Atelier · September 8, 2006

Friday in the atelier: “The Diet” by Vibert

I’m starting something new.

Some of my favorite blogs have a Friday feature. Since my knowledge of Cephalopods and Primates is very limited, since I’m pretty much a tea-totaler, and I couldn’t care less about the top-ten of just about anything, I figured I’d stick to what I knew.

So welcome to Friday in the atelier. Atelier is a French term that designates an artist’s studio and implies a wizard’s workshop. A place where magic happens. And what truer magic is there than art?

This is a cropped detail of Vibert’s painting, “The Diet”, which is one of my favorite paintings. This painting, like many of Vibert’s later works, satirizes the excesses of the very wealthy Catholic church. Click on the image to see it larger, or check out the entire image from the Art Renewal Center. (Warning, the server is a bit slow)

Jehan Georges Vibert started making his name early in his career painting dramatic subjects that conformed to the era of Romanticism that was popular in his youth. He achieved wide popularity in 1878 with his historical painting, “The Apotheosis of Mr. Thiers.

But Vibert more enjoyed painting homey and humorous paintings that were known for their meticulous details. As he grew older he turned his focus to subjects that satirized the Roman Catholic clergy in France and throughout the rest of Europe. His mocking paintings of priests living in opulent luxury playing and doing un-priestly things were popular with French citizens who had come to scorn the Church after the Revolution. Vibert’s irreverence toward the Church was probably based on his primary education by Catholic priests. He had this to say about his inspiration for his paintings of religious satire:

…you can’t deny that the priests who began my education recognized in me elocutionary talents, because they planned to make a preacher of me. Yes; I advise you to speak of the priests! You have profited handsomely by their teachings! They, at any rate, cannot be ignorant of your lively satire; you have made them feel the point of it enough. Haven’t you always said that a painter should paint only what he sees? It is not my fault if I have seen them at such close quarters.

[Note: the ‘you’ here is Vibert referring to himself in third person.]

If Vibert were born a hundred years earlier he would have been imprisoned or put to death for the heresy of his art.

His interest in comedy and satire was not confined to his paintings, but was also expressed in his work with theatre and Vaudeville where he not only attended plays and comedies, but wrote, produced, and acted in some of them.

Vibert was a decorated war hero, wounded at the battle of Malmaison and was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor for his courage in battle. He was later promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honor in recognition of his skill in painting.

He was by no means a modest person, and extolled his virtues in writing for several publications, including “The Century Magazine” published in America, where he spoke of himself in the third person. In 1875 in that magazine he described himself as an excellent cook, artist, author, playwright, actor, architect, builder, iron worker, wood worker, and interior decorator.

He talked the talk, but the success of his plays, and the obvious excellence of his paintings proved that Vibert could walk the walk too.

References:
Art Renewal Center
Rehs Galleries, Inc.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
The Cleveland Museum of Art
L’Histoire par l’image 1789-1939
The Autobiography of Vibert – “The Century Magazine” Cornell University Library