"With a sincere spirit and deep conviction": Lefebvre's Lady Godiva and Salon artistic culture in fin-de-siecle France.
At the end of his career in 1912, Jules-Joseph Lefebvre would be fondly remembered by the writer-critic Maurice Hamel as a devout keeper of the Ecole tradition. Yet, by 1890 Lefebvre was already perceived as one of the painters who set the standard for representation of the academic nude, having received by then all of the major awards that a Salon painter could aspire to. (2) In fact, his Lady Godiva from 1890 (fig. 1) was exhibited in the Salon d'honneur, the Salon's central gallery space reserved for large-scale works by the most eminent Salon artists. Nevertheless, at the pinnacle of his career Lefebvre produced this painting that for many critics markedly diverged from the kind of academic art they had come to expect from him. One of the paintings more frequently cited by critics in Salon reviews for the 1890s, and the nude most extensively written about, Lady Godiva provoked ridicule and scorn from several fin-de-siecle art critics who considered the image a bewildering failure. (3)
What inspired Lefebvre's choices with this painting, some of them unusual for him and others unusual for a French Salon painter, which critics definitely sensed? What did they find so peculiar and problematic about this image, his only work shown in the 1890 Salon? This article tries to answer these questions by closely analyzing Lady Godiva and grounding this analysis within the concept of naturalism. I also examine in depth the encounter between Lady Godiva and the Salon critics, and consider the ways in which that encounter illuminates not only the nature of artistic discourse regarding the female nude in fin-de-siecle Salon culture, but also the expectations and conventions of the Salon nude in this period. In summary, I argue that Lefebvre, an artist highly attuned to his milieu and its critical expectations and boundaries, still managed to produce a painting that exhibited an excessive degree of naturalism in its representation of the nude female body. Despite his clear awareness of the "ideal-real" conceit within French aesthetic theory concerning the nude, Lefebvre largely dismissed it in 1890, a pivotal year in his career and the Salon's history. Near the end of this article I propose that the state of the Salon in 1890 played a critical role in Lefebvre's decision to forsake this key convention of the academic nude.
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Naturalism, Lady Godiva, and Academic Artistic Culture, 1860-1890
Biographical essays about Lefebvre published in the 1890s and early 1900s consistently categorize him as one of the premier painters of the female nude; Lady Godiva may, therefore, seem to fit rather well into his oeuvre. (4) Nonetheless, the painting has little in common with Lefebvre's other nudes. Lady Godiva, for instance, was an extremely rare subject for French painters. By the nineteenth century a fair number of paintings and sculptures based on the legend had begun to appear in England. (5) In France, however, the story seems to have had very limited circulation and was not part of the nineteenth-century repertoire of folktales. Every Salon critic who discussed Lefebvre's 1890 representation of the story prefaced his review of the work by recounting the narrative, sometimes verbatim, as it appeared in the Salon livret and on the frame of the painting. Given that most Salon critics by the 1890s were masters of brevity--rarely devoting more than three full sentences to a particular Salon image--their attempts to recount in full the story of Lady Godiva strongly suggest that their readers would not have known the fundamental elements of the legend. (6) Nymphs, bathers, sirens, mythological figures such as the hunting Diana, and boudoir scenes constituted the basic range of subjects for the French nude. In 1890, Lady Godiva was an innovation.
Furthermore, the canvas was an anomaly because of its enormous size (6.2 m x 3.9 m). Nudes were rarely, if ever, done on such a grand scale. Lady Godiva also managed to be an unusual work for Lefebvre, because of the extremely precise renderings of architectural and physical detail that are visible throughout the painting. The weather-beaten buildings have been so carefully articulated, for example, that one can discern the grain and even cracks in the wood; and the viewer may be led to believe that Lefebvre had used a specific series of buildings as the backdrop for his painting. No detail in the painting is neglected.
Although the meticulous renderings of the setting and Godiva's body may have been unusual for Lefebvre, it exhibits his affinity with a form of naturalistic painting that had been practiced by other prominent Salon or academic-style painters, including Jean-Paul Laurens, Jean-Leon Gerome, and Jean-Lecomte du Nouy. An exact contemporary of Lefebvre's, Jean-Paul Laurens had established himself by the early 1880s as one of the foremost history painters and committed naturalists of late nineteenth-century France. The graphic precision and sense of accurate architectural detail on which Laurens built his reputation are quite evident in his 1889 Salon entry, Les Hommes du Saint-Office (fig. 2). Les Hommes takes as its subject the Inquisition, a theme Laurens turned to on several occasions. (7) Depicting the General Inquisitor Torquemada with two religious brothers who examine papal documents, Les Hommes exhibits an extremely methodical organization of space and sensitivity to lighting effects that suggest Laurens' use of a particular architectural setting. (8)
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Architectural sources aside, the originality of Laurens' vision of history certainly caught the attention of the critics and Salon community. His oeuvre is characterized by a penchant for obscure, historical subject matter, often from the Middle Ages or the life of Christ, and a tendency not to glorify heroic figures, but to represent defeat, death, and the darker, tumultuous side of humanity's history. Critics consistently noted the uniqueness of his work and its artistic merit. Paul Mantz, one of the most influential and constant forces in late nineteenth-century Salon criticism, wrote in notably rhapsodic tones about Laurens' achievement in his extensive 1889 review of Les Hommes:
Without any doubt we are in the presence of one of Mr. Laurens' best paintings.... In these last few years Mr. Laurens has started to exhibit in his paintings a true understanding of scenery and such invigorating work contains a wonderful lightness and finesse of the brush. There was a time when he gave figures a rather stiff, metallic quality, the result of a somewhat careless hand. But now this courageous artist has mastered suppleness of form and imbues figures with a palpable vitality. The basis of this delightful transformation is rooted in Laurens' broader effort to assiduously study the phenomenon of light. (9)
Yet Laurens' star had ascended much earlier than 1889. Eleven years prior he had been honored with his own retrospective at the Exposition Universelle, where he exhibited twelve paintings, and was instrumental in the decorative painting program for the Hotel de Ville de Paris from 1884 to the early 1890s, initially as a member of the committee charged with handling such and later as one of the decorators. (10)
The State purchased Les Hommes du Saint-Office in 1889, the same year it was exhibited in the Salon. Lefebvre saw one of his own paintings win the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle in 1889; thus, he had no reason to envy Laurens. Nevertheless, Laurens gave the Salon community--and Lefebvre--a model of a Salon painter re-imagining academic art and the genre of history painting. Perhaps for Lefebvre, Laurens served as a viable case of an artist creating critically successful images of notably obscure subject matter, and the narrative of Lady Godiva happened to be quite obscure for nineteenth-century French art.
Although the two artists' careers appear to have at times overlapped-both trained under Leon Cogniet, both were elected to the Institut in 1891-they did not share the female nude in common. Nonetheless, naturalism and the female nude certainly converge in the work of other contemporaries of Lefebvre. Within Salon culture, Jean-Leon Gerome largely defined the genre in the latter half of the century, and shaped it principally in terms of Orientalism, an aspect of his work which others have already investigated in depth and with considerable perspicacity. (11) Lefebvre's formative years as an Ecole student, from the mid to late 1850s, coincided with Gerome's emergence as the leader of the Neo-Grecs, who are thought to have "revived and reinvigorated history painting" and the painting of the academic nude at mid century. (12) Lefebvre certainly would have been aware of their authoritative command of the genre of the nude, and they continued to have a critical and forceful presence in the Salon during the latter half of the nineteenth century, thanks in part not only to Gerome's steady output of paintings and sculptures well into the 1890s but also due to the students he spawned.
One early painting by Lefebvre that reveals his attentiveness to naturalism, Orientalism, and the erotics of the female nude is his 1874 Odalisque (fig. 3). Sixty years had elapsed since Ingres completed his 1814 Grande Odalisque (Musee du Louvre), but clearly Lefebvre meant to ignore them. Despite the obvious similarities between the two paintings Lefebvre seems in the end to have been engaged in a peculiar game of reversing Ingres's terms. First of all, he switched the position of the legs so that the left one lies underneath the right. The notoriously attenuated right arm of Ingres's Grand Odalisque is absent; instead, the visible fingers of Lefebvre's Odalisque indicate a right arm draped across her chest. Moreover, the figure does not turn her head in Lefebvre's Odalisque in order to look back at the viewer. Her gaze is instead directed towards the right, making her look even more like a model posing for an artist. These are the most conspicuous alterations; it is the subtler reversals, however, that reveal Lefebvre's attempt to normalize Ingres's nude. The unusually large lower back and buttocks have been reduced (the extra vertebrae have been removed), and the shoulders broadened in order to suggest the usual proportions of upper back to lower back/hips. Furthermore, the buttocks are upright, as they would be in a normally shaped woman who is lying on her side, and not in direct contact with the sheets, as they are in Ingres's Odalisque. Although Lefebvre portrayed his Odalisque with an excessively small waist in proportion to her broad shoulders (probably done so that the V-shaped shoulders would be echoed by the V-shaped negative space formed by her waist), in general he corrected Ingres's work, stripping it of its weirdness, its uniqueness.
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Why would Lefebvre emulate Ingres at the same time that he would remove from his Ingresque painting the most distinguishing quality of such a nude, its strangeness? Perhaps he did this to rework in order to correct the oeuvre of Ingres so that it would more easily conform to the tradition of the Salon nude. This intense and peculiar engagement with Ingres's nude, I think, demonstrates how deeply embedded Lefebvre was in this tradition, a tradition that called for a balance between fantasy and reality, the ideal and the real. In other words, lending the body a degree of vitality and realness should be held in check with an elegance and artistry of form and composition, and vice versa. Lefebvre, in full command of the rules and conventions of this genre, yearned on occasion to see those rules and conventions thoroughly obeyed, even retroactively. The changes were also efficiently calculated to achieve a more conventional and reliable eroticism, the sort of eroticism that Gerome and other mid to late-nineteenth-century artists had mastered in their work.
Conventions of the Salon Nude in Nineteenth-Century France
Before proceeding any further regarding Lady Godiva and the critics, it is necessary to turn to this fundamental expectation of the academic nude in France, the real in tandem with the ideal, that critics--and artists--generally used to measure the merits and deficiencies of a work. Despite the possible multitude of specific academic influences impacting Lefebvre and Lady Godiva, the broader expectation of the ideal-real conceit must have held the greatest authority and control over his practice as a painter of the nude, and it is the voices of his biographers that make this quite clear. (13) As an artist whose training and earliest professional years coincided with the circulation of Charles Blanc's Grammaire des arts du dessin, Lefebvre would have been well versed in the manual's teachings and philosophies concerning the transformation of nature/imperfection into Art, into the Ideal. (14) Blanc's Grammaire was originally published in installments in the Gazette des beaux-arts from 1860 until 1867, and the tenets of his writings were deeply embedded in mid nineteenth-century discussions of painting and the body beautiful. Indeed, Lefebvre had developed a reputation as a painter of nudes that were frequently described by his biographers as exemplary of "chaste" and "noble" beauty, code words for ideal beauty.
Eugene Montrosier in his multi-volume series Les Artistes modernes sang the praises of two paintings by Lefebvre that exhibit his chaste style: La Femme couchee (1868) (location unknown) and La Verite (fig. 4). After a brief lament about the state of the nude in the 1880s ("so badly compromised in our day"), Montrosier then extolled the virtues of these two nudes completed by Lefebvre much earlier in his career:
.... La Femme couchee, a lovely poem of the flesh; nudity so elevated and so chaste no profane sentiment could taint it.... In 1870 rising suddenly from the immortal wells, the figure of Truth haughtily raises a mirror in which all of hideous humanity can come to see its reflection. What a beautiful body! Of such precise drawing, minus any affectation, elegant in its contours, supple in its undulations, with skilled modeling; noble in its composition ... (15)
Montrosier wrote of "high" and "chaste" beauty in Lefebvre's paintings, yet he implicitly praised Lefebvre's ability to mask or subdue the sexual/erotic content of the images. Lefebvre's La Verite best exemplifies this skill in transformation. Although presented on one level as a meditation on "Truth," the painting operates on a second level at which the figure's erotic appeal is not really displaced or "hidden." In a directly confrontational pose, the allegorical figure throws her left shoulder back, almost in a gesture of defiance. In her extreme verticality (emphasized even further by the upraised arm holding a mirror), she stares out at her viewer as she stands within a vague and barely discernible landscape setting. Yet "Truth" is very much more than an assembly, or carrier, of allegorical attributes. Lefebvre strategically guides the viewer's eye over the figure's body by way of a triangle formed by the bent right knee, the jutting left hip, and the fully frontal and rigid right breast. The erotic coexists unmistakably with the "Ideal."
In more general descriptions of Lefebvre's body of work, his biographers depended on the same sets of metaphors. Claude Vento, in a description of Lefebvre's skills and talents, wrote of Lefebvre's ability to "dress" his nudes in modesty:
His painting is neither a tour de force nor a well of virtuosity. Rather it is a simple, solid art that is at the same time strong and delicate with an instinctive chasteness which, by dressing his Nymphs in restraint, has transformed them into Muses. He has a sense of all that is beautiful, in other words, all that is divine. (16)
Maurice Hamel managed to link chastity, national identity, and "l'eternel feminin" in his brief summation of Lefebvre's work: "Lefebvre was a marvelous interpreter of the Eternal Feminine. His chaste and amorous art represents eternal beauty and a moment of French sensibility." (17) Montrosier, Vento, Hamel, and other biographers of Lefebvre utilized the vocabulary of the Ideal in order to assert that Lefebvre was capable of the controlled "transformations" of the female body into Art that Blanc advocated as one of the key objectives of the fine arts.
Terms such as "chaste," "pudeur," and "noble" were closely in alignment with "naturalism." Indeed, all of these terms orbit around the idea of a detachable and specifiable painterly "skill" being on display, in which the properly prepared viewer could detect precise, painstaking training and knowledge. Lefebvre intended to cater to such viewership with Lady Godiva and certainly prior to it. Turning again to his biographers one sees that they were especially quick to point out and praise his graphic facility and correctness, which they referred to as Lefebvre's "science" or his "scientific" capabilities. Gustav Haller, in his book Nos Grands Peintres, actually tried to diminish the apparently deep-rooted perception of Lefebvre as a "scientific" painter by asserting that despite all of Lefebvre's learning and skill he retains his earliest feelings of artistic inspiration: "Mr. Jules Lefebvre, for example, despite all of his science, his unsurpassable skill as a painter and teacher, has not lost any of the naive beauty of his first inspirations." (18) Armand Silvestre, in contrast, praised Lefebvre's "science" in his 1890 review of Lady Godiva: "[H]is figure of woman is full of distinction and science, a confident execution that does not at all lack style." (19) Albert Wolff and Georges Lafenestre expressed similar sentiments about Lady Godiva in Le Figaro and La Revue des deux mondes, respectively:
Of a pretty sentiment and discreet coloring this charming work con tains not only accomplished science but real taste. (20) It is especially in the nude figure of the blond Lady Godiva, with fine and tender carnations, nobly confused, hiding her breasts under her crossed arms that Jules Lefebvre has shown his science and conscience as a careful draughtsman and his delicate and elevated sense of feminine beauty. (21)
The characterization of Lefebvre as the impartial observer and recorder of female anatomy not only allowed critics to praise and indirectly discuss the sexuality of the nude bodies pictured; it also implied that he knew how to distance himself--and the intended viewer of the painting--from the "threatening" sexuality of the female body. Moreover, this distancing meant that he could remain in control of his representation of a woman's body. "Science" and "conscience" go together. Science is chaste; chastity is objectivity. In summary within nineteenth-century Salon culture painters of the nude were judged according to their mastery and control over the represented female body, and hence their representation of male power over, and regulation of, that body. (22) We see that Lefebvre's reputation throughout his career was based on his ability to fuse the chaste--the ideal--and the "scientific" into a single image.
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This fusion of a Neoplatonic-derived aesthetics of the ideal with naturalistic effects typified the work of several nineteenth-century academic painters of the nude. The quintessential case is that of William-Adolphe Bouguereau. (23) In The Birth of Venus (fig. 5) Bouguereau painstakingly attempted to balance idealization with naturalistic details. Venus's body, perfectly posed so that her physique forms a continuous series of curves from head to toe, may be devoid of all blemishes and body hair, but has been given natural, if somewhat pearlized, flesh tones that evenly reflect a light source coming from the left of the figure. In this and other works by Bouguereau the female body functions as a site where ideal and real coexist in a carefully crafted equilibrium.
Bouguereau sought the perfect balance between the ideal and the real, and Lefebvre also clearly made an effort to blend idealization of form with "scientific" accuracy. Yet Lefebvre's commitment to this perfect balance was ultimately much deeper and stranger than Bouguereau's. Bouguereau did what was necessary to receive critical acclaim from the Salon establishment--critics and members of the Salon juries--and to establish a strong clientele base. (24) Lefebvre, I think, did what he thought was necessary for the preservation of the teachings of the Ecole, the basis of the Salon; and it is Lefebvre's relationship with the work of Ingres demonstrated earlier in this text that points to the depth of this commitment. Lefebvre at times clearly emulated Ingres's oeuvre, and this emulation was most likely the result of both his admiration for Ingres's work and a compulsion to wrestle with the legacy of Ingres for the sake of the Ecole.
The Body of Godiva
Pale but radiant, the heroine of Lady Godiva, Promenade de la comtesse de Coventry, nue, a cheval, a travers la ville moves forward down the cobbled street. A darker-skinned servant keeps her horse in check. The cautious, alert eyes of the frightened-looking female attendant contrast with the closed eyes and upturned head of a haughty but serene-looking countess. And while Godiva embodies an abundant femininity (ample hips, soft, pudgy flesh), the servant exhibits wide, stocky hands and fingers that securely grip the horse's reins and lend the figure a masculine air. Furthermore, the exaggerated glow of Godiva's totally exposed hair and body dominates the foreground of the painting and, thus, virtually obscures the fully clad servant outfitted in a somber brown dress. Lefebvre accentuates even further the luminosity of Godiva by surrounding her with murky half-timbered buildings that often contain deeply shadowed recessions. Appearing to tilt inward towards the street and comprising nearly two-thirds of the canvas, the structures loom over Godiva as if ready to close in on her.
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Unlike many of the other visual representations of the Lady Godiva legend, Lefebvre's painting actually depicts the climactic moment in the tale, the moment when Godiva paraded through Coventry, minus her clothes, in order to save the citizens of Coventry from a heavy tax burden that otherwise would be imposed by her husband, the Earl of Loefric. Lefebvre used Godiva's white horse and the doves to indicate most strongly the purity and sanctity of Godiva and her act. Besides the blinding and symbolic whiteness of the horse, the doves, and Godiva herself, the saddle of the horse has been conspicuously ornamented on the front with a cross, the clearest expression of Godiva's connection to the sacred. And, just for good measure, Lefebvre included above and to the right of Godiva a statue of the Madonna and Child.
Yet despite the subject's ironclad respectability, a number of critics were deeply troubled by the image. What exactly provoked their anxiety? Why did Lefebvre, the Salon preservationist, according to his biographers, fail so miserably in 1890? What did the critics see that was so offensive? Consider, for instance, critics' assessment of Godiva's body, which most disliked. Some critics saw it as too soft ("molle") and lacking sufficient grace. Marcel Fouquier, for instance, told his reader that Lefebvre entirely mishandled the balance between gracefulness and mere pliancy: "The countess Godiva, nude on her white horse, pulled along at the bridle by an old woman with a frightened look on her face, is only a weakly drawn figure and is painted with more soft mushiness than grace." (25) Another Salon reviewer, Jacques Edmond, decried her discolored flesh: "It is before the baker's shop that the artist placed Godiva, blonde, fat, and squeezed onto her saddle. Her chlorotic-tinged flesh stands out rather clumsily against the chaotic space of the sloping street, where the houses greet each other from their gables ..." (26) For these two critics, Godiva's doughy, discolored flesh robbed her of the sexual allure that they had undoubtedly expected.
The most common lament, though, about the painting was the "coldness" of the image. (27) The critic for Le Gaulois tied the coldness of the image to a lack of expressive emotion and individual style: "Not any emotion at all emerges from this correct, cold tableau, which lacks any vibrancy and has been done on an exorbitant scale." (28) Paul Leroi, writing for L'Art, in fact called Lefebvre's style "cold": "This female nude, a little pot-bellied, on a conspicuously white horse, affects a melodramatic pose and expression. The tone of the painting is glacial. It appears that painters, as well as poets, can practice this chilly style that Longin teaches one to avoid." (29) Charles Bigot characterized Lady Godiva herself as particularly chilly, emotionally and physically:
The white horse is of a very happy execution and of an agreeable color. What I like the least is the figure of Lady Godiva herself; the head is insignificant, the figure in its entirety of a cold aspect. The poor creature has the appearance of being cold, despite the long blonde hair that falls on her shoulders and on her back. (30)
Interestingly enough, two critics who did express some admiration for Lefebvre's work in general still had to address rather indirectly the coldness of the painting. Georges Lafenestre in his Salon review for La Revue des deux mondes essentially forgave Lefebvre for the lack of warmth in the painting and other flaws because Lefebvre was one of the few painters still committed to the traditions of the Ecole:
These qualities seem to us such a prize and so necessary to salvage in the current decomposition of our Ecole that we willingly excuse Lefebvre for not having a fuller and warmer touch and only aiming for this impertinent casualness that fascinates the shallow amateurs. (31)
Finally, Maurice Hamel, in a particularly revealing remark in his book Le Salon de 1890, did not find the entire painting disagreeable to his tastes, but in general he found the image dissatisfying--and cold:
There is a delicacy of interactions in how she carries her head, a suavity in the crossed hands on the neck. In the end Lefebvre's painting possesses a pretty sentiment, a little softness of the feminine. But cut off this top half of the figure of an agreeable modesty. The rest has no raison d'etre. This immense canvas is empty, cold, and sad, this servant is too ambiguous in expression and form, this horse can be found at the circus, and these houses exasperate me by their mediocrity ... (32)
It should be remembered that this "coldness" in academic art did not necessarily mean total artistic deficiency. Quite the contrary, coldness was associated with "science," dispassionate observation made visible in paint as technical facility with the brush. Nonetheless, critics believed that an artist should not simply limit a painting to the realm of "chilly," precise brush work, no matter how much skill of the artist it revealed. The vital balance of the ideal-real could not be neglected. There is slightly more, however, involved in the "coldness" rhetoric among critics. For all the variations that the critics play on the concept of coldness, what they collectively struggled to express, I think, was a simple, shared reaction--their "coldness" in front of the image, its failure to attract or address them. Coldness generally connotes distance, remoteness, an impenetrability, and Lady Godiva just did not move the critics, touch them emotionally, intellectually, or even sensually. In other words, they did not know how to assess, how to approach this painting, which struck them as a puzzling aberration within Lefebvre's oeuvre. For example, Jacques Edmond's criticism quoted earlier that Godiva's flesh appeared "chlorotique" is particularly misleading and inaccurate. Lefebvre gave her entire physique a healthy, pearlized pink cast commonly found in academic nudes. Edmond perhaps found something wrong with the painting but could not specifically pinpoint it. Instead, he simply faulted Lefebvre for his representation of Godiva's skin. There was some kind of barrier between the critics and the painting's potential effect. What was the quality in the image that prohibited viewers from feeling a pictorial empathy, a substantial connection to the painting?
Hamel's assessment of the image helps to answer this question. For Hamel the upper register of Godiva's body successively connoted a chaste, noble, and graceful woman. It is pleasing and agreeable to him, but it is the rest of the tableau that bothered him. In the upper register of her body, despite the lowered eyelids--a gesture of modesty--Godiva tilts her head upward in a mildly haughty, prideful manner. The gesture of the crossed arms noted by Hamel signals to the viewer that Godiva has retained her dignity and grace as a lady. It is the rest of the painting that troubled him. He mocked the attendant, the horse, and the houses, but strangely enough did not even bother to describe the lower half of Godiva's body. His silence about it may imply that only the upper half of the figure of Godiva could merit the viewer's attention.
The underlying problem of Godiva for Hamel may be that in the upper half of the figure the fiction of Lady Godiva's pudeur and dignity has been maintained, while in the lower half one sees what a nude model actually looks like when seated side saddle on a horse. In a pose that falls somewhere between a vertical position and a horizontal one, Godiva sits atop her horse, with her calves and feet dangling mid air and her hips and waist positioned at an odd (but accurate) angle, which does not invite the viewer's gaze. The viewer's eye is mildly jolted by the disparity between the upper half of the body and the awkward, "ungraceful" lower half: the eye shifts and jumps too abruptly from the idealized head to the probing specificity of the belly and knees, for instance. For him and other critics of the 1890 Salon, Lady Godiva simply did not induce in them any kind of pictorial empathy because of the lack of a balance between the ideal and the real, the type of balance that Lefebvre had mastered in his earlier work and that critics had come to expect from him.
At the root of the critics' problem lay the unorthodox pose that Lefebvre had chosen for Godiva. No doubt the equestrian nude was such a rare subject for a painter to undertake, because it seriously challenged an artist's ability to sustain the serpentine line. The serpentine line, a term closely associated in the early nineteenth century with Ingres, typified most of Lefebvre's nudes and those of nearly every Salon artist. It essentially referred to the undulating line that progressed uninterruptedly along the length of a body, whether male or female, in order to convey the eroticism of that body. Ingres's preoccupation with the serpentine line comes under intense scrutiny in Carol Ockman's Ingres's Eroticized Bodies: Retracing the Serpentine Line. (33) As she complicates notions of the serpentine line, Ockman illuminates a key assumption underlying the mid nineteenth-century interest in Ingres's nudes--that "line successfully controlled the sensual." (34) Or, to state the assumption another way, a continuous, intricate, serpentine line helps the viewer to believe that he is in control of his sensual gaze. It uninterruptedly directs his gaze along the lines of a figure. In Lady Godiva a serpentine line peters out, disappointing the viewer's expectations. The eye cannot easily move along the contours and curves of Godiva's body, especially along the figure's left side, because of her awkward (not quite horizontal, not quite vertical) pose.
Paul Mantz, writing for Le Temps in 1890, did not refer specifically to the "awkwardness" of Godiva's body, but did recognize and discuss what he believed was Lefebvre's deliberate effort to represent the physical discomfort and emotional vulnerability her personal sacrifice entailed:
As a decent, conscientious woman, she of course finds it agonizing to parade through her hometown of Coventry without any clothes on. She fears simultaneously her devotion and her nudity; however, she will see this through until the very end. This charming female figure is one of Mr. Lefebvre's happiest creations. (35)
Mantz's remarks are revealing because they address the psychological and physical awkwardness Godiva faced and that Mantz apparently senses in her body language. He also found the figure of Godiva physically attractive. The picture was, therefore, a success because Lefebvre achieved his intended tone of fear and discomfort while creating a notably attractive figure. Other critics may have also discerned Lefebvre's effort; nonetheless, they refused to judge the image as a successful representation of a beautiful woman in distress. For them, it was absolutely vital for a female nude to satisfy the expectation of controlled idealization and sensual appeal. For them this expectation had not been fully met. The critics were presented with an image of a body that, for most of them, could not be processed in terms of their normal interpretative skills for the nude; they were faced with an image that shifted abruptly between two normative idioms of the nude--that of the ideal and pseudo-scientific naturalism. (36)
Lefebvre did more than shift awkwardly between the real and the ideal. His critics also discerned, and found exasperating, an excessive degree of lifelikeness in the image. The unrelenting naturalism of Godiva's pose and body (pudgy flesh, wide waistline, and dangling toes and feet) together with the scrupulous execution of the architectural setting not only canceled out any balance between the real and the ideal, but also struck critics as being too deliberate on the part of Lefebvre. The absence of nuance in the image compelled Lefebvre's critics to see his work as lacking individual "style"; instead, it was too clinical, too "scientific."
Critics' constant laments about the size of the painting also signal, I think, their refusal to accept Lady Godiva as a successful nude. "L'immensite la tue," "un tableau de vastes proportions," "ces proportions gigantesques," "une dimension exorbitante"--these are just some of critics' references to the painting's immense size. (37) The immensity of the canvas consistently triggered heated commentary from critics for the same reason that the body of Godiva was widely criticized for its "coldness" and general awkwardness: a prevailing sense among critics of a lack of control over the female body and more specifically the absence of the critical balance between idealized form and graphic correctness, in order to lend the picture a necessary sensuality.
Lefebvre treated on a grand scale a subject that several critics believed did not merit such. More significantly, complaints about the size of the image reveal disbelief at Lefebvre's violation of a definite rule about history painting in relation to the female nude. Lady Godiva was for the critics primarily a female body on display for the gaze, the "visual pleasure" of a spectator; it should not have been a body intended to impart primarily a moral message or higher truth. Consider, for instance, these condescending remarks:
I find as well that the painting is too big for such a little "historiette." (38) Even in dimensions less pretentious, this "historiette" is hardly worth telling. (39)
Furthermore, critics frequently placed their critiques of Lady Godiva with their comments about other paintings of women undressed. Charles Bigot at least saw the work as hovering between the two genres of the nude and history painting; he inserted it between his section on Salon nudes and the section of his review reserved for history paintings. (40) And Leonce Benedite did the same. In his Salon review Lady Godiva falls between his critique of the history paintings and that of the nudes. (41) But he, along with Roger-Miles, still saw it in mostly sexual terms. Writing for L'Evenement Roger-Miles attempted to minimize the solemnity and benevolence of Godiva's act through glib remarks that would suggest Lady Godiva's position to be nothing more than that of "an insignificant tart"; and Benedite, who actually liked the painting, would assert that Lefebvre used the story only as a pretext for depicting the female nude. (42)
In the late 1880s the impulse to create history painting, I believe, did grip Lefebvre, but it was an impulse countered by his deep investment in the female nude. The female nude had become his signature image; Lefebvre may have concluded that his first history painting in nearly thirty years would need to revolve around the female body. (43) Lady Godiva was a subject, he hoped, where history and eroticism could intersect. Yet, whatever may have been Lefebvre's intentions and aspirations with Lady Godiva, Salon critics clearly saw the image as first and foremost a nude.
Even though very few painters devoted their entire careers to the making of "monumental" paintings (grande peinture) in the fin-de-siecle period, the genre still managed to dominate the French artistic psyche among academic and some avant-garde painters. (44) The lure of history painting persisted well into the 1890s; and, at the same time that fin-de-siecle critics lamented its end, they would also order their Salon reviews in the traditional fashion - history painting first and other genres following. Even as they decried the lack of good history painting in the Salon, they still managed to find a considerable number to discuss and sometimes praise. The rhetoric of history painting's "death" was matched in intensity only by its supreme valuation among Salon critics and artists.
This still begs the question of Lefebvre's motivations with this peculiar painting. Why venture into the realm of intense naturalism, a highly unusual subject matter for a French nude, and the pretence of history painting? His motivation may have largely derived from the turning point 1890 represented for Lefebvre and other Salon artists. In late 1889 nine artists, including two of the most prominent Salon exhibitors--Ernest Meissonier and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes--officially seceded from the Societe des artistes francais (SAF) in order to form the Societe Nationale des beaux-arts (SNBA). (45) The secession resulted in two Salons opening each year in late April or early May for at least the next twenty years. The official reasons given for the schism were fairly minor. (46) Nevertheless, a break-up in which some of the most prominent and widely respected members of the Salon seceded in order to form their own Salon must have meant, for those who stayed with the SAF, mounting internal pressure during the period leading up to the 1890 Salon. Lefebvre stayed with the Societe des artistes francais, and as one of its senior members suddenly bore much of its artistic-institutional weight. He, Bouguereau, Gerome, and Jean-Paul Laurens became some of its critical anchors, the authority figures whose works critics in 1890 would immediately seize upon as signs of the institution's state of health. Indeed, every critic began his 1890 Salon review with a discussion of the recent schism and what its repercussions would be in the future. (47) The 1890 Salon, in other words, was an exhibition space in which Lefebvre was called on to demonstrate the institutional strength of the site and its continuing viability as a location for serious and significant French art.
Lefebvre had reason to believe that Lady Godiva fit within the confines of standard and credible images of the nude. Granted, he was generally viewed as part of a solid core of Salon artists considered adherents to the Ecole tradition regarding the nude. Yet it was a very small core surrounded by a bizarre sea of wildly eclectic nudes hanging from the Salon walls. The nude was in a precarious state. By this I do not mean it was a dying genre. Far from it. Nonetheless, a substantial and growing segment of female nudes was clearly done for sheer erotic value, reaching a point of absurdity. One particularly valuable compendium of Salon nudes produced in the two years prior to 1890 are the two volumes from Armand Silvestre's series Le Nu au Salon, published from 1888 to 1897. Each volume consists of 25-35 images, each nude accompanied by an extended encomium by Silvestre, sometimes written as verse poetry, celebrating feminine beauty and allure. (48) Each sampling of images demonstrates the sheer variety of nudes on exhibit in the Societe des artistes francais. More importantly, they are a visual record of how the nude, in general, seemed directionless, with fewer artists attempting a controlled balance between idealization and realness of bodies. Lefebvre, therefore, was perhaps weighing his options in 1889-1890 as he experienced a double negative: growing general contempt for Salon art and a secession that left the SAF without some of its most respected members. Furthermore, he himself certainly witnessed the kinds of nudes coming to dominate the Salon walls and, as a painter with "a sincere spirit and deep conviction," perhaps felt compelled even more so than usual to create a work of consequence in 1890.
Lady Godiva had been conceived with a reasonable goal in mind: to help sustain and reassert the reputation of the Societe des artistes francais as a venue for serious French painting after the 1889-90 schism. Success in doing so was, however, profoundly impacted by Lefebvre's chosen paths to the completion of this objective--a rigorous and yet uncontrollable naturalism that his equestrian nude ultimately required and history painting. History painting's domination over nineteenth-century aesthetics meant that anyone who attempted it as late as 1890 was launching himself onto a much tougher playing field, where a work would be subject to impossibly high standards of judgment by Salon critics. Moreover, to try to foist off a female nude as history painting was asking for even more trouble. For critics the body of a nude woman could not be about history that had civic or moral value. It could only be about raw nature "transformed" and controlled in a way that nonetheless still managed to stage the eroticism of the female body in a subtle manner. The moment that a nude woman's body was isolated onto the canvas, certain criteria, judgments, and biases about that body were fixed into place in the mind of the critic. Hence, Lady Godiva became for many critics a site of confusion and uncertainty. In other words, they could not comprehend what purpose such a painting could serve.
(1.) Maurice Hamel, "Jules Lefebvre," Bulletin de la Societe des Amis des Arts de departement de la Somme (1912): 76-77. "Vers le milieu du siecle on voit se detacher un groupe d'artistes, peintres, et sculpteurs, debutant entre 1840 et 1860, et dont l'activite se prolonge sous la troisieme republique. Ce groupe comprend des noms celebres, Hebert et Cabanel, Baudry et Gustave Moreau, Paul Dubois, Chapu, Barrias, J. Lefebvre: il occupe une place considerable, une place centrale dans l'histoire de notre art. Parmi les changeants Ecoles, il est l'Ecole.... Grace a leur probite fonciere, l'Ecole francaise a garde son solide renom, son influence mondiale et sa stabilite. Ceux donc qui d'un esprit sincere et d'une conviction reflechie ont voulu sauvegarder et enricher de leur apport personnel le meilleur de notre patrimoine, ont droit a l'hommage de notre reconnaissance. Parmi ces nobles esprits, fideles a de hauts principes, Jules Lefebvre s'est place au premier rang."
Unless otherwise indicated, translations are mine.
(2.) Lefebvre's career was marked by a series of honors and awards considered critical to the career of a nineteenth-century Academic painter. After receiving the Prix de Rome in 1861, he would later be awarded Salon medals in 1865, 1868, and 1870, and the "Medaille d'honneur" in 1886. He also became a Chevalier of the Legion d'honneur in 1870 and received the Grand Prix in 1889 at the Exposition universelle. Gustav Haller, "Jules-Joseph Lefebvre," in Nos grands peintres (Paris: Goupil & Cie, 1899): 63. Also see Haller's essay for a sampling of newspaper and journal reviews of Lefebvre's work exhibited at the Salon from 1865 to 1890.
(3.) Twenty-two Salon reviews from 1890 included notable commentary (two or more sentences) on Lefebvre's Lady Godiva. Five of those reviews were consistently positive, while thirteen of them can be classified as strongly caustic assessments of the image. Three were mixed but largely negative, and one review expressed some reservations about the picture but otherwise praised it.
(4.) Additional biographical essays: Fernand Bertaux, "Jules Lefebvre," in Les Artistes Picards: Etudes sur M.M. Hippolyte Bertaux, Louis Debras, Jules Lefebvre, Francis Tattegrain, peintres, Emmanuel Fontaine, statuaire (Paris: Lechevalier, 1894); and J. Uzanne, "Jules Lefebvre," in Figures Contemporaines, tirees de l'Album Mariani (Paris: Henry Floury, 1897).
(5.) The earliest reference to the legend has been traced back to Roger of Wendover, a late twelfth-century Benedictine monk whose story of Lady Godiva's ride through Coventry was first recorded by another Benedictine monk, Matthew Paris, in his Chronica Majora of the early thirteenth century. Although a few key elements (e.g. Peeping Tom) of the narrative were later added to the original tale, its essence has remained the same. See Joan C. Lancaster, Godiva of Coventry (Coventry: Coventry Corporation, 1967), for a comprehensive history of the Godiva legend and its representation in music, literature, and the visual arts. Also see Ronald A. Clarke's Lady Godiva: Images of a Legend in Art and Society (Coventry: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, 1982), for a catalogue of paintings depicting the story of Lady Godiva.
(6.) The legend of Godiva's ride is included in La Grand Dictionnaire universel du dix-neuvieme siecle. The one-paragraph entry recounts the basic narrative but contains one particularly unusual detail not found in Lancaster's discussion of the many versions of the tale: the character of Peeping Tom is described as a baker. In the English versions Peeping Tom's occupation is that of a tailor. In Lefebvre's painting, one sees Godiva and her servant passing a display of baked goods that sit atop a ground-level window ledge. This particular detail of the painting strongly suggests that Lefebvre may have relied on the Grand Dictionnaire version of the legend in conceiving his picture. Pierre Larousse, La Grand Dictionnaire universel du dix-neuvieme siecle (Paris 1872): 1341.
(7.) Laurence des Cars, Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921): Peintre d'histoire (Toulouse: Musee des Augustins, 1998).
(8.) It has been suggested that Laurens borrowed this setting from the Salle capitulaire of the Abbaye de St. Savin (Hautes-Pyrenees). Des Cars, Jean-Paul Laurens, 98.
(9.) "Je n'hesite pas a dire que nous sommes ici en presence d'un des meilleurs tableaux de M. Laurens.... En ces dernieres annees, M. Laurens a fait du decor et ce travail salutaire semble avoir allege sa main. Il fut un temps ou il donnait aux figures, aux carnations, aux etoffes quelque chose de metallique; sa peinture, interrogee d'un doigt indiscret, aurait eu la resonance du fer-blanc ou de la tole; mais aujourd' hui, le vaillant artiste a conquis la souplesse il sait les douceurs de l'enveloppe. L'origine de cette heureuse transformation doit etre cherchee dans ce mouvement collectif, qui nous pousse tous vers une etude de plus en plus assidue des phenomenes de la lumiere." Paul Mantz, "Le Salon" Le Temps (5 May 1889).
(10.) Des Cars, Jean-Paul Laurens, 199.
(11.) See the following particularly nuanced pieces of scholarship that address Orientalism: Roger Benjamin, Orientalist Aesthetics: Art, Colonialism, and French North Africa, 1880-1930 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002); Linda Nochlin, "The Imaginary Orient," Art in America 71 (May 1983): 118-131, 186-191; and Todd Porterfield, The Allure of Empire: Art in the Service of French Imperialism, 1798-1836 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).
(12.) For a succinct treatment of the Neo-Grecs' impact on academic art, see Roger Diederen, From Homer to the Harem: The Art of Jean Lecomte du Nouy (New York: Dahesh Museum of Art, 2004): 60. For the role of Gerome in guiding the Neo Grecs, see Gerald Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Leon Gerome (London: Sotheby's, 1986).
(13.) Several scholars have closely examined the meanings and expectations of the nude during the latter half of the nineteenth century and have considered in depth those moments when representation shifted away from the normative nude and entered into a more precarious unstable position. The following are some of the texts that have been particularly valuable in my research and thinking: T.J. Clark, "Olympia's Choice," in The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984); Hollis Clayson, Painted Love: Prostitution in French Art of the Impressionist Era (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991); Heather Dawkins, The Nude in French Art and Culture, 1870-1919 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Lynda Nead, The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality (London: Routledge, 1992); Carol Ockman, Ingres's Eroticized Bodies: Retracing the Serpentine Line (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995); Jennifer Shaw, "The Figure of Venus: Rhetoric of the Ideal and the Salon of 1863," Art History 14 (December 1991): 540-570; Alison Smith, The Victorian Nude: Sexuality, Morality, and Art (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996); and Abigail Solomon-Godeau, "The Other Side of Venus: The Visual Economy of Feminine Display," from The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, ed. Victoria de Grazia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
(14.) See Jennifer Shaw's "The Figure of Venus: Rhetoric of the Ideal and the Salon of 1863," in Art History for a careful and thoughtful analysis of Blanc's Grammaire. Shaw argues that the vocabulary of the "Ideal" found throughout his text is heavily gendered. She demonstrates that Blanc interpreted the Ideal to mean Woman's imperfect body (raw nature) transformed into a flawless entity, i.e., reconstructed into a body that did not look like that of an individual but of a generalized type. By looking like a type rather than a particular individual--pre-eminently the actual model for the painting--an image would be perceived as less sexually accessible, and thus would not provoke male desire as intensely and extensively. Underlying Blanc's theory was the assumption that a painting or sculpture would remain within the realm of Art, and not succumb to the sensuality of Woman, if the artist were capable of keeping in check female sexuality, i.e., managed to transform raw nature into something else.
(15.) "Si mal comprises de nos jours." ".... La Femme couchee, poeme savoureux de la chair; nudite si hautaine et si chaste, qu'aucun sentiment profane ne pourrait l'atteindre.... Dix-huit cent soixante-dix vit surgir du puits immortel ou la Fable l'a placee, la Verite tenant d'un geste si altier le miroir ou toutes les hideurs humaines viennent, tour a tour, se refleter. Le beau corps! d'un dessin precis sans affectation, elegant dans ses contours, souple dans ses ondulations, avec des modeles habiles; noble dans son ensemble, et couronne d'une tete marmoreenne qu'eclairent des yeux savants a sonder les reins et les coeurs!" Eugene Montrosier, "Jules Lefebvre," in Les Artistes modernes (Paris: H. Lunette, 1886): 83.
(16.) "Point de virtuosite ni de tour de force dans sa peinture. Mais un art simple, solide, a la fois fort et delicat, une chastete instinctive, qui habille de pudeur la nudite sereine de ses Nymphes transformees en Muses.... Il a le sens de tout ce qui est beau, c'est-a-dire de tout ce qui est divin." Claude Vento, "Jules Lefebvre," in Les Peintres de la femme (Paris: E. Dentu, 1888), 302-303.
(17.) "Lefebvre fut un delicieux interprete de l'Eternel feminin. Son art chaste et amoureux represente la beaute eternelle et un moment de la sensibilite francaise." Hamel, Bulletin de la Societe, 92.
(18.) "M. Jules Lefebvre, par exemple, malgre toute sa science, son extreme habilete de peintre et de professeur, n'a rien perdu de la beaute naive de ses premieres inspirations." Haller, Nos grands peintres, 50.
(19.) "... sa figure de femme est d'un dessin plein de distinction et de science, d'une execution sure et ne manquant pas de saveur." Armand Silvestre, "Le Salon," L'Echo de Paris (1 May 1890).
(20.) "D'un joli sentiment, d'une couleur discrete, cette oeuvre charmante s'impose non seulement par la science accomplie mais encore par un gout rare." Albert Wolff, "Le Salon," Le Figaro (30 April 1890).
(21.) "C'est surtout dans la figure nue de la chatelaine blonde, aux carnations fines et tendres, noblement confuse, cachant ses seins sous ses bras croises, que M. Jules Lefebvre a montre sa science et sa conscience de dessinateur attentif, son sentiment delicat et eleve de la beaute feminine." George Lafenestre, "Les Salons de 1890," La Revue des deuxmondes 3 (1 June 1890): 649.
(22.) Lynda Nead comes to similar conclusions in The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality, London, 1992. Nead's argument though extends far beyond eighteenth and nineteenth-century European aesthetics. In addition to her claim that the female nude had been conceived since Antiquity in such terms of ordering and controlling bodies, Nead questions the fundamental nature of representation itself and concludes that "the act of representation is itself an act of regulation"--of creating boundaries and structuring frames around animate and inanimate objects. Utilizing Jacques Derrida's theory of the frame as "the site of meaning," Nead asserts that frames and boundaries around the female body are constantly being redrawn due to a pervasive belief that the female body is the site of excessive, overflowing sexuality which can pose a threat (verge towards the obscene and pornographic) if not contained. Nead, The Female Nude, 9.
(23.) Bouguereau stayed entirely away from the nude in 1890. He exhibited that year in the Salon two sentimental genre-religious scenes: Les Petites Mendiantes and Les Saintes femmes au tombeau.
(24.) For a comprehensive discussion of Bouguereau's exhibition and business practices, see Louise d'Argencourt, ed. William-Adolphe Bouguereau (Paris: Musee du Petit Palais, 1984).
(25.) "La comtesse Godiva, nue sur son cheval blanc, que tire par la bride une vieille femme aux allures plaisamment effarees, n'est qu'une figure chetivement dessinee et peinte avec plus de mollesse que de grace." Marcel Fouquier, "Le Grand Salon," Le Dix-Neuvieme Siecle (1 May 1890).
(26.) "C'est devant la boutique de ce boulanger que l'artiste a place Godiva, blonde, grasse, tassee sur sa selle caparaconnee. Ses chairs chlorotiques se decoupent assez lourdement sur l'espace tourmente de la rue en pente, ou les maisons se saluent du pignon ..." Jacques Edmond, "Le Salon aux Champs-Elysees de 1890," L'Intransigeant (1 May 1890).
(27.) "La froideur de l'ensemble." The entry for Lady Godiva found in La Revue encyclopedique summarizes the Salon reviews of the painting with this phrase. Anon., "Lady Godiva," La Revue encyclopedique 1 (15 December 1890): 11.
(28.) "Aucune emotion ne se degage de ce tableau correct, froid, sans vibration et d'une dimension exorbitante." Fourcaud, "Le Salon," Le Gaulois (30 April 1890).
(29.) "Cette femme nue, un peu ventrue, sur un cheval blanc decoupe, sans relief, affectant une pose et une expression melodramatiques, est eclairee par un jour bleme. L'aspect est glacial. Il parait que les peintres peuvent, aussi bien que les poetes, pratiquer ce style froid que Longin enseignait a eviter." Paul Leroi, "Le Salon de 1890," L'Art 1 (1890): 235.
(30.) "Le cheval blanc est d'une tres heureuse execution et d'une agreable couleur. Ce que j'aime le moins, c'est la figure de lady Godiva elle-meme; la tete est insignifiante, la figure tout entiere froide d'aspect. La pauvre creature a surtout l'air d'avoir froid, malgre la longue chevelure blonde qui tombe sur ses epaules et sur son dos." Charles Bigot, "La Peinture en 1890," Revue bleue:revue politique et litteraire 45 (24 May 1890): 662-668.
(31.) "C'est surtout dans la figure nue de la chatelaine blonde, aux carnations fines et tendres, noblement confuse, cachant ses seins sous ses bras croises, que M. Jules Lefebvre a montre sa science et sa conscience de dessinateur attentive, son sentiment delicat et eleve de la beaute feminine. Ces qualities nous semblent d'un tel prix et si necessaire a sauver dans la decomposition actuelle de notre Ecole que nous excusons volontiers M. Jules Lefebvre de n'avoir pas dans la touche plus d'ampleur et plus de chaleur et de ne point viser a cette desinvolture impertinente qui eblouit les amateurs superficiels, qualite assez facile a acquerier, semble-til, car il n'est guere de debutant qui n'en use tout d'abord pour gagner ses premiers grades au Salon." Georges Lafenestre, "Les Salons de 1890," La Revue des deux mondes 3 (1 June 1890): 643-669.
(32.) "L'histoire de lady Godiva, narree sur le cadre, est vraiment touchante et jolie. Il y a d'ailleurs une delicatesse d'intentions dans le port de la tete, une suavite dans les mains croisees sur la gorge, enfin ce que possede M. Lefebvre: un sentiment joli, un peu douceureux, du feminin. Mais decoupez cette moitie de figure, de pudeur agreable; le reste n'a pas de raison d'etre, cette immense toile est vide, froide et triste, cette servante vient de l'Ambigu, ce cheval a ete vu au Cirque, ces maisons m'exasperent de leur nullite ..." Maurice Hamel, Le Salon de 1890 (Paris, 1890): 14.
(33.) Carol Ockman, Ingres's Eroticized Bodies: Retracing the Serpentine Line (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995). See David Summer's "Maniera and Movement: The Figura Serpentinata," Art Quarterly 35 (1972): 269-301, for a discussion of the Renaissance origins of the term. When the subject of the serpentine line re-emerged in the eighteenth century, William Hogarth in his Analysis of Beauty (1753) would cast it as a formal quality particularly appropriate for representation of the female body. William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty, ed. Ronald Paulson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997): 41-42, 50-59.
(34.) Ockman, Ingres's Eroticized Bodies, 3.
(35.) Paul Mantz, "Le Salon" (Le Temps, 4 May 1890). "... [E]lle souffre de se voir aussi peu vetue dans sa bonne ville de Coventry. Elle est prise d'une sorte de remords pudique, elle a peur de son devouement et de sa nudite, et cependant elle ira jusqu'au bout. Cette charmante figure feminine est une des plus heureuses creations de M. Jules Lefebvre."
(36.) The shift was so abrupt and dominating that critics seem not to have noticed another peculiar aspect of Godiva's physique--the haphazard manner in which her hair has been rendered. Rather than picturing Godiva with a thick, long, sensuous mane, Lefebvre has depicted her hair as a series of stringy, attenuated lines that visually do not register as hair but simply as paint quickly and thinly applied. His handling of her hair is mysteriously inconsistent with his representation of the rest of her body and is one aspect of the painting that seems to elude interpretation.
(37.) L'Intransigeant (1 May 1890), Le Petit Parisien (1 May 1890), La Revue des deux mondes (1 June 1890), Le Gaulois (30 April 1890).
(38.) "Je trouve aussi que le cadre est trop grand pour une si petite historiette." Alphonse de Calonne, "Le Salon," Le Soleil (6 May 1890).
(39.) "En des dimensions moins pretentieuses, cette historiette eut value la peine d'etre contee." Edmond Jacques, " Le Salon de 1890," L'Intransigeant (1 May 1890).
(40.) Lady Godiva, de M. Lefebvre, me servira a faire la transition de la peinture du nu a la peinture d'histoire." Charles Bigot, Revue bleue 45 (24 May 1890): 665.
(41.) Leonce Benedite, "Le Salon," La Nouvelle Revue 64 (May-June 1890):392-397.
(42.) "... Lady Godiva n'est qu'une insigne coquette." L. Roger-Miles, "Le Salon," L'Evenement (1 May 1890). Leonce Benedite, La Nouvelle Revue, 393.
(43.) Lefebvre resided in Rome from 1862 to 1867, a sabbatical made possible by his Prix de Rome for La Mort de Priam (1861, Ecole Normale Superieure des beaux-arts), his earliest and only important history painting. During these five years he would have the traditional experience of a mid nineteenth-century French artist in Italy: copying Renaissance frescoes and coming under the influence of a former student of David, Jean-Victor Schnetz. For a characterization of Ecole des beauxarts culture and pedagogy, see Albert Boime, The Academy and French Painting (London: Phaidon Press, 1971).
(44.) See the following for further examination of late nineteenth-century history painting: Marc Gotlieb, The Plight of Emulation: Ernest Meissonier and French Salon Painting (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991); Claudine Mitchell, "What Is to Be Done with the Salonniers?" (book review), The Oxford Art Journal 10 (1987): 106-114; Laurence des Cars, "Jean-Paul Laurens et la peinture d'histoire sous la troisieme Republique," in Jean-Paul Laurens, peintre d'histoire (Toulouse: Musee des Augustins, 1998); and Henri Loyrette, "History Painting," in Origins of Impressionism (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994).
(45.) To date Patricia Mainardi's The End of the Salon: Art and the State in Early Third Republic France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), is the most comprehensive examination of the institutional and political history of the Salon, with a particular focus on the administrative restructuring that the Salon underwent in 1881 when artists took over the organization of the exhibition.
(46.) See Constance Cain Hungerford's "Meissonier and the Founding of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts," Art Journal 48 (Spring 1989): 71-77, for a succinct and clear description of those reasons.
(47.) One newspaper actually refused to review the Societe des artistes francais in 1890, asserting that the schism had sealed its doomed fate: "Let us simply state that the opening day of the Salon will not have anything worth seeing, and in a rapid walk through of the galleries only a very small number of paintings will appear interesting to us. This year one has replaced quality with quantity. The natural result of this mediocrity has been a secession by a group of artists, which will mean the fatal end, sooner or later, of the Salon." ["Notre critique d'art ayant point recu la carte que toutes les directions d'Expositions sont dans l'usage de nous faire tenir, nous ne rendrons compte des oeuvres exposees au Palais de l'Industrie./ Constatons simplement que la journee du vernissage n'a eu rien de bien attrayant et que, dans un rapide passage a travers les salles, ce n'est qu'en tres petit nombre que des toiles nous ont paru interessantes. Cette annee on a remplacee la qualite par la quantite./ Resultat naturel de la scission qui s'est faite dans le clan des artistes et qui lui deviendra fatale, un jour ou l'autre, c'est certain."] Guidhall, "Le Salon de 1890," La Verite (8 May 1890).
(48.) The series Le Nu au Salon met with great commercial success, and by 1890 also included books devoted to the nudes at the recently established Salon des Champs de Mars, (Societe nationale des beauxarts). For an extended treatment of Le Nu au Salon, especially in regard to the commercialization of the academic nude, see Heather Dawkins, The Nude in French Art and Culture, 1870-1910 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
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|Author:||Parker, Shalon D.|
|Publication:||Southeastern College Art Conference Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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