Friday, March 16, 2012

Self-Portraits by Émile Friant Part Four

We finish our week-long pictorial autobiography of Émile Friant with this magnificent self portrait from 1925.  Our hero is 62 years old and would only live another seven years.

With a complete lack of vanity, Friant charts for us the changes in his physical self.  His hair has thinned even more, his ears have grown with age, his handsome face is lined with age and is now somewhat shrunken.  The raw energy of the man caught in the previous portraits is gone, and Friant is now a thin, delicate creature of unique loveliness.  His virile beauty is gone and has been replaced with a deeper, more touching ethereal quality.

Once again, Friant shows a remarkable sensitivity in the painting of his own hands.  His right hand (again!) holds the brush, and each finger is beautifully articulated.  But look, too, at his ear, previously hidden by his once-luxuriant hair.  (He even manages to delineate the sections of his hair matted with oil.)  The ear is beautifully molded and rendered, capturing the supple curve and creating a believable sense of depth. 

Unlike the previous three portraits, here Friant actually records his clothing with some exacting detail.  His Legion of Honor medal is proudly displayed on his lapel, and his suit coat, waistcoat, and tiepin are rendered in a naturalistic manner.  The stitching down the side of his trousers is perfectly visible, and the bulge of his pocket square visible in his breast pocket.  Friant, with this picture, is much fussier in his style and underlying drawing; as if wishing to demonstrate his increased virtuosity.  It is a picture by a master who has been painting for nearly 50 years, and has only increased in his powers.

Another change from the pervious self-portraits is that Friant is clearly not painting himself in this picture.  The figure on his canvas appears to be wearing a red blouse, and perhaps a long blue skirt, as well.  His palette, however, does seem to echo the rich ochre coloration of his surroundings.  (As always, the canvas is suggested with very Impressionistic brushstrokes.)

But what I think has changed the most over the course of the self-portraits we’ve examined here is the quality of his gaze.  Look closely at Friant’s eyes here.  If the previous portraits showed Friant eager, or expectant, or ambitious, or self-possessed, his brush here captures eyes that are deep with a benign wisdom.  These are eyes that have seen much and understood even more.  These are the eyes of a man who knows, an experienced man who now lives philosophically.  Yes, they are searching eyes, but also compassionate – a quality we have not seen on this artist’s face before.  The eyes in the other portraits looked directly at you, expecting to learn what they could from us, the viewers.  Now these eyes have seen all that was there, and forgives.  In short, they are the eyes of an artist.

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