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January 27, 1979 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-01-27

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Napoleonic art doesn't fall short

By CAROL WIERZBICKI
A wing of the Detroit Institute of Arts
has been transformed into a 19th cen-
tury world of painting, sculpture, and
furnishings: Lush paintings leap out of
the walls in swirls of color, and gilt
bronze and gold leaf seem to decorate
everything in sight. The over 370-piece
exhibit, entitled The Second Emgpire:
Art in France Under Napoleon III, is
composed of works dating from the
years of Napoleon's reign 1852-1870.
The paintings and other artworks in
the exhibit were chosen mainly because
they capture the spirit of France during
this period. In 1851, Napoleon III,
nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, seized
leadership of the French Republic, and
attempted to restore to France the
military and cultural glory it once had.
This resulted in art that was luxurious,
highly ornamented, somewhat
unemotional, but unquestionably awe-
inspiring. Calling back the splendor of
Versailles and the Louvre, this collec-
tion gives a good cross section of the
great variety, richness, and intense
creative energy of a complex culture.
THE FIRST artwork one encounters
in this vast exhibit- is a. portrait of
Napoleon III. Posing sternly by a table,
he seems to glare at the viewer, squin-
ting slightly. The harsh light on his face
is somewhat unflattering; one senses
the presence of a strict military
authority. It is no wonder that
Napoileon III disliked this intimidating
portrait of himself, and the only
dynamic feature in the painting is the
rich red of his military garb .
Gerome's Reception of the Siamese
Ambassadors demonstrates the ar-
tist's exceptional talent. The fine use of
line, tempered by soft shadows and
glowing color, captures the characters
on the brink of an important historical
moment. Some 80 skillful portraits can
be seen here, but the high-ceilinged ar-
chitecture dominates, heightening the
drama of the event.
Much of the real talent in French art
comes through in its sculpture, and two
particular works to watch for at the
beginning of the exhibit are the bust of a

"Florentine Singer," a five-foot tall
silvered bronze statue by Paul Dubois,
is part of The Second Empire show at
the Detroit Institute of Arts through the
middle of March.
Comte and a statue of a woman
praying. The details in the military
medals on the Comte and the lace on the
woman's gown are truly extraordinary.
But the most arresting sculpture of all
is the bust, Negro in Algerian Costume,
by Cordier. Several colors, rather thana
the usual white marble, are used,
ranging from thepolished ebony face to
the rose and green of the exotic robe.
All the expressive skills of sculpting
seem to come together here, from the
man's imposing but sensitive face un-
der the majestic spiraling turban, to the

detailed buttons and tiny embroidered
pattern of his smock. An exquisite
blend of power and delicacy makes this
sculpture one of the outstanding
masterpieces of the exhibit.
THE GORGEOUS, lavish art of
Napoleon III's reign was meant to ap-
peal to one's every whim and fantasy. A
cape woven in gold and silver thread,
and a bejewelled crown with gold,
silver, diamonds and emeralds
generate memories of favorite fairy
tales. A whole bevy of ornate boxes,
cups, and even an intricate pair of
dueling pistols, concrete symbols of
impractical utility, pop up-throughout
the show.
The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by
her Ladies in Waiting, by Winterhalter,
is the largest painting in the show.
Studied fashion, luxury, and beauty are
the values displayed here, as the Prin-
cess and her maids assemble in a gar-
den in a variety o graceful positions
and sumptuous clothing. Highly roman-
ticized, they could be characters
straight out of a Louisa May Alcott
novel. Although Winterhalter's works
were often criticized for being trivial
and affected, this painting reflects
perhaps most accurately the tastes of
high society in the 1850's.
Another large work, The Garden of
Armida (originally part of three
wallpaper panels), more obviously
shows the gushing sentimentality
popularized by the era. I recall
classical statues in the painting, but all
I can really visualize in looking back is
the flowers. Overflowing, almost tum-
bling out of the picture plane, they are
painted in great, sweeping strokes and
effusive color. This wallpaper panel
certainly must have served its purpose:
Painted in an airy, bluish-green color
scheme, it creates the lazy, carefree
ambience of a summerhouse.
THE CLASSICAL gallery portion of
the show is least impressive. The usual
mythical and erotic themes are treated
somewhat artificially by the chosen ar-
tists, and the absence of any formidable
works by Delacroix or Ingres is disap-
pointing, with the exception of Ingres's,
inspiring portrait of Joan of Arc. Cur-
zon's A Dream in the Ruins of Pompeii,
howevuer, is especially intriguing. It
depicts the spirit of its former
inhabitants returning to visit their
homeland. The shadowy, trancelike
figures stroll about the ruins under a
frighteningly blue sky punctuated by a
few softly glowing stars, and one is un-
sure as to whether this is night or day.
In the distance, a strange volcanic
mountain spews smoke straight up into
the air.
THE AGRIPPINA, bearing the ashes
of the dead, is quite splendid, if only for
the interesting treatment of drapery:
Fine cfeases, and a thin veil covering
her face.
Possibly the most atypical painting of
the collection is Bonheur's Deer,
located in the landscape portion of the
exhibit. The artist seems to have turned
his back on the usual flashy subject
matter, and this is a good painting to
rest your eyes on. The vivid greens used
for the forest scene never assault the
viewer, and this i. due to Bonheur's
thoughtful treatment of light and
shadow, gradations of color, and detail
of feathery ferns.
PISARRO'S landscape, On the Banks
of the Marne in Winter, demonstrates
how Impressionist techniques can lend
drama to a simple scene. Unlike the
rational, stylized landscapes surroun-
ding it, Pisarro's painting depends on
the basic elements of texture and
light/dark contrasts to carry out his

subjective view of the scene. A few
simple, undetailed farmhouses and a
steep hillside are just barely touched by
the eerie, indirect light from,turbulent
gray clouds. The complementing
dramatic, almost treacherous lan-
dscape makes one really stop and take
notice.
The Shepherdess and Her Flock, by
Jean-Francois Millet, is one of the more
touching paintings in the exhibit. A
young shepherdess turns her back on
her flock for a moment of wistful in-
trospection, while she leans on her
walking-stick, face cast downward in
shadow. The cloud overhead diffuses a
hazy light over the landscape and backs
of sheep, lending a quiet timelessness to
the scene. Millet painted the "simple
people," and here he insisted on
recognizing the individual as a moral
and dignified being, because of, rather
than in spite of, the woman's modest
station in life.
A HUGE, dwarfing work by Dore
called Summer is a "close-up" lan-
dscape. Grasses, snapdragons, and
gladiolas are ten feet tall, and it seems
too large a painting for so small a sub-
ject. Credit must be given for Dore's
detailed types of flora, reminiscent of
the Northern European miniatu ist
painters. If you want to feel like an ant,
pause before this painting and imagine.
One piece of furniture that typifies
the style of the Second Empire is a rich
oak table, its edges ornamented with
gold, its top framed by a ring of colorful
flowers. For all-around massive
magnificence, a bookcase which incor,
porates ebony, gilt bronze, lapis lazuli,
jasper, and marble is the thing to see.
Ornate gold-leaf figures and laurel
leaves cover it like ivy, and one ex-
periences in three dimensions the
splendor which was France.
The exhibit ends appropriately with a
marble bust of Napoleon III by Car-
peaux, a masterfi.4sculptorswho, in
1873, captured the poignancy of the
Emperor's physiological decline. Here,
in place of the stern, powerful ruler,
appears a man with a furrowed brow,
whose empire is crumbling: His in-
secure, sideways glance contrasts
pitifully with that ever-present
arrogant moustache. We see his reluc-
tance, and the reluctance of France, to
end what had been, at least for eighteen
years, a reign of opulence.
Most of the collection is devoted to ar-
tworks that catered to high society and
military patriotism, which, after all,
was what the Second Empire was all
about. Still, the limited range of Im-
pressionist works on display is disap-
pointing. The exhibit, which runs from
January 18 to March 18, is definitely
worth seeing, however, and is one of
those things that only come around
once.

Been all around this world
Michael Cooney, who has delighted audiences World wide, is appearing this
weekend at the Ark with Joe Hickerson, Irene Saletan, and Barry O'Neill.
The musical party is known as a "Ceilidh'""(kay-lee), and all performers are
on stage at the same time, swapping stories and songs:

Do a Tree
a Favor:
Recycle
Your Daily

38 million People
Play this game
8ILL lARDS
at the Union
reduced rates to 6 p.m.

i

X

'F

I

the Collaborative
winter
art & c raft
classes
Classes and workshops including:
SCULPTURE & PHOTOGRAPHY
REGISTER NOW-CLASSES BEGIN JAN. 29
U-M Artists & Craftsmen Guild
763-4430
2nd Floor, Michigan Union

BYRg6F 1J

ISTORIANS TELL-US that writng was invented over six thousand.
H years ago, and paper about five thousand years ago. In the intervening
thousand years, people wrote on walls, starting a tradition that has lasted to
the present day. Graffiti is now a familiar part of the world around us, and
can be a source of entertainment and information. Unfortunately, many
students attend classes, do their homework, and are thus unable to devote
full attention to the reading and writing of the clever messages on the ver-
tical flat spaces around campus. For their benefit, I hope, in this modest
column, to publish some of the more worthy items to be seen around town.
A disclaimer first: I am not, by any means, condoning all defacement of
University property simply be reporting choice samples. On the contrary, I
feel that those who scrawl obscenities and trite oaths on bathroom walls,
showing no wit or creativity, should have their arms broken in several
olaces. Graffiti is an art form: See Da Vinci's "Last Supper," or the fish on
the men's room wall, 6 South, Graduate Library. The official University
policy of encouraging graffiti by constantly providing freshly painted sur-
faces, evidences the high esteem it now enjoys. It is folly to jeopardize this
position through careless scribbling.
Dire warnings aside, let us examine some of the markings of historical
interest on campus walls. Notable for its longevity is the "Stop the War" stop
sign on the McDivitt-White corner. (Trivia questions: Where is this corner?
Who were McDivitt and White? To which war does the sign.refer?) Also
dating back to a more troubled era is the south wall of Mr. Tony's on State
Street, which is graced with anachronistic slogans like "Off the pigs!" and
"Acid is groovy." Some authorities believe these to be mid-70's forgeries,
like the peace signs in the northwest stairwell of the MLB, but only further
research will give sure answers.
A GENUINE old-time item is "Free Martin Sostre!" on the south wall of
the old University Press building on East U., .down a bit from the bank. Ap-
parently, Martin Sostre was the focus of a cause celebre some eight or nine
years ago, although even then nobody actually knew who he was.
Less-mysterious is the appearance of the word "Larcom-fy" in many
places such as the Engineering Arch: These are only two years old, and the
product of a tasteless and unsuccessful student election campaign. Still
another common sight is the ubiquitous green or white painted "S" provided
by the unimaginative vandals of a nationally-known institution of higher
learning.
Other themes have had bursts of popularity in the last year or so. "Pete
Bogues People Out" was scrawled persistently in the Dennison Building, and
"Utilize the Cone" had a long and successful run at East Quad. The mere
mention of these two buildings is enough to set a graffiti scholar's blood to
racing, as they are known respectively as the homes of the "analytical" and
"humanistic" schools of wall-writing. Next time, I'll sample more deeply
from these and other places for some more current samples.
Incidentally, I have just been informed that the fish in the Grad is no
longer there. Ars brevites.

-7-..

a

U
U

The horse Chris Evert beat Miss
Musket byan incredible 50 lengths in-
a 1974 match race at Hollywood
Park.
EVA LIKOVA
RALPH HERBERT

Medlatrics presents
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING
COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

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