collecting colours over a cup of coffee...

If you are a lover of printed words, you would know how much of your time is taken by books alone. Then one day, sooner or later, you discover a huge vacuum within that you know next to nothing about other art forms. This blog is an attempt to fulfil one such lacunae in the art of painting. We intend to look up a random painting and upload it with a link here every day whilst having our daily cuppa coffee. In this way at least we hope to be better acquainted with colours, colourers and the schools than what we are now.If you wish to be a part, you know where to shout.
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Monday, June 07, 2010

Helene Fourment in a Fur Coat

Helene Fourment in a Fur Coat, Peter Paul Rubens

What did Paul Rubens have in mind when he thought of painting Helene such? Surely not the pleasure of a generic observer who might have been more pleased with a traditional rendering of the naked female body; in other words, the standard nude. Instead, Rubens has given this painting such a feeling of intimacy that one feels like an intruder to even look at Helene who is directing a meaningful glance elsewhere.

In writing about the difference between painting nakedness and nudity, John Berger opens a new way of looking at the nude in painting. Is she naked? Or is it another nude? Who is it intended for?

Helene Fourment in a Fur Coat is an 'exceptional painted image of nakedness', says Berger in Ways of Seeing.
Her body confronts us, not as an immediate sight, but as experience - the painter's experience. Why? There are superficial anecdotal reasons: her dishevelled hair, the expression of her eyes directed towards him, the tenderness with which the exaggerated susceptibility of her skin has been painted. But the profound reason is a formal one. Her appearance has been literally re-cast by the painter's subjectivity. Beneath the fur coat she holds across herself, the upper part of her body and her legs can never meet. There is a displacement sideways of about nine inches: her thighs, in order to join on to her hips, are at least nine inches too far to the left. 
Rubens probably did not plan this: the spectator may not consciously notice it. In itself it is unimportant. What matters is what it permits. It permits the body to become impossibly dynamic.

The structure of the naked body looks like a nod to Venus de'Medici says Wikipedia.


Momma Bear said...

It's not so much that her body is "off" it's that Rubens separated it, the torso from the legs and the left arm, so that the observer would have to *look* at her and really scrutinize her form.
she is also not your typical nude. she is a mature woman, not a young ingenue, she has experienced life and is therefore more than just a beautiful figure, to look at and dismiss, she is a whole person, with her own agenda. you can see it in her eyes the knowledge of an older wiser woman, she is not just posing nude, she is teasing us to look closer.

Unknown said...

Momma Bear, I agree that she looks like a mature woman. What I find intriguing is that Rubens is said to have married Helene in the 1630s when she was supposedly a 16 year old girl. The figure in the painting is definitely not a 16 or even a 20 year old.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Tryggvi Edwald said...

I think this is the image of a male model, with breasts slapped on as an afterthought. This was probably the rule back then? Hands, especially the right, are those of a grown man, the legs look masculine to me. In addition to the legs not joning the torso, I think the hands are unconvincing, and the left arm a good five inches too long.

I am an amateur, but I wouldn't be happy with this painting. I can't believe this was done by Rubens.

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