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Makar Vorobyov
Makar Vorobyov

The Color Of Water Ruth Essay

After his stepfather has a stroke, the family bitterly grieves the death of "Daddy" and, in his own confusion and grief, James turns to experimenting with drugs and committing petty crimes. James tells of instances when he asked his mother questions like "How come you don't look like me?" and she gives him a dismissive answer. The first chapter is where the book gets its title, related to this striving to understand identity. James asks his mother a unique question regarding what the color of God's spirit could be. She responds that it doesn't have a color, that it's the color of water.

the color of water ruth essay

The collection has been made within certain limits. Allthe works are on paper and, although oil paint can be used on paper, thesehave been done with pencil, charcoal, pen and ink, silverpoint, watercolor,or pastel. Then they are all, with one exception, works by American artistsworking between the middle of the nineteenth century and the present day.In that century and a half radical changes have taken place in Americanart but of these there are almost no signs among these works. Each has arecognizable subject and has been executed with more or less realistic intent.Finally, they are all of modest size, not that drawings and watercolorscannot be large, but that this collection was formed with intimate enjoymentin mind. One might say that works on paper are a kind of chamber music ofart.

The versatility and energy of Rockwell Kent (1882 - 1971)was astounding. As a painter, engraver, author, illustrator, polemicistand adventurer, he has no counterpart among artists of his time. His journalsand published accounts of traveling in virtually unknown places were popularand were richly illustrated with his drawings. Wilderness, his firstbook, was an account of a year passed with his young son on an island inAlaska. Subsequently he sailed to Tierra del Fuego, and in 1929, was shipwreckedon the coast of Greenland. His introduction to that remote landscape andpopulation led him to return in 1931 - 1932 to live among the Eskimo. Fromthese encounters emerged books, drawings, paintings and watercolors. GreenlandMountains is one of these works recording the impact of that grand,cold and hostile land upon him.

What may well be the most attractive works in their collectionare the watercolors, in part because they employ color and thus have a resemblanceto paintings. In fact they take their place somewhere between drawing andpainting. Rockwell Kent's Greenland Mountains is quite clearly adrawing that has been colored. William Trost Richards' Truth to Naturecovers the underlying structure so much that it reads as a painting.

Water-based pigments have been in use since the MiddleAges, but it was in late eighteenth century England that watercolor paintingcame into its own, when, at the hands of Thomas Girtin, Richard Parkes Bonington,and above all J.M.W. Turner, it came to be used as a versatile instrumentof expression. Coincidentally it was in the same period that landscape painting,long considered a minor genre, came to the prominence it retained throughthe nineteenth century. The development of the use of watercolor moved handin hand with that of landscape.

It was J.M.W. Turner who did most to raise the reputationof watercolor. Hitherto treated as an inferior method of tinting drawings,Turner proved that watercolor could be used to achieve a grandeur equalto, but differing from, oils and that it was, above all, a medium perfectlyfitted to the recording of light and atmosphere in the landscape. The developmentof the medium by the painters of the last generation of the eighteenth centuryled to a burgeoning school of watercolor painting in England. So suddenwas the rise that by 1805 a Society of Painters in Water-colour was establishedin London, soon to be known as the "Old" Watercolour Society todistinguish from the "New" founded only two years later.

Americans were slower in taking up watercolor. It had,of course, been used earlier for botanical, ornithological, and topographicalrecording, but was seldom thought of as an art. In the middle of the nineteenthcentury, and inspired by the English, all this changed. Inspiration camein two forms: the first was the example of Turner with whose late styleAmericans like Thomas Moran became familiar when they visited England; thesecond impulse was that transmitted through the writings of John Ruskin,the most influential critic of the nineteenth century, and the example ofthe English Pre-Raphaelites.

Of the first tendency, that of emulating Turner, ThomasMoran (1837 - 1926) was probably the most important American example. Hedid not conceal his admiration of the English artist, whose work he hadseen in London while there in 1861 - 62. In oil paintings and in watercolorMoran sought to record the grandeur of the American landscape as Turnerhad done for the European. To find this sublime landscape, Moran turnedto the spectacular scenery of the American West, the last evidence of thatwilderness that had long been associated with the American continent. Hiswatercolors tend to form two groups. There are many, rather cursorily drawn,that are the result of working on-the-spot. Others, and they include HotSprings, Yellowstone, one of the first pictures to enter this collection,are done with careful delineation of the geological facts involved, andmight have been inspired by Ruskin.

Understandably the preoccupation with naturalistic detailrepresented by the New Path led to a concentration on small aspects of naturalphenomena and this collection includes numbers of small and highly realisticpaintings of plant life. There are George Henry Hall's sketch of Roses,Ellen Robbin's Wild Strawberry, Elizabeth Nourse's Peoniesand the Anemones of Henry Roderick Newman. Among the most interestingare the watercolors of Quince Blossoms and A Water Lily bythe nearly unknown Haddam, Connecticut artist, Oliver Phelps Smith (1867- 1953). They sound echoes of the work of a very well-known artist, JohnLaFarge, which may not be too surprising since Smith was a designer of stainedglass at a time when the stained glass of John LaFarge challenged the workof Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Of the American Pre-Raphaelites the best known is WilliamTrost Richards (1833 - 1905). Nowhere is the hallucinatory quality of NewPath painting seen better than in Richards' small watercolor Truth toNature. Here every leaf and blade of grass seems to be accounted forwithin the small scope of the painting, and the distant hills, so clearlyvisible, without intrusion of aerial perspective, gives the work, despiteits factual content, the effect of a vision. This concentrated intensitycould not last long and Richards' style gradually relaxed as he turned moreand more to coastal scenes, especially after he had established summer residencein Newport, Rhode Island and subsequently built a house on Conanicut Island(now Jamestown Island) near Newport. Landscapes like Long Pond, Footof Red Hill and Rocks, Waves, and Sky are more atmospheric andbroadly worked than the intense earlier work.

With the idea of making watercolor assume the substantialityof oil paint, the New Path painters and their followers often used gouache,an opaque watercolor. But the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism was fairly short-lived,and as more Americans used watercolor as a serious medium, it was its transparencythat came to be exploited. With this shift, watercolor became a major art.

As is well-known, the impact of two years spent in Tynemouthon the North Sea coast of England during the years 1881 - 1882 changed bothWinslow Homer's (1836 - 1910) manner of life and the character and qualityof his art. After his return to the United States, he retired to Prout'sNeck on the coast of Maine where henceforth he devoted himself almost entirelyto the coastal landscapes painted in both oil and watercolor. The tightdrawing of earlier work, such as that seen here in the two studies of ayoung girl's head, gave way to broad movements of the brush. In transparentwatercolors, he depicted the Maine coast, the Caribbean, and hunting andfishing excursions to the Adirondacks.

A generation younger than Homer and highly social as againstHomer's reclusiveness, John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925) was, at least technically,Homer's most serious rival as a watercolorist. His work is sometimes thoughtto be superficial, in part because of its dash and spirit, but more becauseof his association with society portraiture. His watercolors were the productof relaxation, done between sessions of portrait painting or as he travelled.Any subject at these times, if they supplied a challenge in the handlingof light and movement, would serve his purpose. Lady in a Bonnetis one of several watercolors capturing his companions in informal gesturesunder the brilliant summer's light.

The standards set by Homer and Sargent set a challengefor painters of the twentieth century. One of these, whose capacity forthe realist interpretation of landscape and who has yet escaped the fameof his contemporaries like Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, is Ogden MintonPleissner (1905 - 1983). In the 1920s, at the Art Students League, Pleissnerstudied painting with Frank Vincent DuMond. He claimed to be self-educatedin watercolor, adapting principles he had first applied to oils. He turnedto watercolor when, as a captain in the United States Air Force, he wasstationed in the Aleutians. In that erratic and moist climate he neededa medium that would be both quick-drying and easily transportable. Althoughhe continued to use oils, his watercolors became more numerous and moreadmired.


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