I cannot tell you the name of the artist who painted this masterpiece. I cannot tell you the name of this painting or any of the paintings I have posted here from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. My head was in the clouds. I was blind to everything but clouds. And I was pretty obnoxious about it.
As I toured room after room of masterpieces with my friend Amy last week, she would lead me to her favorite works in each room, tell me why she liked it, and I would say, "Nice clouds!" She would look up from where she was reading the placards of information placed beneath each frame and say, "Oh, I never noticed before." An hour later, she was saying "Stop it! You are ruining these paintings for me!"
|Too much foreground greenery.|
|Looks like a front moving in. He better hurry.|
|Look! The happy clouds--cumulus humilis! |
|An actual artist copying a dynamic skyscape (some would say seascape) where beatifully illuminated cumulus congestus loom threateningly over a wave-tossed sailboat. Though it seems the sailboat is the focus of this painting, it is actually the dark cloud rising above it. |
It's hard to imagine all of these paintings without clouds. A clear blue sky would take all the oomph out of them. Clouds set the mood, the season, the weather, and sometimes the location of the land- or sea-scape. Clouds bring a strong dynamic element to each painting. They mean something is happening in the painting--the clouds are rising, lowering, moving on unseen winds. In certain paintings, clouds compel the viewer to regard the subject of the painting--be it horses, riders, frolickers, sailors, meadows--as alive and interacting with or responding to the weather. The horses must be wet and the riders cold. The skin of the summer nudes must be sun-warmed; the luscious clouds are body-shaped. The crops and fields will soon get a drenching rain; everyone will relax. Villagers are enjoying lunch inside their cool stucco homes, seeking refuge from the baking sun on this nearly cloudless day. The rider on the long path needs to hurry. The bees pollinating the flowers in the field do not; they have all day to buzz in the hot sun.
Alas, I did not. I wanted to linger in the galleries, revisit all my favorite paintings to see what role clouds played in them. But I had a plane to catch the next morning back to Olympia. As much as I hate to leave, I enjoy my flights. I always chose a window seat. I spend most of the long flight with my nose pressed up against the window wondering what these clouds and their shadows mean to the people going about their lives below.