Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life and rhythm


Émile-Jean Sulpis (1856-1943)
Danseuse
Engraving, 1923

As all the arts spring from the same source and discharge into the same ocean, it’s no surprise that visual artists have been entranced by the fluidity, grace, and energy of the dance. Degas was perhaps the first great artist to make dancers and dancing central to his art, but where he led, others quickly followed. The Swedish Impressionist Anders Zorn remains most famous for his portrait of the dancer Rosita Mauri, who was also painted by Degas.


Anders Zorn (1860-1920)
Rosita Mauri
Etching 1891

Paul Renouard also drew many of the same dancers as Degas, who along with Manet was a formative influence on his work. In turn Renouard influenced Vincent Van Gogh, who collected his etchings and drawings, thinking them “beautiful” and “superb”. Born in Cour-Cheverny, Loir-et-Cher, Charles Paul Renouard went to Paris at the age of 14, and worked as a decorator before entering the atelier of Isidore Pils in 1868; with Pils, Renouard decorated the ceiling of the Paris Opera. Renouard first exhibited at the Salon of 1877. He soon worked out that his talent lay in black-and-white, not colour, and devoted himself to printmaking. I almost wonder, in fact, if Renouard may have been at least partly colour-blind. This would explain why such a talented artist has now sunk into such obscurity. It would also explain why his 1892 portfolio La Danse (of which I have copy 216/295) was created in such an intriguing manner. These enchanting colour lithographs were a collaboration between Renouard and the printer Charles Gillot. Renouard provided drawings for La Danse on specially-prepared lithographic transfer paper, which the printer Gillot transferred to zinc plates, adding colour (in consultation with Renouard). These lithographs (or, to be pedantic, because Gillot patented the process, gillotages) are described on the portfolio as "dessins transposés en harmonies de couleurs" - the word harmonies, of course, acknowleges Renouard's debt to Whistler.



Paul Renouard (1854-1924)
Harmonie en chair et améthyste
Lithograph, 1892


Paul Renouard
Harmonie en agua marine, chair, et violet rosé
Lithograph, 1892


Paul Renouard
Harmonie en vermilion et violet
Lithograph, 1892


Paul Renouard
Harmonie en mauve et jaune
Lithograph, 1892

All my other prints by Paul Renouard are black-and-white etchings, drypoints, or lithographs. A number of them also focus on dancers and music hall performers, the subject that made his name. In the etching À Drury Lane: Avant de paraître, the seated figure seen from the back is not a child, but a performer. I believe it to be the diminutive singer May Belfort, who ten years after being painted by Toulouse-Lautrec was still dressing as a child and lisping her way through such innuendo-laden songs as “Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow”. The same performer is seen from the front in a second etching, Figurante du théatre de Drury Lane.


Paul Renouard
À Drury Lane: Avant de paraître
Etching, 1906


Paul Renouard
Figurante du théatre de Drury Lane, à Londres
Etching, 1905

I have another portfolio of images of ballet dancers, Visions de Danse by Swiss-born Alméry Lobel-Riche (1877-1950), which although not published until 1949 clearly shows the influence of minor Impressionists such as Paul Renouard and Louis Legrand. It is a collection of drypoints (mine is copy 145/210), published alongside an essay by the critic André Billy.


Alméry Lobel-Riche (1877-1950)
Dancer putting on her shoes
Drypoint, 1949

At some point Lobel-Riche will get a full individual treatment on this blog, as his art, with its twin inspirations of Symbolism and Impressionism and its almost classical purity of line, has been undeservedly neglected. What is remarkable in his images of dancers (as in many of his nudes), is the extent to which Lobel-Riche looks beyond the flesh of his figures to reveal the musculature beneath. It is perhaps because of this mastery of anatomy that Lobel-Riche is able to capture such a vivid sense of the energy of dance, and the physical strength of the dancers.


Alméry Lobel-Riche
Female dancer
Drypoint, 1949


Alméry Lobel-Riche
Dancer
Drypoint, 1949


Alméry Lobel-Riche
Pair of dancers
Drypoint, 1949


Alméry Lobel-Riche
Two female dancers
Drypoint, 1949


Alméry Lobel-Riche
Three dancers
Drypoint, 1949

Perhaps the most famous depiction of dance in C20th-century art is Matisse’s La Danse, with its sensuous and exuberant circle of naked dancers. Henri Matisse (1869-1954) painted two versions of this great work, a preliminary study in 1909 that is now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and in 1910 the finished version, commissioned by the Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin, which is now in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. In 1938 Matisse created a lithograph after La Danse for the art revue Verve – a double page that also has two original linocuts of skaters on the reverse.


Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
La Danse
Lithograph, 1938


Henri Matisse
Le Lance
Linocut, 1938


Henri Matisse
Le Retenu
Linocut, 1938

For Matisse, dance was “life and rhythm”.

3 comments:

Jane said...

It appears to me that Renouard, and even more so Lobel-Riche, is less interested in the artifice of the costumes and the light than Degas was. The genre certainly offers a relief from all those 19th century pictures of enervated women reclining on the furniture.

Neil said...

I suppose Degas is entranced by light on skin, and also as you say the costumes (actually, although I admire Degas, I do find those sculptures with the little tutus a bit creepy). With Renouard, I feel there is a sense of personal connection with the actual performers, almost as if he would be up there on stage if he could be. For Lobel-Riche, what he's really interested in is how the muscles move under the flesh.

Jane said...

I have seen the little Degas ballerina at the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts up close and found her charming, but couldn't figure out how the tutu was made. I confess I haven't looked that closely at pictures of others.