Thursday, October 1, 2009

Eugène Carrière - The Monochrome Master

"Le theatre de Belleville", 1895

Eugène Carrière's (1849 - 1906) paintings emerge out of the mist, out of the shadows and the subtle transfromation of light into darkness. The sublime smudge of truth is in every brush stroke and it's the result of a life dedicated to artistic development.

"Le contemplateur", 1901

Even his portraits, for he was an amazing portraitist, emerge as if seen through water or at a certain hour at dusk when surface and volume merge in a sublime blur. Carrière strived to make the model "confess". And in Verlaine's portrait the painter travels through the shadowplay in the obscure corners of Verlaine's soul. The torment, the fatigue, the obstinancy, the remains of childhood, the contradiction, the passion, the excess, the deception... it's all there. In this gaze, in the suggestive vagueness of the features.

The painting was completed based on only one sitting as the following extract recalls:

"The poet was sick, and was in the hospital on the far side of the city. Everything had been prepared, and Carrière was expecting him. But crossing the city was no easy task, despite hiring several cars, because of the poet's excitement at this one day leave of absence. - Verlaine did not pose for a single moment. During this only session which lasted several hours , he incessantly paced the studio, speaking loudly, with that effervescent verve he had [...] - Carrière didn't stop working for a second. Verlaine left, I think, without having noticed him. But Carrière knew the poet intimately; he had read his work, meditated on it , guessed many things; he knew what gifts the divine poet possesed, what an immense intelligence and infinite sensibilty were concealed beneath his childish laughter, and what his persona was in a society that imagines it can do without beauty. Carière did not reproach him for breaking down at times under the sorrow imposed by the crushing role he played. The painter saw the poet's inner truth and knew how to express it." (Charles Morice " Eugène Carrière, L'homme et sa pensée..., Paris 1906)

Verlaine on seeing the portrait must have liked it for he composed the following sonnet:

Running through my gutter wit
And the harsh flow of dreadful jibes
While your brush travels
On the canvas turned to velvet by your art

Imperceptibly on the trail
-one might say- of nasty schoolboys,
There rises a forehead full of lumps,
The lump of crime is not alone,

And small eyes sharp with malice
Shining under the rough arch
Of brows whose line is botched,

Shining, it seems, as wet
With tears, sincere in fact, of a fellow
Who was once, an imperfect Socrates.

(Extracted from the book of Valérie Bajou "Eugène Carrière"- sonnet translated by Michael Gibson)

If the monochrome simplification of Carrière was enough to convince the imperfect Socrates who are we to argue?


  1. I really enjoyed this post.

    I have not seen these paintings previously, I am almost forced to apologise. The portrait of Verlaine, especially, is something of a minor revelation.

    Sometimes, one sitting is all that's required. Even so. I am impressed.

  2. Thanks for visiting Ib. I have really become a regular at Siblings...