A Hunt in the Forest
A few years ago I sifted through family photographs, hoping to find a trove of snapshots of the many houses where I lived as a child. After much searching, I was deeply disappointed; if we had taken pictures, most of them had disappeared.
Since that time, I’ve been actively collecting images that speak to me about my past, and continually surprised at how often I neglected to document key places. When every so often I uncover a snapshot as rich with connections as the one seen above, I’m thrilled. This photograph, recently pulled from a storage trunk by my wife Jenny, shows me seated at the worktable of my first real studio; the setting where my earliest successful drawings emerged. This photo is the only one I know showing the full setting; the worktable and windows, as well as many of the reproductions of other artist’s work that I rotated across my bulletin boards; a constantly changing wall of inspirations.
The year is 1984 and the spot is a rented basement apartment in a Victorian home in upper northwest Washington, DC where I lived for several years. My space was beautiful, a bit cavernous, but full of windows on the east side, and the view was eye level to the flower beds, I could watch up close as plants grew and the seasons changed. A built-in table next to the windows served as a drawing station and the desk and bulletin board shone bright under makeshift lamps. Under the table, just to my right, I can make out a few of my artist monographs, a tiny collection that has since swelled into a large library. The place was a perfect little heaven as I remember it now (see, for example, Window with Moon and Star, 1983).
It’s unclear why Jenny would have snapped the shutter while I unpacked a radio and fiddled with dials. But beyond my mundane distraction, I am surrounded by the subjects of my drawings of the period; there’s a still life with dried flowers set before a black velvet backdrop, shamrocks in flower pots; and a black ceramic teapot that predominated as a subject for a number of drawings during that period. I look out the window, through the elaborate iron bars to see green trees of summer. Jenny and I had just married, honeymooned in England, and as we returned I began my curatorial career (see online journal entry, Finding Forbears).
The best clues to dating this photograph are in the images on the bulletin board. I recognize some of the artists that were influencing me at the time; several Leonardo plant drawings, a Raphael figure drawing, an Albrecht Durer landscape, a Claude Lorrain pen and wash drawing; however the key reproduction for me is Paulo Uccello’s broad landscape, A Hunt in the Forest, c. 1465-70, pinned to the wall just above my head. That large print was purchased at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England while we were traveling earlier in the summer (below, my 1984 journal sketch after A Hunt in the Forest).
I hadn’t thought about the Uccello painting in a while, so the photo motivated me to dig into my late 1984 journals where I discovered a sketch I made after the composition. The Uccello work is a wonderful broad-format landscape and an inventive essay in linear perspective featuring hunters, horsemen, and dogs leaping across the foreground, and then shrinking in size, particularly at the center of the composition, to create the illusion of deep space. It dawned on me that the format of the work and the focus on spatial recession relates to a drawing I was completing at the time, The Bend (below) (see also online journal entry, The Bend).
I now see that The Bend was probably done under the sway of Uccello. In addition, as I scrutinized my journal copy after the painting, I noticed a long format composition of my own on the facing page (below, sketch at top of sheet); presumably house lights seen through trees at night.
This study reminded me of the long format of my Self-Portrait with Night series, drawings that would emerge in the following decade (one example from the series below). Rediscovering A Hunt in the Forest adds another vantage point from which to view the paths I have taken.
A photograph, a remembered work of art, an image sketched and annotated, all are pieces of the puzzle; clues on the hunt for self in the forest of time and existence.
Charles Ritchie, Studies from Book32 / Winter 1984-1985, watercolor and pen and in on wove paper in bound volume, two page spread: 4 x 12″.