Friday, January 22, 2016

The Lunatic of Etretat (1871)

Hugues Merle: The Lunatic of Etretat

Hugues Merle … transforms a sentimental image into one of utter, even hysterical, despair. The woman’s face is a mask of suffering while she cradles, not a sleeping baby, but a wooden log! Is Merle’s “lunatic” mourning the loss of a child, or mad with longing for one? With no clear answer visible, we are left to ponder her fate. The figure’s anguish is a hallmark of Romanticism, a style that emphasized images of suffering, madness, and death. These images were often thinly veiled allusions to broader social suffering or political upheavals. For example, Merle painted The Lunatic in 1871, the same year that France lost the Franco-Prussian War. Could his dark image mirror the broader national mood of political loss and desolation? [Chrysler Museum of Art]

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