheit und Einmaligkeit" [Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Benjamin] of both the work of art and my observation of it key elements in the construction of my experience. Of course seeing a original painting up close gives way to an altogether different experience than seeing the same painting mediated and on a smaller scale. When one can see the details of the brushstrokes, the texture of the canvas and almost feel the vibrant intensity of the colours -that is what characterises an encounter with an original painting in its full size. And boy what an encounter this was.
On a side note -I love how Benjamin constructs aura and the loss of aura by mechanical reproduction in a mutually exclusive relationship. Without the reproduction of a work of art (or nature for that matter -Benjamin includes both these worlds as capable of having aura), the original doesn't have as much as an impact as it has when there are reproductions scattered around the world and seeing the original one becomes almost a pilgrimage. I haven't seen the original painting The Grove by André Derain anymore since, unfortunately. Yes, that indeed is the painting that I have been talking about above. I am hesitant to add a picture of the painting here, since it will be so far removed from its original aura, but I think it would help clarify what I will be talking about next, when I move from Derain to an other painter of trees: the Canadian artist Emilly Carr.
|André Derain - the Grove (1912)|
An academic (whose name I cannot seem to trace) talks about a different painting by Derain (The Pine Tree) in words that in my opinion can very well be applied to The Grove as well: "It hearkens to a pre- or posthuman period in which elemental nature reigns supreme. The use of these simple hues: raw umber, dark greens, deep grays, cool tans, stormy blue, emphasizes the natural element and helps convey a sense of the pure force of nature." [The Aesthetic Roots of The Pine Tree by André Derain, unknown author]. It is this sense of a force of nature that we can also see in the work of Emily Carr, especially in her paintings in which she focuses on forests and trees. I am not quite sure which part this exactly plays in my response to both Derain's The Grove and a number of paintings by Carr, but I think it is one of several elements that together lead up to the intensity I feel when looking at these paintings.
|Emily Carr - Indian Church (1929)|
Overwhelmed, I looked away and started doing some other things. When I returned to the pictures of the paintings a while later, the same affects got a hold of me, albeit in a less intense way, as if the first shock had subsided and I was slowly coming to terms with what I was seeing and experiencing. In a way, it was as Emily Carr herself describes her encounter with the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian painters who focus on landscape paintings. Carr is more than impressed by their collective and creative force: "Oh, God, what have I seen? Where have I been? Something has spoken to the very soul of me, wonderful, mighty, not of this world. Chords way down in my being have been touched. Dumb notes have struck chords of wonderful tone. Something has called out of somewhere. Something in me is trying to answer. It is surging through my whole being, the wonder of it all, like a great river rushing on, dark and turbulent, and rushing and irresistible, carrying me away on its wild swirl like a helpless little bundle of wreckage. Where, where? Oh, these men, this Group of Seven, what have they created?--a world stripped of earthiness, shorn of fretting details, purged, purified; a naked soul, pure and unashamed; lovely space filled with wonderful serenity. What language do they speak, those silent, awe-filled spaces? I do not know. Wait and listen; you shall hear by and by. I long to hear and yet I'm half afraid (...)" [Hundreds and Thousands, Carr] Later on Carr links this experience to a understanding of godliness, but being the atheist I am I will stray away from that direction.
|Emily Carr - Metchosin (1935)|
|Emily Carr - Vanquished (1931)|
|Emily Carr - Old Time Coast Village (1929)|
|Emily Carr - Mountain Forest (1936)|
Emily Carr - Scorned as timber, beloved of the sky (1931)
I dropped a few typical terms in this last paragraph. I will try to describe them in relation to my experience of the paintings by Carr and hopefully by doing so elaborate on these ideas. More on that coming soon in a new post.