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« Whatever Happened to Casein Paints? | Main | DVD Journal: "Gilles' Wife" »

September 08, 2009

Painter of the Indistinct

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A few months ago while I was visiting Paris' Musée d'Orsay I noted a few paintings that were drastically different from any of the rest. A glance at the information plaques revealed that they were by Eugène Carrière (1849-1906), whose Wikipedia entry is here.

Self-portrait, c.1893

Carrière was born near Paris and raised in Alsace, but left before that area was lost to Germany (he served in the Franco-Prussian war and was taken prisoner, a further war-related humiliation). His art training included the École des Beaux-Arts and study under Alexandre Cabanel.

His career began to take hold in the mid-1880s, by which time his subject matter had narrowed to portraiture and domestic scenes, his palette to a very narrow color range and his technique to a generally indistinct effect probably created in part by using a cloth to rub paint off areas of the canvas . One biographical source suggested that the result was so distinctively personal that other painters were hesitant to pursue his lead.

Carrière is generally regarded as a Symbolist perhaps because his declarations regarding his art have a misty, spiritual cast. My take, however, is that he was at best a borderline Symbolist; his Symbolism was more atmospheric than actually symbolic.

Below is a sampling of his work I found on the Web.


L'enfant malade (The Sick Child) - 1885

Paul Verlaine - 1891

Madame Caerrière

Alphonse Daudet and his Daughter

Femme en toilette de bal (Woman Preparing for a Ball)

The Mothers - 1900

I'm not sure Carrière's paintings can be taken in large doses, though that can be said for many artists. Certainly the works of his that I saw in the Orsay were striking as well as intriguing. If I were filthy rich, I wouldn't mind having a not-so-misty one on a nearby wall.



posted by Donald at September 8, 2009


Very lovely, especially the sick child.

Posted by: hello on September 9, 2009 8:08 AM

Those are like absinthe on canvas.

Posted by: dzot on September 9, 2009 11:50 PM


Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on September 10, 2009 2:57 AM

These strike me as less paintings than oil-paint versions of tonal charcoal drawings. Don't get me wrong, I rather like tonal charcoal drawings, and making 'painted drawings' also strikes me as hunky-dory. I have seen some of Carriere's work, however, that is much more 'abrupt', in much the same sense that Manet's paintings are; that is, there is a suppression of blending and a foregrounding of individual "paint patches." Those works of Carriere reminded me a lot of the sketchier products of the Italian Macchioli.

My main question is how colorful these are in person; usually real paintings have more color in them than you'd expect from reproductions; is that true here?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 10, 2009 11:58 AM

Friedrich -- It's been 3 1/2 months since I saw the paintings so I've forgotten anything I might have noticed regarding color variety. Except, perhaps, that none of the 2 or 3 on display struck me as being strictly monochrome. On the other hand, they were hardly bright and colorful. And on the third and final hand, being 100+ years old, it's possible that they might have darkened. Or not; but that's part of the Carrière mystique, I suppose.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on September 10, 2009 12:10 PM

One must definitely agree that at large doses his paintings start to look somewhat repetitive and that this cloth technique - though inventive - becomes a little boring after a while.
Nevertheless, his almost monochromatic pallete strikes me somehow and, can't really tell why, his portraits (look at that Verlaine!) brings Rembrandt - and the Macchiaioli, well remembered -to my mind.

Posted by: Eduardo Mohallem on September 17, 2009 2:41 PM

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