Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Washington Gallery Seen: Mariano Fortuny Y Carbo's The Choice of a Model

Here's an interesting painting that I saw last month in the Impressionists section of the National Gallery in Washington: Mariano Fortuny Y Carbo's The Choice of a Model. The artist was born in Catalonia in 1838 where surrealist Salvador Dali would later hail from, a region in the Northeast corner of the Iberian Peninsula, Barcelona being its capitol and largest city. Being adjacent to the Mediterranean, it is a region with much beauty. Though he died quite young (age 36) he had already by that time developed an international reputation as a painter.
It's interesting that this painting is found in the Impressionists section of the gallery because at the heart of the impressionist movement was a fascination with light and form, not fascination with story. And this mid-19th century painting is quite the story once you stop to engage it. What we see is a nude woman striking a pose while a group of men examine this female specimen.  

One trio of men appear to be talking in a rather animated manner. What are they discussing? Most likely her suitability for the assignment. What is the subject matter of the painting going to be?

The scene is obviously a far cry from the potato-diggers Van Gogh would later paint in the Netherlands. This is wealth, opulence, stature. Are they choosing a model fit for a king? Four of the men are just standing there staring, mesmerized.

The woman herself is quite dazzling and evocative. The manner in which she is painted feels smooth whereas all else about her is vibrant. The contrast makes her sensuality stand out.

Behind her, in the background, are several busts of white and black marble, each wearing the most comical expression. Notice the leer in this one, for example:

Tell me it's not intended to be hilarious.

The men are purportedly selecting a model for a "high art purpose" but the artist of this painting is mocking their pretensions. These men are essentially having women disrobe for them, and pretending to do so with the greatest solemnity. The expressions on the busts reveal what they are really thinking.

Next time you visit the National Gallery, check it out. It just might make you laugh.

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Meantime, Monday here at the Zeitgeist Atrium in Duluth we will be having a reception for the Duluth Dylan Fest Art Exhibition, featuring works by more than a dozen artists. I hope you will join us between 5 and 7 p.m.

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