Despite my condition, I'm going to go ahead and make another iconage post.
Parc Monceau was a favorite of the Impressionists, but the Hungarian painter Mihaly Munkacsy (1844-1900) was not an Impressionist, and under his brush the landscape which other painters rendered as a bucolic, sunlit enclave amid the dense streets of Paris took on a very different, much darker character. Munkacsy had been an academic realist for most of his career, painting portraits of the well-to-do, usually in interior settings, and adding some variety to his oeuvre with a few still lifes. His few landscapes, though, always had an untamed quality. Windblown trees, dust storms, lonely roads passing through unkempt fields and woods, all appeared as though wildness were reclaiming the land despite human efforts to tame it. The Impressionists celebrated nature while yet displaying a certain sense of human superiority. It was as though they saw nature as an extension of man, rather than the reverse. Munkacsy, though, has a deeper respect for the real power of the natural world.
In his painting of Parc Monceau, nature is not tamed. Even this small fragment of it overpowers the human works contained in the park. In the cloudy dusk, the massive trees loom over the paths, the lamp posts, the oversized statue, and the single living figure, someone seen from behind, sitting on a bench illuminated by a small pool of light spilling from one of the lamps. A small fragment of the city is seen at the left, substantial buildings almost hidden by the trees and dimmed by the evening light which lingers in the turbulent sky above them. This is no domesticated fragment of nature, but a reminder of an enduring power which could easily take back what man has claimed from it, roots cracking the pavements, rains dissolving the bricks, vines colonizing the mortar and prying the stones one from another until all the city has been reduced to mossy rubble scattered among woods. It is a splendid vision, and terrifying.
Perhaps it was the artist's familiarity with the rougher landscapes of central Europe and its harsher climate which allowed him to see nature as darker than did the Impressionists, conditioned as they were by the gentle French countryside with its landscapes of vineyards and orchards tacked down, as it were, by the numerous villages and spired cathedral towns. Whatever the cause, Munkacsy managed to imbue his landscape paintings, even this one of an urban park, with a sense of what the Victorians called the sublime, and even a touch of religious awe. Indeed, in his last years, he turned to painting religious subjects, with considerable success.
The icon I use is cropped from a small section of the painting -- that part in the lower right which contains the person sitting on the bench. I chose that section for its ambiguity. Is the figure, alone in the midst of the city, someone contemplating nature, or escaping something, or waiting for someone? Or is he contemplating suicide, or planning a murder, or the overthrow of the government? It might be almost anything. Maybe it's just a homeless guy, soon to be driven back to the streets by the police. The variety of possibility pleases me.
Mihaly Munkacsy, Parc Monceau, 1895
Additional works by Munkacsy can be seen online at this web site dedicated to Hungarian Art.
All this night, clouds have partly obscured the stars, and a damp scent has hung in the chilly air. Now, early light reveals thin fog and an overcast sky. I hope it hangs around long enough for me to enjoy it when I wake this afternoon. I'm in the mood for a moody day.