A work of world-historical mediocrity

The painting pictured above has been hanging in our apartment for around five years. It is a nostalgic piece for My Esteemed Partner, who saw it hanging in her grandmother’s house whenever she visited. When she saw it in her parents’ garage many years after he grandmother’s death, she immediately asked if she could bring it home with her. Her parents, somewhat puzzled, agreed. From one perspective, I can understand their surprise — it’s not a particularly good painting. But I have enjoyed having a real oil painting in my home. Since I have been writing so much about the world-historical works of art I saw on my trip to Spain, I thought I might write a little bit about a piece I am more familiar with.

This painting by an unknown artist — My Esteemed Partner suggests it may have been purchased from a street vendor — depicts an idyllic countryside scene, punctuated by a church on the top half and a bridge on the bottom half. The subdued palette predominately features green and brown tones, with roughly balanced regions of blue on the upper left and lower right corners. It is richly textured, with visible brush strokes throughout, in some cases apparently attempting to mimic the foliage or stonework depicted. Overall, I would say it is competently executed. My only real complaint is the area under the bridge, which I have never been able to fully make sense of — a strangely distracting moment that draws disproportionate attention in a way that does not seem to be intentional. The aerial perspective on the mountain has also always struck me as a little “off,” though that does not seem to be as clear of a mistake.

Our apartment has windows along the entire length of the north and west walls. The painting hangs on the north wall, meaning that we get to see it in under a variety of lighting. That in itself has been revealing — it looks very different over the course of the day. Indeed, in a salutary reminder for someone who frequently shows scanned artworks in class, it also looked very different when I took a picture of it on my phone as compared to looking at it directly. When there is more moderate light, the intention behind the color palette seems clear: the human-made structures and natural features are supposed to blend together. In the mornings especially, I often lose track of the buildings along with road leading to the church. Even after so many years, individual buildings still take me by surprise when I notice them.

Under the more intense light of the late afternoon, the painting begins to look strange and abstract as the textured areas stand out disproportionately. The reason is the single greatest source of joy in having this painting around — oil paint shines. It is therefore a very different experience of color than the various prints or original artworks in acryllic that hang elsewhere in the apartment. The texture also provides a tactile element that, since we are not dealing with a priceless masterpiece, I occasionally dare to engage with directly, providing me with a point of reference for imagining how the surface of other oil paintings the museum docents will not allow me to touch might feel.

In a way, its unremarkable nature may have actually increased its educational quality for me — undistracted by the representational content, I can ponder it as an oil painting as such.

2 thoughts on “A work of world-historical mediocrity

  1. This painting is cursed. Cursed! Like the painting The Witches trapped that little girl Erica in.

    The overly steep incline of the hill or mountain behind the church and hamlet, is threateningly inauspicious. We’re one landslip away from devastation. The bridge arch, sinister in being neither too pointed or too curved enough, is meant to mimic or foreshadow one of the Church rooves.

    What it actually brings to mind is the bridge the troll lives under in Billy Goats Gruff.

    All in all a Bavarian nightmare.

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