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The Two English Friends

Post #941 • January 18, 2007, 4:35 PM • 8 Comments

One of the odder things in The Romance of Modernism is a canvas by Vuillard entitled The Two English Friends. (Sorry, no image - I'm looking at the catalogue.) George Shackelford quotes Guy Cogeval about the work (the note is Shackelford's):

This strange picture, which appears almost unfinished, is particularly well-documented in the artist's Journal. The figures in question are a Mrs. Booth and a Mrs. Courtot, two English women Vuillard had met through Lucy Hessel [the wife of Vuillard's dealer and a particular friend of the painter]. One day in 1923, they offered to act out an Art Deco version of Sacred and Profane Love.

I had never noticed any previous version at all of the theme, but the webernets turned up paintings by Titian, Baldung, George Bellows, and Baglione. From an artistic standpoint, we're looking at an excuse to paint a nude and and clothed female figure together, and I recognized it because I might have needed it myself at one point had I lived in non-contemporary circumstances. This is one of those odd motifs that can look great in painting but would look strange in real life, such as nudes in the landscape, or most still life arrangements. Yet another mystery about the art of painting.

I feel a bit jealous of older painters in that these themes aren't so viable anymore. Sacred and Profane Love. The Triumph of Justice. The Effects of Good Government. Truth Unveiled by Time. What the hell - I'm going to go paint a Leda.

Comment

1.

John

January 18, 2007, 5:50 PM

This is one of those odd motifs that can look great in painting but would look strange in real life, such as nudes in the landscape, or most still life arrangements. Yet another mystery about the art of painting.

Much like Manet's Luncheon on the Grass, showing both nude women and clothed men caused a scandal when it was exhibited. If Manet had removed the men from the painting, it would have not have raised an eyebrow, but would have been equally preposterous.

2.

Jack

January 18, 2007, 6:04 PM

Practically anything is viable if it's done well enough. It all depends on how the artist handles the subject.

3.

Marc Country

January 18, 2007, 7:04 PM

I started making my own themes up... like The Persistence of Tyranny, or The Abduction of Liberty...

Leda's probably pretty safe, Franklin... if you want some controversy, I recommend a portrayal of Ganesha... although I hear Mohammed is a pretty spicy theme to tackle as well..

4.

Jack

January 18, 2007, 7:35 PM

"Persistence of Tyranny" is a good title; "Abduction of Liberty" not so good. Strained, or awkward. Abduction should be reserved for things like Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio," or "The Abduction of Helen of Troy." In other words, something with a sexual/romantic angle.

5.

Marc Country

January 18, 2007, 7:40 PM

Well, the "Statue of Liberty" aside, the lady does often expose a boob... that's gotta be worth something, in regards to the "sexual/ romantic angle"...

I've also done "Reason's Quiet Victory (over Ignorance and Dishonesty)", but it's a bit of a mouthful...

6.

Jack

January 18, 2007, 8:21 PM

Well, Marc, Delacroix would certainly agree with you boob-wise, but that doesn't mean he'd ever have her abducted. There are nuances involved, niceties of connotation and context, and they do matter.

For instance, I much prefer Il Ratto di Proserpina (Bernini) or Il Ratto delle Sabine to the The Rape of Proserpine or The Rape of the Sabine Women. "Ratto" means forcible seizure or abduction, but the connotation is not the same as rape, which is much coarser, crude and earthbound, much more reality TV-ish, if you will. Ratto allows for a more poetic, romantic angle better suited to a mythological or legendary subject. Unfortunately, I believe the literal English translation of ratto is "rapture," which would not work either because it would distort the intended sense, just as "rape" does.

7.

Marc Country

January 19, 2007, 11:43 AM

Well, I must admit, I was going for a sort of irony, ie. "Stolen Freedom"...

I always keep in mind the less-sexual "abduction" connotation of "rape" in regards to those titles and images you mention... although I suppose I wouldn't be against seeing "The Gang Bang of the Sabines", as long as it was done well.

8.

Elizabeth

January 20, 2007, 6:53 AM

Marc, your pure Canadian HUMOUR is shining through (wearing dark sunglasses) "Gang Bang...Sabine Women"...um ...ok....(trying to picture that name on the wall next to the painting @ the AGO....)
From one Canuck to another hahahahaha:)

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