Thursday, April 4, 2013

Eureka by Jean Georges Vibert

We continue our weeklong look at master artist Jean Georges Vibert (1840-1902), who painted many satirical pictures of the church and its clergy.

We mentioned earlier that in the 1860s, Vibert traveled to Spain with his friend Eduardo Zamacois, a young Spanish artist.  Vibert collected Spanish clothing and objects, which were later used to create scenery for many of his ecclesiastical paintings.  But while Spain influenced many of Vibert’s paintings, his travel to the East also affected his style of painting. Vibert’s sense of fine detail was a quality that he shared with the Orientalists.

Always versatile, Vibert also became an advocate of watercolors, formalizing the Societe des Aquarellistes Francais, and becoming its president, in 1878. He was also an author and actor, writing plays and sometimes appearing in them.  (Vibert also had an active association with stage and theatrical productions in Paris.)  He also used his scientific abilities to prepare his own colors after studying the chemistry of colors, and wrote a book of the science of painting in 1891, La Science de la Peinture.

Vibert wrote stories for The Century Magazine, sometimes based on scenes from his paintings, finding it a convenient way to advertise his works in America. In 1878, Jean placed six watercolors and seven oil paintings on exhibition in the Exposition Universelle, and was awarded a third-class medal.

Like many artists, Vibert compared his works to fatherhood – he loves all of his ‘children,’ though he wasn’t always completely satisfied with them. If I were he, I would have a particular fondness for today’s picture, Eureka.

Once again, Vibert places his cardinal in a setting of enviable luxury.  The secretary desk at which he sits was, I’m sure, a valuable antique when Vibert painted the picture let alone today.  The green felt of the writing blotter is clear, as are the beautifully rendered books at eye level.  The secretary comes complete with a pillow for the prelate’s sensitive feet, and sports two-toned wood.  (Your correspondent has a particular liking for this picture because a small, black onyx Sphinx is clearly visible on the cardinal’s desk opposite the inkwell.)

There is an elaborately carved vase of flowers overhead, and floridly-painted walls surround door and mantle trim.  The beautifully depicted parquet floor is immaculate, as the cardinal’s robes and golden tassel rest upon it without danger of soiling. 

The drapery of the cardinal’s robes is, as per usual with Vibert, painted with a sure hand; indeed, he fully understands both the beauty, the extravagance, and the absurdity of the clerical costume.  I particularly like how much attention he lavishes on the priestly red shoes – particularly the buckles.  (Remember the luminescent pumps worn by the Preening Peacock seen earlier...)
“Eureka,” of course, is an exclamation of discovery or “I have found it!”  One would expect such an epiphany form a cardinal to be spiritual in nature, but such simplicities should never be expected from Vibert.  In fact, it’s quite clear from the cardinal’s face that he has crystalized some perfidy … either a sneaky way around a problem, or, perhaps, a manner of creating a new problem.  This is not the smiling to the self over a job well done, but a dirty deal just devised, or an argument or position that cannot be countered.  The expression is more Bernie Madoff than Vicar of Christ, and, as such, indicative of Vibert’s subversive humor.

More Vibert tomorrow!

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