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Georges Clairin

Feb - 18 - 2013
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A portrait of Sarah BernhardtFrench painter and  illustrator, Georges Jules Victor Clairin, studied with Pils and Picot at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but chiefly under his friend and mentor Regnault, with whom he travelled to Britanny, Spain and Morocco. He was born in 1843 and died in 1919. The two fought in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, during which Regnault was killed. Clairin subsequently lived and worked in Paris, Morocco, Italy, Spain, Algeria, Egypt and Britanny.
After the war, Georges Clairin headed back to Morocco where he stayed for 18 months, finding his inspiration among the cityscapes of Tangiers, Fez and Tetuan. But he felt especially fascinated by the thrilling events which are the equestrian ‘fantasias’. These staged battles involved hundreds of Arab horsemen galloping and brandishing their weapons. Memories of these exciting shows are depicted in Clairin’ s vigorous painting where the action seems to spill out of the canvas.
If in Morocco Georges Clairin painted fantasias and typical scenes, in Algeria he painted colourful and glamorous portraits of oriental women and belly dancers.
After the war, Georges Clairin headed back to Morocco where he stayed for 18 months, finding his inspiration among the cityscapes of Tangiers, Fez and Tetuan. But he felt especially fascinated by the thrilling events which are the equestrian ‘fantasias’. These staged battles involved

hundreds of Arab horsemen galloping and brandishing their weapons. Memories of these exciting shows are depicted in Clairin’ s vigorous painting where the action seems to spill out of the canvas.
If in Morocco Georges Clairin painted fantasias and typical scenes, in Algeria he painted colourful and glamorous portraits of oriental women and belly dancers.
Clairin is one of the most successful practitioners of the Orientals genre. His early travels to Spain and Tangier suffused his oeuvre with a great passion for costume and color, as can be seen in this beautiful rendition of an Ouled-Nail tribal dancer (above). Opulently clad and erotic, she spirals upwards, echoing the ornamental motif of flowers in the tiles behind her. The elasticity of the layers of her costume suggests an organic casing, while the enveloping gauzy fabrics intimate a whirling motion.
The intoxicating theme of the Algerian dancer became one of Clairin’s favorites, enabling him to produce dazzling compositions of great theatricality. Wendy Buonaventura suggests in Serpent of the Nile: Women and Dance in the Arab World, the Ouled-Nail term was utilized to describe dancers in general, irrespective of their particular tribe. The women of the Ouled-Nail lived in the Sahara between Biskra and Laghouat. Beginning with the French occupation in Algeria in the 1830’s, Biskra became a great center for commerce, where travelers were often entertained by the dancers. One traveler recalled, “unlike the Egyptian dancers, who specialize in soft, undulating, serpentine movements of the abdominal muscles, the Ouled-Nail pride themselves in being able to make their belly pulsate violently and in syncopation to the music.”
Western fascination with the dancers centered on their remarkable costumes. Layers of sumptuous garments are secured with extravagant clasps; large studded bracelets grace both arms topped by resplendent headdresses. Descriptions of the customs and costumes of the Ouled-Nail tribal dancers were written about extensively from the middle through the late 19th century. Georges Clairin - An OuledThese dancers embodied the exotic, and for artists such as Clairin, they continued to fascinate him for the entirety of his career.
The Burning of the Tuileries, above, is a spirited sketch recounting an episode of the Paris Commune. On 24 May 1871, as the government troops moved from Versailles into Paris, the decision was taken by the federal authorities to burn down those public monuments that were symbols of power. The Tuileries Palace, the Cour des Comptes (the building which stood on the site of today’s Musée d’Orsay), the Ministry of Finance, the Hôtel de Ville, etc, were all set alight.
Clairin chose to place the viewpoint for his painting on the Île de la Cité, on the banks of the Seine, at the corner where the Conciergerie stands. At the top on the left, you can see the colours of the monumental clock, still there today. In the distance, on the opposite bank, the dark shape of the burning Tuileries stands out. Thick black smoke rises up into the skies above Paris.
In the foreground, amidst the dead and wounded, a woman, evoking Delacroix’s Liberty, waves a red flag towards the palace ravaged by flames. She appears to be contemplating the ruins of the Monarchy and the Empire. Here, Clairin is presenting a symbolic image of the violence and suffering of this episode in the history of Paris.
Fiery and passionate Sarah Bernhardt, above, trained with the Comédie Française. Her presence was strong, her characters often tragic, and her life beyond the theatre generally as colorful as her acting. Bernhardt had many lovers and captivated such great minds as Sigmund Freud and Oscar Wilde, Wilde writing the play Salome especially in her honor. Bernhardt even insisted on playing Hamlet, clearly refusing to let gender keep her from an epic role.
Bernhardt, who also did some of her own painting and sculpting, was naturally inspiring to numerous artists of her day. Jean-Léon Gérôme, Jules Bastien-Lepage and Manuel Orazi captured the Divine Sarah off-stage, while Alphonse Mucha and Georges Clairin portrayed her in-character glory.

Clairin exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français and the Salon des Artistes Algériens et Orientalistes in Algiers, and won a silver medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889. His work was the subject of a major exhibition in Paris in 1901. He was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in 1897.
He produced a number of decorative works at the city theatres of Cherbourg and Tours (a painted ceiling and panels), and the Opera Garnier in Paris, where Garnier commissioned him to paint three ceilings and six panels, and to complete Pils’s unfinished monumental staircase. Other decorative commissions included the Paris stock exchange, the Sorbonne, Paris city hall and the Eden-Théâtre. His varied subject matter includes Venetian festivities, ballets at the Opéra Garnier, genre scenes based on his travels, sumptuously dressed and bejewelled Oriental women, and landscapes. His work has sometimes been criticised as mawkish, but remains notable for its finely observed and executed detail and spirited still-lifes.

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