Friday 12 May 2017

On the Verge of Decadence

It was all too obvious to the spectator that this was another allegory of lost innocence, but it appeared, to Mme Roland, among others, a remarkably decent work. It is certainly, for a subject of this type, a very painterly one. The luscious tender flesh, still painted with Rubens shadows of grey and blue, is now on the verge of decadence; the plump hands are becoming mannered. The dress, roughly painted with stiff loaded brush-strokes, sets off the melting Greuzian softness of the head, and the colours of the accessories (pink roses, green leaves, dark grey-blue sky) overflatter the tender passages. Yet in spite of all this the girl seems to have been painted as a study, i.e. objectively, and the stillness of the figure, a quality rare in Greuze, almost triumphs over the double entendre.
Anita Brookner on Greuze's La Cruche Cassée (Louvre) in Greuze (1971), ch. 7

Brookner struggles with Greuze. She struggles to like him and struggles to praise him. She isn't much of a fan, but in this early work, Greuze: The Rise and Fall of an Eighteenth-Century Phenomenon, she's stuck with penning a short- to medium-length study of him.

As always the reader gains both knowledge and insight from Brookner's art history. She does what all such guides should do: she makes us see a painting in fresh ways or as if for the first time. But we might also be inclined to look for parallels with Brookner's novels and with Brookner's own practice as an artist. In the passage above the typical Brooknerian descriptive battery is in full deployment. What's more, we see, in her weighing up of Greuze's balancing of painterly objectivity and decadent voluptuousness, something of the conflicts she would explore in her fiction. Further, in the phrase, 'on the verge of decadence', we perhaps have a fairly succinct setting out of the effect of Brookner's celebrated writing style.

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