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Old 07-08-2008, 12:54 PM   #21
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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I'm so tired of the same ridiculous arguments that keep circulating regarding the worth, or lack there of, of Bouguereau's contribution to painting. With all due respect, to hold up artists like Matisse, Picasso, Ernst, Rivera, Giacometti, Hopper, Hockney, Moore, Freud and Coldstream as bastions of quality in art seems highly illogical when, in fact, to my eye, using their works as an example makes the exact opposite point. These artists produced superficial contrived paintings that, to me, have little or no connection nor show any evidence of human spirit or beauty. They do not inspire me as an artist or, more importantly, as a human being. This is a group, perhaps with the exception of Hopper, that are, to my eye, nothing more than a group of formulaic, heavy handed, self promoting charlatans.

Monet and Degas called Bouguereau the greatest painter of the 19th century. Van Gogh bemoaned the fact that he would never draw like Bouguereau.

Bouguereau, temporarily putting his extraordinary technical grasp of painting aside, was able to craft paintings that are both aesthetically beautiful and spiritually satisfying, as the portrait of Gabrielle Cot, posted by my friend David, clearly evidences. Anyone who would choose to lump him in with the vast majority of insipid sentimental 19th Century artists is simply not looking. Over the last 20 years I have seen several hundred original Bouguereau paintings, the majority at auction previews here in New York City, and to my eye, his work is supremely superior to all the wannabes.

His is a genius that is the culmination of 500 years of western painting tradition. Many 19th Century artists took pot-shots at him simply because his work was so superior, their only response was to turn the rules upside down in order to denigrate his greatness.

His work supersedes the intellectual poppycock that pervades the modern art ethic. His paintings appeal to everyone with an open heart and open eyes. I was at a Bouguereau show in NYC at the Borgi Gallery about 15 years ago discussing his paintings with a friend, when a very well dressed woman came over to us and said, "I consider myself to be quite knowledgeable when it comes to Art History. How is it possible that I have never hear of, nor seen the works of such a magnificent painter? Can you please explain this to me?"

And even if his work were totally insipid (which to me is a ridiculous claim) his technical genius is peerless. It's not just the rendering and paint handling, which are of course superb, it's his decision making alone that elevates him from all pretenders. Each color, each edge, each value, each composition is brilliant in it's own right. All elements coming together in perfect harmony! The better I get at painting and the more deeply I understand the process, the more I can appreciate the full magnitude of his contribution to painting. He is my greatest teacher. I discover new things all the time, even looking at the same paintings, such as "Breton Brother and Sister" at the Met which I visit with great regularity.

As a portrait artist I'm often asked, "Don't you get tired of just painting the same thing over and over?" My answer is that the subject matter is, to me, just an excuse to paint. It's all about the act of painting. The whole idea of making an intellectual statement is, again to me, stupid and beyond the point. The more timely and cutting the statement, the faster it becomes trite and corny. Painting offers the opportunity to say something so much deeper and more profound than some silly statement or concept. All the massive allegorical academic paintings of yesteryear now look highly over-mannered and hopelessly stagy. I believe the vast majority of 20th century "masterworks" will to suffer a similar fate, while Bouguereau's work is timeless.

Strive to become a better painter and then see if your opinions are still valid. Study and learn to analyze Bouguereau intently, and you'll be amazed at how much your own paintings will improve.
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Old 07-08-2008, 01:15 PM   #22
Peter Dransfield Peter Dransfield is offline
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Well I just flatly disagree on your rejection of the value of the artists I listed and personally have the opposite emotional reaction when in front of their work but that is fine. I still think there is a confusion and conflation of technique and content. I do not think anyone including Degas and Monet thought B's technique deficient and they may well have admired it but they also did not think it sufficent to produce great art. The quote by Degas and Monet concerning b is a misquote since they also coined the term 'Bouguereaute' which described work they considered slick but superficial and so their opinion of B was derogatory rather than admirative. They did not think B was the greatest artist of the century but did think that a future vulger public might think so.

B said very little if anything about the century in which he lived. With the exception of some of his portraits we get idealisation rather than reality and sentiment rather than truth.

By all means learn from him technically and I agree it was stupendous, but his content has lessons for nobody and that is a shame. I consider B a great talent that was satisfied furnishing the walls of the rich rather than saying anything profound and so in terms of the history of art one of art's great underachievers. Great art is never technique alone and that is all B had.
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Old 07-08-2008, 01:55 PM   #23
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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One man's ceiling is another man's floor!

We'll just have to agree to disagree. However, I think you are making broad sweeping statements and confusing them with fact.

Are you the official spokesperson for Degas and Monet? Perhaps the term 'Bouguereaute' referred to the vast number of painters who were desperately trying to emulate Bouguereau's success by copying the superficial aspects of his work. Do you have an exact quote where they refer to him pejoratively, or is this an assumption on your part? Did they also specifically indict a "future vulgar public" or is this too your own assertion?

Personally, I use the term "impressionist" with a negative connotation, except when referring to people like Frank Caliendo, Frank Gorshin and Robin Williams. It's always a good thing to make people laugh.

"Truth" and "reality" very sketchy words, at best. I personally think that Bouguereau was quite truthful while, on the other hand, someone like Picasso was, in my opinion, strictly out there to dupe the public and as you stated, furnish the walls of the rich. I think that Bouguereau's early allegorical works were technically strong but vapid and empty. I think when he found his muse things changed drastically and even the technical aspect improved greatly.

As far as no one being able to take lessons from Bouguereau's content, I beg to differ, and offer myself as proof of at least one living vulgar soul who does just that.
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Old 07-08-2008, 02:21 PM   #24
Richard Bingham Richard Bingham is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Dransfield
. . . the century was rich, expressive and diverse . . .
Unquestionably, Peter, and I agree wholeheartedly. Here's the thing - it's not an "either-or" proposition. One need not "cleave" to Bouguereau, (and Cot! How did I forget Cot!! ?!?) to the exclusion of the Impressionists or the whole of 20th century "modern art" any more than one is obligated to eliminate any sympathetic appreciation of 19th century academics in order to enjoy or at least appreciate a Rothko abstract.

It's interesting to note that most of the giants to whom you referred owe a tremendous obligation of debt to the technical foundations the academy provided them. Perhaps you overlooked that Matisse was a student of Bouguereau ?
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Old 07-08-2008, 02:37 PM   #25
Richard Bingham Richard Bingham is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin Mattelson
. . . As a portrait artist I'm often asked, "Don't you get tired of just painting the same thing over and over?" My answer is that the subject matter is, to me, just an excuse to paint. It's all about the act of painting. The whole idea of making an intellectual statement is, again to me, stupid and beyond the point. The more timely and cutting the statement, the faster it becomes trite and corny . . .
Well said, Marvin. Very well said!
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Old 07-08-2008, 02:40 PM   #26
Peter Dransfield Peter Dransfield is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Bingham
Unquestionably, Peter, and I agree wholeheartedly. Here's the thing - it's not an "either-or" proposition. One need not "cleave" to Bouguereau, (and Cot! How did I forget Cot!! ?!?) to the exclusion of the Impressionists or the whole of 20th century "modern art" any more than one is obligated to eliminate any sympathetic appreciation of 19th century academics in order to enjoy or at least appreciate a Rothko abstract.

It's interesting to note that most of the giants to whom you referred owe a tremendous obligation of debt to the technical foundations the academy provided them with. Perhaps you overlooked that Matisse was a student of Bouguereau ?
I certainly agree that the 19th century was more than the Impressionists and I have mentioned a few of them active in the second half of the century, Millet, Courbet, Daumier with Manet also as a bridging artist. The point was that all of those artists connected with their century and sought not merely to ape the past but to say something real about their present.

Whether one appreciates B or not is I agree a matter to some extent of taste but the attempt to make of him a giant of the 19thC must be grounded not only on his technique but also on his content and I see nobody among his supporters here taking this on.
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Old 07-08-2008, 02:52 PM   #27
Richard Bingham Richard Bingham is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Dransfield
[Bouguereau's] . . . content and I see nobody among his supporters here taking this on.
Hm. I thought Marvin did so quite succinctly. This is rapidly becoming a "Ford vs. Chevy" argument.
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Old 07-08-2008, 02:52 PM   #28
Peter Dransfield Peter Dransfield is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Bingham
Well said, Marvin. Very well said!
Strangely enough I have a good deal of sympathy with Marvin's remarks. I pretty much gave up Art because I did not feel I had particularly profound new things to say and this was wrong of me. Tendencious art is always problematic, including in my opinion religious art and art should always seek to go beyond the message into sensations and experiences of subject and materials.

Now I don't sit here thinking about what my contribution to art should be and I am allowing myself to be happy just trying to get better at describing my subject. But and it is a But...I don't allow my private experiences to colour my view of Art History or try to justify what I do now by rewriting history as I believe Art Renewal are trying to do in particular by dishonest quote mining (the Degas/Monet quote for example). Bouguereau might well deserve to be reconsidered for some of his portraits (not all) but his allegorical works are real fingers down the throat jobs as Degas and Monet made clear.
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Old 07-08-2008, 03:03 PM   #29
David Draime David Draime is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Dransfield
Courbet famously said he "didn't paint angels because he never saw one" and he touched on the heart of the matter. Realism is not about technique - it is about the truth and honesty in rendering the world around us. Bourguereau idealised whereas Courbet, Degas and Manet gave us truth. You give me a portrait of a pretty woman and I give you a woman squatting over her tin bath; you give me Satyrs and angels and I give you a boating party and peasants breaking stones.
And what is wrong with a portrait of a pretty woman? Pretty women do exist. OK, maybe Satyrs don't exist....maybe! Angels...well, certainly not the feathery-winged variety. But this is just subject matter - I don't think you can really say what is or is not valid subject matter. I think, argument-wise, that's a dead-end. But your larger point is a great one - it's an argument that my brother (a painter himself) and I have all the time. Beauty vs Truth. What is more important in a painting? Does a painting have to be beautiful to be "great"? Can or should truth and honesty in depicting the world around us be subserviant to some particular - or general - notion of Beauty, idealized or not? And what exactly does "honesty" and "truth" mean when we painters are all about the business of creating - an illusion?

Of, course we never do come up with an answer, but I think it's a great way to frame the argument. I think your arguments are well taken, thoughtful, well-articulated...And in many ways I agree with you. Like Richard, I don't think Bouguereau was the greatest painter of all time (one of them certainly), and I think he does push the envelope on the sentimental, idealized or romantic aspects of some of his pictures. But in spite of all these things that would normally turn me off, I keep coming back to his work. I think it is because, first of all, I see a way of depicting the human form that is extraordinarily convincing (truth and honesty) and masterful in its execution. Subject matter aside, there have not been many painters in history than can render the human form with as much understanding, consummate skill, sensitivity and emotional power as Bouguereau. And I haven't seen anyone in our time come close.

Quote:
Art is not about technique. Great art does not require great technique nor does Kitsch art require its absence. Technique helps tell whatever story we want to tell but it can never replace it.
If a work of art aspires to be great and the technique is "less than"... it's like watching Pavarotti singing on stage at the Metropolitan Opera with his fly open.

Peter, I'm so glad you've joined this Forum. I really do appreciate your cogent, thoughtful contributions.
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Old 07-08-2008, 03:09 PM   #30
Peter Dransfield Peter Dransfield is offline
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Are you the official spokesperson for Degas and Monet? Perhaps the term 'Bouguereaute' referred to the vast number of painters who were desperately trying to emulate Bouguereau's success by copying the superficial aspects of his work.
I thought it was you the offical spokesman Marvin since you very confidently asserted that those two impressionists believed B was the greatest painter of the 19th C. Everything we know about the bios of Degas, Monet and Impressionism and their relationship with the academy supports my claim that the quote was meant to be ironic and nothing as far as I am aware supports Art Renewal's interpretation. Dishonest quote mining.

I am sure that they did not only have B in mind but other certainly less endowed academic painters but if in their own minds B was excluded from this 'lesser' group they would not have coined the term Bouguereaute using his name, would they?

We will certainly have to disagree on B and on the Impressionists its seems and that is fine and natural but I don't see many Satyrs or Angels in your work Marvin or are these on a different website? I see very well-painted portraits that are rather too tightly rendered for my taste and I see nothing shameful in borrowing from B for these - we all cherry pick.
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