Sunday, December 19, 2010


The National Gallery of Art reports that "For several months in the winter of 1816-1817, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld vied with his friends, brothers Ferdinand and Friedrich Olivier, in making precise drawings of dried leaves."

Julius created this tiny pen and ink drawing as part of their competition:

What a blissful way to remain warm: rubbing your impressions of nature up against each other.

There were plenty of dried leaves in 1816, which was known as "the year without a summer." Julius and his friends, isolated from the world and immersed in their game, had no way of knowing that on the other side of the planet, the most deadly explosion in recorded history had taken place: the volcanic eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia. This "super-colossal explosion" was heard over 2,000 kilometers away. It belched massive quantities of volcanic ash into the sky, blocking the sun and creating volcanic winter as far away as Europe where Julius sat peacefully drawing. Leaves died and crops failed, causing the worst famine of the 19th century.

Meanwhile, different types of explosions were taking place in the political realm. The great Napoleon Bonaparte who had shaken governments to their knees and cast Europe into turmoil had recently met his downfall in the Battle of Waterloo. In 1816, Napoleon's entire family was banished from France forever.

The epic events taking place outside while Julius and his friends focused on dry leaves were so huge and momentous, they make us stop to ponder the grand sweep of things.

Yet, if you are seeking a finite expression of the infinite you are more likely to find it in this gentle little drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.


MORAN said...

That's what you did before you had TV, competed with friends to see who could draw the best leaf.

Not bad.

Alex said...

These are lovely drawings indeed, but IMO much of the surface treatment makes them look smooth (particularly 3,4 and 5), not brittle and dry.

Anonymous said...

That's why it's better to be an artist than Napoleon Bonaparte.


Eric Noble said...

Beautiful artwork! What I get from this is that even in times of death and decay, beauty can still be found. Magnificent.

David Apatoff said...

MORAN: Yes, we have gained a lot today but we have lost a lot as well. Can you imagine living in a slow moving era where you wait out the winter drawing pictures of leaves?

Alex: I see your point; I suspect that at some point this drawing became more about the botanical loops and curls than about accurately recording the dry texture.

Anonymous: That's right. The drawing is only around 8 inches wide-- not as big as an army or as loud as a volcano, but the artist was definitely channeling something a lot larger.

Eric: thanks!

Anonymous said...

If you're an artist who uses drawing as a bedrock of skill/observation development , there is no excuse for not finding subject matter . One's own hand , a crumpled piece of paper lit from a light source or a single leaf can be a worthy subject .

Andrew Wyeth did a phenomenal painting of leaves frozen in a stream.

Al McLuckie

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie: I can't disagree with you there. When it came to finding the worlds within worlds, Wyeth had the patience and persistence to go deep.

By the way, if you'd like to see another drawing from the leaf-drawing competition, check out the web site of the National Gallery of Art.

Joss said...

the surface contour lines give the leaves a sense of having a wood grain. Enchanting

Metal Wall Art said...

Though this definition is used in relationship with the arts in the regular world, in regards to teaching, fine arts is defined as a subject beneficial, not essential, to the learning process and is often phased out because of lack of time, little learning potential, and no money.

Deviant Art said...

These leaves are better art than every submission to this brutally bad Frazetta wannabe contest: Judging that contest would have been Frazetta's worst nightmare.

David Apatoff said...

Joss-- agreed. Thanks for writing.

Deviant Art-- an interesting contrast. They are certainly apples and oranges.

emikk said...

Are fractals involved with this?

StimmeDesHerzens said...

Du bist zeitlos? Was heisst das? Das heisst, du willst mir nicht antworten. Ach, mann! Aber deine Worte "Something began me and it had no beginning. Something will end me and it has no end." bringt viel mehr Fragen als Antworten! Nun erzähl mir mal, bitte... In “the grand sweep of things”, wieso nicht?
holiday greetings!

PS a connection between Napoleon and illustrations of whispy dried leaves? hmmmmm

David Apatoff said...

StimmeDesHerzens-- Bitte entschuldigen Sie meine schlechte Sprachkenntnisse. Mein Punkt war, dass ich immer das Gefühl, von der ewigen gelockt (auch im Flying Nun). Ich bin emotional engagiert zu halten meine Meinung in diesem Blog so rein wie möglich, ohne das mit einer bestimmten Epoche oder Kindheitserlebnis. Allerdings sind in meinem Alter und andere Statistiken leicht zugänglich für jeden der Suche nach einem Anwalt.

kev ferrara said...

Diese verdrehte Blätter sind knusprig gezogen. Ob sie absichtlich Metaphern, bezweifle ich.

(Google übersetzen)

David Apatoff said...

emikk-- If they are, I'm sure it wasn't conscious.

StimmeDesHerzens and Kev Ferrara-- please, I struggle with basic English and I am more fluent in pig latin than I am in German, but despite my limitations, I want to communicate how much I have appreciated your thoughtful comments in 2010.