During the visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, Geo and I were surprised to see an important piece of work by a painter we love: Henry Ward Ranger’s “Brooklyn Bridge”.
It was more surprising that the painting was hung in the 20th century American Decorative Art gallery, a long narrow corridor on the second floor that overlooks the courtyard. Usually only visitors to 19th or 20th century American Art may come across it accidentally.
Brooklyn Bridge was painted in 1899 when the fame of Henry Ward Ranger was at its peak. Just one year after, at the Universal Exposition in Paris, the painting was in the company of others by Sargent, Whistler, Homer and Inness to represent the American school, or more precisely the forte fanfare of the 19th Century American art.
Brooklyn Bridge is the manifestation of the versatility and virtuosos of the landscape artist, who was at ease as for bustling urban scenes as for Connecticut woodland. The colors, brushwork and most importantly the use of resins, are fundamentally Ranger in that the picture radiates a harmonious warmth. Yet it is far from the 20th century modern. Ranger, unlike the Eight a few years later, chose a near panoramic view that absorbs the urban grittiness into the interplay of warmth light and shadow, all of which becomes subordinate under the shimmering sky and the fully lit bridge that emanates “the emotional power of humanized nature”.
“Why it is here?” Geo asked. We were glad that we didn’t miss the opportunity to see the work in person, but we both felt unfair for such a big canvas tucked in the corner as the decorative canvas for the decorative art object.
Brooklyn Bridge is as much traditional as modern. It is so monumental that hardly any other architecture in New York City can claim such grandeur; yet it is also airy, curvy and sleek that foreshadowed the 20th century modern design.
But would Ranger be happy if he knew his painting were surrounded by the 20th century modern furniture? In 1905, Ranger moved to Noank, CT and moved to a craftsman style bungalow. Although his home furnishing preference is unknown, his art criticism articles reflected a conservative point of view. The rounded non-symmetric tables around the painting in the gallery, would perhaps recieve his vehement attack from this opinionated artist, who once lived in the boarding house of Florence Griswold, a classical mansion furnished with the old-fashion charm.
“Perhaps,” I quibbled, “the curator thought it was too nice to be in the storage.” As another bridge, painted by Ranger, was stacked in the Luce Center of the Met.