Abbey Nova lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband and toddler son. She has a master’s degree in the History of Decorative Arts and Design and has worked for museums all over the city, in addition to publishing on topics ranging from nineteenth-century
silversmiths to the artists of the Studio Craft Movement. Her blog, designscouting, explores the role design plays in our daily lives.
New Yorkers have a special relationship with the weather. We love it and we love to hate it. Navigating my first spring in New York City eight years ago, I learned to 1) always carry a mini umbrella from Duane Reade and 2) buy, and then actually wear, rain boots. I learned these lessons all over again last week after a painful and expensive East Side dental appointment when I got caught in the rain, without — you guessed it — boots or umbrella.
With an hour of downtime until I had to pick up my son from preschool, I dashed into the very dry Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once I’d shed my wet coat and handbag, I wandered. What I found, appropriately enough, was The Path of Nature exhibition now up in the Robert Lehman Wing. The exhibition showcases the tradition of painting out of doors. The pastoral landscapes and scenes of summertime were a reminder of the ephemeral pleasures of being out of doors (for New Yorkers, that’s picnics in Central Park). However, the highlight of the exhibition were cloud studies by Simon Denis, a Flemish painter (1755–1813). The contrast between the entirely transient nature of clouds and the age of these paintings captured my imagination.
Painting studies from nature is an artistic practice that spans centuries. Artists through the ages have studied paintings to refine their techniques and as references for later work. Before the invention of photography, collectors and early natural historians like Cassiano Dal Pozzo commissioned thousands of studies from nature to use as scholarly references and intellectual study aids.
In the era of digital photography and information overload, the idea of painting a cloud to preserve it for later use or study seems almost unimaginable. Yet contemporary artists still produce cloud studies. For urban dwellers such as myself, these paintings and photographs are a simple way to bring a little nature indoors. I have a small cloud painting in my kitchen, where even on cloudy days, I see blue sky.
Editor’s note: The Path of Nature is up until April 21, 2013.