How a 19th cen­tury vol­canic erup­tion al­tered art across the world

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - [email protected] An­thony Smith di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional art deal­ers

An­thony Smith on how a vol­cano in­flu­enced global art

Ihad pre­vi­ously started to write an ar­ti­cle for this month’s magazine when re­flect­ing on a news item caused me to put it to one side and look at some­thing not usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with art: vol­ca­noes… one in par­tic­u­lar.

The news (now old, I’m sorry) that Anuk Kra­catau, or child of Kra­catau, a vol­cano that most in the west know as Kraka­toa (In­done­sia), had erupted un­der­wa­ter caus­ing a land­slide and a tsunami brought back mem­o­ries of the his­tory of this is­land and the in­flu­ence it had on artists here in the late 19th cen­tury.

I have been priv­i­leged to be close to a num­ber of vol­ca­noes in In­done­sia, some­times un­know­ingly, such as when I was asked if I’d like to go to some hot springs in the moun­tains. Trav­el­ling though the moun­tains and the in­cred­i­ble rain­forests that are part and par­cel of In­done­sia, we fi­nally came upon a clear­ing where a large and ob­vi­ously suc­cess­ful busi­ness had de­vel­oped around these hot springs.

The odour of sul­phur was quite ob­vi­ous but I re­ally didn’t give it a sec­ond thought un­til later in the day as we drove back along a road on the other side of the moun­tain when I saw smoke bil­low­ing out of the ac­tive vol­cano whose springs we had been bathing in. Oh joy!

But to see a vol­cano so close is awe-in­spir­ing, if some­what fright­en­ing and con­fronting. You do think about your mor­tal­ity.

But back to Kraka­toa. The year was 1883 and the story is well­known – but let me re­cap. The vol­cano started to spew steam and ash for some months be­fore fi­nally ex­plod­ing and vir­tu­ally de­stroy­ing it­self in the process on Au­gust 27.

The erup­tions were felt around the world, even here in the UK where a se­ries of three large at­mo­spheric pres­sure read­ings were recorded in Lon­don. But what has this to do with art?

Well, the amount of dust sent up into the at­mos­phere was so dense that it caused al­most three days of dark­ness near the vol­cano and sent a cloud of ash and smoke high into the at­mos­phere. These par­ti­cles trav­elled around the world chang­ing the colours of both sun­rise and, par­tic­u­larly, sun­set.

I re­mem­ber well see­ing works from this pe­riod many years ago and com­ment­ing that the artists had been a bit ex­trav­a­gant with their use of red, or­ange and pur­ple, even artists whose works were very ac­cu­rate to life. It was only many years later that I read about the colour change to the sun­sets in par­tic­u­lar that I un­der­stood the sig­nif­i­cance of what had been recorded.

It is said too that Ed­vard Munch’s Scream de­picts his mem­ory of the sky at this time, although painted many years later.

It re­ally is fas­ci­nat­ing that a ge­o­log­i­cal event on the other side of the world could have an ef­fect here, not so much of the hor­ror and dev­as­ta­tion, but on artists who were ac­cu­rately cap­tur­ing the beauty and essence of our coun­try­side and skies.

Im­age: asart

ABOVE: I Gusti Agung Ke­tut Wi­ranata

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