13 Dec 2013

Valloton again

There are so many more paintings (and engravings) that warrant commentary in the Felix Valloton exhibition that is currently showing at the Grand Palais in Paris that I cannot resist going back for a second look.

This painter clearly had a very solid classical training, togther with a taste for composition and craftsmanship that he never really lost. This shows in many of his works such as these two:

But there is also a more personal twist to his vision that begins to emerge in the second of the above two paintings, and which becomes increasingly obvious as time goes by. This is sometimes accompanied by clear quotations from, or references to, paintings by artists that he clearly admired, such as Ingres or Manet. Manet's Olympia, which caused such a scnadal when it was first shown, is right here in Valloton's version, and this is followed by another painting with similar inspiration that is given a marvellous touch of additional ambiguity by the cigarette in the mouth of the black woman on the right hand side.

As well as Manet, Valloton's was clearly inspired by Ingres, and this shows in the way he portrayed the female body in many other paintings, even if I found many of these hovering between a form of academicism and something far more synthetic but equally rigid in a way. Nevertheless, they have their qualities...

As far as his paintings of women are concerned, I prefer the ones where composition and colour take on a different and more important role and the painting works perhaps better as a formal whole, the body being an essential part but not the sole or, in some cases, the dominant theme. In other words, when Valloton steps back a bit from his understandable obessesion with feminine pulchritude. In the two following paintings he also shows his mastery of drawing, brilliantly combining form and line.

With the exception of works like the two immediately above, my favourite paintings in this exhibition dealt with landscapes or people in natural surroundings, and Valloton's admirable capacity to synthetize something quintessential from observed nature. 

I should add that one or two of the paintings above, like the last one, are not in fact in thie exhibition that inspired these 2 articles, but who cares? They illustrate my points I think.

I would like to finish this sort article with a couple of the woodcuts, which are equally impressive.

I have deliberately placed these as small as they really are, more or less (and smaller than the versions I showed in the previous article). The proof of their qualities is that they do not lose impact on account of the drop in their scale.

Valloton is, I think, an ignored (or at least underrated) master. I will take his work anytime rather than that of the dreadfully overrated Renoir, for instance. And he can even, at times, stand with the three big M's : Manet, Monet and Matisse. At times, but not all the time.