Jean Cauthen is back with her last “mini” art history lesson. We so appreciate Jean’s posts for their delightful insights, humor and intelligence. Will miss not having her art history posts but maybe we can convince her to share more with us on occasion.

Through A Handsome Salesman’s Eyes:  Portrait of Emile Zola

Looking For love in all the Wrong Places

I once thought I found my soul-mate in a textbook salesman.  This handsome fellow stood in my office doorway, chatting about all things art and textbook selection.

Our musings ranged from Frank Sinatra, Italy, Mardi Gras, Boz Scaggs (really? you’re a fan too???), Indian food, Fairfield Porter to tabasco sauce.   It seemed our interests perfectly aligned!

I looked forward to every visit and maybe, just maybe, a life-time of free book samples.

Then one day, after a particularly lively conversation, I swiveled around and faced my cluttered bulletin board.  It was all there.  The art postcards, concert stubs, menus…laid out like a friggin’ road map.

Don’t laugh. I am not the only one to lay it all out there on an office wall.  Another to tell his story in public was Edouard Manet in his bulletin board biography of a painting, Portrait of Emile Zola.

So let’s play handsome salesman and decipher a cluttered desk and office supplies for clues into the artist, Edouard Manet and his new soul mate, the rising novelist and art critic, Emile Zola.

The thanks-for-having-my-back, Portrait.

Many painters were grateful to Emile Zola. The writer was a tireless defender of the often maligned Impressionists.

Zola’s ideas on True Art challenged traditional Academy standards.  Art, he stated, should bear the imprint of its creator, be original and not cave to dictates of society.  In short.  Art should be a Manet.

And Zola said so in a skinny little blue book called  “In Defense of Manet.”

Manet’s portrait of Zola is a thank-you note to the sitter for this defense. In the painting, the book is tucked behind an East Asian ink well and quill (symbolizing the sitter’s occupation) and serves as the artist’s signature.

Stopping work to chat with a salesperson.

Now let’s be honest.

As portraits go, this doesn’t exactly put the 26-year-old Zola in the best light. Odilon Redon (1840- 1916) observed “(This portrait) is rather a still life, so to speak, than the expression of a human being”.

Here, the writer and political activist is shown at his work table.  He is thumbing through an Art book (perhaps a comely text book representative just visited?), when his blank-stare gaze has locked onto something beyond his desk.

It is a similar stare that caused the ruckus that cemented team Zola/Manet.

Whadda YOU looking at?

The reason anyone would have to defend Manet and his painting, “Olympia” has to do with the fierce scandal the painting produced.  The subject (a prostitute), the spatial treatment, and the impudent ‘stare’ of the 16-year-old courtesan toppled a top hat or two while on view at the 1865 Salon.

The French, though well accustomed to gazing upon nude women in Art, weren’t ready for the nudes to stare back.

Checking bags for spray-paint

NO. REALLY.  Two full-time guards were hired to prevent the spitting upon or other degradation committed to this painting.

“Before anyone knew what was happening,” writes art critic Eunice Lipton, “respectable Parisians were sweeping through the Salon’s drafty halls brandishing walking sticks and umbrellas; they were heading toward Olympia with murder on their minds.”

In the midst of the haters, Emile Zola would stand up for painter.

You lookin’ at ME?

It only made sense then, in his This is Your Life (but okay, mostly mine) painting, Manet would include his own Olympia on the back wall.

But with a difference.

She is no longer glaring back at us, but rather, gazing adoringly at her hero, Zola.

Zola’s Sumo Angel

After 200 years of seclusion, in 1850, Japan had opened its doors and the result was a fascination with Japan and its Arts.  The fascination, called Japonisme was shared by Zola, Manet and apparent in the works of their contemporaries.Short of dressing his friend in a kimono, Manet will take every opportunity to add an Eastern touch to the painting, including a glimpse of a Japanese screen on the painting’s edge and a Japanese print on the bulletin board.

In the print, a wrestler by Utagawa Kuniaki II watches over Zola.

Further conveying the two men’s tastes in art, we spot a reproduction of the Spanish painter, Diego Velazquez’s bawdy The Feast of Bacchus (also known as “The Drinkers”).

Sealing the Bromance

Zola was not in love with Manet’s portrait and hid it away in an antechamber of his home.

Who knows?

Maybe he found the stare too empty and the bulletin board too full.

Either way, the portrait sealed a friendship and left a bond that would last far beyond a writer’s cluttered walls.

Jean Cauthen is a Painter and fake Art Historian. She has a studio in Mint Hill, NC and teaches Arts and Culture classes at UNCC.  Her painting workshops in Ireland include a “Guinness and Art History” where she asks that participants keep any discrepancies to themselves and focus on the Guinness. Join her in May 2017!

This is our last post for 2016. Watch for our new series, Third Degree starting in 2017. Happy Holidays and thanks for following us.

We are the only online art contest where you

compete at your skill level. 

Monthly cash prizes are $500, $250, $100 plus other prizes! Our December judge is John Wentz. John was the Master Class Winner for the April 2016 Art Muse Contest.

Question: There are problems in my latest painting that I can’t seem to solve, what should I do?

Answer: Don’t Give Up on a Painting…it Might be a Winner!

How many times have you worked and worked on a painting and then just quit out of frustration because parts of it you love and other parts you just can’t get to work. So, you let it dry thinking you will come back to it later just to see if you can save it. It might sit in the corner for months or even years.

Sometimes we can save a painting and sometimes it should just be scrapped down and set aside. Recently I had just such a painting. My photographer husband and I had taken a wonderful trip to Glacier National Park and up the Icefields Parkway into Baniff National Park. What a spectacular artists landscape! This is a area that was so wonderfully captured by the Canadian Group of Seven and Canadian artist Carl Rungius.

After returning from the trip with studies, photos and sketches I was energized to start some larger studio pieces while my memory was fresh from the field work I had done. I quickly got my composition worked out and started the painting. “Bow Lake” (16×20) started as one of those paintings that seems to paint itself. Everything was working so well and I continued to refine and tweak the painting for several days. But, I kept thinking so much of the painting was strong, but I felt I had hit a roadblock. Sometimes this happens if I am away from the subject for too long. So, after looking at the painting until I was so frustrated with not being able to resolve it, I put it facing the wall and started on something else.

Occasionally over the next several months I would bring it out and try and resolve what was bothering me. There seemed to be no ready solution.

Then the 2016 Oil Painters of America national exhibition was coming up and I wanted to enter, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to enter. Then I remembered the “Bow Lake” painting that I loved. So, once again I propped it on my easel and began to think critically about how to resolve the issue I was struggling with.

Sometimes in our artistic development we have to work through problems with composition, value or color harmony by just putting brush to canvas, by painting miles and miles of canvas, working through problems on our own until we can do what we couldn’t do before. Sometimes we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are creating works of art and not being slaves to a scene or idea. This is what had happened with this painting. I began to give myself permission to create a piece of art. I now knew how to resolve the problem!

In my studies and photos there really was no foreground, only water with beautiful reflections. Those were the elements that had attracted me to the scene in the first place. But, the painting needed weight and to be grounded so to speak. So, I added more color, reflections and downed logs that pointed into the painting and towards my focal point. Now I was happy and felt it was worthy of entering the Oil Painters of America exhibition.

Let me deviate a moment and talk about altering a scene to create a stronger painting. There is a wonderful painting of Bow Lake in the National Wildlife Museum in Jackson Hole, WY done by Carl Rungius. Now I can’t be certain of this, but after having stood virtually on the same spot Rungius stood to capture one of my studies, his painting has a grove of trees in the foreground. But, there aren’t any there. I believe he put those trees in, or emphasized them, in order to ground his painting, to create a better composition. Altering nature for this purpose is perfectly alright. Also, this is a good reminder that we are creating a painting, a work of art, we aren’t just recording. That is what we have our cameras for.

So, back to the subject of not giving up on a painting. Getting into an OPA National is no easy feat. They have many, many entries to go through and their shows are top notch to say the least, but low and behold the painting got in! An award in itself from my perspective. It was a great honor to have my painting hanging with such wonderful artists’ work.

Now to make my argument about not giving up on a painting because it might be a winner, I needed a piece to send to the American Women Artists National exhibition in Bennington, Vermont. To my absolute surprise and it won Best Landscape!! One of the jurors wrote me a nice note to say “… I was proud to be a part of the jury and pick your piece. It really stood above most every other landscape in the show with it’s strong design, color and in the confident brushwork. Loved it.” What better testament to not giving up on a painting than that!

Today is the last day to enter the November Art Muse Contest.

Don’t miss your chance to be eligible to win 6 months of gallery representation and be part of the Art Muse Contest Winners show at Jack Meier Gallery in Houston, TX.*

We are the only online art contest where you compete at your skill level.

Monthly cash prizes are $500, $250, $100 plus other prizes!

*(Only Emerging and Master Class Artists are eligible. See contest info. for details.)

Question: Are value studies really worth the extra effort?

Answer: It never hurts to work out your design as early as possible.

Just turning 76 and being marginalized with some frustrating physical issues I have just so many “great” paintings left in me and as a result I have been increasing my process of doing more value and color studies. I will mostly discuss doing the value studies as the color studies get more complicated and we only have so much time and space here to discuss things.

As an Illustration major in art school we were trained to do multiple value and color studies, comps as we called them, to work out design or composition ideas before doing a finished Illustration. They helped clarify our ideas and design and enabled us to make sure we were on the same page as the Art Director in charge of the project. I found this process to be incredibly helpful when I got into the Fine Arts and was faced with multiple choices of what I wanted to paint and get some successful results. When I am Plein Air painting I will do quick little idea/value studies to get some design ideas down on paper and especially when I am working in the studio with a more complicated landscape or multiple figure composition.