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 Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, May 2020, Carolyn Russo on "November 1944":

        "'November 1944' by Robert Jordan (1925-1993) is a massive oil painting representing an American aircrew. In 1976, the artist donated the painting to the National Air and Space Museum’s art collect while teaching art history at the Washington University in St. Louis. Jordan’s donation letter to the Museum reveals that his impetus for the painting came from an admiration of group portraits by the seventeenth-century painters Frans Hals and Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt was notorious for his chiaroscuro technique, in which subjects are rendered in strong contrasts of light and shadow—this painting certainly reflects those characteristics. 

          With the chiaroscuro technique, Jordan painted the crew members in the duality of light and shade in front of an aircraft hidden in shadow. Jordan also stated in his letter, “the painting by no means is a true group portrait. I was working from a twenty-two-year-old memory of faces, and really wanted it to be general for any crew.” In a modest tone, the artist also shared his experience as a B-24 tail gunner in the 8th Air Force during World War II. His crew was shot down on the fourth mission near Hanover, Germany, and they were imprisoned in Stalag Luft IV Prison of War (POW) camp. At the end of the war, the crew was forced to march to avoid the advancing Russians. The artist refers to the painting as a “memory myth,” but a little research tells otherwise. 


The group portrait

          In a style reminiscent of the American artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Jordan presents a crew of nine men positioned in front of their aircraft along with the U.S. star insignia on the fuselage. Some of the men wear fleece-lined brown bomber jackets or flight suits, while others wear parachute harnesses, googles, or have flying helmets on their heads. Others wear yellow rectangular life vests (also known as “Mae Wests”). The life vests are the brightest color in the painting and shine like beacons in the otherwise solemn color palette of dark blue, green, and brown. The attire worn by these men is standard flight gear from the WWII era. 

          Crew Members stand with slightly drooped shoulders with arms crossed or hands in their pockets while others crouch or kneel. The gazes of the figures are downturned and are not engaged with the viewer. Instead, their facial expressions are introspective as if in deep thought. Unlike typical smiling or boastful crew members often seen in WWII photographs, the overall body language of this group evokes a quiet sense of shared despair. Stillness overwhelms the atmosphere of this hauntingly beautiful rendering of an aircrew. Details of this painting as described above suggest that November 1944 is based on “memory truth” rather than “memory myth” as the artist suggests. 


Missing air crew report #11217

          Robert Jordan was a nineteen-year-old when he and his aircrew were shot down on November 26, 1944. Stationed at the Tibenham Royal Air Force Base near Norfolk, England, the young airman was with the 445th Group and assigned to the 703rd Squadron as the tail gunner of a Consolidated Liberator B-24J bomber aircraft. The B-24 was sometimes referred to as a “Flying Boxcar” or “Flying Coffin” because of its large, squarish fuselage. Furthermore, bailing out was also problematic and a challenge for crew members to reach their respective hatches in order to jump out. Piloted by 2ndLt. Daniel Snow, the plane was nicknamed “Snow Ball from Hell.” Under weather conditions noted as haze with one-tenth cloud cover, the crew was in the midst of a bombing mission over Misburg, Germany, when their plane was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and they had to parachute out. At approximately 12:40 pm, the plane went down about 15 miles southeast of Hanover, Germany and all nine members of the crew were captured. That November day, four other planes from the 445thGroup were also shot down and a total of 45 crewmen were on board the other lost aircraft. 


The Sketchbook

          Jordan recorded some of the experiences that day through a series of drawings now located in the collection of the New Hampshire Historical Society. A sketch captioned “No Fox Holes in the Sky” depicts two men wearing oxygen masks tumbling inside of the B-24 aircraft cabin. A large gaping hole in the side of the aircraft confirms one of the places they were hit. A spread of empty ammunition shells from the waist gunner's position covers the floor in the aircraft. In “Just Before Bail Out,” two crew members prepare to bail out of the plane . “Watching the Boys Going Home” is a scene with Jordan crouching on the ground in an empty field after parachuting to the ground. Above him in the Sky is a formation of bombers from his squadron flying safely back to England. 

          Shortly after reaching the ground, the sketches revealed that the teenage tail gunner was captured by an armed farmer and turned over to the German authorities. “KAPUT!, I'd had it!” shows a sequence of events related to the squadron's immediate capture such as U.S. airmen escorted by German soldiers to the railroad station while local townspeople kicked, punched, and threw things at them. One of the injured servicemen was supported by two of his crew mates. Another quick sketch is of a young boy in uniform captioned “Little Nazi,” with a side note that says, “I didn't last more than 10 minutes as a free man in Germany.” Those few sketches are merely one of his first few hours in Germany. 


POW drawings

          Jordan also made sketches of his solitary confinement at the Luft IV POW camp and of “The March” also known as “The Long March” or “The Death March.” Under Hitler's orders, Allied POWs were forced to march hundreds of miles to escape the advancing Soviets as the Germans wanted to use the POWs as bargaining chips at the end of the war. In loose pencil marks, the drawings show emaciated servicemen knocked to the ground or struggling to walk or the miserable sleeping conditions and the bitter cold—the winter of 1945 was one of the coldest on record. Other sketches depict efforts to procure water from the Germans (which was sometimes impossible to get) or delousing routines to get rid of lice. Whereas Jordan sketches of the earlier aircraft and bail out experience are detailed, the depictions of the POW experiences are incomplete. His memories as a POW seemed harder to reach, as if pushed away instead of easily resurfacing through his pencil onto the paper—and justifiably so. 

          Accounts from other servicemen’s experience at Luft IV described their brutal treatment and the deplorable living conditions of “The March.” Airmen from the Luft IV were not fed and sanitation was non-existent. Men remained in the same clothing they bailed out in for the duration of their imprisonment and were given only one blanket to make it through the winter months. Jordan was “skin and bones” when liberated that spring by Allied troops. During his three-month hospital stay in England, a Red Cross nurse gave him a sketchbook and pencils to help with the physical and mental healing process. The aforementioned drawings were made during his hospital recovery in 1945  


Memory Truth

          After the war, Jordan received degrees from Dartmouth College and Columbia University, and became both a successful painter and art historian. In his recollection about “November 1944,” in a letter to the museum he says, “…I still feel some sense of ambiguity I had when I painted it, and which I felt in 1944—the sense of adventure as well as the possibility of death—the necessity of the task as well as the madness of it all. Nothing new there for a man at war, but at least the necessity part was far more clear cut than today.” It's not a coincidence that he chose to paint “November 1944” in the 1960s during the height of the Vietnam War. Jordan remarked the painting was a search of his own experience, “for some occasion where men are bound tighter in a meaningful Association.

           November 1944 suggests a truthful reflection of the artist experience in WWII, rather than a painting inspired by the Great Dutch Masters or a memory-myth. Nine men in the painting are the same number of members in Jordan's aircraft that were shot down. Painterly expressions of gaunt facial features and defeated body language exude the notion these men have been through hell and back. 

             A non-detailed B-24 aircraft serves as a backdrop for the men in is the same type of plane Jordan’s crew flew that unforgettable day in November. The plane recedes into the darkness of the background and is symbolic for the last aircraft. Bright yellow life vests serve as a sign of hope in the otherwise solemn painting—representing the survival of the entire crew . Although the depicted details of this aircrew may not replicate an exact likeness to Jordan's actual crew, their faces reveal a shared expression having lived through a POW experience. November 1944 is a testament to the courage and honorable service like Robert Jordan's crew and others during WWII—and gives hope that life endures after unprecedented circumstances."

New York Times,  Hilton Kramer on the art of Robert Jordan:


            “The romance of light and shadow dominates this series of American landscapes and interiors in which a suggestion of the anecdotal lives on easy terms with a flawless pictorial technique. One is reminded, from time to time, of Edward Hopper in the way Mr. Jordan constructs his homely scenes of quiet country life, but there is nothing of Hopper’s dour emotion here. There is instead an easier attitude toward experience—a felicitous tranquility and an evident love of nature combined with a conviction that painting has not yet lost its power to evoke a common alphabet of feeling.”


Art News Magazine,  November 1989,  Sherry French Gallery:


           "Robert Jordan’s vision of the New England landscape is drawn from a reverence for both art and nature. His paintings, with their softened contours and muted tones, are exquisitely refined. Their surfaces are lean, devoid of any physical buildup that might disturb the tranquil perception of images. While based upon actual sites, Jordan’s work suggests memory rather than observation—soundless memories of the landscape that are unchanging, dreamlike, and whole.

            This is deeply conservative painting that is reminiscent of Edward Hopper and—in its scale and emotional reserve—of J. F. Kensett. Jordan’s conception of painting doesn’t admit the sense of flux, deterioration, or uncertainty that one might regard as essential to the art of our time. But it would be wrong to dismiss his work as merely escapist fare. Jordan’s method is a painstaking act of balance in the pursuit of a precise degree of harmony drawn from and reflective of the artist’s inner life. The result is often an image that, despite its seeming conventionality, contains a substratum of tension and disquietude.

            These qualities are exemplified in The Enclosed Field. The scene itself is unremarkable. It consists of a green meadow that rises against a dark row of trees. The mood of the image, however, is characteristically odd, a paradoxical mix of wistfulness and indifference that is never resolved. The resulting tension imbues the work with a subtle psychological edge. To heighten this effect, Jordan contrasts traditional spatial devices—which posit the viewer well outside the scene—with a deadpan touch and an evenhanded pictorial emphasis more typical of modern art.

          For Jordan, the quality and the quantity of light in a picture is central to its metaphorical expression. His is an imaginary light, distributed throughout the paintings with relentless care and with a keen sense of proportion. The artist uses the depiction of light to set the pace of each of his images. With it, he encourages the viewer to move slowly, and to contemplate."  - Art critic David Hornung


Arts Magazine, May 1984, “Romantic Paintings”:


            "Landscape appears in a good number of these paintings though nature seen with a sense of plein-air grandeur is only approached in Ojeda’s urban skyscrapes, one of which consists entirely of great sweeps of Constablesque clouds crowding the city skyline to the bottom of the picture. Robert Jordan’s August Moon, South Conway presents its soft hills and trees as a kind of personified benignity in a Luminist tradition, but also serves as a gentle introduction to romanticism’s moodier nocturnal side. . . ." - Art critic, Holland Cotter 


Arts Magazine,  April 1983,  Sherry French Gallery:


            "Robert Jordan’s landscapes capture and preserve the indefinable spirit of the places he portrays. Full of a mellow or lively light, these wholly American images celebrate the countryside with a tender yet knowing power of affirmation which sustains our vision of worthiness in a common life. For all its private splendor or perception and essential solitude of perspective, Jordan’s world is one of human presence hushed in luminous reverie. Water, earth, sky, and light are all suffused with a quality of intelligible thought which is a natural thinking, not so much about things as with the help of things, that activate the mind to its own serenity of contemplation and spacious amplitude.

            Without being landscapes as “a state of mind” (Amiel’s famous phrase is too diaphanous and too abstract to quite fit these works), Jordan’s images are both nature as a reflective substance and worlds of feeling of a substantial kind. Feeling here is a quality of consciousness which is its own object as a field of awareness without solipsism or divorce from the world of common habitation in which we live. Because this is so, and painting is the medium that lets us see that it is so, Jordan’s work is a form of “worthiness” which sustains a collective privacy if one can accept such a term. This is surely part of its American quality insofar as the land is ours and we are of the land as a metaphor of allegiance and possession of what Jordan wants us to see we are.

           The rivers, hills, trees, and skies he shows us are places the artist inhabits and knows through prolonged experience in time. His house and home in New Hampshire with nearby brooks and waterfalls, Conway Lake, the distant hills, the ambient forests; Virginia where his sister lives; Missouri where he has worked for thirty years—these places have an indelible life of their own easily recognizable to those who know them, and surely felt even by those who do not inhabit them as powerfully as Jordan does. This we see and feel as if “presence of nature,” to use the familiar term were his expressive focus as tangibly present in his painting as is the paint itself.

            What Jordan can make paint do, or, better, what paint will do for him, is to hold the world in mind as a living presence, contained within this frame but autonomously real as a true experience of what matters when one experiences the world. Whether alertly poised in sharp daylight or muted by a twilit shadowed glow, Jordan’s views and vistas involve a drama of expansive vision spreading toward a far horizon, drawn to and through silhouetted spans of trees, rising to a brilliant cloud, sheltering in a moonlit glow of cool, mysterious, and pervasive nighttime silence. Spacious, whether an enclosed space or a vast one; reflective, whether of water with reflections or sheer sky and land, Jordan’s views are intensely dimensional of height and breadth, distilled in atmosphere, assured of horizon, whether that horizon is visible or not, and altogether numinous in plain-speaking grandeur.

           Especially poignant is a large painting titled Blue Evening. Two figures descend a gentle slope. One proceeds toward the picture frame; the other turns for a final look at a huge, glistening, towering cloud rising above a haunting, widespread violet haze. A silent drama of perception hints at human gain and loss, light and darkness, day and night at the turning of the hour like the turning of the man. Back to brightness, forward into time, the moment is suspended but the inevitability cannot be overcome. Resonant, reverberative, distinct yet painfully incommensurable as beauty and heartache at the heart of time, this moving image strikes a powerful chord of human feeling subsumed in the vast space of New England evening tide. Equally striking, if less breathtaking as a “spot of time,” is April Landscape, Missouri, a luminous, dark-skied valley view with a trace-like winding road moving into the distance against the surrounding hills. Full of the exact weather yet blooming with a fecund rising light, this landscape is both haunting and uplifting, both familiar and extraordinary with its greening meadows against the shadowed heights.

            A master of silent, flowing streams seen through or below framing foliage or against walls of leafy banks, Jordan is also a master or river vistas, the Mississippi in particular, seen from promontories which edge its grandeur and reveal its continental span. Without false rhetoric or grandiose, hyperbolic stance, Jordan’s vision of the widest span of American landscape is as confident as it is personal and comparably assured in the breadth of his closer views. Whether seen from above looking out and over or from somewhat below looking up and away, his contrasts of tone and pattern of backlit and flooded zones of space and interval, make the play of form in his landscapes a harmony of enclosure and openness, of shelter and expanse, of above and below, of near and far, of what is at hand and what is intangibly just beyond our reach.

          Graspable as image, ungraspable as a dimension of feeling beyond mere circumstance, Jordan’s work is a dialogue of implicit praise of the beautiful world in which he finds himself and the unspoken faithfulness of his citizenship in a tradition of American landscape painting which celebrates both the availability of the landscape and its transcendence over any petty possessiveness we might try to impose. As new entries in a continuum of as-yet-unexhausted opportunities to affirm what beckons us to loyalty to such a vision of the land, Jordan’s paintings are substantial elements in a pattern of allegiance to a set of values which confirm the persistence of caring about and affirming the existence of a shared vision of excellence which is our heritage, in art, of the necessity of belonging to a native land." -  Art critic, Lawrence D. Steefel, Jr.


ArtWeek,  September,  1978,  William Sawyer Gallery,  San Francisco, “Images of the Land”:


              ". . . The Sawyer has mounted an immense exhibition of landscape paintings, titled Images of the Land,  that fills all the gallery’s regular spaces and even spills into the foyer. Altogether there are nearly 100 works representing twenty-two artists. . . . Public response to the exhibition has been overwhelmingly favorable. . . . Works by several of artists showing with Sawyer for the first time are impressive and appealing for various reasons: Robert Jordan, for the unabashed romanticism of his scenes in oils—a dog on a road, a canoe in a lake—which are so effective that they immediately bring to mind scenes from childhood in one’s memory." - Art critic Robert McDonald


Art News,  January,  1977.  Far Gallery,  “Robert Jordan”:


            "Among the 50 recent oils, pastels and drawings in this exhibition, a Daumieresque series of small black and white conté crayon studies give some hint of Jordan’s methods. Realistic, but owing nothing to photo realism, these quiet, restrained and lyrical landscapes in the tradition of [nineteenth] century American landscape painting seem almost to be studies for more elaborate, intricately moody Dutch landscapes. Jordan leaves his surfaces alone, bathing them in light: light breaking through clouds after a storm, reflected from the untroubled surface of a still body of water, layers of light filtering timidly through the fragile emptiness of a leafless winter wood. They are gentle remembrances of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, the Deerslayer, Chingatchgook, of open plains and rolling hills, quiet rivers, deep still lakes, silent impregnable forests—reserved celebrations of the majesty, the grandeur of nature—clean, stark, empty. The rare presence of an indistinct human form merely reminds one of the ultimate solitude of nature.

          Two interiors, Self-portrait in Boston and At Home, reminiscent in flavor of the innocent worldliness of the 1930s salon paintings of John Koch, epitomize the feeling that permeates all Jordan’s work. Classically uncluttered, imbued with the peaceful clarity of total stillness, filled with a cool green-white light, the presence of human beings once again completely incidental (in his self-portrait, he is seen distantly reflected in a mirror) each room is an oasis, a refuge, in which Jordan recaptures a time long gone by, a space we lost somewhere along the way that we would surely rediscover if we could. " -  Art critic Nina French-Frazier.


Arts Magazine,  December 1976,  Far Gallery,  November 1976 exhibit:


            "Nature, despite her subtleties, can be made to look very simple. Knowing this, Jordan pulls together his lights and darks in order to simplify large areas of landscape. Two or three twigs, visible against the sky, suffice to persuade us that a band of darkness, sweeping across the entire picture, represents a large forest. A translucent middle value, denoting distant dim light, spreads out above the forest; then the pure white of the clouds takes over, reflecting back to earth the resplendent light of the sun. All this is done by means of a succession of horizontal bands. A dark diagonally placed storm cloud then introduces the idea of movement and the threat of a coming shower. This idyllic scene will be cherished by lovers of traditional art." - Art critic, Gordon Brown


Arts Magazine, May 1974,  Far Gallery Exhibition, "Robert Jordan":


           "At dusk, panoramic views change rapidly. Long shadows spread over the meadows; distant mountains catch the last rays of the setting sun. Color disappears and people become dark silhouettes, unrecognizable as individuals. Each person retreats into himself. The predominant mood is one of pleasant melancholy. These subjects and moods lend themselves well to the tonal painting of Robert Jordan, just as sunlight at noon is a proper subject for Matisse, Jordan has simplified the technique of the Hudson River school in order to represent essential rather than inconsequential details. (Far, April 9-27-1974)" - Art critic Gordon Brown


The New York Times, January 1972,  Art: Comeback for Landscapes,  Boston University Gallery,  School of Fine and Applied Arts:


          ". . . In an interesting and widely ranging exhibition called “The American Landscape” 20 American painters and printmakers are showing recent works based on specific landscape subjects. It is a beguiling exhibition in which very personal styles and very large ambitions are abundantly in evidence, together with some altogether banal and reactionary pictures that confirm the avant-gardist’s worst fears about the current realist resurgence. . . . Among the painters that were little known before this exhibition, Robert Jordan, George Nick and Hank Widmier are particularly outstanding. Mr. Jordan’s pastels remind one of Blakelock at his most romantic . . . " -Art critic Hilton Kramer


Time, February 1969,  Art in New York,  Uptown,  Gallery Listings:


            "Kiyoshi Iwasa and Robert Jordan—Two new painters making their first appearance at [Banfer Gallery, East 67th Street] share a flair for the mysterious. Iwasa, a Japanese [painter] presently living in New York, takes the surrealistic route, combining images of statuary, birds’ wings and boxes with enigmatic glimpses of sky and countryside. Jordan, a native New Yorker, takes a more romantic and realistic approach in his New England landscapes and quiet interiors"


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