Blog-o-Rama, Day 102: Three Painters

January 11th, 2011

After 101 days of words, let’s look at some pictures.

My brother Michael is a very successful painter.

He became a painter by working nights in restaurants for years so he could have the daylight hours to paint.  And then painting, and painting, and painting.  Remember the thousand-hours-for-mastery thing we talked about all those blogs ago?  He went well beyond those. And he has the success, the recognition, and the beautiful work to prove it.  (Above is Beach Mom.)

A while ago, I found myself thinking about a painter named John Sloan, known mainly for his paintings of New York in the 1920s and 30s.  Here’s Sloan’s Sixth Avenue Elevated at Third Street.

Sloane was clumped into the “Ashcan School” of painters although he (like Edward Hopper)  hated the term.  The Ashcan School were realist painters who focused on urban scenes and city light, partly in reaction to the daylight-flooded canvases of the Impressionists, who were the most popular painters of the time.

It says something about how rigid our standards of beauty can be that anyone could have applied the word “Ashcan” to Sloan’s ravishing canvases.  This is McSorley’s Bar, which is still doing business in midtown Manhattan, although  nowhere near as darkly romantic these days.

I asked Mike, as a painter, what he thought of Sloan, and whether he could suggest two other painters most people probably hadn’t seen and would enjoy discovering.

This is what he wrote about Sloan: “Sloan is great.  The Ashcan painters are the antithesis of Sorolla and Benson [the two painters Mike suggested to me, and whose work you’ll see below], devoid of romance and what might be called the poetry of painting.   The Ashcan painters dare you to find beauty in the everyday.  They mark the beginning of the American abstract movement, which will dominate gallery and museum shows for half a century. What I mean is that Sloan could paint a snow bank or a river with one or two bold strokes.  This later morphed into greater abstraction and color field paintings.”

The painters Mike referred to above are Impressionists.  He wrote:

“Any list of the best painters who aren’t household names should include Juaquin Sorolla and Frank Benson.  Sorolla was a Spanish painter who was active at the turn of the century (the 1900s).  Only the French could have trivialized him.  He understood light better than any of the French Impressionists and was arguably a much better painter.

“Most Impressionists painted either landscape or figure but not both.  Sorolla painted both but was better known for his figure work.  His Sewing the Sail brilliantly captures heatless winter sunshine — not an easy thing to do.”

“Benson, an American, was very well-known in his prime but somehow slipped off the radar.  Unlike other Americans who traveled to France to experience the Impressionist culture, Benson stayed home and painted New England and was a better painter for it.

“His water colors are reminiscent of Winslow Homer and may have been influenced by him — although it is just as likely in that pre-information world that Benson was unaware of Homer.  His paintings have a harmony and, I’ll dare say, beauty that escaped many of his Impressionist contemporaries.

“Benson was an excellent draftsman, as opposed to a competent sketcher.  His oils were almost all figurative; the difference between his figures and other artists’ of the day was that Benson’s paintings almost all took place outside.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the Benson paintings Mike recommended, except in tiny files that would have fallen apart at any decent size.  But here’s one I love, called Eleanor:

Mike finishes by saying, “What you have to remember about Benson and to some degree Sorolla is that the world was a wonderful place if you were rich.  Sloan sees another world — a grittier world.”

Thanks to Mike, and I hope you enjoy the pictures, all of which blow me away.  And here’s a link to Michael’s site, which I think you’ll enjoy.

11 Responses to “Blog-o-Rama, Day 102: Three Painters”

  1. EverettK Says:

    ALL of those paintings blow me away! VERY nice! (And remember, I have an ART degree, so I’m qualified to make judgements… 🙂 )

    I never cared for the abstractionists too terribly much. Just because the camera could capture scenes and figures far more accurately than any painter, that was no reason to totally “leave the scene.” As the above paintings show, there’s MUCH that a painter can still bring to the canvas that the camera can’t or doesn’t. But maybe that’s just me.

    Sewing The Sail is truly awesome. I liked all of them (including Michael’s!), but the Sorolla is MARVELOUS! And… I’d never heard of any of these painters before.

    Thanks, Tim!

  2. Mae Mougin Says:

    Brilliant Blog today Mr. Hallinan~ Thank you for posting the paintings of Sorolla and Sloan.
    We can go to museums and galleries to see them. A visit to Madrid to Sorolla’s house is a must on one’s bucket list.
    When will we see Michael’s work in New York?

  3. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Tim

    I can see Sorolla’s and Sloan’s beautiful work reflected in your brother’s paintings.

    Are they a couple of his heroes?

    Mike’s a terrific painter and I’m delighted that he shared his thoughts about the two schools of painting. Thanks, Mike!

    Maybe one day you can get him to talk more about his work? I’m always fascinated by artists and their creative process.

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Everett, aren’t they beautiful? I have a couple more that I couldn’t add because the post was getting too fat. But they’re beautiful and might get put up later in the week. Or something.

    Mae, thanks. How cool is it that I know someone who knows that Sorolla’s house can be visited? I’d go to Madrid just to visit it, although Madrid is actually one of the few places in Europe I really want to see anyway. You’d have to ask Mike about New York.

    Suzanna, I think Mike would admit to being influenced by Impressionists, yes. And I’d love him to come back and talk about his work, his process, and so forth. Maybe he’d answer questions if he doesn’t want to free-style.

    Check out his site. It’s a good intro, although there should be more paintings up.

  5. EverettK Says:

    Of Mike’s paintings on his website, my favorites are:

    Landscapes: Dana Point Boats, Hibiscus
    Family portraits: Beach Girl
    Kitchen art: Salsa

    For what it’s worth… 🙂

  6. Laren Bright Says:


  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    STEPHEN COHN tried to respond but was repelled by Captcha. Here’s what he wanted to say:

    Stunning Paintings – such incredible depth of nuance, bringing the magic out of the mundane. They draw me in – I can practically smell the air and hear the sounds. I was particularly overwhelmed with Sewing the Sail on first look because of the radiance of the scene but the darker ones also contain amazing energy. Fascinating blog, Tim – Thanks for opening some new windows.


  8. Robb Royer Says:

    The ultimate ignominious fate of all of us in the 21st century: Repelled by Captcha. HI Stephen! Thanks, Tim for showing us more Michael. I’ve never had a home in the last forty (or thereabouts) years without a prominently displayed M. Hallinan. He lives in a wonderful world.

  9. fairyhedgehog Says:

    The atmosphere in Sewing the Sail reminds me of some of the scenes in Much Ado About Nothing – the Branagh version. All that light and lightheartedness.

    Oh, and your brother is a very talented artist.

  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, FHH — I remember that movie and liked it quite a bit. Well, Spanish light and Italian light are pretty similar, I think. And the light of California isn’t all that dissimilar.

    Isn’t it interesting how many historians credit the light of Greece to the explosion of classic Greek thought and art? And Ingmar Bergman would certainly argue that Swedish light has had a formative influence on their culture and emotional makeup.

  11. Larissa Says:

    “Mcsorley’s” is one of my favorite paintings..ever…too bad their beer isn’t better (ahem.) thank you for reminding me how much I love to look at really good art. It’s hard to keep up or look back on some of these (and admittedly I hadn’t seen most of them) and I appreciate you bringing them out in the open.

    Sigh. Makes me realize that I should restart my 10,000 hour clock…hehe.

    Your brother is goooooood. And anytime you want to invite a real live painter who like, makes money and stuff, to come talk on this blog, I’ll be front and center in the audience. 😀

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