The Courbet and Poussin exhibition at the Met was an educational and intriguing viewing experience, an inspiring appreciation of formalism and psychological intensities.
While Courbet is engrossed in role playing turning every painting into narcissistic self-portraits, Poussin takes a modest approach thorough painting romantic narratives. They both singular intense emotions and psychological conundrums, depicting the intangible in opposing styles, Courbet with close perspective, simple, muted, and intense in limited use of color, Poussin with layer upon layer of hills and mountains in a vast landscape with multiple scaled figures and structures.
Courbet's multiple self-portraits often delve into fantasy as the artist depicts himself as wanderer, cello player, and madman. The hazy, sexy, stylized rendering gives Courbet a rambunctious arrogant look, a much intended representation. The fare skin, the seductive gaze, wide eyed, sharp nose and shaped lips are mesmerizing and relentless in enticing the viewer to come closer and be tempted to touch the realistic portrait he makes of himself.
In Self-portrait with Pipe, the figure sits very close to the canvas, taking up all foreground and background of the painting, ready to spill out and greet us with his awesome presence. The colors are dry and muted, monochromatic and thinly painted, his face lit from above as if shined on by the gods.
His pioneering Realism is tainted by the fantastic and lush, adding spice, delicacy and vibrancy to each portrait and landscape that he creates. The Meeting, or Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet, 1854 presents the artist as the lone wanderer in a happenchance meeting with a patron and manservant. The outline of the figures are extremely clear cut making it seem as if theyve been collaged onto the generic landscape surface, barren for the panting dog peering curiously at the bearded man with the walking stick. In Sleep, Courbet delves into the controversial and pornographic as he depicts what seems to be a lesbian couple in deep sleep, their bodies entangled in each other, within in a muted regal setting. The elements are again limited, a bed, 2 figures, and 2 tables in front of a shady monochrome background. The voluptuous figures float on canvas, delicate and peaceful in their embrace, a dreamy addition to a realistic brothel environment.
The works of Poussin are comparatively dense in its formal qualities and displays the physical and emotional narrative with subtlety and bountifulness. Landscape and narrative painting is merged to form a detailed and expansive palette, a multiplicity in scale of numerous figures, hills, mountains and skies that prance around the canvas simultaneously. The sheer scale alone can be daunting and can result in sensory overload but upon learning to appreciate one element at a time, the overall scheme of each work is perfection.
In Sight of Death, T.J. Clark writes about 2 Poussin paintings extensively over a long period of time in journalistic format and 1 of the paintings he discusses is included in the exhibition. Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake consists of multiple layers of paths and hills with a lake as middle ground, more hills behind that, and a mountain above, then finally the sky. Three figures are placed in the foreground and near middle ground, 1 dead wrapped by a menacing snake, a man with arms and legs extended in opposite directions, running and warning/reaching out to the woman splattered on the floor with clothes basked next to her, her arms gesticulating in correspondence with him. We are not certain if he is fleeing from fear or if he in an act of heroism is warning the woman, refraining her from coming any closer. The right side of the frame is rife with trees and clouds, and the wind blows from right to left, in the direction the man is going, the direction his hand is gesturing, as if the whole of nature has come to warn the public the atrocity that is at coming. Each figure is placed on a different escalated hill, as if creating a series of events, and everything behind the woman is oblivious and at peace.n The subject of the painting is a myth amongst art historians, as there is no clear identification of the characters. Nonetheless it is a narrative strife with trauma, fear, death, and bliss.
Both artists has contributed to art history by providing realism and romanticism that incorporates and reveals psychological tension with the self and other. Each created a technique that allowed for multiplicity in identity and vision. They are masters of their time and have influenced many future artists. Each painting is refreshing and simply beautiful.