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Thursday, 6 October 2011

Painting Time In Oils

At the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille I saw close up, one of my favourite paintings – The Concert in the Egg by Hieronymus Bosch. Yes, there are wonderful minor details such as for instance the lute player pinching the monk’s purse, another hand stealing a fish, the man at the back wearing an inspired item of millinery And I wish I knew what the birds signified.

But what held me for so long were the faces. Strip away period costume and you have peculiarly modern faces. There are no two ways about it. They’re as modern as smart phones.

I can see E.E.C. bureaucrats, former Labour cabinet ministers – I’m sure that’s Alun Michael in the pointy cap, and John Prescott reluctantly playing the harp. I’m sure any American studying the canvas would recognize Democrats, Republicans or minor executives

It’s quite similar to his, perhaps better known Ship of Fools where there’s more drinking and less singing, though the message is equally critical. In the second painting though, the faces are less finely drawn.

In the basement of Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille they have a wonderful late medieval section. The carvings are immensely powerful but one painting rang some very loud bells. Where had I seen this picture before?
Portraits of Louis de Quarre and Barbe de Cruysinck

But I was wrong. I hadn’t seen it before. Not this particular painting. I had however seen this.

The artist Grant Wood claimed his inspiration was sparked by the gothic style window in the building behind and he decided to paint it with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." A nice story, but splendid that the building is known as ‘The Dibble House’. So that's where Officer Dibble was born.*

From what I know, Louis de Quarre and Barbe de Cruysinck were reasonably happy with their portraits. The artist, Grant Wood, had problems with American Gothic. For a time at least. Iowans apparently objected to their portrayal as ‘pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible thumpers.’ One farmer’s wife threatened to bite Wood’s ear off. Way to go Van Gogh.

Grant Wood was supposedly influenced by Northern Renaissance art - ‘the highly detailed style and rigid frontal arrangement of (its)figures,’ I just wonder whether there was a more specific influence, conscious or otherwise.

* From Top Cat


Maria Zannini said...

I am a huge fan of Hieronymus Bosch. What's interesting is that so little is known about his private life or why he painted what he painted, which leads to a lot of speculation and very little fact.

My guess is he had some fiery opinions about society and he painted those scenes as a means of voicing that opinion without getting lynched.

Mike Keyton said...

Less facts more speculation - always the case. My view is that Hieronymus Bosch was the unknown gunman on the grassy knoll.

Ref voicing opinion without getting lynched - I was nodding my head at that then stopped. The medieval period was quite allegorical-sensitive. I don't think they were that dull as to not understand who and what he was getting at.

Claudia Del Balso said...

LOL! Mike, this painting "The Concert in the Egg" reminded me for some reason of Dante's Purgatory where all his characters were depictions of people he knew, including politicians and the clergy. And yes, I can see Dick Chenney on the face of the guy in the foreground. He has a scowl on his face, LOL!

Mike Keyton said...

If Dick Cheney escaped from the egg, how do we send him back?

Unknown said...

The Concert in the Egg is one of my favourite paintings. I love the detail and yes, you're right, we all know those faces. John Prescott on the harp - love it!

Mike Keyton said...

Shirley, as in previous comment - how do we send him back to the egg?