Image to word, Paris to New York: “From Eugène Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism,” by Guillaume Apollinaire

Feneon Orsay Theo van Rysselberghe_La Lecture par Emile VerhaerenFrom the exhibition Les temps nouveaux, de Seurat à Matisse, opening October 16 at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris: Theo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926), “Reading by Emile Verhaeren,” 1903. Oil on canvas, 181 x 241 cm. Gand, Musée des Beaux-arts de Gand. © www.lukasweb.be – Art in Flanders, photo Hugo Maertens. “After a serious physical and moral crisis,” notes “Le petit Robert” encyclopedia, Emile Verhaeren “discovered the poetic beauty of the modern world and the grandeur of human effort,” confident, under the influence of Hugo, Nietzsche, and Whitman, in mankind’s promising future, as his poetry fed on the new industrial landscapes and the emergence of the machine age. “Rallying to the cause of a fraternal socialism,” the encyclopedia continues, Verhaeren next published a series “powerfully lyrical” collections, including: “Hallucinated countrysides (1893),” “Tentacular Cities (1895),” and “The Tumultuous Forces (1902).” Its veneer seemingly almost monochromatic when viewed at reduced resolution as here, this painting is in reality a tour de force of Neo-Impressionism at its zenith. At first we resisted using it; compared to Seurat’s 1884 “Sunday afternoon on the Grande-Jatte Isle,” it seems closer to Delacroix than Seurat, the Neo-Impressionist device behind its construction not immediately evident. But studied at high-resolution, the make-up of the tableau is positively molecular. Only here, the dots’ intermittent interruption by strategically placed swaths of light or dark blue makes the divisionism almost invisible. In the Seurat you see the science behind the miracle; in the Rysselberghe the minutious effort is less apparent. Painted nearly 20 years later, the Rysselberghe is the natural evolution of the Seurat in its sophisticated employment of the tools of divisionism. Seurat broke the atom down into its particles; Rysselberghe put it back together again to be transformed into seamless light. And speaking of light, even the narrative — no Sunday finest here for Verhaeren’s audience, just sober business suits — is not so staid after sustained study: While his audience is costumed in somber blue, the reader/writer sports a smoldering vermillion — as if set on fire by the text. (This was just a year after Zola’s suspicious death by gas asphyxiation.) And every single one of the auditors maintains a skeptical disposition towards the writer. Add to this the drooping Greek statuettes — representing the Hellenic ideal the attainment of which, as Zola had pointed out 40 years earlier in heralding the Imressionist era, was the painter’s primary preoccupation before Delacroix and his successors arrived and relegated it to the academy (or, more recently, the first floor of the Met and the basement of the Louvre) — and the tableau on the wall of factory chimneys darkening the landscape which confronts Verhaeren’s embrace of industrialization with Maximilien Luce (another free-thinking painter to whom Verhaeren was close) or Camille Pissarro’s more sober view, and another synthesis, the confrontation of words with image — is complete. — PB-I

by Guillaume Apollinaire
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak

Text from the August 7, 1911 issue of L’intransigent, as reproduced in “Chroniques d’art, 1902-1918,” Published by and copyright Gallimard, 1960, with texts assembled and annotated by L.C. Breunig. Art from — and courtesy — Artcurial’s September 24 auction of Ancient and 19th century art in Paris (for the Delacroix), the exhibition Félix Fénéon (1861-1944), Les temps nouveaux, de Seurat à Matisse, opening October 16 at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where it runs through January 27 before migrating to the Museum of Modern Art (for the Rysselberghe, Seurat, Cross, and Signac) and the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager’s archived coverage of the 2012 exhibition “Maximilien Luce, de l’esquisse (draft) au chef-d’oeuvre,” at the Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu in Mantes la Jolie (for the Luce).

“The academic painter Delacroix.”

— Art History course description, Bard College, 2019

An updated edition of Paul Signac’s rare booklet, previously issued in a very limited edition by La Revue Blanche, has just been published.

“From Eugène Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism” is the title of this brief work which Paul Signac has dedicated to the memory of his companion, the great painter Georges Seurat.

Seurat has still not received the recognition he deserves. Beyond the merits of the innovations which they brought to art thanks to the application, which he was the first to practice, of Neo-Impressionist theories, his works have, in their drawing, their composition, the very discretion of their luminosities a style which sets them apart and maybe even above the work of the majority of painters, his contemporaries.

Un dimanche après-midi sur l'île de la Grande JatteGeorges Seurat (1859-1891), “A Sunday afternoon on the Grande-Jatte Isle,” 1884. Study. New York, NY, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image of the MMA.

No painter makes me think of Moliere as does Seurat, the Moliere of “The Bourgeoisie Gentleman,” a ballet full of grace, of lyricism and of good sense.

The Neo-Impressionist painters, of whom Paul Signac is the most gifted and the most famous, are those who, to cite our author, “founded, and, since 1886, have developed the technique referred to as ‘divisionism,’ which utilizes as a means of expression the optical mix of tones and tints.” This technique can be traced to the art of the Byzantine mosaicists, and I even recall a day on which Signac, in a letter to Charles Morice, evoked the Libreria de Siene.

But we don’t need to look back that far.

In his book, Signac abundantly demonstrates how this luminous technique, which brought a sense of order to the Impressionist innovations, was foretold, even applied, by Delacroix, to whom it had been revealed by an examination of the paintings of Constable.

Artcurial fall 2019 Eugène DELACROIX - Deux études de figures drapées - © Artcurial smallFrom September 24’s  Artcurial auction of ancient and 19th century masters in Paris: Eugène Delacroix, “Two studies of draped figures.” Image courtesy and © Artcurial.

Signac scrutinizes even more closely the impact of the Impressionists and of their precursor Jongkind.

Then he gets to Seurat who, in 1886, exposed the first divisionist painting, “A Sunday afternoon on the Grande-Jatte Isle.”

Pointilism was thus born and went on to produce magnificent works which nobody dared ridicule. Today painting seems to be following a path directly opposed to that which the Neo-Impressionists took. Delacroix’s two celebrated slogans, “Grey is the enemy of every painting!” and “Banish all Earthen colors” would mystify the young painters who want to return to the basics of forms and drawing, just as before them there was a return to the essentials of composition, light, and color intensity.

Au contraire, the new painters paint in hard to reproduce grey tones and search out the elegance of Earthen colors.

Feneon Orsay, Henri-Edmond Cross, The Golden Iles, smallHenri-Edmond Cross, “The Golden Isles,” between 1891 and 1892. Oil on canvas, 59.5 x 54 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France. © Patrice Schmidt/musée d’Orsay, distribution RMN.

The art of Neo-Impressionism drew but a small number of adepts. It requires, in effect, a lot of application and science, not to mention talent.

The meticulousness that it demands discourages artists who are inconstant or in a rush.

maximilien luce, the dredging machine in RotterdamMaximilien Luce, “The dredging machine in Rotterdam.” Oil on canvas. Courtesy Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

It has furnished modern art with a number of very beautiful and very luminous works, those of Seurat, of Henri-Edmond Cross, of Luce, of Van Rysselberghe, etc., which are rightly admired today and which the future will remember.

Paul Signac’s little booklet marks an important date in the history of contemporary art.

Paul Signac, Le Temps d'HarmoniePaul Signac (1863-1935) , “The Time of Harmony: The Golden Age is not in the past, it’s in the future (Retort),” 1896. Oil on canvas, 65.5 × 81 cm.  Kasser Mochary Foundation, Montclair, NJ.  Kasser Art Foundation, image © Nikolai Dobrowolskij.

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From the Archives: Major artists @ minor prices — at Christie’s Paris Impressionist & Modern sale, a rich basket of finds

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Lot 77. Leonor Fini (1908-1996), “Dans la tour.” (In the tower.) Signed ‘Leonor Fini’ (lower right). Oil on canvas, 91 x 64.3 cm. (36 x 25 3/8 in.). Painted in 1952. Estimate: 50,000 – 70,000 Euros ($63,820 – $89,347). Fini in her prime. One can see here why the lady whose life sometimes seemed as vividly vibrant as her art was in demand as an illustrator; even without a text, her subjects (the woman often resembling the author) seemed on the precipice of a fairy tale. Fini surfaces all too rarely at auction; it’s no wonder this painting has been requested for the upcoming exhibition Surrealism and the Dream, to be held at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid October 8, 2013 – January 12, 2014. For more on Fini, illustrated in color, see P. Webb, “The art and Life of Leonor Fini,” New York/London, 2009. For more images of art by Fini, check the web site of CFM Gallery, the leading champion of Fini in the world. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2012 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on the Arts Voyager’s sister publication Art Investment News on November 26, 2012.

I was trying to remember what famous artist lived on the street Maurice Utrillo depicts in his oil painting “Maison de Mimi Pinson, Rue du Mont-Cenis sous la neige, Montmartre” — one of the gems on auction at Christie’s Paris’s Impressionist and Modern Sale November 28 — when I realized that it was the inverse: I used to sip cappuccino on the terrace of a cafe on the rue Mt. Cenis, and was thrilled to discover Utrillo had actually painted this corner of this street, one of the many in Montmartre which, perched atop stairs, looks out on just the tops of the buildings of the street below. These streetscapes are mostly unchanged in the 75 or so years since Utrillo painted them. I’ve previously dismissed Utrillo as a postcard painter, whose principal subject — Montmartre — accounts for much of his charm, as well as the exorbitant prices for his oeuvre. But in fact, seeing this tableau suggests the contrary. In similar excursions around Paris and its environs, searching for the spots the Impressionists and their successors depicted, I’ve often been disappointed; the reality is usually more humble, more drab than its painterly record. (How deflated I was to discover that the Square Hector Berlioz on the Place Adolphe Max, resplendent in Vuillard’s painting from the window of the apartment he shared with his mother above it, was in reality so tiny and covered with Astroturf!) Utrillo, by contrast, does not embellish his canvas; the facade on the building on the left, like the wall across the street, are just as worn and grey as they really are, just as the metal shutters look about to fall apart. This too — like the chestnut trees on the boulevards — is part of eternal Paris. He also captures the seductive melancholy of Montmartre, its edge here only slightly softened by a blanket of snow.

For this auction, my comments on the rest of our selection are included in the captions below:

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Lot 76. Francis Picabia (1876-1953), “Don Quichotte.” Signed ‘Francis Picabia’ (lower left). Oil and China ink on carton, 96 x 76 cm. (37 3/4 x 29 7/8 in.). Painted in 1941-42. Estimate 100,000 – 150,000 Euros ($127,639 – $191,459). Central to the Dada movement earlier in his career — relying more on an idiosyncratic intellect than craft — by this more literal stage Picabia was often working from photos, with little variation on the original. This seems to be the case here, making this one case where a print might do just as well. In any case, bereft of a manifesto, Picabia thins out for me. (At his retrospective a decade ago at the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris, the French penchant for exhibiting the entire oeuvre did not help Picabia’s case; by the time one arrived in the 1940s, he started to seem monotonous.) Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

archives 10 dufy nude jpeg

Lot 81. Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), “Atelier de la rue Jeanne-d’Arc, nu couché au passant.” Signed ‘Raoul Dufy’ (lower right). Oil and traces of mine de plomb on canvas. 46 x 55.3 cm. (18 1/8 x 21 3/4 in.). Painted in 1942. Estimate: 150,000 – 250,000 Euros. ($191,754 – $319,590). Dufy intime and portraitist, rarely viewed. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

archives 1 utrillo

Lot 90. Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955), “Maison de Mimi Pinson, Rue du Mont-Cenis sous la neige, Montmartre.” Signed ‘Maurice.Utrillo.V.’ (lower right). Oil on canvas, 46 x 55.2 cm. (18 1/8 x 21 3/4 in.). Painted circa 1952-55. Estimate: 70,000 – 100,000 Euros ($89,347 – $127,639). See below for comments. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

archives 2 vlaminckLot 17. Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), “Rue de village.” Signed ‘Vlaminck’ (lower right). Gouache, watercolor and China ink on paper. 46 x 54.4 cm. (18 1/8 x 21 3/8 in). Estimate: 15,000 – 20,000 Euros ($19,146 – $25,528). You can almost see de Vlaminck diluting that blue cloud crest to make the roof, then dabbing even more water in it to make the body of the cloud. If you want to find a village that still looks like this — without the color — try Louveciennes outside Paris, Pissarro’s old stomping grounds. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

archives 3 signacLot 1. Paul Signac (1863-1935), “Vue du Bosphore.” Signed, dated et situated ‘P. Signac 16-Constantinople-1907’ (lower right). Gouache, watercolor, and black stone on paper. 28.9 x 41.8 cm. (11 3/8 x 161/2 in). Executed en 1907. Estimate: 30,000-50,000 Euros ($38,292 – $63,820). Neo-Impressionism began with Seurat, but Signac, outliving his mentor by some four decades, expanded it exponentially, from a sea of dots into a sea of media. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

archives 4 signacLot 15. Paul Signac (1863-1935), “Voiliers a Port-Louis.” Signed, dated et situated ‘P. Signac Port-Louis-1923’ (lower right). Watercolor and black stone on paper, 30.4 x 45.8 cm. (12 x 18 in.). Executed en 1923.Estimate: 30,000 – 50,000 Euros. ($38,292 – $63,820). The press release for the new Matisse exhibition at the Met points out that he learned a lot about color from Signac; I’ll take the source. The waves mark a return to the point, enlarged. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

archives 5 villonLot 28. Jacques Villon (1875-1963), “La meule de blé.” Signed ‘Jacques Villon’ (lower right), dated et titled ‘Jacques Villon LA MEULE DE BLE 1946’ (reverse). Oil on canvas, 88.7 x 146 cm. (35 x 57 1/2 in.). Painted in 1946. Estimate: 70,000 – 100,000 Euros ($89,347 – $127,639). What I love about the late ’40s is that it’s the period when abstract still had some form to anchor us; here it’s as if Villon has simply distorted the subject by shaking it up in a kaleidescope. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

archives 6 arpLot 46. Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943), “Triangles, Circles.” Gouache and traces of mine de plomb on paper, 27.4 x 36.6 cm. (10 5/8 x 14 3/8 in.). Executed en 1937. Estimate: 15,000 – 20,000 Euros ($19,146 – $25,528). The love child of Sonia Delaunay and Robert Delaunay, weaned by Paul Klee. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

archives 7 ernstLeft: Lot 71. Max Ernst (1891-1976), “Personnages dans un bois.” Signed ‘Max Ernst’ (lower right). Oil on carton. 38.7 x 28 cm. (15¼ x 11 in.). Painted in 1948. Estimate: 70,000 – 100,000 Euros ($89,347 – $127,639). Right: Lot 33. Max Ernst (1891-1976), Sans titre. Signed ‘Max Ernst’ twice (lower right); indistinctly signed (reverse). Oil on panel, 18.1 x 13.8 cm. (7 1/8 x 5 1/2 in.). Painted in 1953. Estimate: 50,000 – 80,000 Euros. ($63,820 – $102,111). Ernst bridges abstract and reality and always has something to say, usually about the tortured world around him. Images ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

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Lot 93. Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), “Paysage d’Auvergne, La Bourboule.” Signed et situated ‘Raoul Dufy Auvergne’ (lower right). Gouache and watercolor on paper, 50.6 x 64.2 cm. (19 7/8 x 25 1/4 in.). Executed en 1929. Estimate: 18,000 – 25,000 Euros ($22,975 – $31,910). The butt of jokes among the French, often considered France’s most grim region, here the Auvergne gets a gift of color from M. Dufy which highlights the beauty of austerity. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.

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Lot 96. André Lhote (1885-1962), “Le Port de Bordeaux.” Signed ‘A.LHOTE.’ (lower right). Oil on canvas, 42 x 56 cm. (16 5/8 x 22 in.). Estimate: 40,000 – 60,000 Euros ($51,056 – $76,583). Perhaps because the Southeast of France had been painted out, Lhote went (South)west, jeune homme, and back to a semi-Cubist future to give Bordeaux its due. Image ©Christie’s Images Ltd. 2012.