Friday, December 11, 2015

Merrymakers (1870)

Carolus-Duran: Merrymakers

During the second half of the 1800s, Paris, France, likely had more artists than any other city in the history of the world. We most often think of the Impressionists during this period, but really, they made up a very small percentage of the more than 12,000 working artists during that era. The vast majority, mostly trained in Paris' famed Ecole des Beaux Arts, were what we call today "Academicians." The best of them taught at the school, the rest only wished they could. The best of them painted history, mythology, allegories, lots of naked goddesses, and the occasional naked god. The rest of them only tried. Some of the artists from that period have all but become household names--Monet, Manet, Sargent, Whistler, Cezanne, Cassatt, but not Charles Auguste Émile Durand. Even the name he was known by, professionally, Carolus-Duran (no "d" on the end), doesn't set off any chimes. Yet, second only to John Singer Sargent, Carolus-Duran was likely the most highly regarded portrait artist in Paris during the fading years of the 19th century.

Although Carolus-Duran painted more than his share of pretty pretentious paintings, and his portraits were, at best, "stylish," it's the artists' peripheral work I find most interesting. His The Merrymakers, though the artist might hate the term, is really quite "modern." It doesn't sink to the level of genre (the bottom rung in the painting hierarchy at the time) yet it seems endearing, a restaurant, a playful child, a doting, laughing mother and her friend--a scene played out daily all around the world, both then and now. [Art Now and Then]

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