In the first article of this series, I showed how reluctant European and American painters were to depict rainfall as oblique streaks down an image. There was no such reluctance among Japanese print makers like Utagawa Hiroshige, though.
These two woodblock prints by Hiroshige show how effective liberal use of rain streaks can be.
Among the European painters who saw and were inspired by Hiroshige’s Evening Rain at Azumi-no Mori was Vincent van Gogh.
Painted just a few days before his death, van Gogh’s Rain – Auvers (1890) demonstrates how effective this can be. After Caillebotte’s Paris Street, Rainy Day this must be the best-known painting of rain.
Another painter who may have seen those Japanese woodblock prints is Henri Rousseau, whose Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) from 1891 makes unashamed use of rain streaks, albeit more subtle.
Rain features in some of Pierre Bonnard’s early paintings of the streets of Paris. His Rue Tholozé or Montmartre in the Rain from 1897 looks from the third or fourth floor onto a grey and wet evening in which the lights of the windows add their pervasive warm glow.
Further north in the valleys of Norway, Nikolai Astrup painted Farmstead in Jølster in 1902. Two women, sheltering from the rain under black umbrellas, are walking up a muddy path which threads its way through the wooden farm buildings, guiding a young girl with them. I can feel the muddy rainwater seeping through their shoes.
After painting for several years in European rain, in 1904 the American artist Colin Campbell Cooper returned to set up his studio in New York City. There he painted buildings as they rose towards the sky, and the streets as they filled with the bustle of everyday life. Broad Street Station, Philadelphia, in the Rain from about 1905 (detail below) shows how American rain is every bit as wet and miserable as that in Europe.
After Pierre Bonnard later extracted himself more from the city of Paris, he too used rain streaks in his Thunderstorm at Vernouillet, from 1908 or 1909.
Of all these great paintings, the work which I think is the wettest of all is The Flood of Noah and his Companions, painted by the now-forgotten academic painter Léon Comerre in 1911. The bodies of animals and people are glistening with water, their fur and hair soaked. The water surface in the foreground is dotted with the tiny splashes of raindrops, and there are rain streaks. This also appears to refer to Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, most appropriately.
Many of Helen Hyde’s simpler prints show individual figures battling with hostile weather, as in The Blue Umbrella from 1914, which shows a girl sheltering from heavy rain and wind during the winter.
Aksel Waldemar Johannessen’s Rain (1915-16) is an evocative painting of a thoroughly wet day in Asker, at his summer home on the bank of Oslo Fjord, complete with rain streaks.
Paul Nash’s lithograph of Rain, Lake Zillebeke from 1918 shows soldiers walking through the rain along duckboards zig-zagging over the mud. This is one of relatively few images of the First World War which shows it raining using rain streaks.
For much of Lesser Ury’s career as an artist, he had been working on different elements which he brought together in this painting of Street Scene at Night, Berlin from about 1920. Its nighttime setting simplifies the motif, and it lacks the symmetry which had made his earlier paintings of avenues in the rain appear so formal.
My final painting is by the contemporary artist Simon Kozhin (1979-), who was born in Moscow and first visited the UK in 2001.
Rain is an unconventional view of the Palace of Westminster in London which Kozhin painted en plein air in 2006. It shows the north end of the Houses of Parliament on a very dull, wet day. A tourist kiosk is in the centre foreground, and the contorted branches of leafless trees beside it. It’s such a familiar sight at this time of year.
We’ve seen some landmarks in the rain. Caillebotte’s Rain on the Yerres (1875) with its ripples in the water, his Paris, a Rainy Day (1877) with its glistening streets and umbrellas, Fernand Khnopff’s At Fosset: Rain (1890) with intensification of colour, and Vincent van Gogh’s Rain – Auvers (1890) for its rain streaks drawn from Japanese woodcuts.