Tag Archives: Oskar Schlemmer

Thomas Fransioli – Rain in Charleston

16 Jun

Thomas Fransioli (American, 1906 – 1997), Rain in Charleston, 1951

I had never heard of the American painter Thomas Fransioli until one day a few weeks ago, by serendipity, I stumbled upon his painting “Rain in Charleston” from 1951 and I was immediately captivated by its cold, sleek style and hints of magical realism. Fransioli was born in 1907 in Seattle, Washington and studied architecture at the University of Pennysilvania. In 1930 he got his degree and for a while worked as an architect, making plans for the exhibition rooms in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The Second World War interrupted his career in architecture and he served in the Pacific Theatre from 1943 to 1946. After the war he took up painting and settled in Boston, Massachausets.

His love of archicture pervades his painterly work, for his oeuvre consists almost entirely out of townscapes, street scenes and buildings. Fransioli showed little to no interest in portraying people and they are almost never seen in his paintings. The style of his paintings shows a love of structure and precision, a longing for order in the midst of a chaotic world. This makes me think of something that Oskar Schlemmer, a German artist associated with the Bauhaus school, said: “If today’s arts love the machine, technology and organization, if they aspire to precision and reject anything vague and dreamy, this implies an instinctive repudiation of chaos and a longing to find the form appropriate to our times.”

Fransioli’s painting “Rain in Charleston”, with its sleek, structured appearance, the sharp and algular, boldly outlined buildings, and its impersonal mood shows a distinct influence of the Precisionism. After all, the painting shows a street devoid of people, another characteristic of the aforementioned art movement. Precisionism was a distinctly American and distinctly modern art movement which first appeared in the early twentieth century in the paintings of Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler and others. The favoured motives of Precisionist painters were the objects tied exclusively to the modern world; tall buildings, urban landscapes, industrial architecture and factories. In the late 1940s, Fransioli was asked to paint townscapes for the magazine covers of the Collier’s Magazine and so it happened that, on his travels, he was passing through Charleston on one occassion and made some sketches, one of which he would later use as a basis for this painting.

Painting “Rain in Charleston” shows a street scene, more specifically a view of the Laurens Street in Charleston, on a rainy day. The main motifs in the scene are buildings, street, streetlight and trees, and a dark, gloomy sky looming over the town in threatening way. Each building – grey, white, red, blue – looks solitary and is standing separate and alone from the other buildings. Fransioli choses strong and dark colours to set the mood of the painting; a gloomy mood, tingled with strangeness and melancholy. Fransioli usually avoids portraying people in his paintings, but even when he does paint them, like here we see a man standing on the doorstep of his house and a person with an umbrella down the street, they are so small and insignificant that their presence is not strong enough to break the strange, desolate overall mood. Even when it comes to painting nature, such as trees, it is bare and desolate. The contrast between the gloomy, dark sky in the left part of the sky and the light sky in the right part of the sky is beautifully painted.

The combination of the dark clouds and the wet street and pavements really makes this painting atmospheric. One can almost feel how it would be to step into the puddle in the street; it is so realistically and vividly depicted, and almost mirrorlike. I have seen other paintings of towns that Fransioli painted, but I think this one is the best because it is so atmospheric and the rain is definitely something interesting to capture in art. The painting simultaneously appears very realistic and yet very strange because the buildings and the street are painted in a precise, realistic manner but the overall mood of the painting is a desolate, strange one. A rainy street with no people, or a very few unnoticable people, is like a dark dream. In this regard, Fransioli combines the precise and cold style of Precisionism with the Italian Metaphysical style of painting or Magic Realism, the example of which is Giorgio de Chirico and his lonely, melancholy scenes of empty squares and towns.