Musée d'Orsay: Joris-Karl Huysmans Art Critic. From Degas to Grünewald, in the Eye of Francesco Vezzoli

Joris-Karl Huysmans Art Critic. From Degas to Grünewald, in the Eye of Francesco Vezzoli

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The unvarnished truth

Edgar Degas 
 (1834-1917)
 Dans un café, also called L'absinthe [In a Café, also called Absinthe]
 1873
 Oil on canvas
 H. 92; W. 68.5 m
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, bequest of Count Isaac de Camondo, 1911
Edgar DegasIn a Café© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
From his first article in 1867 through to his last writings, Huysmans approached art and artists as bulwarks against a society which he believed to be both debased and debasing. A lifelong admirer of the Dutch Old Masters, he described the defining nature of the shock he experienced on discovering Degas at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876.

This game-changing artist occupied a special place in his art criticism, alongside Manet, Caillebotte, Forain, and Raffaëlli. He fully embraced the message behind Baudelaire’s appeal for painters “of modern life”, and made it his creed.







Henri GervexRolla© RMN-Grand Palais / A. Danvers
For Huysmans the Naturalist novelist, and close friend of Zola at that time, painting had to reflect reality in an unvarnished, expressive, and even caustic manner. The role of “modern” art was to reveal the truth. By contrast, works by Cabanel and Gérôme – described as “overly licked and polished” – and paintings by Bouguereau, were relegated to the realms of saccharine, fake and pernicious art.

White.

White. This space, in the white cube style of contemporary art installations, projects the lucidity of Huysmans the art critic into our own times. It symbolises the moment when works acquired the status of masterpieces and the writer was elevated to the rank of prophet.

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