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On Modern Impatience

kritische berichte - Zeitschrift für Kunst- und Kulturwissenschaften
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James Elkins On Modern Impatience Modern works are not done with the patience typical of the Renaissance. Initially this means simply that Renaissance artists spent a disproportionate number of hours per work, and in that form the claim is easily substantiated.1 Comparisons can be made virtually at random, provided we are careful to compare equivalent media and to exclude cases where technology has sped things up (Leonardo could never have hoped to do as many monumental bronzes as Henry Moore has achieved). We could contrast the number of hours that went into Titan's Bacchanal with the hours in Ma­ tisse's early major work, the Dance of Life; or the hours in Hugo Van der Goes's Por- tinari Altarpiece ­ a triptych ­ with the hours in Max Beckmann's Jason triptych; or nudes by Titian or Giorgione with those by Modigliani or Wesselman. Exceptions are hard to come by. Perhaps (but only perhaps) Picasso's Portrait of Kahnweiler took longer than a typical portrait by Bronzino, but Picasso's cubist portraits were his most complex works of that period, and Bronzino's portraits were his simplest aside from drawings and cartoons. The small predella panels of typical fifteenth century al­ tarpieces were done with something like the same amount of labor that Sutherland, Bacon, or Hockney put into average­sized paintings. The rare and famous cases of long working hours (for example Picasso's Portrait of Gertrude Stein, his Woman with a Mandolin, or Matisse's Serf) are amply balanced by the years that were spent on typical large Renaissance commissions. Elaborate modern works are not com­ mon: one thinks principally of works influenced by photography such as Seurat's Grande Jatte, Balthus' three street scenes (each of which took around two years to complete), Boccioni's Form of Motion in Space, Wyeth's Christina's World (and any number of other late romantic landscapes), and photorealist paintings based on snapshots, from Chuck Close to Richard Estes. Other examples are peripheral or

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