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Old 07-08-2008, 12:54 PM   #15
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.
Marvin Mattelson
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