A friend sent me this link to a fantastic article entitled “How Tudorphilia rescued Delaroche.” The article is about a forgotten history painter and his once “sensational” painting. In what is one of the great critical renderings of all time – “…the revolutionary poet Théophile Gautier delivered one of art history’s more damning reviews: “I hated Paul Delaroche, whom I had never seen, with a savage and aesthetic hatred,” he declared. “I could have eaten him, and thought him good eating, as the young Redskin thought the Bishop of Quebec.” The article takes us even further into the critique: “He was subsequently and universally characterised as a bourgeois dead end at the birth of the radical lineage of modernism that went from Delacroix through Manet to Cézanne and on to Picasso. “Delaroche was not born a painter,” Gautier wrote. “He belonged to the middle classes. He tried to be interesting, which is a matter absolutely secondary in art.””
This is part of the social problem we painters are experiencing today. So many of us expect to be part of the middle class as we spend copious amounts of time trying to be interesting. All of this stems from the way we use precedent, the way we have come to define reality. We don’t question precedent – we contextualize it – especially through our Pop Culture.
“Accompanied by inevitable screenings of The Private Life of Henry VIII and Elizabeth as well as lectures on the “nine days’ queen”, Delaroche’s painting feeds an appetite that takes in, on the one hand, the US Showtime/BBC soap The Tudors (now in its fourth season: “Henry’s tumultuous relationships with his last two wives, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr, and his final descent into madness . . .”) and, on the other, Hilary Mantel’s mesmerising Booker-winning novel, Wolf Hall, told through the life of Thomas Cromwell.” And unfortunately for us most of our “advanced” Art has become little more than an adjunct of Popular Culture a career path in the entertainment industry.
When all is said and done there is very little practical visual theoretical difference between this painting and this painting – they both arrive in our line of sight from the same overwrought Pop culture sensibility. But today painting can do better things than this. We may have to accept Postmodernism’s legacy of picture making, but we can alter it, change it, invigorate it with our own visual histories. We don’t have to run the program or upgrade it. We can hack it, enrich it with our forgotten visual legacy and turn it into something of our own.
In a sharp essay in the Times Roberta Smith makes a play for painting. “FEW modern myths about art have been as persistent or as annoying as the so-called death of painting. Unless, of course, it is the belief that abstract and representational painting are oil and water, never to meet as one. The two notions are related. The Modernist insistence on the separation of representation and abstraction robbed painting of essential vitality. Both notions have their well-known advocates. And both, in my mind seem, well, very 20th century” And in a defense of painting as a viable, advanced theoretical activity she declares, “…what really is questionable, and passé, is the implied ranking of art mediums and the leaving of some of them for dead. None of them ever really, ultimately have much of a monopoly on quality. And something else greatly reduces the chances of the death of painting: too many people — most obviously women — are just beginning to make their mark with the medium and are becoming active in its public dialogue. “
reality will continue…