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Friday, February 28, 2014

Antonio de la Gandara

Caricature Artists of the Black Cat, Antonio de la Gandara

Antonio de la Gandara
I love caricatures. I love doing them; I love seeing them; I love artists who can do them and do them well. They are, in fact, portraits, albeit funny portraits, distorted portraits, often even ugly portraits, but portraits nonetheless. At first glance, caricatures look easy. I mean, they seem to be just cartoons. However, it takes a pretty good portrait artist to draw really good caricatures. Why? Well, first of all, the artist must have an intimate grasp of human facial anatomy. As some artist once said (wish I could remember whom), you have to know the rules before you can break them. That is, you have to know the face before you can destroy it. Of course, being a portrait, the face becomes much more than just the sum-total of its parts (features). They have to relate to one another as to size and placement even as both are being distorted. Beyond that, a good caricaturist should be able to draw an eye, or still more difficult, a nose from virtually any angle. And surprisingly, often one of the most difficult parts of a face, is the leading edge of the cheek (assuming a three-quarter angle). The mind is predisposed to think of a face from a straight-on front view. Thus, even the best artists have to struggle against that stereotypical angle. Even a minute error, especially near the eyes and cheekbone, literally screams AMATEUR!
Volupte, Antonio de la Gandara--the lingering stain of Cabanel
The discourse above explains why I was so struck by the work of the turn of the (20th) century French, high-society, portrait artist, Antonio de la Gandara. If, from just the name, you're picturing a squirrely little man with a cute little curled up moustache, you wouldn't be far off--except he was actually quite tall and slender--but the rest would be right on (above, right). He was born in Paris in 1861, his father Spanish, his mother English. Like all good little French boys wanting to become artists, by the time he was fifteen, Gandara was studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Gerome and Cabanel, though, thankfully, his mature work bears little resemblance to either. By 1883, he was being recognized by the Paris Salon jury for his first major work, St. Sebastian. From that point on Gandara's star soared, his work often compared to that of Whistler and Sargent, who were both friends of his and who, in fact, shared his studio at times.

Jean Pierre Dubost,
Antonio de la Gandara
del Solar with his
Antonio de la Gandara

Madame X, 1883.
John Singer
Madame Pierre
Gautreau, 1889
Antonio de la Gandara
Antonio de la Gandara would, today, probably be a high fashion photographer, his work appearing on the covers of Vogue, Seventeen, and Harper's. In fact his work did appear on magazine covers of the time, just not those particular ones. Instead, Gandara painted all the "beautiful people" in Paris including the little beautiful people, their children (above, left and right). He knew all the right people who referred their friends to him, and he delivered a product with style and even a certain daring panache. He was there in 1883, to enjoy the uproar over John Singer Sargent's scandalous portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau, better known as Madame X (far left), and in fact, painted her himself some six years later in 1889 (near left). Fortunately (or perhaps, unfortunately) for him, there wasn't much of an uproar over his version.

La  Concorde Square, Paris, Antonio de la Gandara--one of the artist's few non-portraits.
La Belle Elegante,
Antonio de la Gandara
If nothing else, Gandara's work provides us with a fairly comprehensive look at ladies' turn-of-the-century Paris fashions as his wealthy, high society ladies modeled their latest designer outfits (costumes?). Most are quite beautiful (assuming a 1900s aesthetic mindset), glamorous, and all appear quite elegant. If some seem a little "over the top" (left), that's little different from what the Paris runways often exhibit today. The portrait artist Antonio de la Gandara was what we'd call in the fashion world today, "hot." However, around 1917, his popularity faded quite quickly.  He died. While the works of his colleagues, Whistler and Sargent, have become iconic, Gandara's paintings came to be seen as shallow and superficial. Having painted little besides high-fashion, he simply fell from fashion. Apparently, there's more to painting a portrait of a beautiful woman than rendering her beautiful dress.

Beauty and the Beast,
Antonio de la Gandara
(not Disney).
Love and the Lion,
Antonio de la Gandara
(The Lion King maybe?)

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