Tuesday 14 March 2017

Marvellously Disturbing

Jacques-Louis David, Three Ladies of Ghent, Louvre
...this wordless domestic drama of will and submission, of determined age and fading youth, is so potent in its implications that one feels almost uneasy in its presence. The three figures occupy all their space, both physically and metaphorically; there is no room for them to move. The daughters are riven for ever to their mother's side. The primitive format is strikingly appropriate to the block-like permanence with which these ladies confront the spectator. It is a marvellous and marvellously disturbing portrait, the justification, and indeed the vindication, of the Brussels style.
Anita Brookner, Jacques-Louis David, Ch. 13, 'Exile'

David spent his old age in Belgium. It was a kind of afterlife. His work during those ten years was, Brookner tells us, 'prolific but obsessional'. He did new things; he also played to his strengths. The Three Ladies of Ghent 'must do duty for David's final masterpiece', says Brookner.

Such an estranged, posthumous existence, in exile, has faint Brooknerian resonances. Her reputation, like David's, was, at the time of her death, largely eclipsed. But, again like David, she had gone on working, producing a final body of work that continues to puzzle and trouble many of her readers.

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