Siren Song: Nicole Chamberlain-Dupree
According to Merriam-Webster, a siren song is an alluring utterance or appeal; especially: one that is seductive or deceptive.
I have a love of nautical puns and nautical phrases, a little too much, so to reel this in a bit (I warned you!), I decided to call these posts “siren song” as they will be written by MMAM staff, volunteers, members, supporters, fans, about a work in the MMAM collections that draws, attracts, sucks them in every time they try to pass it in the galleries.
For me - that work, my siren song, is The Beach of Scheveningen by Vincent van Gogh from 1882.
No - it’s not just because he’s a fellow redhead (but that doesn’t hurt!).
Nor is it because this painting was finished on my birthday some 100 years before I was born (though part of me screams KISMET!).
Nor is it because it is believed to be the earliest painting by the great Dutch painter in the United States (gold medal added bonus, certainly). Yes, you read that right, the earliest van Gogh painting in America. Here, in Winona.
What draws me in to this work is its subtlety, the confident and precise application of oil paint, and how seemingly effortless van Gogh constructs and build the scene. As you may know, van Gogh was a prolific letter-writer, and as such, there is a complimentary letter about this painting that says (underlining is the artist’s): ‘I know for certain that people wouldn’t say, all things considered, that these were my first painted studies.’ While this is one of his first paintings, because van Gogh consistently worked in pencil and watercolor before, his mastery with oil is evident. We can imagine how van Gogh moves through his life, continually sketching and painting, exploring and pushing and capturing and creating, to eventually evolve into his vivid and energetic works that we can picture in our minds (The Starry Night at MoMA, if you need some help) and are most often associated with the great artist.
And this painting, this painting right here at MMAM, is where it all started - where van Gogh’s mastery and love of oil painting began. THIS is why I am drawn to the work, because it’s the beginning and it’s captivating.
And the final reason that I’m drawn to this work - the sand, actual sand, stuck in the paint.
When you look at this closely - though yes, keep a respectful distance because you know, sneezes happen - you’ll see some sand in the painting. Van Gogh was painting this work actually ON THE BEACH of Scheveningen in The Hague. Don’t touch the art, don’t lick the art, but do stand to the side, tilt your head, and notice the actual Scheveningen sand from 1882 forever captured in this little painting.
Nicole Chamberlain-Dupree, Executive Director