L’Orangerie: The School of Paris Muse
It is Monet’s epic “Water Lillies” that sits, undoubtedly, as the centerpiece of Museé l’Orangerie, in Paris. However, by chance or by serendipity, it was several other objects that struck up observations worth sharing.
Renoir’s Hot Younger Nanny
After posting this Renoir painting on my Instagram story with the caption, “Misogyny or beauty? A subjective view,” several people (both men and women) responded that they only saw beauty, and didn’t understand the reference to misogyny. To one viewer, I noted that the model for the painting, Gabrielle Renard, was one of Renoir’s favorite muses. A much younger woman, Renard was the nanny of the Renoir family, aged 28 when the painting was completed.
The details of this history are interesting, but not precisely what I mean by misogyny. Art expresses ideals of beauty. What is deemed beautiful over time changes dramatically over the course of generations. However, for Renoir, the woman, especially the voluptuous nude, was an incessant subject. From this obsessive desire to paint women as passive objects of physical adoration, one might gleam Renoir’s own “adolescent” view of the feminine.
So, what I mean by “misogyny” is a reference to the psychology of the artist — how he saw women, as expressed in his art. Surely, as a European trope, a sign more than a symbol, the representation of woman as a passive, inviting, enticing and curvaceous image evokes the fecundity of nature, of Eros-love.
However, Renoir may also have seen these models as mere indicators to this ideal, rather than as a nuanced individual. It is this interest in a sign, an aesthetic object, versus the character and qualities of an individual which point towards “misogyny” as a psychological idea.
In the end, the judgement as to whether the painting is toned with misogyny has to do with the viewers own internal relationship to the feminine. This just to say: the viewer’s psychology informs their reading of the subject. If interested, I have written extensively on the disposition of the male psyche, regarding woman and the feminine elsewhere. All this said, it may still be “beauty” for a viewer today, as it was to Renoir and his cohort a century ago.
The Weight of Picasso
Now, disregarding the artist entirely, I had the deep sensation of body and flesh from this work. Evoked in me was the sense of being incarnated, embodied, of what is like to be a consciousness in a body.
I believe this was conveyed not just in the weight of the figure, which is dense like a marble statue, but in the rich amber shadows and orange skin-tone.
Response to Viewing l’Orangerie Collection
Artists are driven by an immortality fantasy. Also, they are poetic types who feel the contents of life-psyche deeply. They need a subject. Many of the Europeans chose “woman,” for she is at the center of their psyche; her unending pull both profound fodder for inspiration, sparking their instincts, stimulating the artist towards production.
Also, this obsession with the woman is a form of masochistic self-torture in which they tease themselves unending, turning an interest into a fascination, and finally into an addiction. (As one painting will not do, and one lover neither; all the complications of this muse relationship come with it!) On the contrary, it has been a form of liberation (hence, the “libertine”) to feel their erotic nature.
The results are often times a form of misogyny, a representation of the basic experience that a man has of the woman, in that she is an impersonal, aesthetic object, and source of inspiration, vitality. This is meant not as a judgement — in the colloquial way with this term “misogyny” — but rather a psychological analysis.
Regardless, in the School of Paris paintings there are ideals of peaceful, voluptuous pleasure, colors that please, impactful forms — whether lyrical or rhythmic, plastic or flattened. So much of it is an expression of psyche possessed by the archetype of Dionysus, “The Lover.” The content of the works are highly romanticized, if not in content, in style, and by the very act of painting!
How compelling this Lover is, though. It is for this quality of eros in the Lover that many flock to museums in Paris from all over the world — including me, at least in part.
I see across the many ideals of beauty, that there was unfathomable greatness in the aesthetics of prehistory, which lead to a rigid, scientific expression in Greece. The latter of this is especially evident in Europe’s Hellenistic replications and refinements. One can view this as a rigid ideal, which led to repetitive clichés.
Still, these clichés have their own charm. Sitting down, to soak in Foyatier’s “Siesta” (1848), one might think that a swooning, feverishly turned-on woman is laying before you, her heart pulsing in her chest. Funnily, the artisan’s technical achievement is reminiscent mostly of today’s soft-core pornography, which is prevalent in advertising and social media. It seems that even today, not only does the “male-gaze” feed from such images, but that women, too, are aroused by these portrayals, possibly, at times, awakened by displays of fecundity.
The worst offender of all art ideals in history must be the academic and decorative arts of Europe, circa the late 18th and into the 19th centuries. So much of the galleries in the Louvre are present with this horrific display of stratified wealth that produced such decadence.
The grotesque wealth that allowed these aesthetic ideals to flourish are as bizarre in their opulence as anything I can think of mentioning.
So, for me, it is the ancient Greek and Egyptian galleries that are most worthwhile for attention. The endless figurines represent the eternal feminine, among other subjects. In Her is the Mother of all time, and She is eternal beauty, She is respite and revelation, especially related to the deepest chthonic drives and the exalted heights of Eros-soul.
Finally, I will mention the stunning work by Anselem Kiefer, “Anthanor” (2007), which was installed in a massive stairway. The monumental canvas depicts the transformation of the human soul/psyche. Kiefer uses Jung’s favorite terminology — Latin alchemical language — to indicate the message: “Nigredo” is read at bottom and “Rubedo” at top can be discerned.