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by Deb Shaw

Forest of Fontainebleau, Cluster of Tall Trees Overlooking the Plain of Clair-Bois at the Edge of Bas-Bréau; Théodore Rousseau (French, 1812 - 1867); France; about 1849 - 1852; Oil on canvas; 90.8 × 116.8 cm (35 3/4 × 46 in.); 2007.13

Forest of Fontainebleau, Cluster of Tall Trees Overlooking the Plain of Clair-Bois at the Edge of Bas-Bréau; Théodore Rousseau (French, 1812 – 1867); France; about 1849 – 1852; Oil on canvas; 90.8 × 116.8 cm (35 3/4 × 46 in.); 2007.13

In addition to all the other exciting exhibitions to see in Southern California this summer, The Getty Center currently has a wonderful exhibition titled Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau. On display until September 11, 2016, the exhibition brings together seventy paintings and drawings loaned from museums and private collections from all over the world. It is the first comprehensive exhibition about Rousseau in North America, and the largest Rousseau exhibition since 1967 in Paris.

Personally, it is my favorite type of exhibition, containing working sketches, master works and problematic works spanning Rousseau’s entire career as an artist. Regardless of how you feel about Rousseau’s work, this is one of those spectacularly curated exhibitions that allow us to see into the artist’s techniques, working styles, and artistic demons.

Although severely under-appreciated by the art establishment of his time, Théodore Rousseau was a pivotal figure in the history of art. A leader and founder of the Barbizon School of Painters (named for the village of Barbizon, France, near the Forest of Fontainebleau where he spent much of his career), Rousseau pushed the Romantic art movement towards Realism, and laid the groundwork for the Impressionists who followed.

Rousseau found refuge from external and internal turmoil in nature, in the forests, trees and landscapes around him. The 1800s were a time of rapid change, and a source of anxiety and disappointment for everyone: wars raged across Europe and abroad; the industrial revolution became entrenched in daily life; and Rousseau suffered so many rejections from The Paris Salon, he was given the nickname “le grand refusé” (“the great refused”).

Closer to home, his wife suffered from debilitating bouts of mental illness—called “insanity” at the time. As his wife’s mental health grew more precarious, he took her for treatment. While absent, a young man who was a friend of the family and staying in his Barbizon home committed suicide there. Rousseau’s father (who outlived him), became financially dependent on him and Rousseau’s own health deteriorated. After his death, his lifelong friend and fellow artist, Jean-François Millet, assumed responsibility for Rousseau’s wife.

Rousseau was somewhat of a mystic, and said the trees spoke to him. He took his sketchpads into the forest and drew directly from nature. Unlike other artists of the time, he treated his sketches with the same reverence as he treated his art—as artistic works in their own right. In an effort to capture light and dark, mood and texture, Rousseau used mixed media on a variety of surfaces, allowing his gestures and painterly marks to add to the energy of his art.

Forest in Boisrémond (recto); Cottage in a Forest (verso); Théodore Rousseau (French, 1812 - 1867); 1842; Black chalk on laid paper (recto); graphite (verso); 28.1 × 45 cm (11 1/16 × 17 11/16 in.); 2002.3

Forest in Boisrémond (recto); Cottage in a Forest (verso); Théodore Rousseau (French, 1812 – 1867); 1842; Black chalk on laid paper (recto); graphite (verso); 28.1 × 45 cm (11 1/16 × 17 11/16 in.); 2002.3

Rousseau’s sketches in the exhibition are immediate and visceral. It is wonderful to see how he blocked in the perspective and ignored overlapping lines (which, of course, no one would notice unless you were looking carefully).

One of my favorites in the exhibition is a pairing of a sketch next to the finished oil painting on one wall of the gallery. The detailed sketch, [Under the Birches, Evening, 1842, Black chalk on brown wove paper, Toledo, Museum of Art, Frederick B.and Kate L. Shoemaker Fund, 1976.8, Catalogue number 20] is lively, serene and pleasant. At first glance, the finished oil painting, [Evening (The Parish Priest), 1842–43, Oil on panel, Toledo Museum of Art, gift of Arthur J.Secor, 1933.37, Catalogue number 21] looks to be a faithful studio rendering of the sketch, except that the mood of the painting is substantially different. It’s not simply the addition of color that creates the quiet melancholy. Closer examination between the two reveals where Rousseau changed the mode by subtly changing the details. He removed some leaves from this branch, reduced the size and altered the round shape of one of the trees, slightly reduced the width of the trunks, emphasized the crooks and turns of the trunks, and more, to achieve the effect he wanted, without changing the habit or growth patterns of the trees themselves.

Rousseau was able to complete sketches and drawings outdoors with no problem, but agonized over whether or not a canvas in the studio was finished. A fellow artist and neighbor in Barbizon, Jules Dupré, would sometimes sneak into the studio and take a painting away to prevent Rousseau from overworking it. Many of his canvases have areas that are executed in great detail, while other areas are barely developed.

In the exhibition it is readily apparent (and delightful) to see Rousseau’s finished paintings that are clearly overworked, against those which are not. His overworked paintings are beautifully executed, but clearly have all the life sucked out of them. A brilliant visual lesson for all artists who labor over the “is it done?” question!

Rousseau loved music, especially Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann. Like Beethoven, Rousseau’s inspiration came from long walks in the woods. The Getty has free headphone and players available for use while viewing the exhibition that plays music by composers who inspired Rousseau. Los Angeles Philharmonic guest conductor Nicholas McGegan curated the playlist of works by Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and others.

In my opinion, Rousseau’s trees are portrayed with weathered wisdom and a great melancholy sadness. They are trees that speak eloquently to our time as well as his.

“I listen to the voices of the trees… I discover their passions.
The artist’s soul must become filled with the infinity of nature.”
­­­—Théodore Rousseau


Unfortunately, the Studio workshop and my Tree Drawing workshop at The Getty in conjunction with the Rousseau exhibition are past. The Getty still has, however, upcoming events related to the exhibition, including:

Mozart, Weber and Schumann
Conductor Nicholas McGegan leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of music inspired by the personal taste of Théodore Rousseau, a true “mélomane,” or music lover. Videos made in collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum will provide insight into the artist’s relationship with the music that fired the passions of his Romantic generation.
Thursday, August 18, 8:00 p.m.
Hollywood Bowl

“The Great Landscape Painter of our Time”: Théodore Rousseau and the Imaging of 19th-Century France
Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art at the St. Louis Art Museum, explores Rousseau’s central position in 19th-century French landscape painting. Kelly questions the dominant narrative of plein-air naturalism surrounding his work, instead arguing for a more complex view of an artist producing deeply meditated imagery, drawing on a broad range of interests that includes literature, music, and philosophy. Kelly also places Rousseau’s output within the context of the Barbizon artistic colony which included his close friend, Jean-François Millet.
Sunday, August 21, 2:00 p.m.
Getty Center: Museum Lecture Hall


The exhibition, Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau, has been co-organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

The J. Paul Getty Museum is located at: North Sepulveda Blvd and Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049. Hours and fees can be found here.

by Deb Shaw

One of 512 Unique Blueprints created by the artist and team to distribute at the Field Office.

One of 512 Unique Blueprints created by the artist and team to distribute at the Field Office.

Artist Mel Chin has a new Land Art project in Los Angeles, entitled The Tie that Binds. Created for Los Angeles’ CURRENT:LA Water Public Art Biennial, the project invites visitors to connect to the site of the Bowtie Project, to understand water conservation in Southern California and to join hundreds of other LA residents in owning a work of Land Art we can grow in our own yards.

The Bowtie Project envisions a transformation of a stretch of the LA River. Once a railroad yard, this rare, 18-acre part of the River was left completely in its natural state, never transformed by engineers or concrete. Currently overgrown with invasive species, the site is still home to some native plant species, fish and birds.

TTB plot 111-CF, Bowtie demonstration garden and South LA mirror installation.

TTB plot 111-CF, Bowtie demonstration garden and South LA mirror installation.

The Bowtie Project is part of a plan to restore this area of the LA River as an natural, urban state park. The Tie that Binds imagines the future Bowtie Project and the entire city sustained with water-saving, California-native landscapes. Compelled by the beauty of the site and belief that this is a place that should be owned by everyone, The Tie that Binds invites the public to “mirror” this future landscape in hundreds of individual lawns throughout Southern California.

To introduce the project, eight, small Land Art gardens are planted at the Bowtie site to serve as “models”. A field office on site is staffed by “MirrorMakers/Espejeros” and is open Thursday–Sunday evenings through August 14. Private and public locations in diverse neighborhoods of Southern California have already planted exact replicas or “mirrors” of one of the Bowtie Project garden demonstrations.

demonstration garden and Brentwood mirror installation.

TTB plot 184-DJ, Bowtie demonstration garden and Brentwood mirror installation.

Mel Chin invites Southern California to help realize this Land Art work. Those who commit to growing a The Tie that Binds mirror garden receive a free, unique, artist-designed blueprint, a list of native plant species, and instructions on how to grow a garden that requires little or no watering. These gardens will fulfill the potential of a living sculpture that is collectively owned by the public.

Carolina Miranda wrote a wonderful article for the LA Times about the site, titled “Why Mel Chin is giving away the land art design of his subversively charming CURRENT:LA native garden.” You can see additional photos of the installation, as well as photos of the installation with Miranda’s trusty research assistant, Bonnie, the American Staffordshire Terrier.

MirrorMakers Yrneh and Margo with Roger, a new Tie that Binds blueprint holder (Photo credit: Amanda Wiles, © 2016).

MirrorMakers Yrneh and Margo with Roger, a new Tie that Binds blueprint holder (Photo credit: Amanda Wiles, © 2016).

Visiting The Tie that Binds
The Bowtie Project is an 18-acre post-industrial site owned by California State Parks and is located at 2780 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA, 90039. Please enter through the yellow gate and follow directions for parking. The nearly 3/4 mile site is accessed by walking; accommodations will be made for any who need assistance.

The Tie that Binds field office at the Bowtie Project is open 5:30 pm until sunset, Thursday – Sunday through August 14, 2016. Mirror Makers/Espejeros are onsite to talk with visitors about the project.

About the Artist
Mel Chin is from Houston, Texas and is known for the broad range of approaches in his art, including works that require multi-disciplinary, collaborative teamwork and works that conjoin cross-cultural aesthetics with complex ideas. He developed Revival Field (1989-ongoing), a project that pioneered the field of “green remediation,” the use of plants to remove toxic, heavy metals from the soil. A current project, Fundred Dollar Bill/Operation Paydirt, focuses on national awareness and prevention of childhood lead-poisoning through art-making. Mel is also well known for his iconic sculptures and installations, works that often address the importance of memory and collective identity, and for inserting art into unlikely places, including destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and even popular television, investigating how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility.

Mirror Garden Host Blueprint Holders from Long Beach (photo Amanda Wiles)

Mirror Garden Host Blueprint Holders from Long Beach (Photo credit: Amanda Wiles, © 2016.)

The Tie that Binds: The Mirror of the Future is produced by Mel Chin in partnership with California State Parks, The Bowtie Project, and Clockshop. It is is commissioned by Department of Cultural Affairs for Current: LA Water Public Art Biennial 2016, and is made possible by the support of the Department of Cultural Affairs, The City of Los Angeles, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation.


by Patricia Mark, posted by Deb Shaw

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens LogoThe Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens (RSABG) is opening an exhibition entitled On Location: California Native Plants in the Movies. The opening reception will be held on Friday August 19 from 5 pm to 7 pm, at Johnson’s Oval at RSABG. Remarks will be made at 5:30 pm and light refreshments will be served.

On Location: California Native Plants in the MoviesLearn how native plants have shaped movie culture—from Vertigo to Star Wars—in this fun exhibition where botany meets the box office. Discover film stills, posters and other memorabilia from movie culture that spotlight a cast of native floral characters.

RSVP requested by Wednesday, August 17 to

RSABG members are free
Guests of RSABG members: $20 per person
Please contact the Development Office to pay for your guests, via email, or by calling (909) 625-8767, ext. 258.

The Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens are located at: 1500 N. College Ave, Claremont, CA 91711.

Note: if you are interested in sponsoring this exhibition, sponsorships are still available. Contact RSABG via email for more information.

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