Monday, August 24, 2009

Arthur Hughes: A Human Good Artist

Of course everyone here knows I admire the work of Arthur Hughes. His near photographic realism in fabrics and plants is breathtaking, and he exhibits a fondness for my favorite color in his works. But I just finished looking through the only (that I know of) book devoted solely to his art, and I have to admit...the guy has flaws too. He's a genius, but looking through an entire catalog of his work makes one certain thing apparent: he and proportion were not always friends.

I've noticed it before when looking at his famous artwork April Love. For the longest time, I peered intently at reproductions of the work, trying to figure out what was going on behind the main figure. A man was back there, I had read in descriptions of the work, but I could hardly believe it...the rounded curve I saw behind her left arm was larger than her own head, and yet was meant to be drawn further behind her in perspective. That couldn't be a man's head, could it? It's huge!

Well, yes, it could. After looking at all of the paintings in the book, I started to notice strange features in certain paintings. Some were executed flawlessly, yes, but others had utterly perplexing areas of warped proportion. A child's head in the background swollen larger than the girl in the foreground.

(This to me is the worst culprit. What in the world did the boy on the right eat to have a head almost twice the size of the girl on the right??)

Two adults strolling arm in arm with hands the tiny size of children.

Hi there, teeny tiny hand!Look at the size of the middle girl's head compared to her arm and hand!

These areas of odd proportion would have been easy to glide over when viewed individually, but when I saw them all together in one bound set of papers, I was forced to admit that I was seeing an artist who was human...who was flawed...who was learning. And here I come to my point...which is that Arthur Hughes is still a genius artist. His work still transcends time (even if some of it, admittedly, was a bit saccharine even for its day). To view his mistakes is comforting, in some way, like seeing a page Keats might have written with words crossed out on it, crumpled from frustration. It is a timeless record of his humanity, a reminder to all of us who strive in any of the arts that there is always room for improvement. Even if we paint purple velvet like a pro.


ladyhawthorne said...

He's still one of my favorites , I just love his color play. I don't know if you cross stitch but I found this site that sells patterns of fine art including pre-raphaelite and they are incredibly detailed and gorgeous.

Hermes said...

Fascinating post. Makes you look again at his beautiful works.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Grace, you have such a flair for words. I remember seeing the "Lady with the Lilacs" this summer at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It was so beautiful, but I wasn't able to stand there too long to examine her hands!!! You are so right! I wonder what we could find if we had the time and in my case, the eyes, to find all the other flaws in other great artists! How true; it is comforting for us who dabble in the arts to know that the great ones must have cried, got frustrated, felt like giving up and such! Bravo! Anita

Grace said...


I almost didn't write this post because I didn't want it to seem like I was "picking on" Arthur Hughes. As I say, I still really love his work, and he's truly a talented artist. To me the perspective flaws in some of his works make him even more endearing!

Margaret said...

I just adore April Love. My mom had a postcard of the painting that she gave to me when I was about 12 or so, and it was the first piece of Pre-Raphaelite art that I ever hanged in my room! (it accompanied me to all of my college dorm rooms!). You're right about the perspective though--he tends to make some wildly inaccurate portrayals of gross anatomy, but so did many of the other Pre Raphaelite artists!


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Grace said...

Margaret, you're right...he's by no means the only Pre-Raphaelite who had a learning curve! :)

Genica, thank you so much! I hope you continue to enjoy it.

R. A. said...

That is a head?! Wow, this is news to me. I always thought it was a very large black cat. Great post!

Grace said...

It's pretty unrecognizeable isn't it?

R. A. said...

Definitely. I'm dying to see it in person now!