Article: Christopher George
For its second winter exhibition, The Pierre Arnaud Foundation is encompassing pictorial Realism.
Within this misleading name lies an array of subjects, themes and styles.
The exhibition highlights the battle and union between idealism and naturalism, protest and reaction, modernity and melancholy. It brings together not one but several realisms, their contradiction and their shared characteristics.
With realism being part of the industrial revolution, the idealism of a rural world appeared to be a haven of traditional values to some realists. Realism through the eyes of some of its artists has trouble avoiding a certain cliché: an Idyllic way of life portrayed from a purist point of view. Scenes of land workers relaxing over a picnic, the household chores of service employees romanticised from the reality of the drudgery and exhausting nature of manual back-breaking rural work.
In sharp contrast we have documentary paintings that embrace the evolution of industry and contemporary life. Still from some of its artists in an idealist form, but far closer to the reality of the times. Although these works are strikingly accurate depiction of their narrative, they still titilate a romantic sense of work conditions, but draw more on the actuality subject. The works are so precise in construction that they almost lack an artistic idea. They become almost draftsman in technique due to their precision and void of emotional suggestion.
These two narratives within realism are not to be mistaken as being in conflict with each other. In reality, they are both suffer from idealism. One is a romantic reflection of a disappearing way of life. The other a positive vision of the future. However they both lack a reality and become an idealism of Realism.
‘Kahlenberg Family Farmers’ is a striking painting that reflects the times: less positive, with a nervous undercurrent. This painting was entered into a competition arranged by Hitler to represent the ideal German family, after Hitler banned many art forms and proclaimed realism as the Nazi party’s adopted form of arts. They felt realism suited the nature of Nazis idealism.
The painting was original rejected due to the melancholic tone of the family. It was later believed to have been accepted, solely for the appearance of male youths. The painting strikes us with the family's disturbing undertone of anxiety. This Hitler was not keen to display.
Breaking away from the epic historical paintings or endless repeated mythological scenes, the realists concentrated on contemporaries during daily life. A selection of portraits themed around the state of melancholy are breathtakingly emotive and personal. This is where realism seems to take hold and become a mirror for the viewer: A personal identity portrayed with emotions staring straight back out. The use of narrative and suggestions is on such a personal and powerful level, it becomes extremely infectious.
‘The Last Believers’ is a sole painting placed in almost isolation to the rest of the exhibition, and appears to have no real connection. It leaves an uncomfortable sense, yet it is this painting that particularly highlights the Foundation Pierre Arnaud winter exhibition, Realism, A Symphony of Opposites.
This is the only religious narrative within the show, and it draws back to more traditional works, where religion had control with its patronage of the arts. The scene, a group of mournful worshipers surrounding the unusually small crucified Jesus, precisely introduces realism to us. The religious painting is isolated within a ‘new world’, and Jesus becomes a disappearing character.
One could be fooled into not grasping the wide movement of Realism, as not only the subjects are so varied but also its styles are ambiguous and contradictory throughout. The Foundation Pierre Arnaud engineer a confusing and misunderstood narrative of the arts, by bringing structure to many different works, and place them in a coherent system. The viewer can then examine the many differences in realism.
The Foundations design to house its exhibitions is one of extreme consideration to artwork and the usage of space is both flexible and sympathetic. They bring together a hugely ambitious and successful exhibition, combining many elements of society we can all consider and emphasise with.
Foundation Pierre Arnaud