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Jeffrey Smart in a Modern Day Renassance

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Submitted By stephjones1
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Analyse how a chosen artist provides evidence to a modern day Renaissance.


The Renaissance art movement has greatly impacted the modern world, with concepts and techniques from the time period still appearing in artworks today. Jeffrey Smart shows a rebirth of ideas, methods and themes that have previously been seen in other art movements, such as the Renaissance, Realism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. He was an artist heavily inspired by the Renaissance period, and this shows particularly through his works: "The Traveller", "Labyrinth", "Portrait of Bruce Beresford", and "Turn-off To Dandenong". Smart shows a connection between the modern era and the Renaissance through the similarities of his work and the works of artists from that time period, such as Piero della Francesca, Filippo Brunelleschi, Leonardo Da Vinci and Johannes Vermeer. However, Smart’s works also show similarities to paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, alongside those by Peter Paul Ruben and Jean Francois-Millet. These works provide evidence to a use of techniques and materials such as foreshortening, one point-perspective and oil painting - all exceedingly similar to those of the Renaissance art movement. Smart, by sampling these procedures and concepts from previous art movements and bringing them back to life, creates a new, modern day renaissance.

Smart was heavily inspired by artists of the Renaissance period, particularly Piero della Francesca (Rompaey, 2013). Smart utilises perspective to add depth to his artworks, particularly in the work "The Traveller", which uses a one-point perspective from between two buses. The work contains one vanishing point on the horizon; much the same as Francesca’s work "La Cité idéale". The Renaissance artist used one point perspective to enhance his painting (Kharlamov, 2015), and to show his vision in a way that was mathematically correct and realistic (Zappella, 2015). The same way, Smart uses this technique to make his work precise and more realistic, with a depth that mirrors the way the audience would see it in real life. This, in turn, is further attributed to Renaissance artist Filippo Brunelleschi, who originally “suggested a system that explained how objects shrink in size, according to their position and distance from the eye,” (Renaissance Connection, n. d., Discovering Linear Perspective. p.2). In this painting, Smart employs techniques founded and used frequently in the Renaissance art-movement, essentially reviving the concepts of the time period to place them in a modern day society and creating a modern day Renaissance.

The Renaissance itself was a revival of older ideas, particularly those from the Greek and Roman eras (National Gallery of Australia, 2015a). Jeffrey Smart applies many previously discovered techniques in his artwork "The Traveller", from various time periods and art movements. Specifically, his work contains chiaroscuro, utilising the contrast between light and dark to draw the responder’s eyes to a particular area. This technique is similarly used in artworks from the Baroque period (Britannica, 2015a), especially in the work by Peter Paul Rubens, "The Fall of Phaeton". This work creates a salient image through the use of light and dark, exceedingly similar to the way Smart emphasised his own salient image. Through employing this technique, the artist revived a method from a past era, creating an artwork that contained a rebirth of previous art movements. In this way, Smart has created a modern renaissance, as he brought old techniques back to life, much the way artists in the Renaissance art movement did.

In another of Jeffrey Smart’s artworks, "Portrait of Bruce Beresford", he again applies shadows into his work to create a more realistic scene. The shadows provide the image with depth and perspective, similar to the way Renaissance painter Johannes Vermeer did in his artwork, "Woman Holding a Balance". Vermeer heavily influenced Smart’s work, evident by the incorporation of one of Vermeer’s distinguishing techniques, chiaroscuro, into his work (Neagle, 2015). By including shadow into his painting, Smart created an illusion of depth to make the artwork more realistic and three-dimensional. Smart revived a technique used frequently throughout the Renaissance art movement, and therefore initiated a modern day Renaissance by imitating distinctive characteristics used in that time period.

Not all techniques visible in "Portrait of Bruce Beresford" stem from the Renaissance art movement. The subject matter of this work is a building with garage doors, and contains perspective and shadowing in ways that give it realistic qualities. These techniques are similarly used in artworks from the Realism art movement, where the artists employed techniques such as sfumato and foreshortening, which added depth and perspective to the paintings to create a work that was as realistic as possible (Nelson, 2015). These methods had been previously used in work from the Renaissance, particularly in Leonardo DaVinci’s "Mona Lisa", but were also employed in the later work by Jean Francois-Millet, "The Gleaners" (Britannica, 2015b). Thus, by Smart using techniques that had previously been used in the Renaissance and Realism art movements he is creating a modern day renaissance, in that he is reusing old ideas and ways of painting to portray a modern day society.

Many of the materials used by Jeffrey Smart are similar to those used by artists in the Renaissance. His work, "Labyrinth", was created through the application of oil paint on canvas (National Gallery of Australia, 2015b), as were many artworks of the Renaissance time period – such as those by Piero della Francesca (McDonald, 2014) and Leonardo Da Vinci (Neagle, 2015). In "Mona Lisa" and "Flagellation of Christ", by Leonardo Da Vinci and Piero della Francesca respectively, the artists create depth through the use of sfumato, or the blending of colours and tones in an oil painting, to add more perspective (Meattle, 2001). This technique is also visible in Smart’s painting, creating depth comparable to that of his two influences (Nelson, 2015). By incorporating this Renaissance method and material into his work today, Smart is revisiting that period, and therefore is forming a modern day Renaissance.

Whilst the start of the use of oil painting is credited to Renaissance painters such as Roger van der Weyden, the beginning of oil painting has been recorded as early as the twelfth century, and used long after the art movement ended (Jones, 2015), such as in Jeffrey Smart’s painting, "Labyrinth". Many art movements, such as Post-Impressionism and Expressionism, have employed the use of oil on canvas to create pictures with perspective and depth (MoMA, 2015). "The Large Bathers", by Paul Cézanne, was a part of the Post-Impressionism artistic movement, and depicted people bathing by an oasis through the use of oil paints (Voorhies, 2015). Cézanne used this medium to create soft lines to indicate depth, much the same as Smart has in "Labyrinth". Smart appropriated techniques used in art movements before his time to illustrate modern day themes and subjects and is therefore initiating a rebirth of those techniques through his artworks. It is this rebirth of techniques that provide evidence to a renaissance in the modern era.

Jeffrey Smart drew inspiration from many artists, however one of his main influences was Johannes Vermeer (Smith, 1996), an iconic painter of the Renaissance artistic movement. In his painting "Turn-off To Dandenong", Smart illustrates the corner of a street and the buildings on it – a basic visual representation of the Australian way of living in that it depicts pop culture and everyday life (Pesa & Craven, 2012). This is similar to the way Johannes Vermeer’s "The Little Street" depicts life in the city of Delft (Bailey, as cited by Janson, 2001). Vermeer shows people going about their lives around the two buildings, whilst incorporating the architecture and painting it in a way that shows the beauty in it (Bailey, as cited by Janson, 2001). Jeffrey Smart’s imitation of the way Vermeer illustrated architecture and demonstrated a particular way of life shows that the Renaissance painter heavily influenced Smart. Thus, by the incorporation of techniques and concepts explored in the Renaissance art movement, Smart is bringing the art movement back to life and therefore creating a Renaissance in today’s art world.

The inclusion of architecture into a painting has spanned countless art movements and Jeffrey Smart’s artworks are no exception. Smart painted buildings, and only incorporated people into his work for the compositional and proportional elements (Pesa & Craven, 2012), preferring to focus on the architecture and landscape (O’Hara, 2012). This is evident in "Turn-off To Dandenong", where the main focus of the painting is the corner store rather than the two people, who appear to be there to emphasise the size of the building (Courtenay, 2013). This concept is also evident in Vincent Van Gogh’s "The White House At Night", a Post-Impressionism artwork, where the salient image is the house and the structure of it, rather than the people on the streets. Smart’s further exploration into an idea used in the Post-Impressionism and Renaissance artistic movements displays the concept of rebirth and renewal in the art world, and is thus supporting the idea of a modern day renaissance.

The Renaissance was an exceedingly instrumental time period, and artists such as Jeffrey Smart are still influenced by discoveries and concepts formed in that time. The Renaissance in itself was a rebirth of old techniques, concepts and materials, and therefore replicating something from an art movement or era that has passed to depict something from today’s society is renewing the technique, and creating a modern renaissance. Jeffrey Smart is providing evidence to a modern day Renaissance not only through the way he is imitating techniques, themes and mediums used frequently throughout the art-movement in his modern works, but also through the way that he reuses concepts and ideas from artistic movements before his time; essentially renewing the ideas and exhibiting the concept of rebirth and revival in art to create a renaissance in the modern world.


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