Thursday, March 15, 2012

Self-Portraits by Émile Friant Part Three

Today we move away from the young adult Émile Friant of 1887 to the ever-so-slightly older Friant of 1893.  Our artist is now 30 years old, and already the recipient of the grand prize at the Paris Salon and the ribbon of the Legion of Honor.  He is an artist at the pinnacle of his success. 

Time has been, if anything, kinder to Friant that we might have supposed in his self-portrait of six years earlier.  Much of the puffiness of his face is gone, as are the jowls.  His hair is still thin, but it has retained a wonderful reddish tint, and his generous mustache and beard help to accentuate the almost luminescent coloration of his face. 

Now a man of means and affairs, Friant returns to his tie and frock coat, the self-conscious modeling in an artist’s smock now over. 

As in the earlier portrait, Friant delineates his face and hands with crystal clarity. Here there is not even an Impressionistic background to compete with the figure; Friant sits alone in thickly painted bluish-white background.  The hands are crafted with Friant’s customary delicacy and sensitivity.  Note how the light captures the subtle shape of his fingers from the knuckles down.  (Note, too, that yesterday Friant held his brush in his left hand, and today it migrates to his right!)

His face is a masterwork of blended colors, from nearly white to pink to near-purple.  And the hair atop his head and in his mustache and beard captures and reflects light, brilliantly illuminating nearly each and every individual hair. 

As usual, his coat, tie and canvas are mere suggestions, but look closely at his palette.  The overarching color is a bluish-white, the same at the background. 

What has changed the most over the last six years is Friant’s gaze.  His self-portrait at 15 was that of an inner-directed adolescent, ready to wrestle with the world.  His look at 24 was one of challenge and preparedness, as well as self-confidence.  Here, his gaze is that of one who has seen much, met with some success, and looks at the world from a perspective of experience.  The eyes are less clear, more heavily lidded -- more guarded, if you will.  It is possible to imagine that the Friant of the earlier two portraits had never been wounded in any way; not so the man of 30.  Life has left its mark on him, as it does all of us.


david thompson said...

So glad you have written a bit about Friant, a sadly under rated artist even here in France, although after the recent re-fit at the Musee d'Orsay his large painting 'La Toussaint' now hangs in a prominent position upstairs. I was first struck by his work on watching the excelllent film 'Il y a longtemps que je t'aime' with Kristen Scott Thomas where a couple of his works appeared in one scene. Interestingly a writer called Norman Beaupré apparantly had the same expereince and wrote a fictionalized biography of Friant as a result called 'The man with the easel of horn'. I wonder if you know it?

James Abbott said...

Many thanks -- I have not heard of Beaupré's book, but now I shall seek it out. And I certainly agree with you that Friant is greatly under-appreciated....

I clicked on your name and found your blog: Modern Painters: Art in a Cold Climate and found it a delightful read! I'll be visiting it regularly.

Best to you,