Thursday, April 18, 2013

Notes From France! (Victorine Meurent Update!)




Yesterday was my seventh complete year here at the blog.

Today has been a strange day. I’ve had some less-than-wonderful things to do out in the real world, and I was taking my time about a post for today because I wasn’t sure how to start out my eighth year blogging.

Then this afternoon some weird things happened.

First of all, before I get to today’s weird things, I want to say that the strangest thing about doing this blog—by far and absolutely the strangest thing—is the extreme coincidences I’ve sometimes experienced. It’s happened four or five times over the course of these seven years, but the coincidences have been so bizarre and of such a personal nature that I haven’t even blogged about them because they’ve just been, well, so weird and so personal.

Generally they’ve been interesting, too, so it’s been fun. But it’s been fun mixed in with crazy. Sometimes quite a bit of crazy.

Someday I’ll go back to the beginning and recount the incidents as a kind of chronology. It would be a strange post, but I suppose it would be fitting someday to do the summing up.

Not today though.

Today I’ve got some other things to talk about.

Weird coincidences, though.

*

First I’m going to start with an easy thing.

Last year, in fact coincidentally right around this time last year, I did a few posts talking the extraordinary French musician Olivier Messiaen. For instance,

Songs A Husband Heard

A Process Of Passages

I had been reading the great biography of him by Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone.

I had planned to write more, but then a really, really dumb thing happened.

I put the hardcover book on top of a large bookcase. At some point I bumped into the bookcase and the book fell down, behind the bookcase, between the bookcase and the wall.

Well, the bookcase was large and heavy and kind of jammed into a corner. I couldn’t reach around the side and it was too tall for me to reach down from the top.

So the book was kind of lost back there just a few feet out of reach.

When I did spring cleaning last week and moved everything out and around I was finally able to move the big bookcase and get my Messiaen book. So I’ve washed off the dust and cobwebs and here it is:


It’s a really good book and I’m glad to have it back. I’ll be getting back into it again, slowly but surely, trying to read it more carefully. I like everything about it except one thing: The authors do not dwell on Messiaen’s approach to music theory at all. There are mentions, almost in passing, to his “modes of limited transposition.” But they seem to get into it without background as if readers will just know what is being talked about. And I am unclear, really, about what many Europeans seem to take for granted as a common understanding or common practice in general about “tonality,” which I’ve come to believe has some context encompassing key structures versus twelve-tone chromatic writing. In quoted letters people sometimes write of the tension between “destroying tonality” and “enriching” it, and they write as if the debate and its bounds and its parts are common knowledge. Maybe in academic circles it is old hat, but it is mostly unknown stuff to me. I was hoping this book would contain more details. If it does, I have to read through more carefully to find them. I’m working on it.

*

I’ve got a couple more things about France. And they’re both good.

*

My e-mail day, today, started with me getting a note France [!] from a French researcher who is preparing a documentary on Manet. She had seen the photograph of Victorine Meurent here at the blog and asked me if I could give her some background on the image.

The photo she’s talking about is at my post: “Indigestion” (And A Victorine Meurent Update!)

On that page I include a link to the photographer’s blog where I got the photo, and a link to the British newspaper article about Meurent the photographer had quoted.

After I replied to the French researcher explaining that I didn’t have any new info except for those two links, I looked around the net for a bit to see if any blogs I’ve since stumbled across may have new info. I didn’t find new info, but I discovered something unpleasantly surprising.

That photo here at my blog and at the photographer’s blog is not a photo of Victorine Meurent.

Damn it!

I’ve posted about the French photographer Nadar—in “Ah, That Renaissance Sunshine”—and I assumed if it was a photograph of Victorine Meurent it would have been Nadar who took it. Well, in the course of looking through Nadar photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum I saw that the photograph from the photographer’s blog was actually Nadar’s wife, Mme. Ernestine Nadar. Here’s a link to the J. Paul Getty Mme. Ernestine Nadar page.

So, that’s sad, all this time I thought I’d seen a picture of Victorine Meurent but it was really the photographer Nadar’s wife.

Damn it!

Still, I guess it’s better to know what’s real, rather than to keep believing something unreal.

I guess.

*

Finally, in the course of looking around for a second photograph of Victorine Meurent I thought I remember seeing recently at a painting blog, I didn’t track down a second photograph, but I stumbled across a remarkable essay at a different painting blog, an essay about Manet and his possible use of photographs himself!

Alexi Worth is an American artist and writer who lives on the east coast. Worth wrote a very interesting essay about Manet and photographs:

The Lost Photographs of Edouard Manet, by Alexi Worth. The subtitle is: Why did the young Manet choose an unusual kind of lighting? And why did no one notice it for 100 years?

It’s great stuff!

If Manet used photographs, this wouldn’t be incredibly surprising. Even though the Impressionists themselves didn’t speak a lot directly about their use of photography, from journals and correspondence of people close to them it has become clear that photography was a very happening topic in that era. Degas, of course, did photography himself and often based his own images on the croppings and angles more or less common to photographs which had been, up till then, almost unknown in paintings. And even Manet has been directly mentioned in letters as using photographs to help achieve likeness of individuals within some of his large group scenes.

But there is speculation that Manet’s famous “front lighting” and his extreme approach to lights and darks while minimizing halftones may be a more direct response to the look of photographic imagery.

This is certainly an interesting thought. And, to be honest, once you think it and then review Manet’s paintings, it is almost one of those things that seems something like bluntly visually obvious. That doesn’t make it true, of course—I mean that Manet made extensive use of photographs or that the (then) very popular “look” of photographs had an influence on Manet’s approach to highlights and darks—however it is certainly something worth giving a great deal more thought to.

At least for me. But hardly a day goes by, for me, when I don’t struggle with issues around the focus of photography versus drawing/painting.


I’d just written a post about it the day before I found the Manet essay: Saturn In Libra In Our Night Sky


I can’t tell you how much thought I’m going to give this business of Manet’s possible use of photographs. I was already interested in the topic of Impressionists and photography, and this just brings the topic to center stage.

*

So that’s some of what’s been going on here today.

Music stuff and painting stuff and photography stuff.

Somewhere Between Chicago And Paris

Here.

Somewhere between Chicago and Paris.

Somewhere between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.

Assuming distance is real. Assuming time is real.

Possibly I should just say “here” and leave it at that.

I mean, rather than think “here” is, in fact, between “this place” and any other place or “this time” and any other time.



























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