Sunday, 3 April 2016

Bernard Buffet and Botticelli

Nicholas Foulkes's Bernard Buffet: The Invention of the Modern Mega-Artist is a very interesting read, particularly if you're interested in the way that artist's reputations ebb and flow and in the influences that are brought to bear to boost their careers (or hinder them).

Buffet (1928-1999) was already famous at 20, when he won the prestigious Prix de la Critique with fellow painter Bernard Lorjou.  His etiolated bleak paintings captured the mood of post-war France and with the aid of the influential and intensely loyal dealer Maurice Garner he was widely collected and became a wealthy man whose life was subsequently spent in a succession of tastefully furnished chateaux.  His representational art was unfashionable compared with the abstract art being championed by critics at the time, with Andre Malraux claiming in 1959: 'great painting is no longer figurative'.  Buffet became increasingly bitter when Malraux was appointed Minister of State for Cultural Affairs for ten years and appeared to block the exhibition of his art in state galleries.  The biggest blow, that certainly seems to justify Buffet's paranoia, was the remarkable omission of any of his works from a major retrospective of art of the 1950s at the Pompidou in 1988.

However his reputation abroad was high - he had a gallery dedicated to his work in Japan and Andy Warhol declared him one of his favourite artists; he was often compared with Picasso in his younger days.  In the late 1950s Buffet was constantly publicised as one of France's 'Famous Five' along with Roger Vadim, Brigitte Bardot, Francoise Sagan, and Yves Saint Laurent - the latter became the boyfriend of Pierre Berge, Buffet's former lover.  Buffet later married and became increasingly reclusive, spending weeks painting in his castles and avoiding the media.   After his suicide in 1999 his reputation began to be reassessed and the prices of his works started to rise - he even had a major retrospective in France in 2009.

Resolutely anti-intellectual and unpretentious he once said: 'When I am in the studio I am a painter.  When I leave it is finished and I don't talk about it.  You don't need to be intelligent to paint.  You don't ask a painter to be clever, but to make good paintings.'

A recent piece on Buffet here.

Yesterday I went to the surprisingly quiet Botticelli Reimagined exhibition at the V&A, the least busy 'blockbuster' I've ever been to.  As I've been preoccupied with the talk next Saturday I hadn't really done any prior research and going purely by the poster assumed it would be a rather tacky display of modern 'interpretations' of Botticelli's work.  This it certainly was, but the other two thirds of the show were well worth the price of entry and the final room of the artist's work (and that of followers and the studio) must be the most comprehensive display I've seen outside Florence; I'm still unsure as to whether many of the attributions are correct.

The middle part of the exhibition deals with the Botticelli Revival during the Victorian period - thanks to the likes of Walter Pater and Swinburne - which I wrote about for my university thesis (30 years ago!).  This essay can be found here.  This exhibition is definitely recommended.  Also tied in nicely with the now-closed exhibition on Botticini at the National Gallery, another artist whose work was attributed to Botticelli and the superb display of his illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy still on at the Courtauld Gallery, a show that also includes some beautiful early illustrated books from the Duke of Hamilton's collection.

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