The Permanent Humanity of Marcel Gromaire

Gromaire Sculpteur 1949 lot 133 smallLight & matter: In Marcel Gromaire’s 1949 oil on canvas “Sculptor,” measuring 31 7/8 x 39 3/8 inches and on sale today in Paris for Artcurial’s Impressionist and Modern Sale, a grid seems to be imposed over the torso of the live model, the clay has already assumed her curvy proportions, the figure of the sculptor is ephemeral, and the light (and outside world) filters from a large window. Signed and dated lower right; signed, dated, and titled on the back. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 30,000 – 40,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

The universe of Marcel Gromaire (1892 – 1971) – as confirmed by a number of the 10 Gromaire oils and inks available in the November 28 Impressionist and Modern Sale at Artcurial Paris — is a universe in which there is almost always light. Construction workers, soldiers, nude models, stairways on narrow somber streets, rooftops; even if it’s not the central subject, a patch of sky is usually hovering somewhere, a reminder of the larger world in which the scene is taking place. The result is that nothing is detached from life. “My mission as a painter,” Gromaire once explained, “is to give art a permanent and humane image.” If, viewed with a post-feminist (using the term ‘post’ loosely) sensibility, the native of northern France’s nude ink sketches and paintings (many sexually suggestive), with their visages frequently indistinct and even smudged, the bust always ample, the positions often not simply neutral but provocative, can be justly taxed with objectifying women, they can also be viewed as humane, the conniptions of the body and the head often suggesting an inner turmoil. In lieu of Lotharian intentions, perhaps it is simply that, having commenced his artistic career by sketching the rat-riddled trenches of World War 1 (for a series published by the revue Le Crapouillot in almost real time, and later issued in a very limited edition book) in which he was embedded and which reeked of the putrid stench of death, he simply wanted to focus, a la Courbet in “The Creation of the World,” on the source of life, the perfume of sex, the elixir of rejoicing, the nourishment (in the breast) of sustenance. (The drama of the nudes also owes something to his cinematic eye; Gromaire authored, in 1925, the first treatise on the manifestation of painterly values in the nascent medium of motion pictures.)

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