A moment in time: clocks and time in paintings 2

Briton Rivière (1840-1920), Tick-Tick (1881), oil on canvas, 36.5 x 48 cm, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth, England. Wikimedia Commons.

In the first of these two articles showing some of the few paintings containing clocks, I had just reached the Pre-Raphaelites in the middle of the nineteenth century. Perhaps as a result of growth in manufacturing industries, and their increasing importance, clocks become less infrequent.

Solomon, Rebecca, 1832-1886; The Appointment
Rebecca Solomon (1832-1886), The Appointment (1861), media and dimensions not known, The Geffrye, Museum of the Home. Wikimedia Commons.

Rebecca Solomon’s The Appointment (1861) is another early ‘problem picture’, with a deliberately open-ended narrative. A beautiful woman stands in front of a mirror, and looks intently at a man, who’s only seen in his reflection and stands in a doorway behind the viewer’s right shoulder.

The woman is dressed to go out, and is holding in her gloved hands a letter. The clock on the mantlepiece shows that it’s about thirteen minutes past seven. Judging by the light on the stairs revealed through the doorway, this is either a summer’s evening, or the morning. Has this man arrived for an appointment with the woman, perhaps arranged in the letter she’s holding?

Such puzzles weren’t sufficient for Paul Cézanne, though.

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), La Pendule noire (The Black Marble Clock) (1869-71), oil on canvas, 54 x 73 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Cézanne’s Black Marble Clock from 1869-71 is remarkable for the complete absence of its hands. Could this be his comment about time, perhaps?

Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1848–1926), Preference (1879), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

In Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov’s Russian Preference (1879) we’re back on firmer ground. This shows the game known as ‘Russian Preference’ or Preferans. According to the grandfather clock at the right it’s just after four o’clock, which could be in the afternoon or the small hours of the morning. Cast natural light in the doorway suggests it’s still daylight outside, though, as the three play cards to while away the time. The cast shadows are also fascinating.

John Atkinson Grimshaw was another artist who appears to have been caught out by his own clock, here in a different way.

John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893), Reflections on the Thames, Westminster (1880), oil on canvas, 76.2 x 127 cm, Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds, England. Wikimedia Commons.

His famous Reflections on the Thames, Westminster from 1880 looks upriver towards the distinctive clock tower and buildings of the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The time shown on the face of Big Ben appears to be 1045, yet its full moon is low in the western sky, indicating that it’s approaching sunrise. As this looks into the light, the figures seen at the right should be in the shade. Their cast shadows aren’t coherent either, and some indicate that the moon should be in a quite different position. Grimshaw should have synchronised clocks more carefully.

Briton Rivière (1840-1920), Tick-Tick (1881), oil on canvas, 36.5 x 48 cm, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth, England. Wikimedia Commons.

In Briton Rivière’s Tick-Tick from 1881, the artist shows a puppy sat beside a Lépine pocket watch, fascinated by its rhythmic ticks. (I am grateful to @GrailWatch for correcting my earlier error in saying this is a “hunter”.)

Laurits Andersen Ring (1854–1933), Housewife’s Evening Party (1905), oil on canvas, 72.5 x 87.5 cm, Statsministeriet, Copenhagen, Denmark. Wikimedia Commons.

Long before the days of radio let alone television, reading became popular entertainment. LA Ring’s Housewife’s Evening Party from 1905 shows a very different sort of party from those being painted at the time in cities like Paris. This housewife sits knitting, as her husband and a friend discuss a book by the light of the kerosene lantern. They aren’t poor by any means: there are portrait paintings on the wall, and a clock ticking softly above them, showing that it’s seventeen minutes to eight.

My last painting is one of my favourites, and manages to suggest a clock from a few vague forms, and its title.

Christian Krohg (1852–1925), Five to Twelve (c 1924), oil on paperboard, 79 x 33 cm, Nasjonalmuseet (purchased 1990), Oslo, Norway. Courtesy of Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo.

By the time that Christian Krohg painted Five to Twelve in about 1924, he was in his early seventies, with a long white beard, and almost bald. Here he’s asleep in a chair underneath a pendulum clock with a completely blank face. It’s five minutes to midnight, very late in his life. Krogh died the following year.

And with that, I’m afraid that our time is up too.