Many years ago there was a little gallery in Orlando that I loved to visit. It was not in the middle of the bustling city, where you might put a succesful gallery, it was nestled in between some vintage chotchki stores and a cigar bar, across the street was a lake and a highway. I would go there often to find what new dead artist the owner had dug up. That was his specialty, finding really great paintings by deceased artists. One time I went in and there on the wall was a painting of palms and scrub that pulled me in from across the room. It was somehow filled with air… not so much a painting about light as it was one of atmosphere. The price tag was $40,000 and I figured that if I scraped every dime together I had and sold the house, I could have afforded it but then I wouldn’t have any walls to hang it on. It would have been a good investment because Hermann Herzog is a well-known commodity in the realism art market, a similar piece sold in 2009 for $80K.
I bring up Mr. Herzog because our local museum has 3 of his works and they are all superior. It’s worth a trip to the Orlando Museum of Art and the 8 bucks to get in just to see them. Two are magnificent Florida paintings and I know how hard it is to paint Florida to make it feel as majestic as the grand Tetons. Our state, as lovely as it is, doesn’t really offer the same grandeur as Hawaii or Utah or Colorado, it’s parking lot flat and covered with a lot of green, gray and brown and bankrupt luxury condos. We have great skies, for sure, because there is nothing that stands in their way. We have little distance because everything stands in its way.
But the big thing is the time period in which these were painted, 1880-1910. I can’t tell you a whole lot about Herzog, his work has luminist qualities but he’s not associated with that movement (an extension of the Hudson River painters) he trained in Germany under artists I don’t know. But I can tell you that anyone who painted outdoors in Florida at the turn of the last century had balls of steel. The mosquitos alone had to be unrelenting, hotter than hell, no bottled water, no sunscreen, no power bars to get you through the day and probably not a whole lot of roads to get you where you wanted to go. Painting then was a real commitment.
This second painting is big, 6 by 8 feet or so and it’s a beaut. It just feels right. It has a lot of detail but not too much, the sky is the hero of this story, thickly painted but has perfect luminous gradation from sunset to twilight. Still all I can think about with this piece is how many mosquitoes and noseeums he had to swat away to get it done, especially at that time of day. It’s brutal. I get welts just looking at this painting. He probably did this from a series of studies finished it in the studio in Philly but still, you gotta want it to get through that kind of torture. You might as well do color studies while being water boarded. If you are ever in the area come see these paintings, especially if you are a fan of the Florida landscape. It’s worth the trip. And bring your bug spray.