The term "post-narrative painting" was coined by Susan Siegfried in her landmark book Ingres: Painting Reimagined. At a time when Neoclassical depictions of virtuous actions — popularized by his teacher Jacques-Louis David — dominated French art, Ingres created works that confounded and frustrated the public by "abandoning physical action as a basis of heroism."[note] Susan Siegfried. Ingres: Painting Reimagined (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 21.[/note] In this week's discussion, we use Siegfried's writing as an approach to understanding the unusual development and career of Jean-August-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867). As you can tell from the recording, I was just overcoming a nasty flu and nearly lost my voice by the end. (Sorry.) Enjoy.
Attempting to summarize David's career in 90 minutes is futile. Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748-1825) is one of the most discussed artists in history. His approach to Neoclassicism affected generations of artists. Combining his revolutionary artistry and political activities, makes David a perpetual well of interpretation and intrigue. Instead of biting off his full oeuvre, at this week's discussion between me and a group of professional artists we spent the majority of our time discussing David's early career; his early lessons the French Academy and his many attempt for the Prix de Rome.
As part of an ongoing weekly discussions with contemporary artists, I explored the career of Antonio Canova (Italian, 1747-1822). Today, Canova is considered a major proponent of Neoclassicism. But, for contemporaries, Canova's interpretations of the antique works were often at odds with predominant theories. We explore major works by Canova and how they were received by his critics, for better and worse. [embed]https://vimeo.com/158848811[/embed]
Next month, the National Gallery of London will display a "previously-unknown work by Leonardo da Vinci." Called Salvator Mundi (i.e. "Savior of the World"), the painting has been compared to surviving, fragmented preparatory drawings and undisputed paintings by da Vinci. As a result, many scholars believe it should be counted among a handful of paintings by the artist. Others doubt. The portrait of Christ will be on display in the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, opening on November 9 in London, for everyone to compare and opine.
Anticipating certain and divisive scrutiny, Nicholas Penny, the Director of the National Gallery, says he is "pretty sure" it is by da Vinci. He was interviewed by The Sunday Times(London) for a feature in the paper's magazine titled "Leonardo? Convince Me.":
"It is a very weird picture." . . . It shares something, he says, with Leonardo's portraits The Lady with the Ermine and the Mona Lisa. "They respond, but hold something back. You can't think about them except in relationship to the viewer. They imply a narrative of which you are a part. That was not true of portraiture before Leonardo. The Salvator Mundi radiates intense presence. But because it's Leonardo you do wonder if you're going mad–and you certainly want people whose opinions you respect to look at it." He pauses. "People can judge for themselves." (Sunday Times Magazine. 9 OCT 2011.)
Before becoming Director, Mr. Penny was the Clore Curator of Renaissance Art at the National Gallery for ten years. He is a serious scholar; an expert. But, his advice here is nonsense. We may never be able to decisively attribute the painting to da Vinci–it has been over 500 years. But, we can certainly do better than stand in front of it to experience "radiated presence"–whatever that means–or take comfort in an "implied narrative." It is the kind of non-methodical, relativistic drivel that has made art history and art historians completely irrelevant to public debate in our evidence-based era.
I don't think Mr. Penny's advice in this interview is the basis for his opinions; but, he has been trained by a hundred years of art historical practice to talk to the public about art in an imprecise and unhelpful way. The Salvator Mundi painting has been through a host of scientific tests, including carbon dating and comparative chemical testing of pigments used in undisputed da Vinci paintings; and, a series of comparative stylistic studies, such as analysis of stroke and process. These are not the kind of tools available to average museum-goers who Mr. Penny invites to "judge for themselves." If he were a lawyer, we would expect him to say "Here is the compelling evidence for and against . . . therefore I am pretty sure it is attributable to da Vinci." not: "I'm pretty sure . . . It's weird . . . ask someone else." It is a sign of our times that a trained scholar and Director of one of the world's great museums would tell people to look at and interpret a Renaissance painting as though it were a 1960s drip painting. It is evidence of the public death of a way of talking about art called the "Morellian Method."
Giovanni Morelli (1816-1891) was a trained doctor who had a love of art. During his lifetime, royal and national museums sprung up throughout Europe. Many Old-Master works were placed on public display for the first time, leading to an international public dialogue on art not seen before or since. Competing for attention, these collections–sometimes of dubious origins– were often overzealous and sloppy in attributing works of art to marquee names. Paintings labelled "da Vinci" have since been downgraded to "School of da Vinci" or "Unknown Florentine Artist." At the time, art historians, critics and collectors were anxious to divide up painters into similar Schools (e.g. Spanish, French, Neopolitan) by observations of subject, palette and, even, size. Morelli had a different approach. He suggested that the same rigorous scientific methods used in medicine (e.g. dissection and observation) be applied to the observation of paintings. In particular, Morelli believed that an artist was best known by the minute and inconsequential parts of a painting: leaves on trees, fingernails, dirt. Artists didn't reveal themselves in the big things; but, in the mundane areas of their art that were not subject to constant reinvention. He wrote detailed treatises on the varied hand gestures of particular painters, contrasting them with others. Over time, he was considered a kind of Sherlock Holmes of painting.Though some of his attributions were incorrect, Morelli's object-based method pre-dated many scientific tools that his nineteenth-century philosophy would have embraced.
By the early twentieth century, paintings were interpreted differently. Art was considered mostly through philosophical arguments alone, not craftsmanship combined with philosophy. Morelli was not relevant to Dadaists or Pop Artists. But, it was my belief that thos, like Mr. Penny, who continued to study art in the Classical Tradition, would retain the rigor and language of a scientific method in order to understand, preserve and teach the public about these works. I think Mr. Penny has a deep understanding–many years beyond technical possibilities of Morelli's era–but his comments appear to indicate his lack of belief public capacity or interest to see paintings in a rigorous way. Maybe that is just my implied narrative.
With art historians earnestly looking for prominent female artists, it is surprising that so little is written about Fanny Fleury (French, 1848-1920). With the exception of Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822-1899), Fleury was perhaps the most successful female exhibitor in the history of the Paris Salon, having works accepted consistently from 1869 to 1882, and in many afterwards. She also exhibited at the Salons of Saint-Etienne and Dijon, and received an honorable mention at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.
Fleury's academic credentials are impeccable. She studied with Jean-Jacques Henner (French, 1829-1905) and was later accepted to the École des Beaux-Arts as a student of Carolus-Duran (French, 1837-1917), where she was a classmate of John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925). (Speaking of her work at the 1884 Salon, one critic said Fleury had "equalled her masters," Henner and Duran.) Highly regarded by her peers, Fluery was elected an Officer of the Academie and an associate of the Société des artistes français.
Yet, for all her accomplishments in well-documented institutions and events, there is surprisingly little information currently available about the life and work of Fleury. (This is another instance where I am writing about an artists in hopes that it encourages others to contact me with additional information.)
Fleury was born outside Paris in either 1843 or 1848–most sources agree on the latter. It is possible–I stress "possible" for lack of form documentation, yet a great deal of circumstancial evidence–she is the daughter of Joseph Nicolas Robert-Fleury (French, 1797-1890), a successful history painter and on-time director of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and Rome; and, his son, the painter Tony Robert-Fleury (French, 1837-1912), who was also successful painter and who replaced Bougeureau as the Director of the Société des artistes français (If anyone can shed additional light, it would be greatly appreciated.) When she married, Fanny Fluery became Fanny Laurent Fleury; but, never included "Laurent" in her signature. So, whether or not there is an actual genetic connection between the three Fluerys, they must have come into contact with one another through the Acadamie.
It has been difficult to piece together a continuum of Fleury's production with the few works and accounts left to us. It appears that for a time–presumably early in her career–she created a number of still lives.
Under Carolus-Duran, Fleury distinguished herself as a portraitist. Her large-scale work Bebe dort (1884) exhibited in the Salon of 1884 along with Madame X by her classmate John Singer Sargent. Both pieces belie the the influence Corolus-Duran, who often combined monumental human figures in contemporary settings.
In Bebe dort (1884), a mother–perhaps a self-portrait of the artist–cradles her child, sitting together next to a cradle. Behind the figures, on the wall Fluery places a print of a business being ransacked by a mob. No one would imagine that scene actually being hung in a child's room. It is a clever use of a picture-within-a-picture, used often by Netherlandish painters in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to create greater or multiple meanings within a work. The juxtaposition of the two scenes contrasts security and comfort of home with a threatening world.
At some point, Fleury set aside society portraits and dedicated herself to Breton scenes. In 1892, The American Magazine wrote:
Realism has likewise tempted another artists of great talent, Mme. Fanny Fleury. It is to the desolate lands of Lower Brittany that Mmde. Fleury goes for her subjects. She has painted som admirable marine scenes, but excels in depicting types of peasantry . . . every summer she goes to the seacoast, and in some retired cornes, unfrequentd by the tourist, prepares her picture for the next Salon. (The American Magazine, Vol. 34. New York: Frank Leslie Publishing House, 1892; p, 430.)
The quality of her work combined with her credentials certainly raise questions about the current dearth of readily-available information on Fleury's life and the location of her works. All signs point to a productive career. From contemporary records, we know that her works were regularly purchased from Salon galleries, and that her works were found in various French and American museum collections–none of which currently list those works in their public inventories.
Whatever the reason for Fanny Fleury's undeserved, forgotten status, she will only gain prominence as her works are rediscovered.
As those of you who follow my tweets (apologies for the shameless Twitter plug) know, I have been traveling for the past three weeks. I was in Spain for eleven days, France for one, and another five in California. To some it might sound like glamorous, Indiana-Jonesing; but, in reality, I spent most days underground in dusty archives looking for undiscovered, art-historical morsels and nights transcribing nineteenth-century handwriting. Along the way, I came across a number of remarkable works of art, some not seen for more than a hundred years. I plan to share some of them. I begin with A Scene from Pompeii (1868), a previously unpublished and little-known work by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (Dutch and British, 1836-1912).
This morning, I spoke with Vern Swanson, a mentor of mine and author of Alma-Tadema's catalogue raisonné. Dr. Swanson did not include an illustration of the painting in his book–the most definitive on the subject–because A Scene from Pompeii was unavailable until recently. As one of Alma-Tadema's most ambitious early paintings, it has been in storage at the Museo Nacional del Prado for nearly 100 years. This year A Scene from Pompeii was hung for the first time in the Prado's new, permanent wing dedicated nineteenth-century painting and sculpture.
Alma-Tadema's works, famous for Olympian themes that idealized a bygone empire, may seem more at place in France or Great Britain than in Spain. At the Prado, A Scene from Pompeii makes strange bedfellows with a generation of nineteenth-century Spanish artists who sometimes trained in France, but nonetheless venerated classical realists like Diego Velázquez and José de Ribera.
This painting is one of only a handful of foreign nineteenth-century works in the Prado's collection. It was donated to the short-lived, Spanish Museo de Arte Moderno in 1887 by Ernesto Gambart, then Spanish Consul to Nice (France). When the Museo de Arte Moderno was absorbed into the Prado a few years later, nearly all of the its collections, including this work by Alma-Tadema, were placed in storage where they have been ever since. Only now, under the leadership of Javier Barón, Director of Nineteenth-Century Painting at the Prado, are these works being fully restored and finally displayed.
A Scene from Pompeii (1868) dates to a happy and prolific period in Alma-Tadema's life. Five years earlier, he married his first wife, Marie-Pauline Gressin, in Antwerp. Their honeymoon was spent in Florence, Rome, Naples and Pompeii. For the next several years, he absorbed and transmuted his personal experience with the classical tradition into a series of paintings that quoted Greco-Roman architecture and artworks, such as a bronze reproduction of Aphrodite by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles (4th-century BC), in this work.
Alma-Tadema is often remembered for his British works created after the death of his wife in 1869. These exquisitely detailed scenes sometimes feature dozens of figures painted in jewel-like colors. However, before 1869, his works regularly exhibited the same restricted, earth-tone palette of A Scene of Pompeii. While this painting shares the trademark precision Alma-Tadema's larger oeuvre, its composition is unusual. I am not an expert on Alma-Tadema; but, I am surprised by the Baroque proportions of the figures which, unlike other works by Alma-Tadema, fill the canvas to near capacity.
It is always a pleasure to find new works by an artist as well-known and respected as Sir Alma-Tadema. I am sure that the Prado will have more insightful and important things to say about the painting as the new nineteenth-century wing becomes more public.
(Note: The following was written for the private collector who owns these two bronzes. I enjoyed my research so much, that I thought I would share it here, with his permission.)
At a time when Paris was the center of the art world Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) was one of France’s most decorated artists. Principally remembered as a painter, his greatest contribution may well be his work as a sculptor. The works La Fuite en Egypte and Les Rameaux were both made in 1897, near the end of Gérôme’s career and at the height of his ability.
Born on France’s east coast, Gérôme received the reluctant permission of his father, an accomplished goldsmith, to study at the country’s most prestigious art academy, the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. There he excelled under the direction of Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) and Charles Gleyre (1806-1874). Gleyre’s studio, which placed emphasis on the revival of Greek forms in art, had a lasting affect on his student’s interest in classical subjects and models. Gérôme’s own work would span Classicism, Orientalism and Realism; traces of all three can be found in his later works.
When Gleyre was appointed Director of the French Academie in Rome in 1844, Gérôme followed. There he completed his academic education through close study of Old Master and Greco-Roman works. (Gérôme traveled throughout his career to Greece, Egypt and the Holy Land.) As a result of his studies, his works bore the technical virtuosity of an academic artist combined with personal first-hand knowledge of monuments, foreign landscapes and exotic peoples. La Fuite en Egypte and Les Rameaux directly reflect his study of bedouin costume and animals observed during a visit to the Holy Land.
Returning to France in 1847, Gérôme enjoyed his first of many successes at the highly competitive Salon de la Société des Artistes Français. That year, the eminent French critic Theophile Gautier wrote: “Let us mark with white this lucky year, unto us a painter is born. He is called Gérôme. I tell you his name today, and tomorrow it will be celebrated.” Works by Gérôme were accepted nearly every year from 1847 to 1903. There they inspired popular novels and music. By the end of his life, Gérôme had been made a member of the Institute de France (1865), a knight in the Légion d’honneur (1867), and awarded the Order of the Red Eagle by King Wilhelm I of Prussia.
Such success merited prominent commissions from the state, as a well as a bevy of patrons, including the Empress Eugenie, who became a close friend. Today, his paintings and sculptures are found in many world’s finest museums including the Musée d’Orsay (Paris), National Gallery of Art (London), National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), Hermitage (St. Petersburg), Art Institute of Chicago, and Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York).
Géróme’s high profile had academic currency. He was hired as one of three studio teachers at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts. There Gérôme fathered a dynasty of academic painters in France and America, among them Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847-1928), Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Pascal Dagnan Bourveret (1852-1929), William M. Paxton (1869-1941) and Julian A. Weir (1852-1919). A lifelong tutor to many, he maintained a close relationship with his students beyond their studies.
In 1889, Gérôme travelled to Florence and Padua with two students: Edouard Detaille (1848-1912) and François Flameng (1856-1923) There he studied the equestrian works of Italian Renaissance masters, including Donatello and Verrocchio. The trip was a book end to the studies he began as a young artist and had first seen the works. He later wrote to a friend about the journey:
I went to Florence . . . I had stayed there as a youth and had not returned since. What a deception! What an eye-opener! I saw crumble--I won’t say all--but almost all my youthful heroes.
Rather than arrogance, here Gérôme displayed a genuine sense of disappointment and the honest assessment that then--in his late sixties--he may have moved beyond youthful lessons and on a level with the masters. It is possible this insight led Gérôme to look beyond standard models.
Late-nineteenth-century archeologists discovered color residues on Roman and Greek works, proving that the austere white marble we see today was, in fact, covered in bright blues, reds, greens and precious metals. Gérôme learned of the use of polychrome and incorporated them in his own works, including Les Rameaux and La Fuite en Egypte, which both bear the subtle but unmistakable use of polychrome unique to Gérôme.
The sculptures were produced during the last decade of his life, when Gérôme dramatically increased the amount of time and resources spent on his sculptures. In 1890, Gérôme hired Emile Décorchement to work as a full-time sculpting assistant. He also teamed up with the foundry of Siot-Decauville.
Established in the 1890’s, Siot-Decauville’s innovative ability to scale down large bronze models made their foundry especially attractive to Gérôme, who prided himself on fidelity to reality. The remarkable precision visible in Les Rameaux and La Fuite en Egypte were accomplished by Gérôme working with models twice the size of the finished bronzes. In this way, he was able to add details-the animals’ fur, the wilting leaves of Christ’s palm branch, and the gauzy folds of Mary’s bedouin clothing--with larger tools that would have been ineffective in smaller-scale versions.
In the late-nineteenth-century, table-top bronzes were an popular feature of tasteful interior decor. This pair of Les Rameaux and La Fuite en Egypte were cast in the same year as Gérôme’s painting, La Fuite en Egypte, was submitted to the Salon. According to his standard studio practice, Gérôme’s sculptures, sometimes in unfinished stages, were the inspiration for paintings and vice versa. In this case, it is unknown which work was first.
Les Rameaux captures the moment Christ enters Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:7-10; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19), on what is traditionally known as Palm Sunday, hence the branch in Christ’s left hand:
5 Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
6 And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,
7 And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
8 And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.
9 And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
10 And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?
11 And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, which ends with Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Gérôme indicates the journey ahead by placing Christ on a slight incline. As he enters the gate, Christ raises his hand in a sign of blessing, often attributed to Christianity, yet believed to be derived from a bircas kohanim (Jewish priestly blessing).
The juxtaposition of Les Rameaux with La Fuite en Egypte brings attention to details otherwise imperceptible. Christ sits on a femial donkey and Mary on a mael. Christ is on an incline, Mary on unvaried, steady ground.
La Fuite en Egypte depicts a pensive Mary, uprooted from her home and traveling to Egypt with family in tow. According to St. Matthew:
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
Despite the tumult inherent in the narratives, Gérôme shows Mary and Christ unfazed by their circumstances. These are not the contorted, pained figures of works often used for public ritual. They are works of private reflection.
When Gérôme created Les Rameaux and La Fuite en Egypte, he was 73. His last seven years were a flurry of activity. On the morning of January 10, 1904, Gérôme was found dead in his studio before a self-portrait of Rembrandt and his own painting Truth. He left a studio full of partially finished and un-cast plasters. Les Rameaux and La Fuite en Egypte were among his last finished works.
According to Ackerman there are at least three sizes of each statue known to have been cast. These were the first and largest versions and, therefore, their production, from start to finish, would have been overseen by Gérôme himself. In addition to their authenticity, Ackerman believed that they were created as a pair and not separate works. These two bronzes have been in the same family for three generations and are believed to have been purchased directly from Siot-Decauville. If true, these represent a rare combination. There is no similar pair known to exist in any public or private collection.
While not forgotten in Spain, Carlos de Haes' work has been little recognized elsewhere. As a teacher and award-winning artists, Haes is perhaps Spain's greatest landscape painter.
Carlos de Haes (Brussels, 1826-Madrid, 1898) was born in Belguim to Spanish parents. Due to financial troubles, the family was forced to return to Spain in 1835. There, Haes studied with Luis de la Cruz, a Court Painter to King Ferndinand VII and a member of the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
In 1850, at the age of 24, Haes traveled back to Brussels to study Flemish landscapes. There he competed and regularly placed in Belgium's annual Salons. Six years later, Haes returned to Spain.
His international experience carried a great deal of currency in Spanish painting circles, and immediately set him apart from his peers who rarely studied beyond Spain and Italy. His dedication to landscape also changed the Spanish Academy's attitude towards landscape painting.
Despite having been accepted as a major genre in other European countries, during the first half of the nineteenth century, Spain had not widely participated in Romantic and Sublime landscape painting. Instead, landscapes were considered a second-rate genre, a necessary part of an artist's education insofar as it related to the composition of history painting.
Haes' work Cercanías del moasterio de Piedra (1858) was the first landscape painting to win a First Place medal at the Exposicion Nacional, Spain's equivalent of the Paris Salon. The award represented a giant leap forward in the estimation of landscape painting as a stand-alone discipline. Shortly afterwards, Haes was made a member of the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the nation's most prestigious art school. His appointment in 1860 to the Academia de San Fernandoand and subsequent teaching there effectively caught Spain up with other schools of landscape painting in Europe. As a teacher, Haes fathered a dynasty of Spanish landscape artists that continues today. Among Haes's more prominent students are Martín Rico y Ortega (1833-1908), Jaime Morera (1854-1927).
It could be argued that Haes' one of most important contributions to Spanish painting was with non-landscape painters. Through him, history painters, whose work enjoyed the widest attention at the Exposiciones Nacionales, developed a new appreciation and approach to landscapes, arguably bringing it on par with their figural work. Artists like Francisco Pradilla, José Casado del Alisal, Placenscia Maestro, were required to take Haes' course at the Academia de San Fernando considered a serious part of their large history paintings, sometimes producing numerous studies devoid of figures.
In particular, Haes brought to Spain an increased emphasis on three aspects of landscape painting: luminosity, porportion and direct observation from nature.
Traditionally, Spanish artists favored the use of sandy-colored grounds for use in painting. This created a unifying effect in their works, but resulted in the overall dampening of light. While Haes continued to use sand-colored and reddish grounds in his works, he would incorporate large patches of lead white and subdue the quantity of sandy grounds.
Very few of Haes' works exceed 150 by 200 centimeters. This was at a time when history paintings, often exceeding 6 by 10 meters, were competing for top prizes at Exposiciones Nacionales. Haes' landscapes, though bold in composition and epic in subject matter, maintained comparatively modest proportions. This set a precedent in landscape painting throughout Spain, which more or less continued throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, even when history paintings became more ambitious in size.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, Haes was a proponent of direct observation from nature and led several expeditions. This resulted to an almost nationalistic fervor for Spanish landscape painting, that featured Iberian natural wonders.
Today, Carlos de Haes' work can be found in nearly every major Spanish museum. However, the largest body and greatest works from his ouvre are held in the Prado Museum and not currently on display. A new wing of the Prado, dedicated to Spanish nineteenth-century art, is planned to open in 2012.
(Click here for a list of works and biography of Carlos de Haes by the Prado Museum.)
- Carlos de Haes (1826-1898) en el Museo del Prado, cat. exp., Madrid, Museo del Prado, 2002.
- Cid Priego, Carlos, Aportaciones para una monografía del pintor Carlos de Haes, Lérida, Instituto de Estudios Ilerdenses, 1956.
Occasionally, I come across a book that was made with me in mind. Figures du Corps: Une Leçon d'Anatomie à l'École des Beaux-Arts is the catalogue of the exhibition by the same name held from October 21, 2008 to January 4, 2009 at the l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. (Painfully, I first learned about the exhibition after seeing this book in a bookshop window in London, which is either a testament to my own ignorance of events like this or a sign that marketing efforts had limited reach.)
The catalogue is an ode to the bewildering and wonderful arsenal of contraptions, tools, plaster casts, photographs, and any other useful aid created to assist artists in the study of human and animal figures.
Resembling part medical research facility and part life-science museum, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts gathered human and animal anatomical examples--ideal, real and atypical--for use in training.
For artists at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, academic training meant mastering the human figure. As described in a previous post, this training took place over a series of graduated steps, beginning with isolating parts of the human figure, to studying idealized forms in Greco-Roman statues, and, finally, working with live models.
The catalogue includes several examples of classical forms that have been worked over to reveal underlying skeletal and muscular structure. It is evidence of a startling lack of superficiality in their approach to their craft and art. There are numerous accounts of dissections of both humans and animals, and visits from surgeons to discuss recent medical discoveries.
Looking at examples of plaster casts from the book, I was surprised at how many of them were obviously taken from human subjects and not from statues. The catalogue is unclear as to when many of these casts were made and used. Regardless, it is fascinating to see that they went to great lengths to articulate hands and feet in a wide range of challenging positions that were not always quoted from classical forms.
One of the greatest costs in training was the hiring of live models. As a result, contraptions of all kinds--mannequins, photographs, stereoscope images--were made to substitute, or perhaps more accurately, supplement, models.
One man at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paul Richer (Chartes, 1849-Paris, 1933) was particularly skilled both as a creator of artist aides and as a sculptor himself.
His work Tres in Una, above, is a terrific example of the late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century combinations realist and classical approaches to art. There is disappointingly little written about Richer in the catalogue, yet he is clearly one of a rare breed, simultaneaously gifted at educational innovation and a talented artist in his own right. For one, I would love to learn more about him, and hope to.
A great deal of the catalogue is dedicated to the anatomical models of animals, especially horses Just as in England, where George Stubbs (British , 1724-1806) led a generation of artists at the Royal Academy to explore and correctly understand the anatomy of horses, the French Academy invested a great deal in equine models.
One stunning example of an artist using the models is a study of horse legs, below, by Théodore Géricault (Rouen, 1971-Paris, 1824).
This catalogue makes it possible to comprehend the lengths to which artists would go to learn their craft. For me, it is both an inspiration and a reminder of how much we can learn from them.
Lately, I have been looking at my collection of images by theme, grouping Biblical and mythological subjects in categories. (It becomes helpful to have these groupings, which would normally not be seen in museums, when giving lectures or teaching children.) It was while piecing together my images of Eve that I found several photos I had taken of Eugène Delaplanche's (French, 1831-1892) work Eve After the Fall (1869).
I will never forget the first time I saw it, years ago, at the Musée d'Orsay. Although I was familiar with Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit and her subsequent expulsion from Eden, I had never considered her feelings and, especially, the moment of realization she must have had after eating the Forbidden Fruit. The sculpture filled me with sympathy for Eve and remorse for my own bad decisions in life. Only great art can do that.
Delaplanche studied under the neoclassical sculptor Francisque Joseph Duret (French, 1804-1865) . In 1864, Delaplanche was awarded the Prix de Rome and, subsequently, went to Italy where he studied Greco-Roman works and the sculptures of Michaelangelo and Bernini. He returned to Paris with an approach his work that combined classical idealism with natural forms. The result in Eve After the Fall (1869), done shortly after returning from Rome, is almost Hellenistic, but much larger in scale than most Greek statues.
Eve is beautiful, yet forceful. Her features are idealized, yet her figure, almost drawn into a fetal position from horror, is sinuous, organic.
All of the elements of the story are here: the discarded, bitten fruit from the Tree o Life, the serpent coiled around the tree, and Eve, full of horror and realization of her transgression.
Delaplanche went on to do a number of works and recieved a number of prizes. Unfortunately, like many of his contemporary sculptors and unlike many contemporary painters, little has been written about his work and life.