Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gabriël Metsu Letter Painting


Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Another oil painting that I admired in the currently running exhibit “Vermeer: il secolo d’oro dell’arte olandese” ("Vermeer: the Golden Age of Dutch Art") in Roma is “Man Writing a Letter (1662-1665)” by Gabriël Metsu.

This painting has so many beautiful things going on, mostly the light and the warm colours. The shapes are subtle, with enough diagonals to keep things from becoming stale. The subject matter is intriguing in that the viewer must wonder who the man is writing to and what he is writing about. The various textures are rich, from the luxurious tablecloth (which looks more like a rug to me) to the man’s clothes to the elaborate frame, the floor, and the globe. I like it, too, that while most of the image is quite tight in its rendering, the painting on the wall actually looks painterly. This better creates the illusion for the viewer that he is looking into a real space that contains a work of art.

There are a few details that bother me in an otherwise gorgeous painting.

  • I do not believe the hat is actually hanging on the chair. Nor do I believe that it is about to fall off. I do not get a sense of movement that would help me feel that.
  • I do not like the exaggerated curve on the right side in the “trim” between the red and black sections of the triangle of fabric that hangs off of the table corner. I am referring to the parallel lines in the fabric that point to the man’s right knee. The curves imply that the fabric is wavy, but the way the lighting was painted suggests one large rounded form.
  • I love the squared-off front of the man’s shoe for the foot on top. However, the way the lighting hits this shoe seems to make the foot look too twisted and I find this confusion distracts me.

Back to the good stuff. I find the mathematics in this painting to be intriguing. The canvas has been divided into four even quarters. The shadow behind the window does this. And thus, I find it interesting how each quarter has a set of shapes within that differs from the other quarters. I am not sure if that makes sense. What I refer to is how the top right quarter is basically a block within a block. The top left is similar, but the globe and man’s head are round shapes that break into the block forms.

The lower left quarter has predominant reds, a basic block shape (the table) contrasted with the large cone shape off to the right half. And finally the lower right quarter of the painting has predominantly black shapes, with receding diamonds in the floor pattern and one large dark, interesting shape pointing across the canvas to the top left where the other black shapes are.

Like the painting I wrote about in my last post, the painting by Gabriël Metsu is a well-balanced composition of symmetry and asymmetry.

I also include here the painting that was hung to the left of “Man Writing a Letter” and this one was created in similar dates and titled, “Lady Reading a Letter.” I was not as drawn to this painting as I was her companion piece. Perhaps it is the higher key (overall lighter tones) or the softer colors. Or maybe the letter reading is not as prominent an action in this painting, which lures me to view the woman looking behind a curtain, not through a window but to a concealed painting! Or the dog takes my attention. Also, mathematically speaking, the shapes are not related in as interesting a way (for me) as the first painting. But, to each their own and they both are beautifully executed.

Happy Birthday, Mamma Mia! The letter to you is on its way across the Pond.

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