Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Van Gogh to Kandinsky:Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

***Update 19/9/2012

During my stay in Edinburgh I checked out many muffins in order to arrange them in a way that would match Monet's Haystacks in the Symbolist Landscapes exhibition.  Using a print of the Haystacks as a backdrop, a plate of two muffins was arranged in front and photographed.  This was sent to the National Galleries of Scotland who tweeted it out as below.
Thanks @ProfWhitestick for his Monet's Muffins #SymbolistLandscape photo! Not to mention best Haystack Muffin research!

***end of update

30th July, 2012

This is a wonderful exhibition of Symbolist Landscapes which was the fashion after the Impressionism phase at the turn of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. (  
Many classical themes are interwoven into landscapes and while not as clear as Claude they are more accessible in the main from some of the Turner blurs which I can no longer enjoy (

Symbolist Landscape exhibition
National Gallery of Scotland

This exhibition is housed in the roomy galleries of the National Galleries of Scotland in the Mound Complex (Royal Scottish Academy Building adjacent to the Tramlines. For access I climbed the steps and was greeted by a friendly guard who suggested leaving a backpack (full of books from the new Portrait Gallery in Queen St ) in lockers.  The exhibition staff were very helpful and when asked about facilities for visually impaired visitors said there was no audio headset facility at all though there were Tablet driven headsets posts in the rooms with audio input.  (I know one friend who would dread taking his sighted relatives/friends to this one), there had been an event early in the exhibition for visually impaired and if I intended to go to more exhibitions I could get a culture vulture package for 4 ticketed exhibitions.  I signed up and will be going to the other three which are:

Expanding Horizons: Giovanni Battista Lusieri and the Panoramic Landscape
Scottish National Gallery

Picasso and Modern British Art
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One)

Edvard Munch: Graphic Works from the Gundersen Collection
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two)

The pictures are varied in size and the artists include many better known for their other works.  This includes Monet, Van Gogh, Munch, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Whistler, Gaugin, Hammershoi and Strindberg.

We wandered around the exhibition and there was much to enjoy.  My companion, who enjoys Impressionism and Post Impressionism, was more animated and rather than pointing out the symbols from the picture labels asked me what I could see.  Monets Muffins may be a highlight of the trip. In this way I was asked what was up, down, left and right and I also found that using anti glare sunglasses helped me in picking up perspective lines in landscapes and town scenes, especially in Copenhagen (Hammershoi) and in Bruges. 

I did not have a pigment analyst to hand but the white pigments are really bright.  Lead White gives a buttery white but this was more of a titanium dioxide white.  In fact the helpful assistant in the shop asked me about the brightness of the exhibition as a whole. 

My sunglasses were on and off.  With the sunglasses I could make out the geometry and the removal allowed me to detect some of the colours.  This technique worked particularly well with Kandinsky’s Church in Murnau and a couple of Van Goghs (The Sower,  and Wheatfield with Reapers)

The Scandinavian input was varied with some Finnish artists working in their myths into landscapes of forests and lakes.  The Hammershoi landscape in Zeeland was familiar as I had driven my father round Zeeland, Funen, Langeland and other islands using ferries and the new bridge connecting Odense with Copenhagen via the Great Belt.  At the National Gallery in London we covered one of Hammershoi’s Interior pictures. 

The notes below were made from the picture labels which were written down by my companion with some remarks which I have been retained.  Monet’s hay stacks look like muffins which I enjoy with a coffee.  My companion mentioned that large print lists were in each room on the benches with the catalogues.  We did not try the audio system and not being able to resist touching a touchscreen discovered that the exchange of letters could be heard between Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo.

Prof Whitestick between Van Gogh and Kandinsky

Clytie c1892
Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-96)
Leighton House, London
Quite bright, telegraph pole in bottom right hand corner
Reminds me of The Cherry Orchard

Tomyris and Cyrus c 1885
Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)

Terror Antiquus 1908
Leon Bakst
State Russian Museum, St Petersburg
Huge painting, figure of woman in bottom centre, bolt of lightning

Woman and a White Horse 1903
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Trees, three figures, one a woman on a horse

Nocturne with Cypresses 1896
Henri-Edmond Cross
Association des Amis du Petit Palais, Geneva
Diagnol lines (sails), cypress trees

The Lake, Evening c1910
Lucien Levy-Dhurmer (1865-1953)
Lucile Audouy and Galerie Elistir Paris
Horizontal lines half way, very vivid reflection of moonlight

Winter Night, c1900
Edvard Munch
Kunsthaus, Zurich

Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau - Rising above a sea of mist, 1908
Ferdinand Hodler
Musee Jenisch, Vevey
Snow-capped mountains, very very bright. I wondered if this had been painted from Murren in the Interlaken area and it had been based across the valley in Wengen/Grindelwald.  I skied this area mid 1970s.

Grain stacks/Hay stacks, Snow Effect 1891
Claude Monet
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Pair of Large (name of coffee chain) muffins

Tuesday’s Wood 1893
Vilhelm Hammershoi
Ordupgaard, Copenhagen
Flat, big Scandinavian sky

The Lac d’Amour, Bruges, 1904
Fernand Khnopff

The Quay, View of the Quai Long in Bruges, 1898
Henri Le Sidaner
Flemish houses with steep triangular gables, chimneys, canal/water

Amalienborg Square 1896
Vilhelm Hammershoi
Large painting
Can make out quite a lot: plinth, man on horse, railing round plinth, house, windows, roof etc

Royal Galleries, Ostend 1908
Leon Spilliaert

A Beauvais Square by Moonlight c1900
Henri Le Sidaner

The Horses of Neptune 1892
Walter Crane
Couldn’t make this one out at all, though there was plenty of swirls indicating waves and eventually I was persuaded that some parts of the painting were in fact legs of horses.

Man and Woman on the Beach 1907
Edvard Munch
Munch Museum Oslo
Merges faces, beach is at Asgardstrand

The Sower 1888
Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Vision of the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the angel) 1888
Paul Gauguin

Women on the Cliffs, St Briac 1888
Emile Bernard

Wheatfield with Reapers 1889
Vincent van Gogh
See more with spectacles, very bright

Alpine Landscape 1894
August Strindberg
Painting of Dornach in Lower Austria

Melting Snow, Elgersburg 1906
Edvard Munch
Vonder Heydt Museum, Wuppertal

Woods near Oele 1908
Piet Mondrian
Gemeentemuseum, The Hague
Hockney moment, vertical and horizontal lines

Setting Sun, Sardine fishing, Opus 221 (Adagio) from the series The Sea: The Boats, Concarneau, 1891
Paul Signac

Murnau with Church II 1910
Wassily Kandinsky
Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
Bavarian church with onion top
Very distorted landscape, bright red top right

Cossacks, 1910-11
Wassilky Kandinsky
Rainbow said to be inspired by Wagner’s Rheingold

Lake Thun and the Stockhorn Mountains 1910
Ferdinand Hodler

Mill near Domburg 1908
Piet Mondrian
Windmill, cut of triangle like lighthouse

Sea After Sunset 1909
Piet Mondrian

Beach at Heist 1891
Georges Lemmen

There is a gift and book shop at the end of the exhibition.  A very helpful assistant asked me how I found the exhibition.  I had found a postcard of the Kandinsky Cossacks but wanted the Murnau church.  We found the picture in a hardback Taschen book of Kandinsky, on sale. We discussed Kandinsky and Bauhaus and I mentioned my visit to the Bauhaus exhibition.   In the main bookshop  in The Mound, a book on Gauguin's Vision of the Sermon is available.  The book is called Vision of the Sermon - The Story Behind the Painting and is by Belinda Thomson. 

Postcards which I bought:

Lake Thun and the Stockhorn Mountains (1910) by Ferdinand Hodler
Oil on canvas, 83 x105.4 cm

Haystacks: Snow Effect by Claude Monet
Oil on canvas, 65 x 92 cm

Cossacks (1910-1911) by Wassily Kandinsky
94.5 x 130 cm

Winter Night (c1900) by Edvard Munch
81 x 121 cm

The Sower (1888) by Vincent Van Gogh
73.5 x 93 cm

Book: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) : A Revolution in Painting by Hajo Duchting

Other Prof Whitestick posts that might be of interest include:


AA Gill reviewed A History of Art in Three Colours in the Culture magazine of this week’s Sunday Times (5-8-12).  Gill did not enthuse about the programme on the colour blue.  Gill mentions the absence of any discussion concerning the Blaue Reiter group which had been led by Kandinsky (and Franz Marc).  I am grateful to a friend who read out this review for me. 

Gill takes the presenter James Fox to task over his choice of colours – gold, blue and white – given that this exhibition in Edinburgh has some very vivid gold colouring in the Van Gogh sun and very brilliant white, I think the technical term of pigment as applied to paint may be more appropriate. 

In heraldry, pedants will refer to gold and silver as metals ‘Or’ and ‘Argent’ respectively.  Non metals are referred to as tinctures.  This is another case for a lead white - titanium white discussion.

Murnau Church - after Kandinsky
coloured magnetic wooden blocks on mild steel whiteboard
8 August 2012
(Prof Whitestick 'Grand Crew' collection)