Saturday, April 30, 2011

At the Feet of Laughing Water

This post is slightly similar to the previous post, in that the artist, W.L. Dodge, seems to have painted two versions of the same painting—here illustrating a passage from Longfellow's Hiawatha. Only in this case, they are so similar, one can wonder if they are the same painting, but reworked. The differences are very subtle, but the difference that stands out the most is the quiver on Hiawatha's back.

This is getting confusing, trying to explain this, but the one on top is the later painting scanned from a very old book, barely past the time it was painted. The bottom painting, painted earlier, is scanned from a recent art book. So it's possible that reproduction methods could account for the difference, except that details like the quiver and slight other differences say otherwise.

Regardless, either painting — associated with the excerpt of poem by Longfellow — touches my heart. Only, well, 7 days is a long time under the circumstances.

William de Leftwich Dodge — The Death of Minnehaha — 1887

William de Leftwich Dodge — The Death of Minnehaha — 1885

And he rushed into the wigwam,
Saw the old Nokomis
slowly rocking to and fro moaning,
Saw his lovely Minnehaha
Lying dead and cold before him.

Then he sat down still and speechless,
On the bed of Minnehaha,

At the feet of Laughing Water,
At those willing feet, that never more
Would lightly run to meet him,
Never more would lightly follow.
With both hands his face he covered,
Seven long days and nights he sat there,
As if in a swoon he sat there,
Speechless, motionless, unconscious
Of the daylight or the darkness.

— HW Longfellow's 'Hiawatha'


Keith said...

Is it possible that this is the same painting that has been revised by the artist at a later date?. The photos could have been taken before and after the revisions.

Annie said...

It would be interesting to see the original paintings, or, to find out that the same painting was re-worked. However, it doesn't seem like they could be the same painting, because the quiver is in the 1885 one, but not in the 1887 one. Also, there seem to be color and level of detail differences that can't be accounted for by the different printings of the paintings in terms of brightness. I'm fascinated by the ghostly figures and the faces over the bed, in the top painting, especially.

borky said...

Thomas, before I looked at the dates, my initial impression was the lower painting was a much simpler affair, considerable parts of it rendered down to almost abstract blocks of colour, (Minne's hahas, for instance, are seemingly more simply rendered), leading me to suspect this was the roughed in version to show to the publishers to confirm it fulfilled their commission and then to the printing department for their technical input before finally finishing it off.

(Apparently this was more or less the approach for these things right up until the end of the 20th Century and, ultimately, the advent of the internet's influence).

Saying that, though, the lower 1885 image, while less detailed in many ways, looks more like a true oil painting, while the higher 1887 image, though filled with far more detail, is closer in execution to a water colour/ink type book illustration.

They're definitely very similar, but I personally reckon they're not the same painting - unless the lower '1885' painting actually came later and was painted over the more sketchy 'later' '1887' picture.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Borky, good thoughts on all that.

I'm taking a stab at guessing that the earlier one is an oil painting that was created for a salon exhibition of sorts. But when it seemed like a reproduction was in order, either for books or prints, it was necessary to recreate it using lithographic techniques so that plates could be made for presses. As we know, in those days printing was a high art, still depending on the engravers' and lithographers' skills, not yet able to use photographic methods for plates.

As you allude to, the later piece is crisper and more linear, such as printing at that time would require, and the book I scanned it from was from that era and the image was a tipped-in plate.