July 22 Art Minute: George Tooker, “Meadow I”

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George Tooker (American, 1920–2011), Meadow I. Egg tempera on gesso panel, 1960-1961. 20 in. by 28 in. Gift of the Woodward Foundation and purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, by exchange, 2007.47. Wolfe Gallery

George Tooker (American, 1920–2011), Meadow I. Egg tempera on gesso panel, 1960-1961. 20 in. by 28 in. Gift of the Woodward Foundation and purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, by exchange, 2007.47. Wolfe Gallery

Though best known for anxiety–filled images of modern city dwellers seemingly trapped in office cubicle boxes or subway station mazes, George Tooker’s Meadow I has a rural setting and a timeless quality. Painted as a memorial to his mother, the painting is suffused with melancholy. The reclining (dead?) woman resembles Renaissance paintings of the Madonna collapsed in grief at the death of her son, Jesus, on the cross. The kneeling man in his laborer’s clothes is a vigilant and deeply saddened Joseph.

The comparison to 15th-century painting is apt; Tooker was influenced by the Renaissance masters, particularly Piero della Francesca (about 1410/20–1492). He even used the anachronistic egg tempera technique, much favored by Italian Renaissance artists, which involved painting with egg yolk thinned with water and mixed with powdered pigment. It was a painstaking process—the paint dried quickly, so had to be applied steadily. Tooker used a sable brush to apply small, measured strokes of paint to create an image that usually took months to complete.


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