The Virtues of Repetition, Through Five Vistas of Milan’s Navigli Canal

“One must do the same subject over again ten times, a hundred times. In art nothing must resemble an accident, not even movement.”—Edgar Degas

In pursuit of ideal light and altogether perfection, the Impressionists made a habit of portraying the same subject again and again, capturing the changes that come with time. The resulting series of paintings—think Degas’ dancers, Monet’s views of the Thames, or Pissarro’s Parisian boulevards—have become cultural patrimony, tributes to specific slices of European culture, countryside, or entire cities, and have inspired generations of artists ever since. One such artist is contemporary British painter Andrew Gifford, who has found his footing in portraying cities, traveling from around the world to capture vistas around the world from London to Mykonos, Jerusalem to Istanbul. In anticipation of the opening of Edward Cutler Gallery in Milan in 2011, the artist made his first trip to the city, and his first tribute.

In an Impressionist-esque approach Gifford spent a prolific week in Milan, painting and sketching, with a particular affinity for a spot along the Navigli canal. “The main series of the canal, came to me when driving along when I first arrived. Looking out of the car window, the sun was very low and red light was pouring over the distant buildings on the horizon. I knew instantly I wanted to paint it,” Gifford explains. The resulting five paintings, titled Ripa de Porta Ticinese—after the canal-side street where they originated—form a visual diary of the site, portraying five discrete times of day ranging from a night scene flooded with artificial light from lampposts, to a sun-drenched scene strewn with shadows. Gifford painted the night scenes on-site, with the aid of a head torch, and developed the larger iterations from sketches, back in his Brighton studio. From a single vantage point the artist presents a romantic, tranquil vision of Milan, a homage to the city, and a testament to the value of repetition.

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