In the first of these two articles examining the depiction of reflections, I showed a series of landscapes from Dürer to the Neo-Impressionists. Here I move through nocturnes to more enigmatic landscapes, and conclude with a few reflections of figures.
Kazimierz Sichulski’s Fish (1908) is a startlingly unusual pastel painting, a virtuoso combination of reflections from and views through this water surface.
Reflections of lights have proved popular in nocturnes.
In the last two years of Vincent van Gogh’s life, he painted this landmark nocturne Starry Night over the Rhône (1888) with its many shimmering reflections.
Eugène Jansson’s nocturnes of the city of Stockholm are even more unusual. This view from Mariaberget over Riddarfjärden, Stockholm (1898) shows the white lights on the waterfront of the old city reflected on the surface of the harbour.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century some landscape painters started to experiment more radically with reflections.
Paul Cézanne’s view across Lake Annecy features the distinctive Château de Duingt and foothills rising behind it. The water surface covers almost the entire lower half of the painting, where the reflections of the castle are central and dominant features. There’s photographic evidence that the reflections can occasionally be as clear as those depicted here. However, neither that nor optical principles suggest those reflections could possibly appear the way that Cézanne has painted them.
Ferdinand Hodler also intentionally manipulated reflections to serve his greater purpose.
This reached an extreme in his Parallelist landscapes, among which his Rhythmic Landscape on Lake Geneva (1908) is most unusual for its treatment of reflections on the surface of the lake. In those the gaps in the train of cumulus clouds become dark blue pillars, which are optically impossible, but generate much of the rhythm in the lower half of this painting.
Mirror play has appealed to a few figurative artists too.
No account of reflections in painting can omit Caravaggio’s brilliant Narcissus of 1594-96, which uniquely combines chiaroscuro with reflection to tell the story of Narcissus so powerfully.
Pierre Bonnard developed a fascination for mirror play, particularly in paintings of his partner Marthe.
In Bonnard’s Woman Getting Dressed from 1906, it’s the mirror at the left which reveals the subject, who is sat beyond the right edge of the painting, getting dressed.
For Reflection or The Tub in 1909, Bonnard adopts an elevated position, looking down into an angled plane mirror. The reflection almost fills the canvas, with the nude Marthe crouching slightly in the upper left corner, as she dries herself after a bath.
This carefully contrived angle of view plays some odd tricks. The washing bowl on the dressing table is brought to overlie the larger shallow bathtub on the floor, for example. Some of the objects on the dressing table are shown directly, others only in the reflected image. And over on the opposite side of the room is a chair, and a coffee tray.
I close with one of the most ingenious and haunting uses of reflections, those revealing a self-portrait of the pioneering still life artist Clara Peeters.
Her still life with Flowers and Gold Cups of Honour from 1612 reveals multiple miniature self-portraits reflected in the gold cup at the right. These are shown more clearly in the detail below.
There’s still something magical about reflections.