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Fences in Art: Paintings and Installations Featuring Fences

It is interesting to consider the role fences play in art. They naturally represent boundaries, safety and home for most viewers. From a historical perspective, fences are associated with civilization, and sometimes with the loss of wild spaces. Just riffing on the topic of fences in art makes one look at split rail fencing in a whole new way. Who knew that you could find so much inspiration in something as seemingly mundane as fencing?

Portland, Oregon is a place that cherishes art – just consider First Thursday’s plethora of busy galleries in the Pearl, and the numerous pieces of public artwork spread throughout downtown. As the Northwest’s leading fencing company, it makes sense that we would see beauty in all types of fences, from chain link to wrought iron to wood fencing. Portland homeowners, however, may be surprised to discover the artistic side of fencing. Beginning with a medieval tapestry featuring split rail fencing and ending with a 30-mile nylon fence built in the 1970s, the following is a look at the symbolism artists often convey with fencing. Portland Oregon’s leading fencing contractor invites you to sit back and enjoy a feast for the eyes.

1. The Unicorn in Captivity, 1495-1505

This Gothic piece from the Southern Netherlands is the final and most famous tapestry in a series of seven tapestries titled The Hunt of the Unicorn. The tapestry series, which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, tells a somewhat confusing story. In the first panel, the men of the castle take their dogs out to hunt the unicorn. They find it, fight it, and apparently kill it. However, the last panel, The Unicorn in Captivity, shows the animal alive and happy in a small fence enclosure of split rail fencing. Some scholars believe that the unicorn is a symbol for Christ, which would explain its apparent resurrection.

From our perspective, the unicorn in the final panel is happy because he is safe – that fencing will keep out any potential predators. You can enjoy the unicorn’s sense of security by surrounding your home with strong fencing, Portland, Oregon homeowners.

2. Landscape with Lake, 1864, Robert Scott Duncanson

Robert Scott Duncanson’s career began with portraiture, but by the 1850s he had felt the influence of New York’s Hudson River School of landscape painters. He travelled the country for several years, painting American landscapes. Landscape with Lake portrays a bucolic scene in which split rail fencing appears to be falling into a lake. While you may not be attracted to such dilapidated wood fencing, Portland homeowners, it is possible that Duncanson’s painting suggests that human architecture can meld seamlessly into nature. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, many landscape artists in England and America conveyed this message – that the most attractive human construction complemented and extended natural beauty.

3. The Meeting, 1884, Marie Bashkirtseff

The Meeting is the most famous painting of Marie Bashkirtseff, a Ukrainian-born sculptor, painter and writer whose diary, I Am the Most Interesting Book of All, retains such popularity that it is still in print today. The Meeting shows six young boys engaging in what appears to be a very serious conversation in a back alley of a working class neighborhood, probably in Paris. Art critics point out details on the fence, such as the graffiti and the torn posters, as evidence that this may actually be a Parisian slum. If you look carefully on the right-hand side, you will see a little girl walking away from the meeting of school boys. Some commenters speculate that this girl represents Bashkirtseff’s take on the nearly entirely male culture of art at the time. Bashkirteff was one of the first successful female painters in Paris. Does the little girl’s disinterest in the boys’ conference signify the artist’s disregard of the male-dominated art world? Or is she merely pointing out that the girl is kept at a distance from the main debate? It’s difficult to say.

What we can say for sure is that ideas about wood fencing have changed since this painting was created. Then, many saw a lower-class lifestyle in wood fencing. Portland homeowners today can create breathtaking works of art in their cedar fence installations.

4. The Fall of the Cowboy, 1895, Frederic S. Remington

This piece conveys the main thrust of Remington’s work: that the glory days of the American West had passed. Somber grays and dark browns lend an elegiac, serious tone to the piece. Neither of the cowboys in the piece looks particularly happy, and many art critics believe their sadness is centered on the split rail fencing. Remington connected the construction of fences to the fall of the “Wild Riders of the plains,” as he called cowboys. The raising of fences across the American landscape put an end to the golden era of long cattle hauls. Remington spent most of his career communicating this loss.

5. Running Fence, 1976, Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Running Fence was a temporary, long-distance installation by a couple of artists. Husband and wife Christo and Jeanne-Claude installed this 24.5-mile-long, 18-foot-high fence of white nylon hung from steel cables. The line of the fencing ran in visually delightful curves through the hills of California; its veil of white nylon blew in the wind. Running Fence crossed 59 ranches and 14 roads; its required environmental impact report was 450 pages long. Because we haven’t been able to find any photographs of this incredible artwork in the public domain, be sure to visit the Smithsonian’s online slideshow on the artists’ process. Flickr also has some incredible photographs of Running Fence.

Considering how large a part fences have played in humankind’s localization and expansion, it’s no wonder that fences figure largely into art. Such a figurative trip around the world in fencing art makes one think about things in a new way – including things as ordinary as wood fencing. Portland residents can enjoy finding beauty in their fencing – Portland, Oregon is known as an artists’ enclave, after all.

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2 Responses to “Fences in Art: Paintings and Installations Featuring Fences”

  1. Shanna White says:

    Beautiful! I would love a wood fence in portland! Can’t wait to contact you.

  2. Rick's Fencing says:

    Thanks Shanna! We would love to hear from you.

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