Vedder's "Memory" -- Remembering the last gasps of surrealistic romanticism in painting, before Hogue and Steichen's intrusions of surrealist realism
The painting entitled "Memory" by the American artist Elihu Vedder exhibits a dreamlike horizon and vista of an unidentifiable, yet distinctly foreign land in sunbathed romantic colors. Over Vedder's illustrated ocean the viewer can see face hanging, as if the individual's image were suspended in the overhanging clouds. It is a Romantic vision of the presence of the individual in nature. The memory of the artist or the gazer is present eternally in the natural world, so long as the artist is in the act of remembering an individual. In contrast, Alexander Hogue's "Erosions No. 2: Mother Earth Laid Bare" (1938) is also another medium-sized oil on canvas (40 x 56) but reflects the Great Depression when this work was created, long after the Romantic surrealism of "Memory." "Erosions No. 2: Mother Earth Laid Bare" shows the pillow-like fields of a farm that look like the nude flesh of a female. Hogue's painting is also surrealist, and suggests the presence of the human form in nature, a presence that is intensified by the sharp, phallic cutting scythe lying beside the female figure. But the surrealism present in the Hogue strives to create a social message of humanity's rapacious attitude towards agriculture, rather than a personal response to nature.
Thus although Hogue's work, and "Rodin with his Sculptures 'Victor Hugo' and 'The Thinker'" by the photographer Edward Steichen (1902) both act as reflections upon the human relationship with nature and the natural human body, they lack the pure Romanticism of Vedder's dreamlike work in their blending of surrealism with realistic social commentary upon nature and their ambiguous reflections upon humanity's relationship to art. The later works suggest a darker and more socially astute commentary on the often-fraught relationship between nature, art, and humanity -- and the human face and form in particular.
The qualities of "Memory" by Elihu Vedder (a 16"X23" print on canvas) instead harkens back to an earlier era of decadent and symbolist illusions, and show a more a playful spirit of humanity's relationship to art, rather than the greater seriousness of intent in Hogue and Steichen. Vedder's work was first executed in 1860 when the Italian artist, Nino Costa introduced Vedder to the seascape of the Tyrrenian coast. These studies would eventually culminate in the work known as "Memory." "Memory" was formerly completed in 1870, although the artist also foreshadowed it in a number of earlier studies. "Memory" strikes the viewer of today as a kind of artist's Romantic fantasy of Italy's coastline, rather than a realistic reproduction of either a face or a place. ("Elihu Vedder," The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2005)
Vedder today is best known for his fantastical illustrations of the "Rubiayat" of Omar Khan, translated by Edward Fitzgerald, and other exotic renditions of the fantastic, Romantic far off places with no real existence. He was obsessed the suggestion of the persistence of personal memory, in this case of a person from the past in nature, and of nature's ability to suggest something to humanity. Rather than 'real' nature, however, the human imagination was of primary interest to Vedder as an artist -- nature was interesting because it 'spoke' to humanity; nature was not interesting in and of itself. ("Elihu Vedder," The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2005)
In contrast, Hogue's "Erosions No. 2: Mother Earth Laid Bare" comes from the hand of a Western, American artist who was quite familiar with his world from a realistic as well as a tourist's perspective. Vedder died in Italy, but the Italian landscape he brought to life, and created via his artistic fantasy world seems more of an outsider's than an insider's eye, unlike Hogue, who was attempting to express something about the way the lands were being treated by the people around him through his use of surrealism. One can see a woman in the Hogue work, but it is a woman prostate and unkindly treated by the farmers upon the land. The woman's body is soft and comforting in its hills and valleys that look like mounds of bread. 'She' looks soft as flour. This makes the scythe beside her seem even crueler.