Following the gallery’s important exhibition on the drawings of J.F. Millet, Jill Newhouse Gallery presents an exhibition of 19th century French drawings side by side with contemporary works by artists Peter Doig, Cecily Brown, Georg Baselitz, Albert Oehlen and David Scher. This show is the fifth in a series to present works of historical and contemporary art in dialogue, and the third show curated by Jovana Stokic, Phd.
The Drama of Life or the Drama of Representation:
Corot, Millet, Rousseau, Delacroix, the Barbizon School and the Influence on Contemporary Art
The French painter Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) was one of the founders of the Barbizon school and a noted Realist, best known for his emotional portrayals of farm workers in mid-19th century France. The practice of drawing was of the utmost importance to Millet and to the Barbizon School – including artists such as Diaz and Rousseau-who, like Delacroix and Gericault, made works on paper as studies from nature, as preparation for paintings, and as independent objects as well. Few of these works on paper were sold in the artists’ lifetimes, so the reassembling of them now, and their exhibition in the context of contemporary drawing, becomes a effective way to illustrate the development of the history of art over time.
This exhibition includes images of both the figure and the landscape, allowing us to see how these themes were treated by each artist and reconfigured by later artists absorbing their influence. Both Millet and Delacroix’s compassionate, yet sober approach to the depiction of the human figure echoes in contemporary artists’, such as Baselitz, approach to figuration. At the same time, the radical concept of a newly liberated depiction of nature --as practiced by the Barbizon School of artists-- has clearly set the tone for the ecological vision of 21st century artists. The implicit social narrative of these landscapes radicalized an anti-academic approach to the genre and relinquished it from any classical or romantic traditions. Thus reconfigured, such representations of nature constituted a proto-ecological world-view; and this intentional depiction of Nature, devoid of human control, has a strong reverberation in contemporary approaches to landscape. The newly constructed Realist immediacy of the Barbizon school, seen here in drawings by Diaz, Rousseau and Millet, propelled the depiction of nature beyond its simple illustration.
Albert Oehlen’s deft use of collage was an important part of his work as early as the 1990’s. Our collage, dating from 2004 playfully addresses, but makes use of, the sentimentalized imagery Millet was best known for. (Courtesy David Nolan Gallery)
Peter Doig’s work balances a sense of late 20th/early 21st century painting with the artist’s acute relationship with tradition, especially Romanticism. His solitary figures evoke German Romantic painters of the 19th Century, such as Caspar David Friedrich, and speak to the noble solitary workers Millet depicted. But Doig’s style allows for a departure from reality that Millet’s did not. It introduces the viewer to an existential dimension, prompting us to ask questions about the picture itself, and our own place within our own surroundings. In contrast, Millet’s figures prompt questions about the reality of what is depicted, using the specific jobs and laborers as iconic representations of man’s daily struggle. (Courtesy TwoPalms)
George Baselitz’s prints from the 1960s are marked by growth and discovery for the artist. It was during this period that Baselitz first traveled to Italy and was introduced to Mannerist prints and techniques. Spawning a profound fascination with this style, the experience heavily influenced his then burgeoning career as a printmaker – a part of his practice that is regarded as of equal significance with his celebrated paintings. Baselitz’s woodcut on paper, Der Neue Typ (The New Type), 1966 speaks of this new figurative style. “Hero” or “New Type” imagery --of a singular male figure depicted in heroic stance-- is rendered with dramatic contours and wild gestural lines, while their valor is subverted by their weary expressions and tattered clothing. These subjects challenge common perceptions of masculinity, and reference Baselitz’s childhood experience of violence and destruction during the war and post-war era in Germany. Displayed near Millet’s Biblical figures in Le Depart or the magnificent red chalk The Winnower, the legacy of man’s place in the universe is poignantly displayed. (Courtesy Luhring Augustine)
Cecily Brown’s work is often inspired by Old Masters and 19th century artists including the fantastical visual worlds of Bosch and Goya, the bravura brushwork of Delacroix and the gestural expressionism of de Kooning. Brown creates energetic and atmospheric canvases that swirl with fragmented bodies, the intersecting of figuration and abstraction has boldly reconfigured the genre of landscape in the recent era of post-genre paintings. She explains she does not set out to paint a particular genre:
“I didn’t know they were going to be landscapes; it came very gradually; it crept up.… The others started getting quite worked and it started looking really mannered, having worked figures on a bare ground. One day, getting frustrated, I just put in a blue cloud, almost as a joke, and it suddenly worked. It pushed and pulled it in all the right directions, so I thought, okay, put some skies in.
Here a highly colored wall is exploded with color, setting up an interesting contrast to the narrative descriptive house studies of Millet or the cottages of Rousseau. (Courtesy TwoPalms)
David Scher’s drawings of laborers are closely related to the immediacy of 19th century realism. Scher’s figures are often isolated within their environment where their actions become the focus—whether climbing a ladder, hammering a nail, drilling a hole, or simply sitting at rest. The artist elevates those who work with their hands, drawing parallels between the artist and blue-collar worker; he suggests that the skill of a manual laborer is no less worth celebrating than that of an artist, a sentiment that Millet would have applauded. (Courtesy the artist)