One way I've been finding new art has been looking at the National Gallery of Art's Collection Highlights page.
That led me to The Old Violin, a work by William Michael Harnett - an artist I'd never heard of before.
Thanks to the National Gallery's Open Access image policy, I was able to download a high-resolution version of the image so I could get a better look at it.
I was a little surprised to see so much more than I had in the thumbnail, to have such different reactions as I noticed each new thing:
- the aging brackets on the door, one missing a rivet, the other missing part of the metal
- the pockmarks on the wood
- the little clipping from a newspaper or book - I can't tell what it says, if anything. It looks like made-up text there aren't many words short enough to be "the" or similar structural words. If it's just made up, I wonder what Harnett was imagining as he was painting those careful tiny characters
- the carefully, beautifully rendered envelope
- the basic shapes themselves - the rectangle outlined by the brackets, the circle of the door pull, the large rivets; the oblique overlap of the envelope over the bracket end
And then getting to read the overview gave me more to look for and think about - and the link to the free PDF of American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I provided a wonderful trove of additional history and detail - including this description of the techniques involved in the cancelled stamp on the letter:
One of his most dumbfounding achievements, the canceled stamp, was actually a process of several steps. The artist began by building up a square of light-toned paint, each individual serrated tooth of its border receiving minuscule strokes of highlight and shadow. Next came a thin layer of brown into which a blunt stylus was scraped to shape the stamp's emblem of crossed flags. He then took up a finer, pointed instrument to execute the nearly microscopic engraving lines running throughout the image. Changing to a darker black paint, he added the cancellation mark, finally ending by smudging the entire configuration with his still-visible fingerprint.
Such concentrated labor seems to infuse The Old Violin with a store of potential energy.
I really enjoyed getting to become acquainted with this work, and with its creator.