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December 23, 2008

Artists and Photography - Vuillard

Édouard Vuillard (French Nabi/Post-Impressionist painter - 1868-1940) was another artist who was taken with photography. In the mid 1890s, he acquired a simple Kodak camera which he used as a help in composing his pictures (as well as to take snapshots of his family and friends). "What was interesting in this connection was the role the camera played in distorting, foreshortening, perspectival riddles, and in the cropping of pictures frames" according to the same article.

Indeed, many of Vuillard's pictures have very unusual compositions that look as though they could have been inspired by "snapshot" views.  He did not, however, paint exactly what his camera saw; rather he used photographs as reference and rearranged elements to suit his fancy.

"His paintings are never mere copies of photographs. Always, changes in emphasis and in the handling of light transform the photographic aide-memoire into a poignant work of art." (Quote is from the Carrick Hill website.)

Square Berlioz (aka La Place Vintimille)
Édouard Vuillard - 1915
Oil on canvas - 17.72" X 29.88" (45 cm X 75.9 cm)
Source: the-athenaeum.org

The painting shown above of "La Place Vintimille" is a view from the window of Vuillard's apartment on the second floor.
"Vuillard took many photographs of Place Vintimille, from his fourth-floor windows beginning in 1909 and, after he moved in 1913, from the second floor of the same building" according to this article in Art in America.

In this article on the Christie's auction site, it states that after Vuillard became familiar with photography, there was a difference in how his pictures looked, including the use of "optical foreshortening" and "radical cropping."

In this review on the "New York Art World" site about a Vuillard exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in 2003, it states that more than 2,000 photographs taken by the artist have survived.

It seems odd to me that some see quite a lot of influence of photography on Vuillard's paintings, but others see very little. Here is an article in Slate Magazine on Édouard Vuillard (and other artists of his time) and photography that minimizes the part photography played in Vuillard's artwork, explaining that he bought his camera mainly for the purpose of taking snapshots of friends and relatives. It is admitted, though, that Vuillard did utilize the camera as a tool at times, to help him with "details" in some of his paintings. The author brings up something that hadn't occurred to me, which is the idea that it must have been unsettling for Vuillard to try to compose pictures (with his camera) that were not going to be seen in colors, but in black, white, and grays; and therefore he wouldn't have been inclined to think of his photographs as "art" -- but it seems to me that that is beside the point (which is that he did or did not use material from some of his photographs as aids in making some of his paintings -- There is no reason at all for photographs to be "artistic" in order to be of this kind of use).

This is the third in a series on artists and photography. Here are the others (and there will be more in the future):

Edgar Degas and Photography
Eugène Delacroix and Photography

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December 16, 2008

Artists and Photography - Degas

Edgar Degas enthusiastically photographed ballet dancers, his friends, himself, and other subjects. (If you click on the "ballet dancers" link, you will come to a web page that shows three of his negatives of photographs of dancers.) He referred to photographs while making some of his paintings and drawings -- not copying entire photographs but just using parts of them as a guide to certain details such as the twisted back of a woman bending over or the arms of a ballet dancer while in a pose that was hard to keep. As pointed out on this page on the same site, Degas eventually went back to relying much more on his sketches for his paintings as at that time a camera was not capable of capturing split seconds and a pose had to be held for a very long time, making it practically impossible to photograph a movement or casual position. Besides, it's hard to capture in a photograph what we "see" in real life. We do not see, for instance, action as a series of frozen stills -- we experience it as continuous movement, and so a painting or drawing made without reference to photos (but, instead, with knowledge of how people actually experience what they see) can look more real than what is captured by a camera. Making many, many sketches of real things as he saw them turned out to be of much more use to Degas than the camera, though he did appreciate some uses of photography as an aid to an artist, and he certainly had a lot of fun with it.

There is quite a lot more on Degas and photography on the above-mentioned site, and I recommend you click around to different pages.

Four Dancers - c. 1899
Oil on canvas
Edgar Degas, French Realist/Impressionist Painter and Sculptor,
Source: Humanities Web

The painting above is one of those that was made with the help of photographs.

According to this article, although Degas had been interested in photographs three decades earlier, he did not take up photography himself until he was sixty-one years old. "[In] a burst of creative energy that lasted less than five years, [Degas] threw himself into photography for a short but intense period." There is much more in this article about Degas and photography.

This article, entitled "Camera Obscura," in Slate Magazine, is about the 1999 exhibition of Degas' photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. There are small photographs from the exhibit here, but although you are supposed to be able to enlarge them, it didn't work for me. Watch the video below on this page to see many of Degas' photographs.

Note 1: A Los Angeles Times article entitled Reframing Degas is also about the exhibition of Degas' photographs.

Note 2: Since writing this post on Degas and Photography, I've written another called Degas and Photography - More.

Note 3: Excellent article on Degas and photography. It is an article called "Dance to the music of time" in RA (Royal Academy) Magazine, Autumn 2011

Note 4: There are now four posts in this series about Artists and Photography. This on on Degas is the second. The first was about Delacroix. The third is on Vuillard and Photography, and the fourth is the second post on Degas and Photography, mentioned in the paragraph just above.

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December 6, 2008

Artists and Photography - Delacroix

There are many people who believe, sometimes very strongly, that it is "cheating" to use photographs to help one to compose drawings, paintings, or other artwork. However, many highly respected (and self-respecting) artists, from the time photography became an accessible tool for artists (in the 1800s) until the present day have found it to be a great help.  Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) is one of them.

Many of Delacroix's paintings were based on photographs, requested by him to be made, of nude male and female models. 

"Delacroix based a number of his figures on photographs, and himself experimented in several modes of photography, regretting that 'such a wonderful invention' had not been made earlier in his career." 150 Years of Photographic Art by Jason Edward Kaufman

The Musée national Eugène Delacroix is presently exhibiting photographs Delacroix used along with the pictures he made from them. You can see some examples if you go to the museum's website (click on the link just above).

I recommend that even if you don't understand French to look at both the French and English-language pages. You can read it in the language you prefer, but the pictures aren't all the same on both pages.

In English
In French

I don't know whether Delacroix used the photograph below to as a reference in painting his self-portrait within two years of the date of the photo, but I suspect not as all he had to do was look in a mirror and he would see a much more "alive" and colorful image of himself from which to paint, but seeing these two portraits together makes me realize that a painting can look more "real" than a photograph -- or you might say more "alive" -- than a photograph.

Eugène Delacroix in 1858
Portrait by Nadar (pseudonym), real name: Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (April 6, 1820 – March 21, 1910)
Source: Wikipedia

Eugène Delacroix - self portrait, 1860
Source: Wikipedia

This is the first of a series of short posts on artists and photography.

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