The Cornfield

The Cornfield by Alfred Sisley, 1873

The cold weather has forced me indoors for so long that I am nostalgic for green growth, sunny warmth, spring breezes playing with my hair. There comes a point every winter when I wonder whether summer could even be true. Do we really step outside barefoot without putting on coats? Can it be possible that we took advantage of days that looked like this painting? I can almost hear the insects buzzing and see the zipping electric blue of a dragonfly.

I know the same disbelief of entire winter weeks that do not get above 10 degrees Fahrenheit occurs in the hot, steamy months of summer. And then I think longingly of the intricate bare branches of winter, the red cardinals who so wonderfully do not live above my windows, and the way a cup of hot tea feels appropriate.

It’s good to have something to look forward to, I guess, but I wish I was better at living in the moment.


The Charter Oak

The Charter Oak by Frederic Edwin Church, 1847

My search for peaceful landscapes led me to Church’s art, and in particular, this painting of a tree. I wish I could find this sort of bigness and clarity in my home and hang onto it, breathe it in, pour it into my heart.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, from the American Side by Frederic Edwin Church, 1867

The Niagara Falls come up in our conversations sometimes. They usually take on a mythical flavor because the kids haven’t been there (or to any big waterfalls). We have read books about daredevils going down the falls in barrels. Even Paddle-to-the-Sea goes down the Niagara Falls. Mirette and Bellini walk across the Niagara Falls on a high wire. The falls show up in poems about America. They are often photographed and painted. But for us, all those things are quiet. I would like to go there someday and feel the spray and hear the roar. I’d like to get dizzy from staring at them so long.

Usually, I’m okay being limited to places I can drive to within an hour or so. I’m okay not going overseas to get immersed in other cultures. I’m fine with Wisconsin. But there really is something about Niagara Falls that makes me want to see it. From a safe distance, of course.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882
John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882

Strange and lovely. Look at the size of those vases. Now try to decide where your eyes go first. Mine go to the girl on the left. Yes, my eyes keep traveling the circuit of daughters, but the circuit occupies such an odd amount of the canvas. The giant rust-orange paper airplane on the right (I suppose it’s a screen) does its job of balancing out the colors and also the color temperature, but isn’t it strange that the warmest thing in the painting is a weird abstract shape? The girls are cool as ice. Even the little baby on the floor, sweet as she might be with her baby doll and toes turned in, doesn’t look very huggable. I’d like to keep all these girls at their distance. They are beautiful but also detached. What’s going on behind those pale faces? We don’t know. As a matter of fact, the one I find most approachable is the one not facing us. She looks shy. I might like to meet her.

I want to wonder what these girls thought when they saw their portrait. But then again, if I know the nature of their minds, the portrait itself might be ruined. Some people are meant only to be looked at, not known by the casual acquaintance.

Effects of Snow

Camille Pissarro, Road from Versailles to Saint-Germain, Louveciennes, and effects of snow, 1872
Camille Pissarro, Road from Versailles to Saint-Germain, Louveciennes, and effects of snow, 1872

Winter has set in full and white. The ground has been covered in snow long enough to be used to it. I no longer try to get around outside without boots. I wear at least two long-sleeve shirts every day. My husband has gotten into the habit of wearing his thick winter socks. I finally read a book I’ve been meaning to read for the last couple of years, entitled The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It takes place in Alaska where winter takes hold even longer than here in Wisconsin. Great book based on a Russian fairy tale! The kids and I bring warm water out to the cats since the puddles are always frozen.

What are other effects of the snow? Winter paintings like this one seem normal. In July, I’d probably look at this Pissarro painting and think it was ugly, or unfortunately gray, or bleak. But today, while I overhear a very wintry forecast on the news, I think this is an accurate painting, quite right, quite appropriate. I wouldn’t mind having this hanging on my wall. It would complement the view from my windows.


Breakfast II/Morning Mood, Gustav Wentzel Frokost, 1885
Breakfast II/Morning Mood, Gustav Wentzel Frokost, 1885

I searched for some Norwegian art, thinking I’d come up with a breathtaking view of a snowy fjord. Although I did see some spectacular Norwegian landscapes, I’m saving them for another time. “Breakfast” is too much like something I’d want to paint. I love how no one is talking to one another. All those family members crammed around a small table, and everyone is minding their own business. I quite agree that most conversations ought to begin after breakfast.


Self-Portrait, Sitting Next to an Easel, Camille Corot, 1825
Self-Portrait, Sitting Next to an Easel, Camille Corot, 1825

Corot is our artist of the term. I do like his work, but I’m not excited by it. I will say the pictures we chose to look at each week worked well for the little Picture Study game the kids and I play. We study the picture for a minute or so, and then I make it go away (I do this on the computer, not printed out). The kids take turns telling me what they saw in the picture. It’s interesting when they disagree, and I have to put up the picture again so they can see who is right. So anyway, I was going through our pictures we studied and decided his self-portrait was my favorite. He looks like his landscapes: complete, and a bit grave. My kids had fun with his entire name: Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot. They recite the whole thing, and then say, “I’ll call him Jean.”