News Column

The New Review: Agenda: THE LIST: The 10 best: Holiday paintings

July 13, 2014

Laura Cumming



1 Breakfast in the Open

Carl Larsson (1910)

The table is still outside from the night before. The bread and jam are emerging from baskets, the tea urn awaits as the morning light filters through the silver birches. Carl Larsson's outdoor breakfast is one of many summer meals in his art, often featuring members of his large family (he and his wife Karin, also an artist, had eight children) talking, playing, performing music or just relishing the balmy air. This intensely popular illustrator, watercolour painter and author of A Home (1899) remains a profound influence on Swedish design, but with their complex compositions - look at the hide-and-seek of this one - his paintings are subtly advanced.

2 Le dejeuner sur l'herbe

Edouard Manet (1862-63)

A warm day, a secluded spot, cool water, fresh food and good conversation: what more could anyone ask for? Manet's Dejeuner is the most famous picnic in painting. But it's also a great riddle, with its inexplicable, studio-lit nude turning amiably towards us from among the trees while her oblivious companions just keep on talking. She is in a different reality, and so is the classical bather at the back and the fantastic vignette of bread and fruit on the left - a still life of a picnic in a mysterious modernist scene.

3 The Long Leg

Edward Hopper (1935)

Messing about on boats all summer is a holiday lived in the present; that's the sense of this picture. The boat remains still; it is the wind and water that move it along. Hopper's coolly beautiful painting of a sailboat off the New England shore perfectly expresses this curious fact about sailing. And in conditions like these - a hot blue day, the sun beating down on the blanched sand - the boat is lying almost motionless to one side, solitary as the characteristic Hopper lighthouse in the background. Like the water itself, the painting is almost entirely composed in shades of blue.

4 Eiffel Tower

Georges Seurat (1889)

Art can take you anywhere, any time, any place. This painting shows the ultimate European tourist attraction at its most ethereal and unreal, and indeed it depicts the Eiffel Tower as we can no longer see it today. For Seurat's tiny painting, not much bigger than the palm of your hand, was made before the tower was finished for the World's Fair in 1889. It materialises in the artist's little dots like a ghostly letter "A" rising upwards into the clouds. A masterpiece of pointillism, the size of a souvenir postcard.

5 Three Flavours

Wayne Thiebaud (1995)

You are going nowhere, but the long hot summer stretches before you with all its pleasures, its emblem the universal ice cream. Thiebaud (b 1920) has painted ice creams over and again. This variation - three cones, three scoops and three flavours - shows these confections like figures at the seaside, sitting on a bench, looking out into the great blue yonder. Ice creams, pies and cakes have made this contemporary American master famous but his cones are the best, the paint mimicking the swirled and dolloped sweet stuff. Summer's celestial ice cream.

6 The Watering Hole

Thomas Eakins (1885)

Does anyone do this any more, in the age of chlorine and surfing? The freedom of just stripping and dipping into a stretch of sunlit brown river is at the heart of Thomas Eakins's 19th-century realist masterpiece. It's an American dream: the great outdoors complete with great athletes who have, of course, been posed and painted in the studio. The figure swimming into the picture, in signature spot, as it were, is Eakins himself, who was never so free. He lost his teaching job for allowing mixed classes of students to paint male nudes.

7 A Tent in the Rockies

John Singer Sargent (1916)

Many artists have slept under canvas but few have painted the tent itself, and none so brilliantly as the American John Singer Sargent. Clambering way up high in the Canadian Rockies, he has pitched his tent in the woods using the surrounding trees as poles. The sunlit fabric is the colour of unprimed canvas. Sargent gets the luminosity inside a tent to perfection using white and cream watercolour, patches of bare paper and surrounding darkness. He was 60 when he took this camping holiday, and had given up society portraits for ever.

8 Interior at Nice (Room at the

Hotel Mediterranee)

Henri Matisse (c 1920 )

A change is as good as a rest, and sometimes the hotel itself is the holiday. From 1917 onwards, Henri Matisse spent several sojourns in the Hotel Mediterranee with its rococo facade and balconied rooms. The pink-tiled floors and arabesque-patterned wallpaper figure in many pictures painted in the very rooms they depict. The atmosphere of light and heat, of inner shade and outer brilliance are fused in this scene, opening out on to a characteristic Matisse landscape: sand, sea and palm; a room, and a painting, with a holiday view.

9 The Travelling Companions

Augustus Egg (1862)

Two beautiful girls in matching dresses and hats are taking a railway journey to the south of France. Neither is looking at the passing landscape framed in the windows like a sunlit triptych. One sleeps with abandon, unafraid of missing her stop, fruit ripening in the basket beside her; the other reads, upright and vigilant with her prim bouquet. It's a picture with a classical Victorian moral message - they may look like twins, but they're very different girls - but it sings the praises of travel too, a painting from the great age of steam trains, and railway art.

10 Boys Bathing at Skagen,

Summer Evening

Peder Severin Kroyer (1899)

Late-night bathing in the land of the midnight sun when the sea is still just warm enough for one last swim, and one last laugh - this is a picture of exhilarating happiness. These children have surely been there all day. Kroyer is the leader of the much-loved but still underrated Skagen community of painters, in 19th-century Denmark, and he had a special gift for these evening seas. Figures strolling along the radiant beach as the light fades to gold and the water turns opalescent: who wouldn't want to be there at this moment?

Captions:

1. KVARNEN GALLERY, SUNDBORN; 2. MUSEE D'ORSAY, PARIS; 3. HUNTINGTON ART COLLECTIONS, CA; 4. FINE ARTS MUSEUM OF SAN FRANCISCO; 5. THE MATT BULT FAMILY, CA; 6. AMON CARTER MUSEUM , FORT WORTH, TEXAS; 7. BRIDGEMAN; 8. SUCCESSION H MATISSE/DACS 2014; 9. BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY; 10. STATENS MUSEUM/COPENHAGEN


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Source: Observer (UK)


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