Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Unremitting Sadness of The Outwin Boochever 2013 Portrait Competition- a comment and a review.

I just received and email from The National Galleries, Outwin-Boochever 2013 Portrait Contest to pick a peoples favorite from the 48 finalists. I entered the first contest- nine years ago for the first and only time and did not get in. Win some lose some.

I looked to see if there was one I would really love- however, they seemed all to have an air of unremitting sadness.The prevailing style is as per usual, academic, pieces lovingly and capably rendered from mostly photographic images. Pathos without, dare I say, any attempt at beautiful pictorial values. This  glumness seems to be pervasive in contemporary art. Search the art section of the New York Times using words like, exquisite, beautiful, gorgeous color and you will come up with references to work done either in antiquity or before 1913.

My mind- or shall I say my heart and eyes go back to this exquisite work by Manet, his last masterpiece done in the final year of his life. He was working on this painting despite poor health and in pain from the syphilis that wold take his life at at 51. His leg was amputated in 1883 and he died ten days later in agony. The young woman, seems melancholic to be sure- but the painting is breathtaking, and brilliant in its pictorial values and color harmonies. There is no evidence of self-pity here. Manet and his compatriots, Cezanne, Monet, Degas- to name a few lived through some horrible times in France- The siege of Prussia, during which people starved and the Commune- an early attempt at socialism gone awry, when some dissenters either lost their lives or fled. Yet somehow they managed to paint the most exquisite and life affirming work that still speaks to the public today. Sadly our culture, or more accurately, the gate-keeprs of our culture,one of the richest in the history of man, seem to value work that is mournful and dystopian, diversions from this rueful state are castigated as Disneyesque. Even though in 2013, there are rumblings of justified discontent with contemporary robber barons and fears for the planet, this has been the trajectory of art, especially figurative art, for the last 100 years. It must not have the temerity to be beautiful, it must scold. Manet painted what he loved -"At all times, you must be the master, and do what pleases you". Matisse when asked why he painted  "The Red Studio" said "it is my pleasure". 

"The Bar at the Folies Bergere" 
oil on canvas 37 3/4" x 51 3/4"
Edouard Manet 1882

At the bottom of this blog are, what I think are, dare I say, exquisite works of art done by artists living in cultures that make ours seem a veritable paradise.

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