Friday, November 25


Artists have many signatures. Conventionally they supply name and date in lower corner, an indication that the painting is finished and ready for its public career. Another kind of signature... can be read not in a a single painting but in the recurrence of certain objects or combinations of details through a whole series... [the] tendency of the artist to include a few familiar items in painting after painting: the cupped candle in the best of Georges de la Tour's works, the smokestacks on the horizon of Degas's race-track paintings, the ubiquitous cow that wanders in and out of Chagall's dreams. Such a repeated detail can easily become a mannerism: for example, certain letter combinations in cubist collages, like journal and vins, went through such an evolution. Or... it can be incorporated into the normal signature: Whistler's butterfly. Used discreetly or unconsciously, these details are best described as emblems, objects whose recurrence gives them heightened significance. They are like tiny still lifes carried over into landscape and portraiture and noticeable only to the unhurried eye.

-- Roger Shattuck The Banquet Years