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  • Russ Ramsey

Paintings that Evoke Sound

Today’s Art Wednesday was inspired by a quote I read about one of the Winslow Homer paintings I posted as part of last week’s series—the idea of a still picture evoking the presence of sound. That’s today’s theme: pictures that evoke sound.


Martha Tedeschi, director of the Harvard Art Museums, said: “One of the things that I think is so successful in this picture, and that I love about Homer in general, is that it evokes things that he could not have possibly painted into the picture, like sound. There are two young women dancing on a porch. That immediately implies that there’s probably music playing. And in fact an early title of this picture was “Buffalo Gals” after the popular song (…) There is also the silhouetted group of people to the right of the picture who appear mesmerized by the sound of the crashing waves and the light flickering across the surface of the water. Homer conjures the sound of relentless splashing and churning. You can feel the spray, you can feel that cool breeze coming across that moonlight sea.”

Homer, Summer Night (Buffalo Gals), 1890


Former NFL player, Ernie Barnes, said, “The Sugar Shack is a recall of a childhood experience. It was the first time my innocence met with the sins of dance. The painting transmits rhythm… re-created in the person viewing it.

Barnes, Sugar Shack, 1972


The sound evoked by a seascape is that unbroken mix of wind, waves, gulls, the joyful shrieks of children, and the subtle roar of all of that coming together at the edge of the world.

Gustave Courbet, The Wave, 1869


What do you hear in Edward Hopper’s New York Movie? It’s a room full of people whose obligation is to be quiet as the sounds of cinema play over them. I hear the tunnel-like echoes of speaker cones and the clip of heels crossing the soundstage.

Edward Hopper, New York Movie, 1939


What do you hear in this one? I hear breathing, scraping, scooting knees across the floor, men out of breath, quiet groans when they stand up, and the rhythm of the work.

Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers, 1875


Do you hear the din of war? We are multi-sensory beings, made to supply one sense when another calls for it. We could have just as easily focused on paintings that evoke scent.

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

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