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Screwing with the classics

The current topic at Freaking News is Degas. Which just cried out for the weasel treatment (The Absinthe Drinker meets plop-plop, fizz-fizz).

I really dislike the Impressionists. Not so much for their work — though some of it is truly hideous, some is okay — but because they have been so grossly overestimated and overpraised in my lifetime — and roundly congratulated for overthrowing the art that preceded them. They aren’t nearly good enough to be put forward as the bestest art that ever was.

I believed that before I got a look at the art they “overthrew” — the pre-Raphaelites and Victorian narrative painting. And when I did, my dislike of the Impressionists ripened into ripe dislike.

Late Victorian painting too often strayed into the silly and the sloppy-sentimental, I’ll cop to that, but it was by-god the most technically accomplished use of oil paint ever. Pre-impressionist Victorians loved to paint lush, creamy textures — polished wood, oriental carpets, mother of pearl, alabaster, fur, feathers — and they were irrepressible show-offs.

Sadly, “overthrow” is the right word. You couldn’t give away Victorian paintings for the longest time (there’s a persistent rumor that one of Alma Tadema‘s canvases was rescued off a trash heap). Museums that hold them seldom show them. I learned to keep an eye on side passages and other inauspicious hanging spots, in the hope of catching some stray bit of the 19th C collection accidentally on display.

That’s changing a bit, thanks in large part to Andrew Lloyd Weber. Hate his musicals, love his art collection.

sock it to me

July 19, 2010 — 11:11 pm
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