Edwin Lord Weeks Along the Ghats, Mathura
Recently acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) Along the Ghats, Mathura is a shimmering vision of a ghat, the steps used by Hindus to lead to a bathing pool of holy water. Bathed in a characteristic chromatic range of driven blue, glittering stones, and sunlight, Edwin Lord Weeks canvas is a celebration of the powerful mystical allure of water in Eastern Religions. A powerful and humble visual narrative, Weeks' renders the holy water an a symbolic vehicle that guides and frames the surrounding elements. Situated at the Yamuna River, the serene surrounding is also the birthplace of Krishna, an important incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. Although undated, it seems likely that Along the Ghats, Mathura was painted in the 1880s, following his 1883 travels around India. Although the artist often worked from photographs, they were usually taken by his own hand, and therefore it is safe to assume that this epiphanic scene was witnessed from life.
Having embarked on the customary trip around Arabia as a young man, Weeks' had accumulated numerous sketchbooks full of material by his early twenties, enough to supply any painter with material for a lifetime. Yet, not satisfied with his North African and Arabian scenes that he painted in the Orientalist style, Weeks' travelled to India in 1883 spending each waking hour taking photographs and painting. As one of the first artists to embrace the new and often contested medium of photography, Weeks' achieved stunning accuracy in architectural painting through his finely researched studies. Spending less time on sketching the features of buildings and monuments, Weeks' dedicated his talents to depicting that which was slightly harder to photograph; the everyday lives of the people he encountered in the East. Feeding the appetite of his countrymen and women back in the United States, Weeks' experiential visions of nineteenth-century Indian life are akin to cinema stills from some bombastic Hollywood epic. Indeed, many of his works have been influential in the staging and design of a number of historical films.
Having studied under the master of French Academic Orientalism, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Weeks embraced the trend for bringing distant scenes closer into familiarity for his contemporary audience and buyers. A strangely modern painter working in an adventurous yet conservative genre, Weeks' Along the Ghats, Mathura is a remarkable intermingling of Eastern and Western values, the transcendent and the everyday, fiction and reality.
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