Monday 4 May 2009

Clouds and trees

I had planned to write something on altars, antependiae etcetera this evening but fell asleep in front of the television. I surfaced more than once to see a programme about clouds. There were some very good explanatory bits and some tantalising references to Constable's cloud studies in the Tate. Interesting as much of it was the programme was over long with the result that it lapsed into geekishness. I found myself recalling a BBC 2 series from a few years ago "Meetings with remarkable trees". The title alone sufficed to raise a smile with its faint suggestion of trees having personalities. Nevertheless, as with Oscar Wilde's selfish giant, it has to be said that their conversation is limited. I did learn something from the cloud programme, however, and that is the word "crepuscular" relating to light radiating from between clouds.

Being something of a know-all on the subject, the presenter, not satisfied with praising Constable's cloud studies, had to rubbish the work of other artists. That is an easy trap to fall into. Years ago I had a low opinion of the treatment of trees in earlier paintings. I dismissed what looked like overgrown clumps of broccoli in early Italian paintings only to laugh at the recognition of their accuracy when I visited Italy and looked out from the train at the hillsides between Bologna and Florence.

That Constable was good at clouds and trees is admirable. That someone should speak on such subjects at length risks being boring but they are wonderfully harmless subjects.

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