Everything Old is New Again

When art critics released their best exhibitions for 2016, "Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio" rose to the top of the most discerning lists. As the show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be closing January 16, time is running short so drop everything, run right over. If that's not possible, then read on for a fresh look at an old master. And Valentin de Boulogne is an "old master," if one we may not have heard of until now.

This is the first exhibition, the first documented study of the works of this little-known artist, who may have been overlooked all these years as he died young at the age of 41, leaving behind relatively few works. 

To do justice to the gorgeous painting above, I'm going to lift a quote off a placard in the exhibition: "Unique in Valentin's oeuvre... this painting depicts a melancholic soldier of fortune singing, presumably, a madrigal about unrequited love. The picture has recently been described as 'an immensely persuasive depiction of a distinct psychological and physical presence.' " The quote is a mouthful, but who wouldn't love that handsome soulful face?

Valentin, often referred to as 'Le Valentin,' was born in Coulommiers, France, where he was baptized in the parish of Saint-Denys on 3 January 1591. The family name appears to originate from Boulogne-sur-Mer, a city in northern France where both his father, also named Valentin, and his uncle Jean were painters. 

                                                                                          The Guileless Musician

                                                                                          The Guileless Musician

Art historians presume that Valentin started painting in his father's studio, prior to moving to Paris and before leaving for Italy. While studying in Italy under Simon Vouet, a leading French painter of the day, Valentin was influenced by the revolutionary Caravaggio who was painting in a naturalistic style.

In the early part of the 17th century, Caravaggio's revolutionary stylistic techniques and his championing of 'naturalism' attracted a large following from all over Europe. The paintings were full of drama, with the action enhanced by the artist's use of light and dark and a restricted palette of blacks, browns and whites. So, too, were those of Valentin.

Following the death of Caravaggio, Valentin became one of the leading protagonists of the new school of 'cinematic' painting, adopting the master's use of light and dark and frequently depicting tavern scenes featuring gypsies, cardsharps, musicians. Then, too, there is the manner in which Valentin maximizes his subjects and minimizes the background, all of which effectively draws the viewer into the action.

In 'The Guileless Musician,' a gypsy woman can be seen stealing whatever the young man has in that pocket. The gestures, the expressions on the faces of the three ne'er-do-wells and the gullibility of the young man make for an extraordinary painting.

                                                                              Fortune Teller with Soldiers

                                                                              Fortune Teller with Soldiers

Valentin's painting Fortune Teller with Soldiers depicts a group of young soldiers, one of whom is mesmerized by the fortune teller reading his palm. At the side of the gypsy, a shadowy figure looks at the viewer, his finger to his lips, as he steals the fortune teller's purse from her pocket. A small child is seen returning the favor by picking his pockets. While one person's fortune is told, another's is being stolen, with one thief falling victim to another.

Valentin enjoyed great success with this type of composition in which fortune tellers, drinkers, or gamblers were grouped around a table. Quite fond of carousing and of fine wine, the talented Valentin died in 1632 from a fever. The surviving body of work, 75 paintings, has been brought together for this exhibition. Both the psychological expressions of his subjects, as well as a refined painting technique, give evidence of the genius that made him one of the most outstanding artists in 17th century Europe, if one we have never heard of!

                                                                               David with the Head of Goliath

                                                                               David with the Head of Goliath

In the painting above, 'David with the Head of Goliath,' the shepherd boy's expression, after killing Goliath with a slingshot along with the expression on the severed head, make this a stirring and thoughtful picture. There is no joy in battle seen here. No preening over the death of an enemy. Rather, as art historians are quick to point out, the painting is more like 'a meditation on death.' 

In the painting below, we find the hallmarks of Valentin; a confrontation. The brilliantly lit figures in the forefront, the absence of detail in the background, and a deeply humanistic psychological dimension.

Well, that's all for today! Wishing you and your loved ones une très belle année... 2017. Hurry, not much time to waste before the show closes. Sorry to give you so little notice, but there has been so much going on around here that there hasn't been time to write a blog post. Writing blog posts is something I enjoy and have missed doing.

I think I told you that the Audible version of Veronica's Grave has come out and that it is a delight. The narrator, Leslie Miller, did a fabulous job, even with the French words! Whats' more, Leslie sings... in the audiobook! I don't know if that's a first in audiobooks, but it was a first for Leslie. As for the cover, it differs somewhat from the book cover and was designed by my friend Paul Baxter.

Hope to see you back next Sunday, when I'll have the coffee ready. Remember, sharing is caring. Thanks so much!