Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cabbage Gatherers

Eugène Boudin
Women on a Beach
Morgan Library

Are they blue, gray, or green? Mysterious eyes
(as if in fact you were looking through a mist)
in alternation tender, dreamy, grim
to match the shiftless pallor of the sky.

On dirait ton regard d'une vapeur couvert;
Ton oeil mystérieux (est-il bleu, gris ou vert?)
Alternativement tendre, rêveur, cruel,
Réfléchit l'indolence et la pâleur du ciel.

  from Ciel brouillé in Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) by Charles Baudelaire, English translation (1982) by Richard Howard

Richard Howard received the National Book Award for his translation of Fleurs du Mal. The English translation of the stanza above is a fair example of his achievement, both daring and accurate. There are at least fifty different English translations of this poem available, and I personally have no doubt that Richard Howard's is the best. Yet at the same time I find it flat and ungainly. Baudelaire's music can only possibly become bookish and unconvincing in English. Richard Howard chose an impossible profession.  

Camille Pissarro
Cabbage Gatherers
c. 1878-79
Metropolitan Museum
(gift of Louisine Havemeyer)

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
19th century
Morgan Library

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Loge with the Gilt Mask
National Gallery of Art (U.S.)

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
c. 1886-87
Metropolitan Museum
(gift of Louisine Havemeyer)

Jean Frédéric Bazille
Porte de la Reine at Aigues Mortes
Metropolitan Museum

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon
Seated Female Nude
c. 1810-20
Metropolitan Museum

Henri Fantin-Latour
Arthur Rimbaud
Morgan Library

Léon Bonvin
The Farm
Morgan Library

Édouard Manet
Mlle. Lucie Delabigne
Metropolitan Museum
(gift of Louisine Havemeyer)

The two final paintings are explicit narratives telling complex stories, as the 19th century liked to see its stories told. The first shows a Parisian crowd of the Empire seen from behind as they gaze at the newly unveiled masterpiece by Jacques-Louis David depicting the ceremonial Napoleon.

Louis-Léopold Boilly
The Public Viewing of David's painting, Coronation of Napoleon
Metropolitan Museum

Jean-Georges Vibert
The Missionary's Adventures
c. 1883
Metropolitan Museum

The second narrative shows a tense missionary wearing a plain black monk's robe among a group of prelates wearing satin in various shades of rose and peach, ostentatiously displaying their boredom through languid poses against masses of cushions. A heavy silver tea service glimmers with malice, while a vast scene of martyrdom hanging between the windows is "dimmed" by the painter as a sign that the spirit of idealistic self-sacrifice is very remote from these surroundings.