Friday, August 17, 2012

Gore Vidal

Does Gore Vidal (1925-2012) merit the title “artist?”  Yes, but not for the reasons generally cited.

Born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal in West Point, New York, Vidal was a prominent (and often badgering) voice in American politics, a writer of contemporary novels, and an occasional actor.  As an arts blog, politics are largely out of the purview of The Jade Sphinx, so we will simply note that Vidal was more often right than wrong in his views of America’s political and cultural decline, and leave it at that.

As a contemporary novelist, Vidal was certainly a mixed bag.  His third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), caused a furor over its frank (for the time) depiction of homosexuality.  It was a bold move for a bold artist, but one that had considerable consequences:  he was blackballed by much of the literary establishment in a show of faux outrage.  (For example, Orville Prescott of The New York Times blocked any reviews of Vidal’s next five books.) 

One can’t but wish that all of the outrage was for something slightly more worthwhile, as Pillar is … slight, at best.  One of those largely plotless as-we-live-now novels that have choked novelistic creativity for the last 70 years or so, Pillar is remarkable only in that is has a gay character.  As a social document The City and the Pillar is fairly interesting, as an artistic achievement, it is largely unimportant.

When not writing mainstream novels, Vidal wrote three mysteries under the pen-name Edgar Box.  These novels, Death in the Fifth Position (1952), Death Before Bedtime (1953) and Death Likes It Hot (1954), are agreeable without profundity.  He also spent time writing screenplays, notably doctoring most of the script for Ben-Hur in 1959.  Though lauded with Academy Awards, Ben-Hur never reaches the levels of art; it is certainly a diverting spectacle, but never nearly as serious as it takes itself to be.  Ever puckish, he sneakily inserted a gay subtext in the relationship between Ben-Hur and Messala without Charlton Heston ever noticing.

Perhaps feeling constrained by the reigning literary aesthetic of bland realism, Vidal wrote several fantasias or crypto-science fiction pieces, all to disastrous effect.  Live From Golgotha (1992) concerned time travel and the crucifixion, and may be the single worst novel of that year (or decade).   The Smithsonian Institution (1998) involved historical figures somehow alive in the basement of the Smithsonian (think Night at the Museum with a soupcon of pretention) and his 1957 play Visit to a Small Planet was a vehicle to skewer American foreign policy.  Planet was made into a film in 1960 with Jerry Lewis, which was, damningly, an improvement on its source material.

However, Vidal was a masterful essayist, and his books of essays are among the finest in the language.  Matters of Fact and Fiction (1977), The Second American Revolution (1983), Armageddon (1987), Screening History (1992), and Palimpsest: A Memoir (1995) are all extremely absorbing and deftly written.  Inventing a Nation: Washington, Addams and Jefferson (2004) and Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History’s Glare (2009) also have much to commend them.  In his essays, Vidal’s writing is clear and coherent, filled with memorable aphorisms and soundly reasoned.  In fact, Vidal may have been America’s finest 20th Century essayist.

Finally, we come to Vidal the historical novelist.  It is hard to assess his contributions to historical fiction “cleanly,” as Vidal the novelist was compromised by Vidal the polemicist who often had an axe to grind.  However, overlooking that major flaw, Vidal’s historical fiction managed to do something his contemporary novels could not: involve well-rounded, three dimensional characters in a compelling plot.  Of his historical fiction I strongly recommend Burr (1973), 1876 (1976) which is amazing for detailing the Hayes/Tilden election which would in so many ways prefigure Bush/Gore in 2000, and Empire (1987), which includes a somewhat bitter look at the emergence of contemporary American journalism.

Gore Vidal wanted to become a Great American Man of Letters, and, instead, became an important literary voice and often acted as the conscience of the nation.  His ambition may not have been achieved, but his achievements were ambitious. Our nation is poorer for his loss. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Robert Hughes: The Loss of an Important Voice in the Art World

It is perhaps a bitter irony that the great art critic Robert Hughes (1938-2012) died on August 6thAndy Warhol’s birthday.  Warhol was perhaps, to Hughes, emblematic of all of the hucksters, scallywags, con artists and grifters that have taken over the art world since the rise of Modernism (and its unpleasant afterbirth, Post Modernism).  It was Warhol who opened the doors for such frauds and crooks as Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Tracey Eim, draining the ravished corpse of our culture of any remaining vestige of emotion, virtuosity or humanism.

Needless to say, the art establishment loathed Hughes, much as the crooked tailors in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes loathed the little boy who could not help crying, “but he’s naked!”  When slick-suited sharpsters in their squalid Soho PoMo galleries sell to the unsuspecting, unthinking and tasteless collector of today the latest bit of gimcrack tushery created by jaded cynics bent on furthering the greatest fraud in the history of human taste, the last thing they want to hear is an educated man crying … “but, really, it’s not very smart and certainly not very good.” 

Hughes was not against the idea of an art market, nor of artists making a living.  He wrote: On the whole, money does artists much more good than harm. The idea that one benefits from cold water, crusts, and debt collectors is now almost extinct, like belief in the reformatory power of flogging.  He simply saw the contemporary art market as out-of-control and contemporary artists as out-of-touch.

Academics are equally leery of Hughes: he refused to drink the Post Modernist Kool-Aid and was a highly engaging and readable writer equally at home on television.  Ivory Towers find such accessibility and clear-headedness both dangerous and enviable.  As such, Hughes never founded a school of criticism; he merely had legions of grateful readers.

Instead of writing to further the interests of a bloated, corrupt and rapacious art world, Hughes addressed the emotional and philosophical needs of the aesthete and the art-lover and not the crass art investor or star-schtupper.  His book The Shock of the New was also a BBC television series (first aired in 1980), and with it viewers were able to watch art criticism as a gladiatorial sport.  Hughes did not suffer fools or scoundrels gladly, and his withering dismissal of our common crap culture was always more nutritious than a Big Mac. 

To watch Hughes don his gloves and come out swinging, look at this brief clip:  Equally amusing is this clip, showing a considerably younger Hughes:

Hughes’ notions on art are now seen as provincial or prehistoric by many of today’s artists and scholars.  They are wrong.  Hughes believed in the notion of genius – someone who created great art of deep meaning after many, many years of study and apprenticeship.  Art, for him, was also a display of craft and mastery, of technical expertise matched with poetic vision.  There was no place in his aesthetic for dead sharks swimming in formaldehyde.

Writers often write their own best epitaphs.  Let’s close with some things Hughes wrote throughout his long career.  Here’s one example that delights my heart from The Shock of the New:

The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. It's not something that committees can do. It's not a task achieved by groups or by movements.

From his memoir Things I Didn’t Know (2006):

I am completely an elitist in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it's an expert gardener at work or a good carpenter chopping dovetails. I don't think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones. I would rather watch a great tennis player than a mediocre one, unless the latter is a friend or a relative. Consequently, most of the human race doesn't matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights. I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this. I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today, more (perhaps) than it ever has. I hate populist [shit], no matter how much the demos love it.

Robert Hughes was a first-rate mind engaged in looking at a blasted cultural wasteland unworthy of a child’s scrutiny.  He often was abrasive and condescending, but he was seldom wrong.  He will be missed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An Evening With Celeste Holm

One month ago today we lost Celeste Holm (1917-2012), one of the few remaining figures from Hollywood’s Golden Age.  Of that august body, the only four survivors that come to mind are Olivia de Havillland (born 1916), Kirk Douglas (born 1916), Mickey Rooney (born 1920), and Shirley Temple (born 1928).  I’m sure it’s possible that, some 60 years hence, someone will write an appreciation of Ben Affleck while contemplating with nostalgia the Millennium Era of Hollywood, but I somehow doubt it.

It’s hard for people born into the era of movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and yet another version of Spider-Man, to remember (or understand) that films were once made by, and for, adults.  (And, seriously, does our culture really need a “realistic” Batman movie?  Isn’t the very phrase fairly insulting?  Could you imagine anyone with a straight face 40 or 50 years ago suggesting that adult audiences would greet the notion of a “dark” superhero film with anything other than blank incomprehension or withering disdain?  And isn’t this stuff supposed to be fun, anyway?  Please don’t get me wrong – I enjoy a Batman film as next as the next fellow, and was entertained by both the 1960s comedy series and the Tim Burton films.  But … have we degenerated so as a culture that the story of a millionaire dressed like a giant bat so he could punch a homicidal clown is now considered worthy of an “adult” take?)  In such an atmosphere, it’s somehow consoling to remember that films were once made by adults and not a culture of arrested adolescents.

Holm was a staple on Broadway and film for decades.  She won an Academy Award for her performance in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), one of the first films to seriously address anti-Semitism, and was nominated for her performances in Come to the Stable (1949) and the classic All About Eve (1950).  On Broadway she originated the role of Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, and in 1991 I was lucky enough to see her as an aging actress in Paul Rudnick’s comedy about the ghost of John Barrymore, I Hate Hamlet

Holm had a very distinct screen persona.  Her somewhat plain, non-glamorous beauty hinted at an inner warmth, and her natural reserve suited her for roles as patrician or distant women.  Always more convincing as a socialite than a tart, Holm managed to bring an element of Yankee gentility to any endeavor.  To see two disparate sides of Holm, watch her nearly incandescent turn as a nun in Come to the Stable and then see her as chanteuse Flame O’Neill in the riotous comedy Champagne for Caesar (1950).  For a taste of her range, watch Holm cornered by the duplicitous Anne Baxter in All About Eve here:

About 15 years ago I had the great pleasure to dine with Holm at the apartment of lyricist Fred Ebb  (1928-2004).  My friend, film scholar and writer Jim Nemeth, had “won” Holm for dinner at a charitable auction, and she regaled us for over four hours with stories alternately salty and scandalous.  For a woman so composed and serene onscreen, she could be quite surprising in the flesh.  (There is a reason it’s called “acting.”)  She spared nobody.

Asked about her Caesar co-star Vincent Price, Holm asked, “why would you want to know about him?  He couldn’t act.”  That was a comment not nearly as withering as her take on Stable costar Loretta Young, whom she called “a chocolate-covered black widow spider.”

About her Eve costars, she was equally brutal.  Hugh Marlowe was “dull,” and she had no comment on George Sanders, who she claimed only spoke to the director and never to the rest of the cast.  She called Baxter “ambitious,” and Bette Davis a word that rather rhymes with “ambitious.”

She had some genuinely nice things to say about her High Society (1956) co-star Frank Sinatra, but added, “you wouldn’t want to cross him.”  She dismissed Nicol Williamson (Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet) as a “drunk” and pronounced Julie Andrews (they worked together in television’s Cinderella) “cold.”  The biggest mistake of her career was not made by herself, but, rather, the producers of the film version of Oklahoma!, who did not ask her to reprise her stage role as Ado Annie.  Perhaps my favorite Holm-ism was her take on her fans:  “When someone tells me they like Gentlemen’s Agreement, I know they’re a West Side liberal.  When they mention Eve, I know they’re gay.”

It was, in short, an unforgettable evening.  Though I found the real Celeste Holm very different from the reel one, she was a woman who will be greatly missed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard Part IV: Don Juan and the Statue of the Commander

I had thought of ending the week with another example of the Neoclassicism of Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (1780-1850), but when I came upon this, I could not resist.

My readers are doubtless familiar with the story of Don Juan, the well-known libertine.  There are countless versions of the story, from Moliere and Corneille to Mozart and Byron.  The painter Eugene Delacroix (1798 – 1863) was particularly taken with Mozart’s opera, writing “What a masterpiece of romanticism!  And that in 1785!  … the entry of the specter will always strike a man of imagination.”

Delacroix was writing of the finale, where the ghost of one of the Don’s victims comes to escort the libertine to hell.  This picture looks so unlike most of Alexandre-Évariste’s oeuvre that I cannot but help but think it had some special significance for the artist.  It’s a little picture, no more than 16x13, and hardly on the scale of his deliberately executed Neoclassical masterpieces.  The brush strokes are clearly visible, and it is painted with a loose vitality that has more in common with the Impressionism that was still decades away than the Neoclassical ideal it would eventually shun.

Don Juan here is clearly heroic: with his athletic stance, burning torch and pointed beard and mustaches, he looks more like a figure from a swashbuckling novel than a dissipated roué.  His torch illuminates two ghostly female figures … other victims, or fellow neighbors in hell?  In most of the artist’s pictures, the figure of the Commander would be depicted in finicky detail, each chink and join of armor would be visible, along with showy touches, such as light reflected upon the metal.  Not here – the ghostly figure is suggested by some thickly painted brush strokes, the face no more than a few well-placed shadows. 

That this moment in the Don Juan story held some kind of import for Alexandre-Évariste is evident – he painted it more than once.  Why, I wonder?  It does not take an armchair Freud to see that the Commander is clearly a father figure.  Did Alexandre-Évariste have regrets about the way he treated his father?  Not only did he burn Papa Fragonard’s drawings, but he seems to have sat idly by while the old man was destitute (living by the good graces of another Neoclassicist, David.)  I can’t help but think that this picture is clearly tied to the artist’s psyche.  He paints Don Juan handsome and athletic – certainly the way that most of us see ourselves, despite what our mirrors tell us.  But this heroic figure is still undone by the physical, patriarchal figure of his past sins.  It does not seem to stretch the imagination too much to think that the events may be operatic, but the thoughts are autobiographical. 

If the picture was prophetic – that there is a hell and poor Alexandre-Évariste is indeed roasting marshmallows with other artistic villains like Cellini and Caravaggio – one can hope that he still has access to paint and canvas.  Work like this would merit a trip to the lower regions, if only for a visit.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard Part III: The Lesson of Henry IV

Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard’s accomplishments spanned a remarkable range of artistic endeavors, including paintings, sculpture, book illustration, Sévres porcelain and architecture.  His first listing in the livret of the Paris Salon was as an exhibitor in 1793, when he was only 13.  His work in the 1790s reflected revolutionary republican subjects in the neoclassical style, a dramatic break from the Rococo style of his father, Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806).

Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard really came of age during the restoration, when he changed his subject matter to suit then-contemporary tastes.  He ventured into new territory in 1819 when he attempted history painting.  He specialized in pictures featuring themes and images of the Middle Ages, in many way anticipating the works of later Romantic artists.  He also received important commissions for painted decorations for the Louvre, Versailles and numerous churches including Strasbourg Cathedral, the Church of Ste. Geneviéve, and Saint-Etienne-du-Mont.  He also exhibited easel paintings through the 1842 Salon and worked for the Sévres Manufactory, including both the design of porcelain forms and the decoration.

I must confess that I love today’s picture, the Lesson of Henry IV.  Henry IV (1553 – 1610) was one of the most beloved of French kings.  He managed not to take sides during the terrible Religious Wars, using politics and politesse to ultimately save the day.  He was also, by lights of those times, quite liberal, often working for the betterment of the common man.  It is to Henry IV that we owe a key phrase of our political language when he said, “If God keeps me, I will make sure that there is no working man in my kingdom who does not have the means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday.”  Sadly, Henry IV was murdered by a Catholic fanatic.  A statue to the monarch was erected just four years after his death.  It was destroyed during the later French Revolution, but Henry IV was the first king to be immortalized by a statue following the Revolution.  It would seem that even the French Revolution could not expunge the memory of an aristocrat so dedicated to the common good.

I think one of the reasons that Alexandre-Évariste depicted Henry IV during his school lessons is because of the truism that liberality, kindness, tolerance, courage, empathy, and good will are more often than not the products of education.  Even in our own world this is evident – a quick look at the kind of people who flock around dangerous anti-education demagogues like Rick Santorum demonstrates that a lack of proper schooling creates monsters.

I love this picture – mainly for its marriage of Neoclassicism and Romanticism.  Alexandre-Évariste digs into a remote and romantic past to show us the education of one of the great figures of French history.  Here, young Henry IV clearly astounds his professor by taking pen to parchment and recording the learnings from the large text.  The open window and the globe seem almost to add a Dutch flavor to the proceedings, as if Alexandre-Évariste were thinking of the great works of Vermeer while composing the picture.  And, again, Alexandre-Évariste shows himself to be the painter of light – see how the light on the floor and the wall where Henry writes trails the line of sun from the window.  The figure of the professor has a particular monumentality – as if Alexandre-Évariste were paying unconscious homage to Michelangelo (did he consider that Renaissance master one of his ‘teachers’?), and look at the line of calf and the modulation of the hands on Henry VI.  This is a beautiful and sensitive command of anatomy, particularly the anatomy of a child. 

Again – little things: the feather in the cap, the knot at the back of Henry’s waist, the white shirt cuff of the professor; these are the kinds of grace notes that can be hit only by the most sensitive and gifted of artists.  Not only is it a very accomplished picture, but it is very touching, as well.

More tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard Part II: Raphael Resuming the Pose of His Model

Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (1780-1850), the son of a painter, fathered another painter, Théophile Fragonard (1806–1876).  I have not been able to find much about the relationship between Alexandre-Évariste and Théophile, but an intimation on the character of Alexandre-Évariste may best be gleaned from an anecdote concerning him and his father, Jean-Honoré.

Following the Revolution, Papa Fragonard’s pictures were considered irrelevant by the new power elite.  The rich Rococo curves and seductive colorations did not meet with Revolutionary zeal; and though Papa Fragonard’s political leanings were sympathetic to the Revolution, the new cultural arbiters would not meet him even halfway.  The unkindest cut, undoubtedly, was from his own son.

One day when Papa Fragonard was returning to his home, he saw smoke rising from the chimney and found that a bunches of his drawing were being burned by Alexandre-Évariste, who was shouting, “This is the holocaust of ‘good taste!’”  Surely there is a special place in hell for children like that.

Papa Fragonard left for Grasse in 1793 during the Reign of Terror (and I don’t mean the terror created by Alexandre-Évariste).  He returned to Paris a poor and broken man.  All of his patrons had disappeared, but he was saved from poverty by arch Neoclassicist Jacques Louis David (1748-1825), who was clearly a better man than Fragonard’s own son.  David found him employment in the Museum Service, where he lived out the rest of his life.

In today’s picture, Alexandre-Évariste imagines the studio of the great Renaissance artist  Raphael (1483 –1520), while painting the Madonna.  I must confess that I have a marked weakness for paintings set in artists studios: they offer glimpses, both real and idealized, of the how a painter sees himself and his work.  That Alexandre-Évariste is a Neoclassicist is evident from the cleanliness and austerity of the studio he creates for Raphael: where such places are often case-study biohazards, Alexandre-Évariste paints a studio remarkably tidy and clean.  The mahl stick looks as if it has never been soiled by paint, and the easel unstained and the corner bust dusted. 

His version of Raphael is surprisingly blonde and girlish, the pink hose covering his legs complimenting the reddish-orange of his dress-like tunic.  He does have the important essentials right, though: Raphael reaches up towards his Madonna’s breast, and it was postulated at the time of his death that Raphael died from too many intense carnal experiences.  (Insert your own joke here.)  It is also possible that Raphael has in his studio the best behaved infant in the history of art history.  The pink cherub seems to sit contentedly by while the great artist puts the Virgin through her paces; I think, perhaps, the finished picture might have been more interesting if the infant was misbehaving.

Look at the subtle mastery of the work.  The rich shadow thrown by Raphael on his own canvas, the lines beneath the model Virgin’s robes, the hints of the picture-within-the-picture.  This is virtuosity of a type quite common at the time, but virtually unheard of in our artistically untrained era.

But what I find most fascinating about the picture is that Alexandre-Évariste actually alters his natural style to accommodate the picture.  He somewhat mistakenly puts Raphael in the Mannerist tradition, and paints in a style more consistent with the Mannerists.  Look at the pinkish coloration of the three principals, the billowing of the model Virgin’s veil, the carefully positioned shaft of light behind her.  All of this strikes me more as Alexandre-Évariste painting in a late Renaissance style within the confines of his own Neoclassicism.  Whatever his probably failing as human being, Alexandre-Évariste was a magnificent painter.

More tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard Part I: Madame Recamier

The history of art has few father-and-son acts of any merit.  Perhaps one of the most interesting duos was that of Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (1780-1850), painter, sculptor and draftsman, who was the son of Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), one of the most famous painters during the reign of Louis XV and Louis VXI.

Before looking at Alexandre-Évariste, first a word about Papa Fragonard.  Jean-Honoré lived during a time of which Talleyrand said: “No one who did not live before 1789 can have any idea of the sweetness of living.”  For members of the upper-classes during that period, life was stimulating and delightful.  (The poor, of course, were another story.)  It was an age of brilliant and witty conversation, elegant fashions, charming women, style, sophistication, and exquisite art and craftsmanship.  Jean-Honoré Fragonard epitomized the entire rococo era, both in all its beauty and its excess.

For an idea of Jean-Honoré’s world and everything it stood for, look at the painting below.  Executed with magnificent brio, they are in many ways portraits of fantasy.  Painted for the artist’s own pleasure, his pictures cannot help but create pleasure in others.  Sometimes the effect is much like a too-rich dessert, but I often find Jean-Honoré’s over-the-top approach delicious.

Alexandre-Évariste, on the other hand, is an entirely different kettle of fish.  Alexandre-Évariste was tutored by his father, and by the great Neoclassical master Jacques Louis David (1748-1825).  One would be hard pressed to find two more contrasting approaches to seeing the world than the Rococo and the Neoclassical; and, whether from rebellion or sympathy with a changing world, Alexandre-Évariste was a Neoclassicist.

Alexandre-Évariste made his debut at the Salon in 1793 with Timoleon Sacrificing His Brother.  He would later create several allegories and make many drawings during the Consulate and the Empire.  He would also later evolve into something of a sculptor.  He would eventually sculpt the pediment of the Palais Bourbon in Paris – lost to us because it was destroyed in the Revolution of 1830.  His luck remained bad at the Palais Bourbon – his 1810 trompe-l’oeil grisailles decorating the Salle des Gardes and the salon behind the peristyle were either destroyed or covered by a later ceiling.

Today’s picture is a portrait of Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Bernard Récamier (1777 – 1849), known as Juliette, a French society leader, whose salon drew Parisians from the leading literary and political circles of the early 19th century.  She was most famously painted by David, but I think I prefer this picture more than the more celebrated painting.

Récamier was married to a banker 30 years her senior, and it is believed that the marriage was never consummated.  Indeed, there was a rumor at the time that the man she married was really her father, who wanted to make his illegitimate daughter his heir.  Whatever the story, Récamier became a darling of the upper crust, celebrated as a great hostess; artists, writers and intellectuals were part of her salon.  She was exiled by Napoleon, and spent much time travelling through Europe.  Through various misadventures she would lose her considerable fortune, and end her days entertaining visitors in a 17th Century convent.

Récamier was often painted in the garb of a virgin.  This is, by any yardstick, quite a stunning picture.  Look at how Alexandre-Évariste twists her body, the feet nearly flat on the floor while the torso pivots on the settee.  (In fact, the type of sofa on which she liked to recline, the récamier, was named after her.) The exposed shoulders show feminine loveliness, but there is no hint of the voluptuous.  The expression may be coy and playful, but in no way carnal.  It is easy to see how a woman so girlish and charming could captivate legions of admirers – as was the case with Récamier.

The setting is a Neoclassical paradise, complete with pillars.  The cool marble floor and the distant classical building in the background (along with the neutral colored sky) make for a cool picture – heat, sexual and otherwise, is not in the Neoclassical purview.  I also draw your attention to the delicate handling of the tassel and, more tellingly, the subtle design of her yellow drapery.  Even the design at the tip of her hairpin is executed with a remarkable precision.  The portrait has a high level of finish and finesse – this is the work of a master.

Now, take a moment and contrast the portrait above with the painting below.  One would be hard pressed to find two more different views of the world.  They are, in their way, equally beautiful.  But the world of Papa Fragonard is a wonderland of delicious excess, while Alexandre-Évariste finds beauty in control, modeling and exactitude.  This is not only the change of one generation into another, this is, within one family, a dramatic change in the way in which the world can be seen.

More of the Fragonards tomorrow.