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Tuesday, October 22, 2013


The Merrymakers, 1870, Carolus-Duran--not your typical Academician.
Carolus-Durand Self-portrait ca. 1870
During the second half of the 1800s, Paris, France, likely had more artists than any other city in the history of the world. We most often think of the Impressionists during this period, but really, they made up a very small percentage of the more than 12,000 working artists during that era. The vast majority, mostly trained in Paris' famed Ecole des Beaux Arts, were what we call today "Academicians." The best of them taught at the school, the rest only wished they could. The best of them painted history, mythology, allegories, lots of naked goddesses, and the occasional naked god. The rest of them only tried. Some of the artists from that period have all but become household names--Monet, Manet, Sargent, Whistler, Cezanne, Cassatt, but not Charles Auguste Émile Durand. Even the name he was known by, professionally, Carolus-Duran (no "d" on the end), doesn't set off any chimes. Yet, second only to John Singer Sargent, Carolus-Duran was likely the most highly regarded portrait artist in Paris during the fading years of the 19th century.
The Triumph of Maria de Medici, 1875-77, Carolus-Duran,
the type of painting Modern Artists loved to hate.
Carolus-Duran, 1879,
John Singer Sargent
The caricature
Carolus-Duran was an Academician. Perhaps the reason we're not intimately familiar with the name is because Modern Art made that term as disreputable in the 20th century art world as "Painter of Light" today. Carolus-Duran painted mostly portraits of wealthy Parisians, and as such artists go, he was very good at it. He lacked something of the verve and daring of Sargent but his work was quite comparable to that of his friend. Sargent even painted a portrait of Carolus-Duran (above, left). Sargent was something of a brash, upstart American, not well-liked by the Paris art world. When the painting was displayed, it, its artist, and its subject as well, were caricatured on the cover of a leading humor magazine. Carolus-Duran was apparently also friends with Edouard Manet and Claude Monet. He painted them both (below). The man had friends in high places, too. He not only taught at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he later became director of its branch in Rome.

Portrait of Edouard Manet,
Portrait of Claude Monet,

Lady with a Glove, Carolus-
Duran (the artist's wife)
Although Carolus-Duran painted more than his share of pretty pretentious paintings, and his portraits were, at best, "stylish," (right) it's the artists' peripheral work I find most interesting. His portraits of Manet and Monet (above) have none of the hallmarks of his society paintings. His The Merrymakers (top), though the artist might hate the term, is really quite "modern." It doesn't sink to the level of genre (the bottom wrung in the painting hierarchy at the time) yet it seems endearing, a restaurant, a playful child, a doting, laughing mother and her friend--a scene played out daily all around the world, both then and now. His Convalescent (below) from 1860, could just as easily have been painted by Manet, but never by Sargent. Except for their colors, neither The Merrymakers nor The Convalescent could be considered "Academic." Jacques-Louis David or Gericault would have painted him dead.

The Convalescent, 1860, Carolus-Duran



  1. 'Lady With a Glove', the portrait of the painter's wife, is a genuine masterpiece. I've seen it twice, and the expression on her face is perfect. She is a newlywed, patiently waiting for her husband to finish, while her expression - and the dropped glove - indicate that there might be more interesting things to be doing.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you liked the painting. And thank you for following my writings.