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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Pierre Aristide André Brouillet

A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière, 1887, Andre Brouillet
There are many reasons why people create art. Some do it just for the fun of it. Others add to that an effort to earn a living from something they find enjoyable. Other artists simply like to create something from nothing -- self-expression. Be that as it may, and they're all valid objectives, but there's one other motivating factor which most artists don't often consciously think about. Yet it remains floating around it the back of their minds during most of their lives. That is a yearning for immortality. I'm not speaking, of course, of physically living forever. It's more like being remembered forever, not necessarily as a great artist, but at least one whose work stands apart as exemplary in some way. It might involve sheer numbers, or some extraordinary content, or a unique style, or perhaps simply as the result of one work of monumental importance. Most people are born, live, die, and, at best, are remembered for one or two generations. Can you name your great grandparents without going in search of a family tree? However, if one of them was an artist and you still have one of their works (even if its in the attic), you probably also remember their name. That's a form of immortality.
A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière,
I don't know if the French painter, Pierre Aristide André Brouillet had such thoughts, but his single, most famous work would certainly suggest he did. In 1887, he painted a group portrait titled A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière (top). Even though it's mostly a group of about thirty post-graduate medical students crammed into a modest-size classroom in Paris, the sheer size of the canvas would tend to make it and its artist rather memorable. Today it hangs (unframed) in a corridor of the Descartes University in Paris, near the entrance of the Museum of the History of Medicine (above). It measures some nine feet in height and is fourteen feet wide. (Can you imagine what it would cost to adequately frame such a massive work as that?) The figures are nearly life-size. It's the largest painting Brouillet ever did, also the only group portrait, so he probably meant it to impress several generation in the future.

Born in 1857, Brouillet was a student of Jean-Léon Gérôme.
Little Girl in Red,
1895, André Brouillet
If so, Brouillet missed his mark. Oh, the painting impressed his peers alright. It was first displayed at the salon d'art in May of 1887. The reviews were, without exception, quite favorable. Later it was purchased by the Academy of Fine Arts for 3,000 francs (about $2,700 today). It was quite popular during the late 1800s when there were at least fifteen uniquely different reproductions produced by techniques as varied as engraving, etching, lith-ography, photogravure, along with other photo-mechanical processes. Psychologist, Dr. Sigmund Freud had a copy hanging in his office. Then, around 1891, the painting became something of "white elephant," too important and valuable to discard but too large to hang in most galleries. Moreover it was too esoteric to interest any museums. The painting was retired to obscurity in the south of France for more than a century. Only recently was it returned to Paris.

Duchenne electrotherapy apparatus.
If you're wondering what exactly it was that was so interesting to all the best medical minds of Paris in 1887, the painting depicts an imaginary scene of a contemporary scientific demonstration, based on real life, in which the eminent French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot is seen delivering a clinical lecture and demonstration at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. it depicts a woman convulsing and assuming the "arc-in-circle", the hysteric's classic posture. Resting on the table to Charcot's right is what is thought to be a Duchenne electrotherapy apparatus (above). The experiment seems related to what we'd call today "shock therapy." The figures in the room are all recognizable personages, many of whom went on to make significant contributions to neurological science.

Two of Brouillet's most popular paintings. The upper one is untitled.
Brouillet was a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme. Brouillet was renowned for the fact that his illustrative paintings, such as The Fisherman's Family, (above), from 1861, were so popular as lithographic prints that it seemed they were painted in order to be reproduced. Indeed, that may well have been the case. During his career, Brouillet won multiple awards in exhibitions and benefited from numerous public commissions. Brouillet also painted The Violation of the Urgel Tomb by the Dominicans (below), which won Honorable Mention in the Salon of 1881.

The Violation of the Urgel Tomb by the Dominicans,(also known simply as the Grave Robbers), 1881, by Andre Brouillet. 
A Street in Constantine,
Andre Brouillet
Influenced by Gerome, André Brouillet later devoted himself to Orientalist (meaning near-eastern) painting. He discovered an Algerian reality, by way of his marriage to a woman of the Constantine Jewish elite, remembered simply as Emma. His The Exorcism (below), from 1887, resulted from his first visit to Africa. André Brouillet visited Algeria several times while also having the opportunity to go to Greece where he made a portrait of Queen Olga of Greece. His favorite images seem to be street scene with Algerian figures. In 1906, André Brouillet was made an officer of the Legion of Honor at the same time he received the gold medal of the Salon. Several years later, on December 6, 1914, on an icy road as he sought to help a convoy of Belgian refugees fleeing the Germans, Andre Brouillet was struck by traffic and died a few hours later.

The Exorcism, 1887, André Brouillet
Children at Play, 1883,
Andre Brouillet


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