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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Charles Joshua Chaplin

Lots of "bare naked ladies."
It's a style of painting from about two-hundred years ago which today, artists, critics, and "art appreciators" all over the world love to hate. For as much as a century now the sophisticated art world has "looked down its nose" at Rococo art. It's not that there's anything particularly "wrong" or ugly about Rococo. Most of it is really quite beautiful (in a sinfully decadent sort of way). It's just that Rococo is so far out of step with present day lifestyles, tastes, and thinking regarding art that only museums and those living in gold leaf palaces want anything to do with it. In fact, even at it's height, during the late 18th and early 19th-century France, there were a great number of French art connoisseurs who weren't particular fond of the style.

After the Masked Ball, Charles Joshua Chaplin
A Beauty with a Bouquet,
Charles Joshua Chaplin.
Charles Joshua Chaplin (not the filmmaker, Charles Spenser Chaplin), for most of his life was a Rococo painter specializing in portraits of beautiful young ladies in various stages of dress and undress. He was good at what he did, but by no means the best (or even one of the best). Rococo is sometimes referred to disparagingly as "cotton candy" art--sweet, but without much substance. Chaplin's languid nudes, such as After the Masked Ball (above) sometimes appear to be lazing about in the sugary stuff. One might more accurately term Chaplin's Rococo as Academic eroticism. Often many of his portraits such as A Beauty with a Bouquet (right) were nearly as erotic as his highly sanitized nudes. Needless to say, most were commissioned by men for ornamenting the boudoirs.

A 17th-Century Court Scene, Charles Joshua Chaplin
Jean-Antoine Watteau is generally considered the first great Rococo painter. He greatly influenced younger painters, including François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, two masters of the late period (after 1800). Even England's Thomas Gainsborough's delicate touch and sensitivity are reflected in the Rococo spirit. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun's style shows a great deal of Rococo influence as well, particularly in her portraits of Marie Antoinette. Other Rococo painters include: Nicolas Lancret, Jean François de Troy, Jean-Baptiste van Loo and his two sons, Louis-Michel van Loo and Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo, also his younger brother Charles-André van Loo. The fact that you've probably never heard Charles Joshua Chaplin or most (if any) of these highly popular artist gives some indication of how quickly the Rococo style fell into disfavor with the advent of all the subsequent "isms" of 19th-century painting.

Take a look at that moustache/beard in the upper etching!
Charles Joshua Chaplin was born in 1825 in Les Andelys, Eure, (the Normandy region of northern France). His mother was French, his father, an art broker from England. Charles Chaplin spent his whole life in France. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris after 1840, while taking private lessons in the studio of Michel Martin Drolling. Later Chaplin also taught at the École des Beaux-Arts. In 1845 he entered the Salon de Paris, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, as a portrait and landscape painter with the painting Portrait of the Artist's Mother. Chaplin conducted art classes specifically for women at his studio. The American artist Mary Cassatt, the French artist Louise Abbéma and the English artist Louise Jopling were among Chaplin's students. His son Arthur Chaplin was also a painter. Chaplin's lovely ladies, luscious nudes, and his Rococo style apparently served him well. He died in 1891 in Paris as a wealthy man.

Venus with Putti, Charles Joshua Chaplin
Decades later, in 1922, one of Chaplin's paintings was sold at an auction in Paris. It was described by the auctioneer as a landscape painting by Charles Chaplin. As the bidding progressed, it achieved an unexpectedly high price for an artist considered to have "fallen into oblivion". You guessed it. Most of the bidders mistakenly believed it was a work of art by the famous actor, Charlie Chaplin. All the bidders were hoping they would acquire a remarkable find. The disappointment of the ultimate buyer can only be imagined when it was discovered that the picture was by an all but forgotten Rococo artist.

I could find no image for Chaplin's Salon
painting of his mother, but I did come
across this charming little portrait
of his daughter from 1881.


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