Review: “Belonging and Betrayal: How Jews Made the Art World Modern”

Charles Dellheim, Professor of History at Boston University, sets out in Belonging and Betrayal: How Jews Made the Art World Modern to show how Jews made a disproportionately large contribution to the ascendancy of Modernist art. As discussed in a previous review, Jews are commonly linked to the avant-garde and Modernism. Dellheim’s project is to explain why Jews entered the European art trade and were particularly supportive of Modern art. In Vienna of the belle époque under Franz Joseph I (an era of industrialisation, expansion and modernisation of the city, as capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) the arts were open to all people of means. The exclusion from certain fields of Jews (voluntarily or involuntarily), left them with free rein in the arts. “This left the Jewish bourgeoisie an unprecedented opportunity to seize the aesthetic initiative. And they made the most of it.”

Dellheim – a descendant of German Jewish refugees – defines Jews as ethnic Jews rather than just those practising Judaism. He rejects the idea that there is anything inherent in Jewish genetics that makes Jews inclined towards, and proficient in, art dealing and appreciation, preferring to see the matter as one of acculturation, law (Jews being restricted in certain matters) and economics (again, determined by law as well as broader economic opportunities). Strong in-group preference facilitated the establishment of profitable and long-lasting family businesses, some of which have lasted over 150 years.  

Jewish art dealers

Dellheim notes that entry of Jews into art collecting, dealing and creating was a late development. Jews were concerned with religion, scholarship, law, trade and finance, not much with the visual arts until the second half of the Nineteenth Century. (Before the emancipation of the Jews in France in 1791, Jews had no right to join a guild – including the Guild of St Luke – or trade fine art.) The public art gallery and the annual salon opened art to the general public. The crisis of academies and salons being unwilling or unable to absorb and co-opt new artistic forms sufficiently rapidly led to a new opportunity for private dealers and middlemen to act as bridges between avant-garde producers and prospective bourgeois collectors. The new entrants into this field included Jews, who had some natural advantages by having preferential access to credit from Jewish financiers to establish businesses, finance speculative acquisitions and sustain businesses during downturns. Some of these networks had been well established in the preceding century, during which the ending of absolute monarchies, the reduction of power in the hands of the aristocracy and the transfer of capital to industrialists all led to a professionalised art market, public auction houses, specialist publications and the foundation of art history as a professional discipline (a movement originating in Vienna) lubricated by the dispersal of noble collections. Thus, a network of Jewish art historians, collectors, publishers and dealers – working with Jewish bankers – led to the flourishing of the European art trade, albeit primarily in Old Masters, in the pre-1850 period.

So, when the rise of the Realists, the Barbizon School and the Impressionists took place over the 1850-75 period, the Jewish art network was already established and ready to take up the opportunity and absorb new entrants. Nathan Wildenstein started selling minor paintings by Old Masters in the 1870s, while working as a textile merchant. His motto was, “Boldness in buying. Patience in selling. Time does not matter.”

Wildenstein became a partner of Ernest Gimpel, another Alsatian Jew, who had worked for Jewish bankers as a commodities broker. These bankers had social access to the richest families in France, who were hungry for social status through art acquisition. Gimpel and Wildenstein made their fortunes through selling French art from Colnaghi in London. Colnaghi had acquired most of his stock from the descendants of French émigrés who had fled the revolution. Watteau’s The Poet’s Dream was bought from Colnaghi for 10,000 francs; ten years later it was sold to a French banker for 150,000 francs. When he established Hôtel Wildenstein at 57 rue la Boëtie, it was a palace of culture and statement of ambition to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the high society of Paris.  

[Image: Hotel Wildenstein, Paris]

The Duveen Galleries of Tate Britain are a legacy of the Duveen family of art dealers, founded by Joel Duveen, a Dutch Jewish immigrant to Hull, where the family trade was import-export. If anything, the liquidation of aristocratic collections was even more rapid and extensive in Britain than elsewhere. Dealers facilitated the transfer of art masterpieces from British stately homes to magnate mansions in American cities. The Duveens had branches in London, Paris and New York. They formed a secret partnership with Italian-art expert Bernard Berenson, a Lithuanian Jew. Denied a professorship at Harvard University, Berenson went on to become a scholar, critic and populariser of Renaissance art. He is attributed with stimulating rich Americans to collect European art, thereby accelerating the transatlantic art trade and elevating prices. Berenson was a close adviser to Isabella Stewart Gardner – leading cultural light of Boston high society and one of foremost American art collectors. Berenson acted as an authenticator and insider contact for the Duveens – which clashed with scholarly detachment and disinterest. His high public and credibility made him an invaluable ally for a dealing house.

Gimpel, Wildenstein and the Seligmann brothers followed the Duveens by opening branches in New York to feed the apparently insatiable demand for Old Master art for New Money collectors. At the end of the century, the collections of Jewish bankers joined the inherited art of the British aristocracy entered the art trade, with much of it heading West to the USA. “The rise of Jewish art collectors provided an opening for Jewish art dealers who social connections mattered more inside their own communities than outside of such.” Having favoured status gave Jewish collectors and dealers access to art (and credit) that allowed the creation of great collections at a slightly lower financial and time cost than would have been the case for gentiles. The establishment of dynasties cemented this. After all, when grandfather died and his collection had to be sold by his legatees, they could turn to the art-dealer grandson of the dealer who had sold the art originally to buy it back.

[Image: Paul Rosenberg, Paris, c. 1920]

Modernism and Jewishness

The Rosenbergs (father Alexandre, sons Paul and Léonce) and the Bernheims backed avant-garde art, collecting and selling Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. The Bernheims were big backers of Impressionism and benefited when it occupied centre-stage in the French art scene (at least, commercially) for over half a century. Paul and Bruno Cassirer paved the way for the Post-Impressionists in German through a Berlin gallery and a publishing house (which published van Gogh’s letters in German). The Secession movement of Vienna and Berlin was backed by many Jewish collectors. Gustav Klimt’s portrait subjects form a veritable checklist for the wealthiest Jewish women of Vienna.

In Vienna, Franz Joseph I found himself patronising the Secession exhibitions despite being temperamentally ill-disposed to Modernism – he particularly loathed the Loos House that faced the entrance to his palace. The Kaiser was politically supportive of Modernism because his fractured, multi-cultural, multi-lingual composite empire was being torn apart by separatist movements and Modernism was the only school of art that had no distinctive national character, did not assert an ethnic identity and was not supported by anyone except the cosmopolitan liberal elite and a few radical artists and architects. Thus, the art patronised by the wealthy Jewish upper class found itself a de facto empire style despite being (or perhaps because it was) widely despised.

Hitler lived in Vienna at this time and grew to detest Modernism. When Hitler inaugurated the House of German Art in Munich in 1937, this Nazi brainchild was declared to be explicitly intended to reverse the tide of Modernism. “[…] art and art activities are lumped together with the handiwork of our modern tailor shops and fashion industries. And to be sure, following the maxim: Every year something new. One day Impressionism, then Futurism, Cubism, maybe even Dadaism, etc. A further result is that even for the most insane and inane monstrosities thousands of catchwords to label them will have to be found, and have indeed been found.” We can see the typical Nazi condemnation of Kulturbolshewismus (cultural Bolshevism) in Hitler’s linkage of Modernism to Jewry. “Judaism was very clever indeed, especially in employing its position in the press with the help of so-called art criticism and succeeding not only in confusing the natural concepts about the nature and scope of art as well as its goals, but above all in undermining and destroying the general wholesome feeling in this domain.” As Dellheim writes, “The conviction that modernism was a Jewish threat to German culture became a staple of reactionary ideology. It fit in easily with the image of the rootless, abstract, cosmopolitan Jew, always consuming, never producing, and greedily sucking the life out of the true Germany.”

Dellheim is equivocal on whether Modernism was (at least partly) Jewish. He notes the Jewish Modernist artists (Pissarro, Leibermann, Modigliani, Soutine, Chagall, Lipchitz), collectors (the Stein siblings, the Cone sisters, Peggy Guggenheim) and critics (C.R. Marx, W George, Vauxcelles, Salmon). He then goes on:

Both Jewish entrepreneurs and avant-garde artists were archetypal outsiders, whose social paths otherwise might not have crossed. Both were largely excluded from the old regime in art and society and, moreover, stood to benefit from its destruction. Both were on the margins of their respective worlds as a small religious minority in largely homogenous societies with long histories of antisemitism. Prejudice made it extremely difficult for Jewish bourgeois to attain the degree of social status or respectability that their non-Jewish compatriots could take for granted. Avant-garde were on the margins of the official art world that upheld classical standards and shaped professional success. Neither Jewish entrepreneurs nor avant-garde artists were willing to remain on the periphery, however. Both craved professional success and social acceptance to one extent or another. They were outsiders who were determined to become insiders. But they wanted to do so, if possible, on their own terms rather than by capitulating to traditional ways or majority opinion. The need to circumvent entrenched authority provided common ground for avant-garde artists and their Jewish champions.

Readers might consider that the author could have pursued further this posited division between Jews and the traditions of the nations they inhabit. He lays out this powerful case and does not draw out its implications.

According to Dellheim, Modernism was not a Jewish project – the majority of its producers, dealers and consumers were non-Jewish, and it was not initiated by Jews – Dellheim sees that Modernism was a unique social, financial and artistic opportunity for Jews to acquire advantage. It must be said that many Jewish dealers and collectors were heavily invested in traditional art; however, there was nothing to prevent them from either additionally or successively transferring their backing to Modernism. We might see Modernism as speculative and risky compared to the Old Masters, and that new entrants might see openings that more conservative bodies might miss or disdain. “Marketing modern art – like many of the endeavors in which Jews clustered – was a middleman business that offered limited barriers to entry, the prospect of high returns, competitive advantages to family firms and ethnic networks, scope for international trading, and geographical mobility. The barriers to entry were few, the required capital modest, the competition limited, and professional hierarchies only beginning to gel. Successive waves of artists and schools created openings for dealers seeking a foothold in the commerce of art.” This is the rapid turnover of schools and styles in the Modern era – a hyper-charged cycle of innovation, popularisation, exploitation and obsolescence that can be found in movements lasting less than a decade, as artists, dealers, critics and collectors scrambled to establish themselves as pre-eminent before the next generation displaced them.

The course of history

Dellheim outlines the Intimiste circle, Berthe Weill and Alfred Flechtheim (dealer of Otto Dix). Picasso would have numerous Jewish dealers: Weill, D.-H. Kahnweiler, the Rosenbergs, Louise Leiris, Georges Wildenstein and others. So associated was Picasso (and Cubism) with Jewish and German names, that he kept a low profile during the Great War, for fear that French patriots would attack his art. (Spotting the non-French “k” in a Picasso painting was enough to stir ire.) Paul Rosenberg was a great champion of Picasso, Matisse, Bonnard, Braque and other top-level Modernists. René Gimpel made a point of supporting Modernist artists who were Jewish (Modigliani and Soutine).

The bulk of the book is a lively and well-sourced account of the Modernist art market from the 1910s up to the return of dealers following the end of World War II. The travails of art restitution bodies and the Monuments Men are raised here, though Dellheim acknowledges the extensive coverage of that subject already. Although those familiar with the major dealers and artists will know the outlines already, lesser-known incidents catch the attention. For instance, a Dusseldorf auction arranged by Flechtheim was bombed by the SA on 11 March 1933. The explosion did not kill anyone and was presumably an effort to frighten the Jewish art dealer and to damage his display of “un-German” Modernist art. He recounts the sad end of Paul Cassirer. Married to the beautiful actress Tilla Durieux (painted by Franz Stuck), Cassirer was so suicidal or reckless due to her rejection of him that he fatally wounded himself in the courthouse during their 1926 divorce proceedings.

[Image: Tilla Durieux at Paul Cassirer’s funeral, 1926, Berlin]

The wartime pillaging of Jewish collections is the “betrayal” in the title. Many colleagues and friends of the dealers – who fled, leaving behind most of their collections – collaborated with the Nazis, due to cupidity, envy or fear. Some Jews in neutral countries profited through acting as dealers for art that was stolen or extorted from fleeing collectors and dealers. The dispersal of Jewish collections has still not been entirely resolved to this day. It has been the subject of many books and documentaries and now is almost its own branch of law.

The scope of Dellheim’s subject is so huge that the book cannot help but have omissions. The Jewish patronage of the Secession in Vienna is only lightly sketched and the role of Jews around the early vanguard Modernism of the USSR is omitted. This book nicely sets up what could be a follow-up – an examination of Jewish dealers, artists and critics in the next phase of Modernism, the School of New York. A large percentage of the actors in 1940s Abstract Expressionism and dealers in the New York art scene were Jewish. Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg and Irving Sandler were pioneer critics and artists such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Philip Guston addressed explicitly Jewish themes in their art. All the time Leo Castelli, Frank Lloyd and Ileana Sonnabend were waiting in the wings, ready to advance following art movements.  

Dellheim has had to balance storytelling and analysis and has generally prioritised the former, which is to the benefit of general readers. His chapter “Between Bohemian and Bourgeois” (about the competing drives of Jews to rebel or to assimilate) seems tantalisingly inconclusive. He correctly ascertains that the bourgeois and the bohemian are not diametrically opposed but takes it little further. We could say that both bourgeois and bohemian are archetypes of liberalism – the support of progress (in whatever form that takes), consumers of culture (in whatever form that takes), self-regarding keepers of the flame of modernity (in whatever form that takes), opposers of tradition, religion and aristocracy (right or wrong, regardless). Bourgeois and bohemian are two sides of the same coin, two stages (youthful rebellion, materialist maturity) of conformity within the modern Western middle-class. One hungers for a little elaboration from Dellheim on this.

Belonging and Betrayal is a fine account of the broad and controversial subject of Jewish participation in the rise of Modernism in European art. Dellheim is well informed, thoughtful, sympathetic and a good writer. This book is suitable for anyone studying the history of the art trade, Modernism in the fine arts and the Jewish contributions to European culture.

Charles Dellheim, Belonging and Betrayal: How Jews Made the Art World Modern, Brandeis University Press, 21 September 21 2021, hardback, 674pp, 24 col./96 mono illus., £32.00, ISBN: 978-1-68458-056-9

© 2021 Alexander Adams

To see my art and books visit www.alexanderadams.art


Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900

 In the Studio (oil on canvas)

[Image: Marie Bashkirtseff (Ukrainian, 18581884), In the Studio (1881), oil on canvas, 60 5/8 x 73 1/4 in. Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum, Ukraine, KH-4234. Photo: Dnipropetrovsk/Bridgeman Images. Courtesy American Federation of Arts]

“Recent gains in women’s participation in the arts now demands an assessment of those who have paved the way – both women artists who struggled to establish careers in art and art historians who reinvented the critical language to accommodate them.”

So states curator Laurence Madeline in her essay introducing a current exhibition on women artists. Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900 (the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 9 June-3 September 2018; touring from Denver Art Museum and Speed Art Museum) gathers almost 90 paintings by 37 female artists from 11 countries, all of whom worked or trained in Paris. This exhibition is reviewed from the catalogue.

The period examined by this exhibition and catalogue was a turbulent and rich one. Despite the rise of Naturalism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Symbolism, the Salon dominated public reception of art and academic painting was a significant proportion of the art produced and consumed. The studio system of training, the École des beaux-arts and Prix de Rome were important in the training of artists and this presented women with a number of hurdles to becoming full-time artists. Women were not admitted to the École des beaux-arts until 1897 and had limited choices in the studios they could study at. Académie Julian became a favourite not just of women students but adventurous male students and a large number of the most successful artists of that period and the immediately following era studied there. In 1881 the Union des Femmes Peintres et Sculpteurs was founded to promote and exhibit women.

Statistical analysis in this catalogue indicates that female participation in the annual Salon ranged from below 10% to as high as 20% in a period when women as full-time professional artists were a rarity. This shows that women artists were recognised publicly in proportion to their participation in the fine-art field, even though it seems their art was less likely to have been awarded prizes and bought by the state. Such advantages naturally went to the most established artists, who were predominantly male. (Footnote 1)

Seeing a gathering of pictures by some unknown women artists seems to reinforce the impression that women are (or were) unduly discriminated against. Yet the art of twenty times that number of forgotten male artists from the period could have been assembled – with each of those artists as good as the women artists here. Go through any academy store room and you will encounter fine pictures by unknown artists, male and female. There simply is not enough wall space, book pages and public attention to cause these artists to be remembered. History bestows oblivion upon legions of capable professionals, regardless of gender. Fame is exceptional and, by definition, most artists are destined for obscurity. Nowadays, critics, curators and historians trawl archives and store rooms specifically in search of forgotten women artists to promote. Rescuing women artists from obscurity is an outcome of – and justification for – much Feminist art history over the last 50 years. Today there is no prejudice against women artists in the West. Women are rapidly becoming the majority of arts administrators and art historians. Today, among professionals and critics, there is an in-built favouritism towards women artists. Not a week goes by without a press release heralding the posthumous revival of a forgotten woman artist.

So, how good is the art exhibited here? Much of it is very good.

A number of artists need no introduction. Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès and Marie Bracquemond were respected and popular artists in the Impressionist circle, though the latter (who was married to acclaimed printmaker Félix Bracquemond and exhibited with the Impressionists) has faded from attention, partly due to her early retirement from art. Morisot, Cassatt and Gonzalès are presented fairly here, with first-class pieces.

Morisot_The_Cherry_Tree

[Image: Berthe Morisot (French, 18411895), The Cherry Tree (1891), oil on canvas, 57 5/8 x 35 in. Collection of Bruce and Robbi Toll; Photo: CAPEHART Photography. Courtesy American Federation of Arts]

A good case is made for Marie Bracquemond, with her Impressionist paintings of women and domestic life matching the quality of her more famous colleagues. Her reputation is likely to rise.

Naturalist painter of rural scenes Rosa Bonheur was celebrated in her lifetime as the equal of male painters. Bonheur was a phenomenon, becoming famous and being granted special privileges. Her art sold for high prices. Her paintings of farm animals were accurate and have an impressive physical presence but such art has become unfashionable and it is hard to see her name becoming common currency again. Fellow Naturalist painter Marie Bashkirtseff was very talented but one wonders if she would have left any more of a significant mark had she not died at the age of 25 in 1884. The adeptly executed In the Studio (1881) is one of the few large-scale paintings she painted in her short career. The Bastien-Lapage style of Naturalism she adopted was already verging on the fusty and sentimental by 1884. Was she capable of innovating or was she only a superior adherent of Cosmopolitan Realism?

Bastien-Lepage’s Naturalism became the dominant painting style in Scandinavia from his Salon success of 1878 until well into the Twentieth Century, long after his death. His approach was to paint scenes of rural life, including mild social commentary about the lives of working people. The doctrine of Naturalism through local colour, studying from life and painting at least studies en plein air won him legions of followers in France and Northern Europe. In this exhibition, nearly all the Nordic painters are indebted to him. Lady Elizabeth Butler’s patriotic scenes are more aligned to academic salon painting. Annie Louisa Swynnerton’s standing female nude is in the beaux-arts tradition, influenced by Pre-Raphaelitism. Amélie Beaury-Saurel’s pastel portrait of a young woman smoking and drinking coffee is bold, accomplished and lively. It is a very fine picture.

Grand claims for Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) are not borne out on the evidence presented here. There is a concise and beautiful painting of an interior (The Door (1884)); the only strong contrast in the picture is the glow of light coming through gaps around a closed door. However, the other pictures by her are weak stuff – a Botticelli copy, soft-focus social realism, a Whistlerian portrait. A strikingly modern self-portrait in a manner similar to Kitaj is not included, as it falls outside the dates for exhibited work.

Lowstadt_Chadwick_ Beach Parasol, Brittany (Portrait of Amanda Sidwall)

[Image: Emma Löwstädt-Chadwick (Swedish, 18551932), Beach Parasol, Brittany (Portrait of Amanda Sidwall) (1880), oil on panel, 11 7/16 x 19 11/16 in. Private collection, Stockholm; Photo: Lars Engelhardt. Courtesy American Federation of Arts]

There are idiosyncrasies in curation that are puzzling. The curators state that they deliberately avoided so-called typically feminine subjects such as flower paintings and portraits, yet included are maternities, domestic interiors and conversation pieces featuring women – all subjects that were particularly close to women artists’ hearts and the centres of their artistic production. Some of the artists are ones who visited or trained in Paris rather than living there for significant lengths of time. Paula Modersohn-Becker should not have been included.

The catalogue includes informative essays by Jane R. Becker on Marie Bracquemond and by Vibeke Waallann Hansen on the Nordic painters. Impressionist scholar Richard Kendall writes about the careers of the female Impressionists. A valuable biographical section presents data about each artist.

Bridget Alsdorf makes some unfounded judgements in her catalogue essay. She contends that in Manet’s portrait of Eva Gonzalès painting at her easel, Manet appropriates Gonzalès’s painting  of flowers on her easel as “his own” by painting it in his own manner. Gonzalès was Manet’s student and her style is very indebted to his. Breaking the stylistic continuity within the portrait by transcribing a Gonzales painting idiomatically correctly would have been completely inconsistent within the aesthetic and practice of Manet. Alsdorf asserts that Orpen included the portrait of Gonzalès in Orpen’s own Homage to Manet (1909) in a way that “is perfectly ironic, a further travesty of Gonzalès’s already awkward image as a femme peintre”. Orpen was including the most celebrated and publicly available painting by Manet situated in the British Isles in 1909. There is nothing ironic about the inclusion. Women artists suffered inequality in this period. Inventing slights only distracts attention from the actual difficulties they faced.

There is some high quality art which we benefit from encountering, often for the first time, but are some of these artists unfairly overlooked? Not really. Bonheur and Bashkirtseff are scarcely more obscure to today’s gallery-goers than Bastien-Lepage and painters of the Barbizon or Hague Schools; Cassatt and Morisot are mentioned in every publication on Impressionism. What about the lesser-known ones? Schjerfbeck is capable but inconsistent; Virginie Demont-Breton is a competent Salon painter; Kitty Kielland is a skilful Norwegian landscape painter. Are these artists good? Yes. Are they better than the (male) artists who are more well-known? No, though some are equal in competence.

Yet there are hundreds of shadowy others at the elbows of Schjerfbeck and Killand, also ready to claim a seat in Parnassus.

On the opening of the Musée fin-de-siècle in Brussels, I was astonished to encounter the paintings of Hippolyte Boulenger (1837-1874). After 20 years of studying and writing about art of the period, I counted myself fairly familiar with the painting of the era, yet here was this painter who was the equal of Corot, who painted with the energy of Courbet and I had never heard his name. His landscapes are deeply immersive, full of bold brushwork and underpinned by acute observation, yet today not even one Belgian in a thousand would recognise his name. His art would have fitted into this exhibition – he deserves a monographic exhibition – yet there is no academic mileage in reviving the reputations of Belgian male painters. No cultural connoisseur or social historian will ever become indignant about the unjust neglect of Hippolyte Boulenger. Yet I would rather have hanging on my wall a Boulenger marine painting in preference to anything painted by Turner or Constable.

The canon is a limited field and it necessarily excludes the overwhelming majority of all art ever produced. Just as the newspaper acclaim and jury prizes of past eras do not secure a place in the canon for dazzling Salon painters, so too the perorations of art historians today do not permanently alter the course of history. The best approach is to look at art frankly (and sceptically) and assess bodies of work as honestly as possible. On that basis, there is plenty in Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900 which is appealing and surprising and we can be grateful to have encountered it.

 

Laurence Madeline et al, Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900, American Federation of Arts/Yale University Press, 2018, paperback, 288pp, 150 col. illus., $45, ISBN 978 1 885444 45 5

(1) Prizes, awards and state purchases are not distributed equally according to the merit of exhibited art. It is in part dependent on the status of the artist and that artist’s reputation.

If famous artist A wins 10 prizes in a career, less famous artist B does not get a proportionate 8 prizes (equivalent to 80% of artist A’s recognition) but more likely 1 or 2 prizes in a career. There is a limit to the number of prizes available. Members of the public or prize juries may recognise a limited number artist names. The difference in recognition between being number 1 and 2 on that list is small; the difference between being number 19 and 20 on that list may be large. Similarly, a graph of all living artists’ income per annum would be flat at zero and near-zero for almost the entire X axis showing the low income of the majority, grow slightly for the small number who make a living income and then reach a sheer wall for the tiny number of super-rich artists. This is a form of winner-take-all situation.

Thus, prizes are awarded in a disproportionate manner. If the top ten most celebrated artists in any given cohort are male then the remaining 90 artists – regardless of whether they are male or female –who are less famous will receive 90% or even 50% of the prizes but about 10% between them due to the winner-take-all economy.

See: Hans Abbing, Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts, 2014, Amsterdam University Press, 367pp, ISBN 978 9 0530565650

 

© 2018 Alexander Adams

A Restoration Palindrome

“This title does not discuss the actual techniques used by restorers of the period but discusses the way restoration was seen and how business was conducted. The author examines the underlying assumptions of collectors, critics, administrators and restorers at time of great change in French (and European) history.

““A painting cleaned is a painting ruined; a thing to which the dealers never agree, but it is nonetheless true.” So wrote Pierre-Jean Mariette in 1851-3. Restoring was a controversial practice even in its early days. “Individuals engaged in some kind of restoration in Paris between 1750 and 1815 were generally also dealers, experts, copyists, or painters. That versatility underscores the breadth and variability of the profiles involved. The activity itself was nurtured by numerous related occupations, such as painting and forgery.” In business directories of the time, the classification of restorers was unclear and changeable. Dealers – initially based near the Louvre but later more widely distributed in central Paris – commonly repainted, retouched, cropped and expanded paintings that passed through their hands and a small community of restorers grew up to support such activity…”

Read the full book review on ArtWatch website, 6 June 2017, here:

http://artwatch.org.uk/book-review-a-restoration-palindrome/

Edme Bouchardon Reappraised

“Edme Bouchardon (1698-1762) was a leading figure from the Generation of 1700 who was greatly admired by contemporaries and for some decades later, but his name gradually slipped from public recognition. Chardin is famed, while Bouchardon is obscure to even the most informed layperson. This neglect should be partly redressed by an exhibition catalogue, available in both an English and a French version, and a monograph on the artist’s drawings that have been published to mark the exhibition of Bouchardon held at the Louvre, Paris (closed December 2016) and at the Getty Center, Los Angeles (closes 2 April 2017).

Edme Bouchardon, Philipp von Stosch
1. Edme Bouchardon, Baron Philipp von Stosch, 1727,
marble 85×62×33cm., Eigentum des Kaiser Friedrich-
Museums-Vereins, Skulpturensammlung und Museum
für Byzantinische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

(photo: bpk, Berlin / Jörg P. Anders / Art Resource, NY)

“Edme Bouchardon trained in Paris at his father’s workshop and, upon winning the Prix de Rome, moved to Rome to take up residency at the Académie Française, remaining there from 1723 to 1732. He initially attracted interest due to his marble and terracotta portrait busts, which follow the Roman tradition yet manage to be lively and (apparently) good likenesses and became influential in France…”

Read the full review online at 3rd Dimension, 31 March 2017, website here: https://3rd-dimensionpmsa.org.uk/reviews/2017-03-31-edme-bouchardon-reappraised

Prints in Paris 1900

Vallotton-Raison

(Image: Felix Vallotton, La Raison Probante (Intimacies) (1897-8), woodcut

Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho, Prints in Paris 1900. From Elite to the Street, Van Gogh Museum/Mercatorfonds, hardback, 192pp, 200 col. illus., €45, ISBN 978 94 6230 169 6 (English edition, French, Dutch and German editions available)

 

Vincent Van Gogh loved English prints from the popular press, French Realist art, woodcut prints (especially Doré’s wood engravings and other book illustrations) and classic Dutch prints. Both he and his brother Theo collected prints and corresponded on the subject at length, as Theo was in the art trade and had access to most commercially available prints. Although Van Gogh made only a few etchings and one lithograph, he was an avid scrutiniser of prints by other artists; he would surely have found much to admire in this current selection of the best prints made in the decade following his death. The current exhibition Prints in Paris 1900. From Elite to the Street (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 3 March-11 June 2017; Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo, 17 October 2017-17 January 2018) includes some of the 1,800 prints in the Van Gogh Museum collection, showing some of the highlights of printmaking from the period 1890-1905. The collection includes prints owned by Vincent and Theo and prints acquired by the museum recently to form an overview of art of Van Gogh’s era. This large-format catalogue documents not only the eye-catching posters of the era but also prints more specifically made as works of art, including colour and monochrome lithographs, woodcuts, etchings, drypoints and mixed techniques.

The world of prints in 1900 was vast, ranging from common illustrations or decorations in posters, books, tracts and other printed matter up to the most sophisticated and considered artistic productions, produced in editions of as low as a handful of proofs. Good examples of renowned prints of the past (Dürer, Rembrandt and other Old Masters) commanded high prices and were collected by private owners and public museums. To a lesser extent recent and living masters of the craft were also appreciated but the market was relatively limited in size and knowledge about prints generally was not great. In this catalogue, print scholar Fleur Roos Rosa de Carvalho discusses the role of journals devoted to prints and print collecting, asserting that that they played a significant part in raising the profile of printmaking as an art form and informing the readers about historical and modern prints. Writers and readers had in-depth knowledge of prints and were avid aficionados, most with collections of their own. The journals intended to act as guides for collectors, making recommendations and assessing reputations, and were not mass-market publications.

“Virtually all the champions of original printmaking – Charles Baudelaire, Philippe Burty and Henri Beraldi in the case of etching, and Roger Marx and André Mellerio for lithography – were keen to protect the private print [as opposed to the public poster] from the misunderstanding and vulgarity of the masses. Baudelaire, for instance, considered that the intimate outpourings of the artistic etching were too ‘personal’ and ‘aristocratic’ to be shared beyond the circle of artists and collectors.”

This private character of prints was a matter of practicality – for reasons of conservation and size, prints were usually in books or portfolios and could only be viewed by one or two persons at a time – and a matter of content, as the art was often informal, intimate or erotic, and as such less suitable for general public consumption. The notion of exclusivity played to the intellectual vanity and artistic discernment of collectors and critics, it also assisted dealers in the marketing of hard-to-acquire items. Attempts to broaden the appeal of prints met some resistance from inside the artist’s-print circle.

Things were changing though. By 1890 the development of metal-plate, offset and motorised lithography had inaugurated an age of high-quality colour posters on large sheets, in large print runs and relatively low in cost. An array of large colourful posters dazzled Parisians daily on a scale historically unprecedented. The relative cheapness of lithographic printing meant that prints flooded every area of life, from menus and maps to sheet music. It transformed image production and distribution both in the everyday commercial field and the world of the arts, though lithography remained only one of the numerous printmaking methods.

Posters had a lower status than prints made by methods most traditionally linked to artists, such as etching and aquatint, though some artists (including Toulouse-Lautrec) appreciated the effect of posters as much as drawings and paintings. There was vigorous debate among artists, critics and collectors as to the value of the new methods of reprographics. For those buyers who required the cachet of fine art collected posters avant-la-lettre (before the words had been added) or bought proofs from special editions printed on high-quality paper. The battle of High Art and Low Culture had begun earlier than this and can be seen in the critical responses to the subject choices of Impressionist pictures (though paintings of the common people attending dances had existed at least as far back as Bruegel’s paintings of peasants). Here the problem was not the subjects – which did not endear the pictures to the hearts of traditionalists – but the method itself, which was considered too new and too distanced from the artist’s hand to be considered fine art. The demands of multi-plate printing required collaboration between artist and master printmaker, which diluted the authenticity that some collectors craved, and some prints were so distanced from the artist that truly the prints are more “after” an artist than “by” that artist. The fact that the posters were essentially examples of vulgar commercialism – advertising venues and products – put them beyond the pale for many commentators. While some acclaimed colour posters as a new democratic form of art, others complained it was strident visual pollution that assaulted the eye.

Van Gogh died just too early (1890) to experience the boom in artist’s colour lithography. Over the period 1890-1905 the Post-Impressionist, Symbolist, Nabi and Art Nouveau artists made a plethora of prints now considered classics of French Modernism. Many of the prints in this exhibition were a contemporary French response to Japanese colour woodcuts, which began to be collected and appreciated in the 1880s. Japanese prints had originally found their way to France as waste-paper used to wrap imported ceramics; only when a few curious French art collectors expressed an interest in the strange images did anyone realise that there was a potential market in France for Japanese woodcuts. Van Gogh greatly admired Japanese prints and collected them. He painted some and included them in the background of his portraits. The compositional devices of the prints, such as clearly defined areas of bold colour, shaped the direction of his late painting style. Japanese influence is obvious in the prints of the Post-Impressionists and Nabi artists.

Cheret,_Jules_-_La_Diaphane_(pl_121)

(Image: Jules Chéret, La Diaphane. Poudre de Riz (1890), colour lithograph)

Jules Chéret (1836-1932) set the standard for colour posters and the general standard was high. His example inspired a number of established fine artists to poster design and some of the poster artists (especially the Art Nouveau designers) reached the level of classic art. Chéret commonly used elegant young female figures in radically simplified designs with strong colours, which intended to be seen from a distance. So well-known did this female type become that similar female figures were called “chérettes”. His designs influenced the painter Seurat and he was called “the Fragonard of the street” by critic Roger Marx. Chéret was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 1890 and ascended to the firmament of the French artistic pantheon.

The proliferation of posters and the craze for collecting them were commented on in foreign guidebooks to Paris. Dealers and collectors began to hoard the best examples of fine posters. Many would follow bill-stickers at a distance and once he was out of sight they would peel away the still-wet poster. Others bribed bill-stickers for unpasted copies. There sprang up a minor trade in reduced prints that were of more manageable sizes and proofs signed by the artists, though purists disapproved. Specialists offered to mount posters on canvas; others designed giant portfolios to accommodate the posters. Posters became chic additions to the modern home, adding boldness and colour to a room. Carvahlo mentions the elaborate and costly library of Robert de Montesquiou, which was designed to accommodate rare books and portfolios of prints; in the process of creation, the library evolved into a work of art.

This exhibition displays prints by artists who were stars of their era but are less esteemed today. Eugène Carrière’s portraits in monochrome chiaroscuro were immensely influential in their time. Carrière was considered a modern Rembrandt but today his smoky portrait heads appear at most mildly atmospheric and unremarkable.

reopening-of-the-chat-noir-cabaret-theophile-alexandre-steinlen

(Image: Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, Le Chat Noir (1896), colour lithograph)

Likewise, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen was acclaimed as an artist comparable to Dickens, with his domestic scenes and his strand of social realism. Steinlen was considered a campaigning artist highly engaged by the issues of deprivation and social reform. (The fact that he was solely a graphic artist meant that his supporters described his art as truly democratic because the originals were not in museums but pasted on street corners.) Today it is his colour posters of At La Bodinière (1894) and Le Chat Noir (1896) that appeal and the monochrome social satires raise barely a flicker of interest. It is hard to comprehend that hosts of artists (including Picasso) were under his sway in 1900.

l-exode-1915-1

(Image: Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, The Exodus (1915), lithograph (not in catalogue))

The star of the catalogue is Toulouse-Lautrec, whose best prints are included, with and without lettering. Other artists included are Carrière, Chéret, Steinlen, Odilon Redon, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Gauguin, Edouard Vuillard, Félicien Rops, Maurice Denis and more obscure figures. Félix Vallotton (1865-1925) has undergone a recent revival that has included a large retrospective held in Paris, 2013-4. Vallotton’s art straddles different styles: Nabi, Intimiste and Art Deco. His woodcuts Intimacies (1897-8) are brilliant reductions of domestic vignettes to simple woodcuts deploying large areas of solid black or white, decorative patterns and arabesque lines. What is happening in the scenes (which are independent and only connected thematically) is unclear. There are intimations of infidelity, seduction, estrangement and traumatic revelation, which undercut the comfortable bourgeois settings. The suite is Vallotton’s greatest achievement, frequently reproduced and rightly beloved. It manages to be concise yet enigmatic and the suite of ten prints is reproduced in full here. The cancellation print is rather elegant. Cancellation prints are usually single prints of the defaced plate, demonstrating that the plate has been rendered unusable after the edition is printed and that the edition is therefore limited. In the case of Intimacies the cancellation plate is a montage of details of each plate sawed from its block and printed together.

The range of the catalogue and the broadly representative nature of the collection make this title a useful general reference work for French prints of this period (including a timeline, bibliography and index). The mixture of iconic posters alongside lesser known pieces, some by artists almost forgotten, is successful though it just scratches the surface. The author discusses the participation of the Nabis in the production of staging and programmes for Symbolist dramatic productions and other topics related to printmaking. The inclusion of examples of paintings, drawings, photography, furniture and bookbinding (some of which are rare loans from private collections) allows the curator to situate printmaking in a continuum of visual culture of the period. The printing and binding is excellent and the size of the book allows the dramatic prints to come across strongly.

7 March 2017

Prints by Cassatt, Degas and Pissarro: https://alexanderadamsart.wordpress.com/2018/06/22/innovative-impressions-prints-by-cassatt-degas-and-pissarro/

French lithographs: https://alexanderadamsart.wordpress.com/2018/05/18/french-lithography-in-the-nineteenth-century/

Samuel Beckett: a man of letters

“There are few figures in modern literature as enigmatic as Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). His dramas Waiting for Godot and Happy Days present characters in predicaments equally pitiful and grotesque. His novels such as Murphy, Watt and Malone Dies give internal monologues of characters trapped in webs of memory and doubt. These works are quintessential examples of existential literature, though they have been described as absurdist. He was famously resistant to exegesis and refused to explain what his writings ‘meant’, a stance which generated exasperation and admiration in equal measure from detractors and supporters. ‘I know no more of the characters than what they say, what they do and what happens to them.’

“A collection of approximately 2,500 letters, postcards and telegrams fills the 3,500 pages of the recently completed four-volume set, The Letters of Samuel Beckett. Beckett, and later his estate, stipulated that the only letters to be published should be those directly addressing his work. Yet it would be incorrect to say the selection neglects the personal because writing described and defined Beckett’s outlook on life. As readers of his novels notice, there is often an overlap between the fiction and the events in Beckett’s own life….”

Read the full review of Samuel Beckett’s letters in 4 volumes on Spiked, 16 January 2017 here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/samuel-beckett-a-man-of-letters/19206#.WHy8SPl_s5k

The Madness of Vincent Van Gogh

“Until now, the way of testing whether or not someone had good biographical knowledge of Vincent Van Gogh was to ask them about the famous ear-cutting incident. The answer ‘he cut off his ear’ informed you the speaker had only a hazy comprehension, whereas the knowledgeable person replied ‘in actuality, Van Gogh cut off only part of his ear’. Now new information suggests that Van Gogh did indeed cut off his whole left ear. On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness, a new exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (closes 25 September), accompanied by an excellent catalogue, attempts to get as close as possible to the truth about Van Gogh’s physical and mental illnesses.

“The confusion about the ear incident sprang up during Van Gogh’s lifetime. On the 23 December 1888, Van Gogh was living with Paul Gauguin at the Yellow House in Arles. Gauguin announced his intention to leave Arles after persistent rows with Van Gogh. Deeply anxious and depressed, Van Gogh slashed his ear with a razor. He presented the ear wrapped in newspaper to a prostitute at a local brothel. The next day police discovered Van Gogh unconscious in his house surrounded by blood…”

Read the full review at Spiked, 26 August 2016 online here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/the-madness-of-vincent-van-gogh/18680#.V8WS0PldU5k

 

 

Review: Early Jean Dubuffet

Dubuffet Bousquet

Jean DUBUFFET (1901-1985), Joe Bousquet au lit (1947), oil on canvas, 146 x 114 cm, MoMA

Jean Dubuffet: Anticultural Positions, Acquavella, New York City (15 April-10 June 2016)

While I was a student there was a revival of interest in the work of Jean Dubuffet. Unfortunately, it was the late work. I took a look at the books and magazines and decided there was nothing much to see. Encountering the occasional illustration of an early work in a general reference book or magazine did not really inform me and – with so much other art to look at – I never got around to educating myself on Dubuffet.

The current exhibition in New York is the logical place for all of us to rediscover early Dubuffet. His success at exhibition at the Pierre Matisse gallery in New York ensured he was a constant presence in the New York art scene and many of his early mature-period paintings entered American public and private collections. The current exhibition includes loans from those collections and features 51 outstanding examples of Dubuffet’s painting and sculpture, all dating from before 1962. Wisely, with a single exception in a small hallway space (the 52nd item), drawings are excluded from the display. The inclusion of graphics would have diluted the powerful impact of the bold and visceral paintings.

During the occupation of France in the Second World War, former art student and then-current wine merchant Jean Dubuffet took up painting again. He was essentially starting from nothing. Having rehearsed styles and subjects popular during the pre-War period, Dubuffet had never developed any definite attachments to a movement or technique. He had no style to speak of. The works he began in 1942 were childlike drawn figures with colouring. Subjects were people on the street and daily life. This exhibition surveys these early colourful paintings and the rawer, more brutish paintings that followed in the later 1940s and 1950s. Topics include figures, portraits, landscapes, animals and street scenes; approaches include painting, collages and objets trouvés sculpture.

The definition “mixed media” might have been coined to describe Dubuffet’s paintings. He spurned pure artist’s oil paint and instead concocted his own media, mixing pastes incorporating household and commercial paints to which he added sand, gravel, dirt, charcoal, resin, coal, straw and plaster. This would sometimes be applied over heavily textured surfaces built up in plaster or putty. (Dubuffet had been alerted to the potential of textured surfaces by seeing Jean Fautrier’s Hostage series when it was first exhibited in Paris in 1945.) All of this heavy material demanded strong supports such as wood or Masonite. The coloured paste was applied with trowels and furrowed with sticks. At times it seems that Dubuffet’s aversion to beaux-arts was almost more of an imperative than any other motivation. Contemporaneous with Pollock, Dubuffet was working his own horizontally oriented planes the way a farmer ploughs a field. Dubuffet thought of himself as closer to an artisan or a labourer than a practitioner of fine art. However inaccurate that belief, it was clearly a productive and sustaining one: Dubuffet’s art shows evidence of his sustained engagement and consideration throughout his career.

The vital, unruly and uncultured figures here are an expression of hope in humanity and humanism as a counterbalance to the horror and grinding inhumanity of genocide, war and nuclear annihilation. Their depictions exist within the Existential discourse within French culture of the 1940s and 1950s. Dubuffet knew and painted many of the leading thinkers of French world of art, literature and philosophy. Dubuffet’s figures are literally earthy: they are formed of coloured dirt, sand and pebbles. They are fertile as the soil – aggressively so – with their genitals roughly outlined. In Will to Power (1946), a portly man with body hair of gravel sports his sex organ like a club. These are uncouth men and women who can (and will) procreate, regardless of bourgeois anxiety.

A small selection of portraits shows how Dubuffet negotiated the issue of description within figure paintings. “For a portrait to be useful to me, I need the features of the figure not to be too fixed. Not at all outlined – to the contrary, more erased. Confidential, even. […] In portraits you need a lot of general, very little of specific. Usually there is too much specificity, always too much. Maast says that before the portrait of Monsieur Dubois can look like Monsieur Dubois it should begin, more than anything, by looking like a man. He says that in many portraits we are in the habit of seeing, an artist has forgotten to make a man, and to manage to give him life, before making him look like Monsieur Dubois.”[1]

The fierce and accurate likeness of Joë Bousquet (1947) is loaned from MoMA. In it the paraplegic writer is shown in his bed surrounded by his books and papers. It is like a sgraffito panel excavated from some primitive Pompeii. In this case, the painting-as-object has personality – almost a history and integrity in itself. This lends the object a certain authority, aside from its pictorial attributes. The painting as object in Dubuffet’s art would be a fruitful subject for study.

Other portraits shown here have great immediacy and directness which bypass more aesthetic depictions. It is a fictional sheen of authenticity of course: Dubuffet applies aesthetic criteria during the creation of his art objects as other artists do, the only difference being that Dubuffet’s affiliations are for outsider, naïve and children’s art.

The works exhibited demonstrate the artist’s mental dexterity and sensitivity. The abstract paintings rely on delicately patterned surfaces to build up an organic or mineral shimmer. The patinas can be sumptuous, with glazes puddles suspended on a surface of gold foil. One could compare Dubuffet’s abstracts to Asger Jorn’s decorative Luxury Paintings, in which the Pollock drip method has been neutered and applied as an all-over surface pattern, yet Dubuffet’s surfaces have stubborn substantiality. Dubuffet’s surfaces have geological and cartological aspects in that they both describe surfaces and exist as surfaces, complex, compacted and distressed. The collages including butterfly wings and tobacco leaves echo Surrealist experiments of the inter-war period: Ernst’s forests and devastated decalcomanie landscapes. Dubuffet must have known Klee’s paintings and drawings and one wonders how they might have influenced his collages. Perhaps all collages of vegetal matter and tessellated surfaces inevitably share certain characteristics with Klee’s herbarium-inspired drawings.

The most unexpected items in the exhibition are wooden statuettes composed of lightly modified pieces of driftwood. The eroded fragments have a richly striated surface like weathered skin and with a hole here and there and an astute combination Dubuffet summons golems he entitles The Old Man of the Beach and Long Face (both 1959). The Astonished Man (1959) is a rubbery faced figure who gawps at us in incredulity, unable to believe what he sees. His silver-foil surfaced form is alchemically unstable, part vegetable, part mineral. These are sculptures Arcimboldo might have made, yet with greater wit, elegance and intellectual litheness than that painter had. The sculptures are comic and grotesque, pathetic and sinister and really startle.

Cruelly crippled and clownish, these grotesques menace us but also seem to beseech. “We are no different from you”, their presence suggests, even though one feels these freaks should not exist and that their existence mocks our own. They are counterpoints to Giacometti’s gnarled slivers of humanity. These country personages seem in rude health (wizened yet energetic), full of spiteful humour and gleeful buffoonery, in contrast to Giacometti’s anguished, frail dwellers of plazas and streets. Dubuffet’s personages are like wild animals or crude peasants brought into the dining room. Brut et informel , knowing and caring nothing for etiquette, they pull faces, gawp, guffaw, belch and fart.

The intelligent selections and careful placement of works enhances one’s understanding of – and sympathy for – Dubuffet’s art. Seeing such excellent examples first hand in the tranquil setting of Acquavella’s belle-époque townhouse is the best possible way to re-discover Dubuffet’s early art. This is vintage Dubuffet.

Gallery website: http://www.acquavellagalleries.com/

Fondation Jean Dubuffet: http://www.dubuffetfondation.com/home.php?lang=en

30 April 2016

[1] pp. 68-9, Mark Rosenthal et al., Jean Dubuffet: Anticultural Positions, Acquavella, 2016, HB, 208pp, ISBN 0 8478 5851 4

French literary censorship

“Two of French literature’s most enduring works of the early modern period, Madame Bovary and Les Fleurs du Mal, faced prosecution on grounds of obscenity. The two cases were prosecuted by the same lawyer, Pierre-Ernest Pinard, in the Sixth Correctional Court, where indicted authors were tried alongside petty criminals, disturbers of the peace and common sexual deviants. One author was condemned and one acquitted. The Censorship Effect examines the causes and consequences of the trials.

“On Christmas Eve 1856 a little-known writer called Gustave Flaubert was indicted on charges of ‘outraging public morals and religious and good manners’ for the serialisation of his novel Madame Bovary. Revue de Paris published the novel in serial form but the cautious editor made many cuts to the text (so many cuts, that an exasperated Flaubert demanded that the journal publish a disclaimer to the effect that what was being printed was only fragments of the novel). Emma, the protagonist of the novel, embarks on sexual affairs and lives an indulgently materialistic lifestyle to combat the boredom of her marriage to a provincial doctor. The depiction of the heroine’s lewd and immoral conduct – in addition to the fact that there is no express condemnation of her actions – raised the suspicion that the novel might lead astray female readers and arouse male ones…”

Read the full review online on Spiked, 28 April 2016, here: http://www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/the-waltz-of-censorship/18293#.VyHyV_ldU5k

 

Gustave Moreau

“”Moreau’s diverse and often paradoxical oeuvre lies at the crossroads of apparently contradictory trends in 19th-century art”, Peter Cooke observes at the end of his monographic study of Gustave Moreau (1826-98). Often described as a proto-Symbolist—and less often as a history painter—Moreau has proved hard to classify. The best of his elaborate biblical and mythological tableaux are hauntingly memorable but they are difficult to decode. Gustave Moreau: History Painting, Spirituality and Symbolism succeeds in illuminating a very peculiar and compelling figure on the margins of French art.

“Moreau’s classic oil compositions feature figures in isolated areas of light surrounded by large areas dark enlivened with coloured highlights, bestowing these grottoes and throne rooms with a bejewelled appearance. The expressions of the characters are restrained and their gestures anti-naturalistic and hieratic. Intricate decoration covers garments and architecture, causing paintings to exude a pseudo-organic quality.

“By the end of the Second Empire salon history painting had sometimes become an exercise in sensationalism, titillating with visions of gratuitous horror and nudity. It is difficult not to see Moreau as—to some degree—wilfully martyring himself by adhering to the history-painting tradition which he suspected was moribund…”

Read the full review at THE ART NEWSPAPER, 1 May 2015 here:

http://www.theartnewspaper.com/comment/reviews/books/155001/