Weather, You Like it or Not: Skylines in Sporting Art

“The sky is the daily bread of the eyes” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Art is often best viewed with one’s head in the clouds. Temperature, season, and weather are all defined in the skyline of landscape and sporting scenes. Artists may use dramatic cumulonimbus clouds to mirror the excitement of a race, or low-hanging swathes of mist to promise a dewy morning, giving way to the afternoon sun. In NSLM’s collections, a wide range of cloud types can be seen that meld scientific study with artistic appreciation.

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 Booth Malone (American, b. 1950), Burrland Road, Orange County Hounds, oil on linen, 35½ x 29½ inches. Gift of Viviane M. Warren, 2018
Stratus clouds

In Malone’s Burrland Road, Orange County Hounds, we see an excellent example of stratus clouds, presumably at sunrise. They hang at middle height in the sky, usually measuring between 6,000 and 18,000 feet. While stratus clouds can bring a little fog or drizzle, for the most part they signify clear, dry weather. Here, the purple and blue clouds are set in contrast to the yellow, ochre, and red tones of the field, including hounds and rider. The color contrast and deep shadows of the figures suggest a cool, crisp morning. The viewer senses not only a low temperature, but also a breeze lifting the horse’s tail and hounds’ ears as they run forward. The direction of the breeze is perhaps echoed in the strokes of the stratus cloud, which in turn follows the direction of the field, urging the viewer’s gaze from left to right.

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 John Frederick Herring, Sr. (English, 1795-1865), The Start of the Derby, 1845, oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches. Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017
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Cumulonimbus cloud

Here we see an example of tense energy, both in the skyline and in the foreground. As jockeys and their mounts line up before a flat race in The Start of the Derby, 1845, the sky is dominated by a billowing column of cumulonimbus cloud. These large, often dark, clouds can soar over 20,000 feet in height and signify incoming rain or storms. In this case it looks as though the front is headed right towards the race meet! The horses kick and stamp in excitement, just as plumes of cloud reach into the sky. It is clear that, both above and below, drama is in store.

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Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (American, 1819 – 1905), Jealousy, oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 30 inches. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2012
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Cumulus clouds

When children learn to draw clouds, most often they start with perky, white, cumulus clouds. Cumulus clouds hang relatively low in the sky, often only 3,000-5,000 feet above the ground. While cumulus clouds can bring showers or develop into ominous cumulonimbus clouds, they are usually associated with calm and sunny days. In Tait’s Jealousy, a small herd of cows is seen relaxing in a sunny field edged by fences and wildflowers. Beyond that, a distant tree line softly blends the sky and earth together. Closer to the viewer, the rounded shapes of reclining cows are similar to the shapes of the clouds, evoking a peaceful and pastoral sense throughout the piece.

In art, as in life, the comings and goings of the clouds are worth note. Artists use skylines to tell the viewer about the meteorological conditions of their chosen setting, but they also use the science of clouds to emphasize the mood in every piece. Scientific principles can be found throughout NSLM’s collections. Learn more about them in NSLMology: Science in Sporting Art opening in Middleburg this April.

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1 Comment

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  1. Really interesting article. I never really thought about what the clouds lent too a paintings atmosphere. This was an eye opening and great read.

    Like

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