Emile Friant
Cast Shadows

Cast Shadows
Emile Friant (1863-1932)
Cast Shadows
1891
Oil on canvas
H. 116; W. 67cm
© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Ombres portées [Cast Shadows]


In 1891, Friant presented four paintings at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. One of these was Cast Shadows which he was careful to place prominently when submitting his works. He had already depicted young couples, outdoors and indoors, always carefully building his composition around an interplay of looks and hands. He did the same in 1891 but in a much more radical way. The protagonists are placed in front of a wall. The frontal light source, directed upwards, highlights the hands and faces. Beneath the dark clothes, their bodies are reduced to silhouettes. This treatment recalls an extract from Pliny's Natural History recounting how painting was invented: "[Dibutade] was in love with a young man; when he left for foreign lands, she traced the shadow of his face, projected on to a wall by the light of a lantern".
But Friant equally turned to the current research of the time. Degas' work in particular comes to mind, with the effects he achieved using unusual light sources, capable of changing the perception of colour and chromatic harmony.

Going beyond the simple anecdotal painting of a genre scene, Cast Shadows illustrates Friant's reflections on the history of painting, and the links in his work with the innovators of his time.




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