Friday, March 28, 2008

Carla Bruni & Georges Seurat

Michel Compte's fully unveiled photograph of France's First Lady,which goes on sale as lot 0064 among photographs from the collection of Gert Elfering at Christie's New York on April 10th has a significant art-historical pedigree. It is an homage to Georges Seurat's Models:

From WebMuseum, Paris
1887-88; Oil on Canvas, 78 3/4 x 98 3/8 in. Signed, bottom right; The Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA.

Following Bathing at Asnieres and La Grande Jatte, Models is the third large picture that Seurat exhibited in public, and the second executed in his new pointillist-or "neo-impressionist"-manner. It was, until now, less famous and popular than the preceding two, only because it has been less looked at and studied, and was almost never reproduced. Nonetheless, one of the artists' most ambitious works, Models is also among the most important paintings of his career, and one of the richest in interpretive possibilities, as significant for the history of modern painting as C├ęzanne's large Bathers or Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon.

This canvas is painted on the same monumental scale as the history paintings at the official Salon. Seurat's contemporary Arsene Alexandre wrote that it represented the young painter's attempt ``to prove that his theory, which was so well-suited to subjects en plein air, was applicable to large-scale interiors with figures''. In fact, in the context of La Grande Jatte, one objection to Seurat's technique had been that the pointillist system of contrasting color was suited, at best, to the representation of immaterial things-light, water, or foliage, for example-but not the human figure. In the fall of 1886, then, this more traditional subject matter represented a distinct challenge to Seurat's revolutionary technique. Keeping within the confines of realism, the title clearly implies a depiction of contemporary models at work- or a single model in three separate stages of activity: disrobing, dressing, and posing. The scene can be precisely dated from accessories and hairstyles that were in fashion in 1886-1887, and also from the presence of La Grande Jatte, which is shown leaning against the studio wall within this painting, and which had been an object of scandal a few months before, at the last impressionist exhibition of 1886.

Seurat's context is commonplace: nudes in a studio before a painting that rests on the floor. But the artist exploits every possible connection between the two elements of his composition: the nude women might be models from La Grande Jatte-where they appear fully dressed- who have returned to the studio to disrobe. Strewn about the foreground are articles from the "painting-within-a-painting": the hats, shoes, parasols, and a small basket of flowers that have been cast off by these women. Such elements tempt us to contemplate oppositions: dressed and undressed, truth and artifice, nature and culture, the captured instance of daily life and the timelessness of art.