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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Courbet comes to Frankfurt

Two days ago I was walking in Frankfurt on a warm October evening when I noticed that there is an exhibition of Gustave Courbet. I had seen some of his paintings before and I was quite excited to see a dedicated exhibition.

I went out an hour and a half later quite excited by his paintings and personality. Later I found online those paintings which impressed me the most.

I would start with a theatrical ‘Portrait of a Desperate Man’ which he painted in his late 20s while passing through an existential crisis. One can see that his hands are not relaxed but quite tense as if he wants to pull out his hair. There is a look of desperation and surprise in his eyes by what is happening to him. However, he is defying destiny and his force of character transpires. He is also trying to remove his hair from his eyes as if he is trying to look better and deeper into himself.

Portrait of a Desperate Man

The ‘Desperate Man on the Verge of an Abyss’ is in the same category. This is again a self-portrait from the same period of his life. The posture of the body is a artificial defying the laws of physics. It seems to me that this is a deliberately sought effect illustrating the dramatism of his state of mind. There is a similar look of terror and defiance at the same time.

Portrait of a Desperate Man on the Verge of an Abyss

I liked quite a lot ‘Jo, the Beautiful Irish Girl’ painted in 1866. While very often the female beauty idea has changed beyond recognition during the years this one is surprisingly modern. The woman is watching herself in the mirror but this is obviously not an act of vanity as vanity implies a temporary oblivion of the passage of time and the ephemeral beauty. While realizing the perfection of her traits and the exquisiteness of her hair Jo is conscious of the passage of time – fact that makes her endlessly sad. She might also be missing her faraway beloved realizing that beauty loses its force and fades away if not actively contemplated.

Jo, the Beautiful Irish Girl

The Happy Lovers is a touching painting. Courbet did not have a family and it seems his love life was a series of disappointments. I have the feeling that this painting is more of a dream rather than a depiction of a common state of affairs. Although this is a self-portrait the man resembles strikingly the representations of Jesus. Probably this is a deliberate effect conveying the idea of the ultimate innocence of the happy lovers. However, despite being in a blissful state both of them are in separate universes – a transition phase to primordial loneliness.

The Happy Lovers

At first the Clairvoyant or the Sleepwalker scared me a bit because of her piercing look and her expressive forehead. It seems to me that people with such open foreheads possess extraordinary intelligence or at least sensitivity. Her face has a strange triangular form because of the slightly displaced perspective as the observer looks a bit from above. Her plaits resemble snakes. After looking at her a bit longer the fear disappears and the layer of aggressiveness is peeled off from the portrait and she is left alone with her utmost fragility.

The Clairvoyant