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Occasional Painting — An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

Tuesday, October 10, 2006
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air-pump.jpg

Following James 17930’s lead and his popular Occasional Poem series, I’d like to invite people to share paintings, or sculpture or any other kind of visual art, that they find interesting, or just plain old love. (oh, and just because you may not have seen the painting up close and personal-like, doesn’t mean you can’t write about it).

This inaugural image is Joseph Wright of Derby’s magnificent painting, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump. And by strange coincidence, I actually have seen it in person, at the National Gallery in London. Wright painted a lot of industrial scenes and portraits, in Derby, where he lived from 1734-1797. Wright was a well-respected master of artificial light. Several sources say he was influenced heavily by Caravaggio, and it’s not hard to see why. This painting especially feels very baroque – with harsh lighting and strong atmosphere. It’s too bad this image here doesn’t capture the light very well, but trust me, it’s like, way cool, man.

For me, while any work of art becomes more significant the more I know about the artist and the time period, the reason I like , or don’t like something, is very personal, and impossible to explain. Perhaps I like this painting because I saw it in the flesh – it’s a huge canvass, and very striking; all the different expressions, from the frightened kids, to the couple who seem only interested in each other, to the scientist/showman performing the ‘experiment’, are distinct and incredibly realized. It’s a tableau both exaggerated and realistic, and one can always find new things to look at. llewopemearg tniapcco

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, October 10, 2006 8:09 pm

    This painting immediately brings to mind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Exactly seven years ago I was reading the novel for the Science Fiction Culture course I took in my first year at York. This painting was used for the cover of the edition sold at the campus bookstore.

    The detail of Wright’s work is impressive, but I must admit I never tended to look past the poor bird before dismissing the entire work. I assumed the artist was glorifying the gruesome acts carried out during such experiments of the day. (They touched on the subject during a lecture.) I was too obtuse consider the significance in choosing this painting for the cover.

    Coincidentally, I recently began reading Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle series whose events occur during the late 17th century and early 18th centurty, a period over which the modern scientific approach of natural philosophy gradually became mainstream and alchemy lost favour. This painting is perhaps even more relevant to The Baroque Cycle than Frankenstein as a number of unfortunate wayward animals are made subjects of experiments by the insatiably curious scientists during the course of the story. Thankfully, these are mostly only mentioned in passing. And while I still find the thought of it unsettling, reading Stephenson’s novels has given me a more open outlook on the subject, putting the reader in the perspective of a scientist of a time when very little of anything had been studied formally and in-depth. Likewise, I’m now also looking at this painting from a different light (so to speak).

    Excellent timing, Graeme.

  2. Wednesday, October 11, 2006 8:21 am

    One tries.

  3. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, October 11, 2006 2:33 pm

    I want to read the Baroque cycle — I saw it at the store one day and it looks cool.

    Also, I guess I should throw and Occasional Poem up soon, as it’s been a while.

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