The Timken Museum of Art in San Diego’s Balboa Park is a jewel box. It is free, and I am fortunte to live nearby, which means I can drop in for 45 minutes, spend a nice amount of time with two or three paintings and then catch lunch with a friend (or do laundry).
The Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket, 1880
Eastman Johnson (1824-1906)
Collection of Timken Museum of Art, San Diego
Today I fell in love with Eastman Johnson’s The Cranberry Harvest. The brilliant light is masterfully executed, and Johnson’s canvas is rich in story. The light alone tells us season and time of day; bags of harvest are being loaded onto a wagon; a sack of cranberries is spilled in the lower right corner; an old man who can no longer get on his knees, sits in a chair determined to contribute, while speaking to a child who listens with interest; the three children in the lower left corner are supposed to be working (one carries a pail) but they are distracted; the man and woman in the foreground seem to be flirting; the woman standing at the center, waiting for a boy to bring her baby, is the painting’s focal point, her regal position visually enhanced by harvesters kneeling at her feet. The composition is expansive and majestic, elevating the tediousness of the task. There is a sense of festivity in the air, as if the harvest is a brief and special event, bringing the community together.
The Cranberry Harvest reminds me of the works by another 19th century genre painter, the Frenchman Jean-Francois Millet, who embodied his subjects with great dignity and heroism as they carried out their grueling labors. (No festivity for these ladies.)
The Gleaners, 1857
Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875)
Collection of Musee d’Orsay, Paris
At the museum today, I met a very sweet college student as we were standing side by side studying an Italian landscape by the American artist George Inness. He spontaneously exclaimed, “These are so amazing!” He then volunteered he is taking a freshman art history survey course and today is the first time he has ever been to an art museum. We spent about 20 minutes together as I taught him how to read a painting. (There could not have been a more perfect teaching tool than The Cranberry Harvest.) He is now eager to make a road trip to Los Angeles to visit the Getty, which he heard about in class. That sounds like a great idea. I think a road trip to the Getty is in my future as well. It has been too long.
(Fun fact: Eastman Johnson was co- founder of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)