Monday, January 10, 2022

From the sublime to the ridiculous at the Barnes foundation


Well the Barnes Foundation had a huge success with its Suzanne Valadon show. 

It’s hard to believe that “Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel” at the Barnes Foundation is the first American museum show for this sensational French painter...

...The show at the Barnes, curated by Nancy Ireson, is a thrilling tour of her portraits, nudes, still lifes and drawings.

I saw the show in October, but it was right before Mr. Fuzz died and he was pretty sickly at that point, so I was preoccupied with worry about him and didn't really enjoy the show. I'm glad it got a good response.

So how does the Barnes foundation follow up a show about a painter who portrays women as individuals and does not flatter her subjects and uses firmly delineated lines?

With her polar opposite, Renoir, in a "January Spotlight Tour" and just to emphasize the difference the tour is called "Renoir and Women." Just look at the difference between the image above and this one. Same subject, completely different approach, visually and emotionally.

The Barnes Foundation is heavily invested in the reputation of Renoir - it has the world's largest collection of Renoirs.

The NYTimes article about the Valadon show mentions that although the Foundation founder Albert Barnes had paintings by Suzanne's son, Maurice Utrillo, he had none by Valadon. No accounting for taste.

I have loathed Renoir since I got a good snootful of him in art school - I attended both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of the Arts. So I was very pleased to see the "Renoir Sucks at Painting" movement which started a few years ago. They are still out there, primarily represented via an Instagram account. But they've actually done full-blown, in-person anti-Renoir demonstrations in the pandemic before-time.

I imagine the Barnes Foundation trustees were not pleased when they got wind of this movement in favor of good painting and against treacle.

Now I don't think every painting by Renoir is bad. I mean he only painted a zillion canvases, he was bound to do OK once in awhile. But his paintings of women were terrible because he was hung up on this "eternal feminine" bullshit. And most of his paintings were of women.

But this portrait of Julie Manet is pretty good. 

Partly because it was a portrait of the daughter of his friends, so she does - partially - escape the eternal feminine treatment. 

And partly because, without the usual riot of colors he used, he was forced to focus on draftsmanship.

Mostly though, because he did a great job with the cat. He should have painted cats more. 

But thanks to Julie Manet's diaries, we know what a great big honking anti-Semite Renoir was:
...she faithfully records — and concurs with — Renoir’s relentless anti-Semitism (shared, alas, by the great Degas): “Today I was at Renoir’s studio, where the talk is all about the Dreyfus Affair and against the Jews. ‘They come to France to earn money, but if there is any fighting to be done they hide behind a tree,’ said Monsieur Renoir. ‘There are a lot of them in the army, because the Jew likes to walk about wearing flashy uniforms. If they keep getting thrown out of all countries, there must be a good reason for it and they shouldn’t be allowed as much room here…. It’s unsinkable, the Jewish race. Pissarro’s wife isn’t one, yet all the children are, even more so than their father.’ ”
So fuck 'em both.

Unfortunately Degas was an anti-Semite too. But I left that out of my play. And he does come off as a bit of an asshole, the way I portray him. Even if he did love Suzanne Valadon's work.

Valadon painted cats too.