The impact of seeing art and architecture ‘in situ’ cannot be undervalued.
This Latin phrase which literally means ‘in position’ or ‘on site’ is commonly used to emphasize the powerful experience of viewing a work of art or architecture in the original position/location for which is was made. I first learned of this term in my undergraduate Art History courses. Thirty students and one professor sat in a dark classroom at 10am every Tuesday and Thursday, pouring over slides and images of beautiful works that were hundreds and thousands of miles away. We learned about the ‘Grand Tour’ and drew parallels between what privileged European artists were able to witness in situ on their voyages, and how it influenced their work and ignited the Neoclassical movement. I was captivated by these images. I used my secondhand copy of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages proudly as a coffee table book and would eagerly share my favorite images with anyone who would listen. However, this fascination became much more real as I was able to see more and more of these works in person.
With an appreciation for the classical and love for all things associated with the Italian Renaissance, I traveled to Italy in 2011 to study art and architecture. Suddenly, absolutely everything was older, had much more history, and was infinitely more beautiful than small-town Pennsylvania. I wasn’t sitting in a dark room staring at an image of the Laocoön , I was standing in front of the herculean sculpture myself at Musei Vaticani. While classical antiquities and architecture continue to captivate me, I’ve also been finding a growing appreciation for landscape paintings and the green spaces that inspire them. Just as I viewed those glowing slides as a portal to a time and place that was infinitely more interesting, I have found a similar interest in more deeply connecting with the nature that inspired artists like Cezanne and Constable to take up the brush. .
My continued studies in the U.K. have afforded me the time and ability to travel and immerse myself more deeply in captivating pastoral dreamlands all over Europe. However, April in the South of France really stole my heart. Of course summer with its sunshine and bounty is lovely, but there is a special charm in the Spring when the earth is beginning to wake up from a sleepy winter with crisp air and piercing blue skies. My week in the magical village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence nestled at the base of the French Alps was both restful and inspirational. As I sped through the countryside by bicycle I was taken by the dramatic landscape contrasted with the sleepy nature of the valley itself. There was a certain tension between the peaked mountain, rugged trees and then delicate and precise vineyard below. Burning off the baguette calories and pedalling along on my bicycle, I came to more fully appreciate the mystery that Cezanne was trying to unravel with his obsession with Mont Sainte-Victoire and the surrounding Aix-en-Provence landscape. All of the paintings that I encountered time and time again while working at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia took up residence in the forefront of my mind and I adopted a new appreciation for how different each work was. .
This connection between nature and art is sacred. For years landscapes have provided inspiration for artists, God’s daily inspiration complete with contrasting colours and changing seasons. Knowing the ever-evolving beauty that I saw in Provence and how it deepened my appreciation for one of my favourite artists has provided further inspiration to pursue that connection between the earth and the brush. The experience of admiring from the comfortable confines of a museum or gallery, can undoubtedly be enhanced by taking that interest one step further and witnesses the artists’ inspiration first-hand. However, one does not have to travel to the South of France to immerse themselves in inspirational and painting-worthy landscapes. A walk through Hampstead Heath in North London can bring to life stunning John Constable landscapes hanging with the Royal Academy. A stroll along the Thames can produce Impressionist views of Claude Monet’s The Thames below Westminster and other works hanging in the National Gallery. Both nature and art are beautiful all on their own, but there is something ethereal that occurs when both finished work and inspiration are considered in tandem.