Sunday, March 04, 2007

Are William Maw Egley's sequential paintings comics?

I have been reading the book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. It attempts to describe not only what comics are, but also to teach about the various tools of comics as well as relating these tools and comics to art and literature in general. He starts with a definition.
Comics - juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.
One other hallmark of comics is the space between the panels. Much of the action in a comic can take place there within that space. The reader fills in what happens between the panels and takes part in telling the story.

The definition of comics could include a lot of art that you might not expect and so I began to see comics in all kinds of art during yesterday's visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I noticed some paintings that fit the definition and had an interesting story to tell in the blank space between them.

These paintings hang next to each other at the museum (I took two digital photos and joined them together) and are called "Just as the Twig is Bent" (left) and "The Tree's Inclined" (right) which William Maw Egley (see a short biography here) painted in 1861. The first picture shows the young boy playing at being soldier to impress the blond sister while the brunette looks on and then in the blank space between the pictures they have grown. Yet the scene is the same and the boy, now a young man and a real soldier, is still courting the blond sister while the dark haired sister looks on in jealousy.

How do you know?

The brunette sister can be seen in the mirror at the top of the painting on the right, fuming away. I suggest that these pictures taken together form a comic of the sort described by Scott McCloud, and tell an interesting story besides.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Thank you for posting good images of these paintings online-- my post on them gets a fair number of hits, and I imagine these people, too, will be interested in your post.