Back to Figure Painting

Reclining On Red
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 3.75×10.5″

The weather is very changeable around here. It’s been warm/rainy, cold/rainy, warm/sunny, and cold/sunny. It’s also been foggy, drizzly, with a hint of snowiness. While I’m waiting for weather that will allow some outdoor painting (60º, sunny?),  I am back to figure painting. That wonderful painting space I mentioned in my previous post also has an equally wonderful fainting couch. I’ve always wanted one of those for my own drop-in figure sessions. I have never mustered enough takers for my sessions so I’ve never gotten a fainting couch. I’d need at least six painters/drawers per session to get it started and keep it going.

Our model did not opt for the fainting couch, so it stayed in the background. I painted it in as an homage to that other fainting couch from Manet’s Olympia. I’ve always wanted to paint my own version of Olympia. When I get a group together, Olympia will be our inaugural pose. Meanwhile, this little watercolor of an Olympia-type pose will have to do.

With his Olympia, Manet gave its audience no cloak of voyeurism by having his model confront her viewers with a direct gaze. She gives the impression that she knows they are looking. She is not sleeping nor is she looking away. The un-idealized, simplified manner of painting was also a horror to its critics. With a black maid, a black cat on a dark ground, and a model confronting the viewer so fully, there was a near riot at the Salon in which it was hung. So strong were the reactions to the painting, that armed guards had to be present to protect the painting from an overzealous public.

This little piece will not bring that kind of reaction. There is nothing so flagrant as to shock its audience. Besides, we are so saturated by a steady stream of images that are sacred, profane, and vulgar that we are not shocked by images such as Olympia anymore. The only people shocked are the prudes who view any nudity to be sexual and therefore sinful.

My little watercolor also has no black cat or black maid on a nearly black ground. Manet shocked his art viewers with that too. The broken contrast rule made his critics apoplectic. It does have a green fainting couch on a green ground but only as a counterpoint to the warmth of the figure and the red cloth. I don’t think there will be any riots over this little image.

April 28, 2016