- Hardcover: 221 pages
- Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; First Edition edition (September 1, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0810935856
- ISBN-13: 978-0810935853
- Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 1 x 13 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.7 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,534,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Language of the Body: Drawings by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon Hardcover – September 1, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
A treasure for connoisseurs and scholars, this volume showcases the ravishing chalk studies of male and female nude models made after 1800 by famous French painter Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. Often called "the French Correggio" for his freewheeling mythological and allegorical canvases, Prud'hon (1758-1823) was an unorthodox public artist of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire. The Romantic generation championed his melancholy, mysterious eroticism, which is on full display in these feminized male bodies and idealized female torsos. Chief curator at large for Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, Elderfield looks at Prud'hon's unhappy life?he separated from his violent, drunken wife after 25 years, gaining custody of his five children when she was committed to an insane asylum?and masterfully analyzes startling works that blur normally separated categories (masculine/feminine, platonic/passionate, cool/ecstatic) in a transgressive fantasy of desire. Gordon is an independent art historian.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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In my opinion, you owe it you yourself to purchase (yes, it's extremely expensive today, but keep watching) or find a copy in the library. Prud'hon was a late-18th century French academic that sadly wasn't fully appreciated in his day. He did enjoy success in his later career but some of his contemporaries, including David and Gericault, enjoyed more visible success in the same period.
The highlights of this book are the 57 color plates of Prud'hon's academic figure drawings, or "acadamies" as they are known. These drawings are exemplary models today, and unlike the scribbled messes many 20th century "artists" produce (and deemed acceptable by today's art schools), these drawings are dignified and stunningly beautiful.
Unfortunately, Prud'hon's drawing techniques have been lost and there is no definitive work describing how they were produced. Many of these drawings have unfinished sections and you can see not only the basic structure, but the construction process as well. We also can guess at what he did with the materials that were available at the time, but it would be nice to see the process documented.
Finally I believe this book should be reprinted, but until that time (if ever), try to at least see a copy if you can. For more information on Prud'hon I would also highly recommend the book Pierre-Paul Prud'hon by Sylvain Laveissiere; it's another beautiful - and still available - book illustrating Prud'hon's works, including paintings and drawings.
There's a nice poetic quality here in describing P's work and while some drawing may seem erotic, much is wasted on speculations about seemingly effeminate male poses which has little to do with our understanding the artform. Soft, angelic interpretations, particularly in faces, were easily inherited from stylizations of the Italian "manner", especially from artists as delicate as Correggio, who's work influenced P- while he copied in Italy extensively. Space would have been better spent on ie. close-ups, so rare and prized by painters like myself. Here less would have been more.
Of more important technical interest to the artist: there are several erroneous statements made ie. pg. 89 "...P sees only the surface, he does not attempt to relate outward appearance to internal structure." Quite a naïve, superficial assumption (not surprising from our photo-sited society - in its inability to see beyond the surface). This indicates a visual dysfunction existing today and sadly such statements perpetuate this handicap. After writing this I even came across a more accurate 19thC description of his process supposedly from the writer/critic, Goncourt (republished I think in Laveissiere's 'P.P.P.') who offers the statement, "...he always proceeds from the inside to the outside of the figure."
In fact the idea actually contradicts now virtually lost concepts inherent in traditional work ie. complex issues relating to internal structure in turn affecting external, anatomical shapes which P- would have absorbed by copying artworks, including much antique sculpture in Italy (for a mere 7 years - my heart goes out to him for all that great pasta and wine he had to endure). Its impossible to abbreviate/illustrate these visual issues here in the lesser realm of text but its an important discrepancy to note.
While its always best to see the originals, by inspecting the repros here more closely with a magnifying lens one may not only get a sense of the exquisite contour lines following forms but within them see P's intricate building of tone, overlapping his strokes - separating and tying together subtle turnings of shapes with careful attention to preserving transparency which is aided by allowing the mid tone of the paper to show through. A most difficult task usually absent in drawings today that are focused on amateurishly copying `shadow shapes' which tend to black out particularly shadow areas altogether, hence flattening the work and destroying depth - this runs analogous to modern opaque painting methods.
I think its worth having this book for the pictures - unfortunately its expensive now but perhaps there will be reprints.
These drawings offer perhaps the perfect blend of nature and art. While he seems to display a nicer fluidity, than say the more austere David, for me the quality of his action poses lack a stronger sense of the dynamic power inherent in Italian `disegno' (perhaps evident in part by his apparent lack of follow through in laying out forms) nevertheless the sophistication of his relaxed `academies' excel by his talent. Its difficult to analyze the underdrawing since from what I could tell by analyzing originals, he often layed out his figures in charcoal first (even wiping some of this out)before continuing with chalk. That most of his strokes seem to fall vertically is generic misconception since, upon closer inspection not visible in books, one can see sublte anglings/turnings in the direction of forms. He utilized a very sophisticated blend of crosshatching with stumping to create his illusions. And I'm told by one curator that he experimented with materials that have (chemically) altered (usually darkenenking) which invite false speculation about ie. contrast.
While even the best reproductions fall short of clarifying the subtle, all important mid tones, this publisher still does about as good a job as any in reproducing fragile white chalk marks on toned paper. And the repro sizes here are decent.
These drawings seem to overshadow the weakness of many of his paintings which can have an overly polished look to them, as well as lacking the expressive character of many of the drawings, as the author has noted. It is probably due in part to this unusual inconsistency, not to mention small output, that his paintings are not better known to us. Although the exceptional refinement of his drawings, virtually unrivaled after his passing, certainly make the case for good drawings ideally being equal to paintings in terms of aesthetics and skill as well and overall value. From the modern period (late 19thC.) on, common acceptance of amateur sketches and hackneyed illustrations have since eroded our understanding and appreciation of fine drawings, which explains the gross lack of their production and demand in the gallery world today. (Ambiguously shaded, often air-brush like techniques are now commonly used by amateurs to simulate the Prud'hon look).
That intricately done paintings were often expected to accompany and therefore reflect ie. fine porcelain objects in display cases of aristocratic collectors, helps to explain this polished appearance as well. Yet this probable case of fashion dictating technique still makes it hard to justify such attention that seems to border on infatuation but I myself must become more familiar with his work before commenting further.