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Posts tagged ‘Degas’

Corot and Degas – The Castel dell’Ovo in Art History

I’ve spoken before about the novelty of coincidence – when a chain of events leads you to discover things over and over, or when two apparently novel similarities inexplicably collide – and concluded that rather than being mere coincidence, such occurrences are probably the result of becoming cognisant to something you hadn’t noticed before, something which translates into all of the succession of sightings or experiences which follow. It might also be to do with environmental or social factors which all of a sudden affect more people than just yourself. Still, a little piece of me makes me wonder whether such occurrences are in fact the work of fate, and disguise some hidden meaning or key to the future – we will probably never know.

But one little coincidence which happened the other day seemed so relevant to my current string of Naples posts that I felt compelled to share it, not least because it comes with a little art added in for good measure. I didn’t know Naples very well before my most recent visit, and still less the coastal areas of the city which I had never experienced before. It was therefore with some unbridled delight that I recently discovered the stunning seaside promenade, with the beautiful Castel dell’Ovo and its little marina which is surely the centrepiece of the famous curving coastal bay.

The Castel dell'Ovo

The Castel dell’Ovo

Imagine my surprise then when, upon my return, I strolled into London’s National Gallery one lunch time (as I often do) to spend a brief 10 minutes or so amongst some of my favourite Impressionist masterpieces, and discovered a new Degas painting which I hadn’t seen there before. The work, entitled Hélène Rouart in her Father’s Study is a rather striking portrait of the named Hélène – so far no coincidence there. But because Hélène was allegedly the daughter of a rich collector, Monsieur Rouart, what stands out in the work is the array of antiques and fine art which Degas portrays in the background. Amongst them he paints a small little painting, almost indecipherable because of his loose brushstrokes, but nonetheless unmistakably a coastal landscape. Looking at the description to find out more was when the penny dropped – it was a painting of the Castel dell’Ovo by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot!

Hélène Rouart in her Father's Study (Edgar Degas, 1886)

Hélène Rouart in her Father’s Study (Edgar Degas, 1886)

Allegedly the work had hung in the study of Hélène’s father where the portrait is set, and upon subsequent investigation, I have found an image of the painting in all its glory. It’s the Castel dell’Ovo for sure, looking almost unchanged despite being painted some 200 years ago when, in 1828, the French artist spent some seven weeks in Naples and its surroundings painting some 6 recorded views of the city.

Napoli, Castel dell'Ovo (1828)

Napoli, Castel dell’Ovo (1828)

And another painting by Corot of the same view

And another painting by Corot of the same view

So was it my new acquaintance with the Castel dell’Ovo which made me notice this new Degas, and through it a Corot depiction of the Castel dell’Ovo for the first time or some more fate-led coincidence? Who knows. But what I can conclude is that both paintings make for excellent lunchtime viewing and a perfect interlude to my blog’s adventures in Napoli.

Wish I was back there - me in front of the same view

Wish I was back there – me in front of the same view

2011 – The Daily Norm’s top five (and floppy five) exhibitions of the year

When looking back on any year, it’s very easy to concentrate on what a rubbish year it’s been. And this year is no exception, what with economic gloom, a projected double-dip recession, euro-zone gloom, riots and unemployment gloom. Lot’s of gloom basically. But for that reason alone, I, ever the optimist, try to look back on the highlights of the year. And these tend to consist of two main categories – holidays (of which, sadly, there are not enough to fill a review such as this) and art exhibitions (of which there have been plenty). I am lucky enough to have attended the lion’s share of the exhibitions which London, and further afield, had to offer in 2011, and therefore, in a season when all the papers seem to be doing “roundups” of the year, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the best (and worst) exhibitions I’ve seen this year.

No.5 | Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge – Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Jane Avril in the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge, c.1892 © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

This small exhibition at London’s superb Courtauld Institute at Somerset House was no less brilliant by virtue of its size. Taking up space in only two of the Courtauld’s many galleries, the show was an intimate but atmospheric examination of the Absinthe-tinted shadowy underworld of the Paris cabaret-scene so emblematically captured in the works of post-impressionist master, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It is thanks to him that seminal movie moments such as Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge have been able to capture the essence of 1890’s debauched Pigalle social scene, filled with wonderful personalities such as La Goulue (the Glutton), Grille d’Egout (Sewer-grate) and Nini les-Pattes-en-l’air (Nini legs-aloft) as well as other characterful prostitutes, drunks and dancers. One such dancer who became synonymous with the Paris dancehall spectacle was Jane Avril, one of the stars of the Moulin Rouge, who undoubtedly played the role of muse to Lautrec’s portrayals of that same infamous nightclub. Such was her prominence in his work that her flame-red hair and exotic dance moves became symbols of the Moulin Rouge spectacle, as her fame was assured by a series of dazzlingly inventive posters in which she was the central attraction. However, her influence on Lautrec went further, and this exhibition features a number of stirring, more emotional portraits of Jane Avril which show the dancer off the stage, in private moments of introspection.

At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-95 © The Art Institute of Chicago

Such was the importance of this artistic coupling between aristocratic Lautrec and courtesan-born Avril (née Jeanne Beaudon) that the Courtauld placed the relationship at the centre of its show, including photographs of both the Artist and the dancer, and examination of the peculiar “St. Vitus’ Dance” disease which gave Avril her unique, disjointed dancing style, and an attempt to explore Avril’s persona, both in public and in private. This core objective was explored effectively by the Courtauld, but for me, the real winner of the show was simply the basic exposure it gave to this wonderful atmospheric Parisian world of the 1890s. Therefore for me, the star of the show has to be this piece leant by the Institute of Chicago, At the Moulin Rouge, a scene which perfectly depicts the atmosphere of the dancehall, complete with a self-portrait of Lautrec himself, the emblematic red hair of Avril, and the looming ghostly green face of May Milton, one of the performers, imbued with even more Absinthe-green hallucinogenic mystery than the melancholic daze induced by the green fairy in Manet’s masterpiece, L’Absinthe.

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Norms do… Degas’ L’Absinthe

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the la fée verte . That is to say, I’ve always been fascinated by the debauched charm of that wonderful peppermint green drink which was and still is (in its full potent form) an illegal alcoholic substance: Absinthe. For absinthe has long been the chaperone of artistic legend, as all the most romantic illusions of the impoverished, desperate, inebriated artist are indubitably accompanied by a bottle of the green stuff, or a glass of its milky diluted counterpart. Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, the green faced cancan dancers of Toulouse Lautrec’s underworld masterpieces, and the dissolute tale of a spiral into poverty and lascivious living on the hillsides of Montmartre in Zola’s L’Assomoir all centre around the mirky hallucinogenic potency of this green-eyed alcoholic monster. It is the very essence of bohemian artistic Paris, and it’s association has pervaded art and its cultural progeniture for decades. One of the most prominent sources of the liquor’s legendary quality is the sensational painting L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas. I first saw the painting in London, when it was exhibited at Tate Britain’s superb exhibition Degas, Sickert and Toulouse Lautrec in 2005-6. I was instantly struck by the simple solitude of the female figure, caught in a moment of absentmindedness and melancholia, appearing quite isolated despite the figure sat to her left, he looking away in his own depressive daydream. I’ve remembered the painting ever since and therefore I was so excited to make its acquaintance once again upon visiting the Musée d’Orsay the other week that I decided I had to turn it into a Norm painting. And so, when the Norms do Degas, it looks something like this…

L'Absinthe Norm (after Degas) (Acrylic on canvas, 2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Degas’ original painting, on the other hand, looks like this…

L'Absinthe (Edgar Degas, 1876)

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