Monday, January 07, 2008

Intimidating Art

I can't think where the twelve days since we got back from Scotland have gone. But gone they have.

Apart from going back to work, playing Scrabulous, and forking out vast wads of cash to have the car repaired in a dodgy garage in a back street of one of Bordeaux's less desirable suburbs, I've been catching up with blogs mostly. I can't remember which tortuous path took me there, but I found myself of Jeannette Winterson's blog and was seized? shaken? gripped? by a tiny image of Courbet's L'Origine du Monde. It is one of those paintings that I thought I knew but had never actually set eyes on. I was a complete Origine-du-Monde virgin, and seeing it for the first time unexpectedly and with no preparation was really quite unsettling. By strange coincidence (for they are always strange, never banal n'est-ce-pas?) that very evening I was reading Julian Barnes' Something to Declare and happened upon a whole section on Courbet. I can only echo his appreciation of lush delicacy of the painting and the intimidating nature of the result, as well as its potency even after years of twentieth-century porn and erotica.

The Barnes book is also good, at least the first third is. The rest of the book turned out to be about the author of Madame Bovary and by the time I got to the end I found myself agreeing with the dyspeptic Kingsley Amis and his anti-endorsement reproduced on the back cover:
"I wish he'd shut up about Flaubert".

7 comments:

Deborah said...

... and the second picture on Jeanette Winterson's latest post (which is really satisfying to read) is mince pies, that really got my mouth watering.

I had forgotten about Courbet's pudenda painting and for some reason it makes me think of a medical text book illustration. Everything Winterson writes about art in this piece is wonderful, very glad you have sent us this link, I'm going to pass it on!

Anonymous said...

That painting--unsettling is correct.
It hits you very hard but it so marvelous that all I could do was stare at the total honesty and courage of it and of the model. Amazing. AS for Julian Barnes, Try reading his Flaubert's Parrot. Most excellent book on the man. I really enjoy your blog and yes I just too found Ms. Winterson's blog recently. Serendipity is marvelous.
Cheers from Seattle
Beau

Lesley said...

Deborah: If more medical textbooks had illustrations like l'OdM they'd all be bestsellers!

Beau: Yes, I must read Flaubert's Parrot. I like Julian Barnes' writing, it's intelligent and measured.

maitresse said...

possibly could have been my blog led you on your path to JW's Courbet post-- I linked to that post recently, and just noticed you in my comments box (thanks!). I love this kind of literary peregrination (what a great title for a blog, btw), and wrote something similar last year after another of JW's lovely articles: http://maitresse.typepad.com/maitresse/2007/02/alchemy.html

Love your blog thus far; am looking forward to reading more!

Lesley said...

Yes Maitresse, I think I did follow a link from your blog to JW's. But how did I get to your blog, I wonder?

Deborah said...

Bestseller? We need a few comments from the males out there on this angle ... of things. The question is 'Is it really a turn-on'?

I agree about Julian Barnes. His Letters from London has the essays which he once wrote for the New Yorker, it is a very witty and amusing book.

Lesley said...

Maybe a bestseller among teenage boys? But then they all have access to t'internet now, I suppose.