Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Juste Milieu Year

It is the last day of my life as a 55-year old and I want to spin a little tale about this year.  Actually, it begins earlier, on October 27, 2009.  There was a review in the WSJ of an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art entitled Sargent and the Sea. I read it with great interest because Sargent is one of my favorite painters. The reviewer, Barrymore Laurence Scherer, placed Sargent with the Juste Milieu group, rather than the Impressionists explaining that: "Juste Milieu painters employed Impressionism's lighter palette and looser brushwork--especially in their backgrounds--while rendering their figures with the careful modeling of light and shade valued by the Salon."  So the Juste Milieu were "the golden mean" between the bad-boy Impressionists and the establishment Salon. I loved thinking about Sargent being on the middle path, as it were, and I love thinking about the golden mean (the meaning of juste milieu.)  The golden mean is a concept about pleasing proportions which are laid out in the Fibonacci sequence, where you add the two previous numbers to arrive at the next: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 etc. 
      So, this is the backdrop as I approached my 55th birthday.  Last spring David and I had been planning on taking part in a hiking trip in Spain. The last day of this trip we would spend in Madrid where Sargent's painting of the Daughters of Edward Darley Boit would be on display with Velasquez's Las Meninas for the very last day.  But David's knee gave out and we had to scrap these hiking plans. Perhaps I was a bit sullen as we drove into Houston last spring on the day after my birthday (We had enjoyed a fine birthday dinner at The Olive Garden in Texarkana!) Mary's junior year was wrapped up and she lived near the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. So we drove by the MFAH and draped over the side of the building was a huge sign: Sargent and the Sea.  I couldn't believe my good fortune!  Naturally, I went to see the exhibit twice while we were in Houston.  My favorite painting was the one above, Fishermen Returning,  set in Cancale in Brittany, France.  The light is magical, at once luminescent but also a little sad.  I tried to absorb as much as I could of the young Sargent's brilliant rendering of water and humanity, sky and creatures.  Included in the exhibit were Sargent's early scrapbooks, which were fantastically inspiring.
       A couple of weeks later we went to see Jacob graduate from Washington University, Saint Louis with a masters in finance.  Now, we would not have been able to attend this graduation if we had been in Spain, so the trade off had become very easy.  We stayed at a hotel a little ways out from the campus.  The restaurant where we had our breakfast had these very pleasing paintings which made me think of Millet.  I was very curious about them. It was quite surprising, when I went to look up Juste Milieu to discover that Jules Bastien-Lepage, the ringleader of the Juste Milieu was the painter of the paintings imitated on the walls of the hotel outside St. Louis!
      In the fall, we returned to Houston to see Mary in her last powder puff football game.  It was great to see her in action (and to hear her in action--she has a very commanding voice!) Naturally, we visited the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.  This time, did not seem as promising.  They were featuring two exhibits by German Impressionists--German Impressionists--who had heard of that!  Well, if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know the story (if not, see my blog: Into the Woods, Part II, January 29, 2011)  I was smitten with the freedom in the paintings of Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth and Max Slevogt. Reveling in their absolute love of nature, I was inspired to work larger and looser. 
        Then, in early spring of this year, David and I took a river cruise up the Seine which included a trip to Normandy to visit the D-Day beaches.  We knew that Richard Roney-Dougal's father had helped design the Mulberry harbours which allowed supplies to arrive with all the troops in the summer of l944. The amazing, thoroughly improbable success of this endeavor is haunting (and I write about this in my blog: Wild Primroses, April 6, 2011).  The connection to my life in Kentucky, made this visit to Normandy so very beautiful.
        Just a couple of weeks ago, I was looking up my new, favorite German artists (Liebermann, Corinth and Slevogt) in Paul Johnson's interesting Art: A New History and was astounded to read this:  "...many Germans who joined the international throng at the Academie Julian, where Bastien-Lepage was revered and his methods taught." !! The story had come full circle.
       But there is more!  Recently we learned that Mary will be teaching English next year--in Brittany, France.  Perhaps I will be able to see that eerily magnificent light that Sargent saw. This year has been a series of connections; previous experiences adding up to a new, wonderful experience. On the eve of my birthday, I feel that my life is opening in a beautiful Fibonacci spiral and I am looking forward to the rest of my Juste Milieu life!

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