‘…In our life there is a single color, as on artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.’
Mark Chagall, From ‘Newsweek’, April 8, 1985
Whenever I analyzed and studied the existing artistic achievements of contemporary visual artists or ‘the old masters’, there was often not more than one or two reoccurring motifs, something very characteristic, that revealed the preferences of the given artist. The one, favorite ‘subject matter’ of a painter or a photographer is often chosen according to the one’s sensitivity or interests. Let’s take as an example the contemporary French painter, Elisabeth Landzberg whose artworks have been recently presented in Paris during the “Art Shopping” or in New York during Art Expo. The endless source of inspiration for this artist are undoubtedly the colorful spring and summer flowers, the stunning butterflies and the green leaves and sprays. While painting it all the artists pays tribute to the overwhelming beauty of the nature, and in fact, she does it in a masterful way.
Then, going further, there is another artist, an American photographer called Ray Collins (http://www.RayCollinsPhoto.com/) who keeps capturing the ocean, the colors of waves in a most exceptional and spectacular way. His artworks are continuously filled with the admiration for the ocean and we get to see it in all possible variations, colors, shapes. However, even though ‘the theme’ remains the same, there is no way we could call the artworks of Collins boring or plain. The artist enthusiasm and passion for the ‘deep waters’ are simply contagious and leave us asking for more.
And how about portraits? What would be the force that makes the portrait painter obsessively create images of one, particular person? It is quite obvious that an extra-ordinary portrait there that there is much more than the right technique, selection of colors or right usage of proportions or the play with light and shadow. What would be the value that distinguishes a mediocre portrait painter from the exceptional is his or her ability ‘to create an atmosphere’, to transfer the personality and the emotions of the sitter into a canvas. And when that happens the viewers are left speechless, with so many unanswered questions.
George Saurat, Aman Jean (Portrait of Edmond Francois Aman-Jean), ca 1882-3, MET
Now – the question is, what could possibly motivate and inspire an artist to dig deeply into his muses soul so the world receives a penetrating and overwhelming masterpiece that once seen – cannot be forgotten?
There is just one kind of power and one answer to this fundamental question. One word that explains it all. It is love.
Some time ago I’ve posted on LinkedIn an artowork called ‘Portrait Of A Woman’ by French symbolist Edmond Aman-Jean from , presenting an enigmatic, very beautiful and noble looking lady. The subject matter that this artist usually chose for his work often young women, frequently in profile, arrayed in languid, even melancholy, poses, put him more in line with the Pre-Raphaelite painters than the Impressionists or their followers.
Edmond Francois Aman-Jean ,’Portrait of a Woman’, 1904, Musée d’Orsay
When I saw this mesmerizing portrait for the first time, it literally ‘stole my heart’. Just few minutes later one of my ‘online connections’ asked me about the identity of the sitter as she was deeply moved by the beauty of this art. Sadly enough, I did not know the answer. But that was soon going to change.
The short ‘online exchange’ encouraged me to make my own research and learn more about the very talented French painter and essential figure of Art Nouveau and Symbolism. It is important to remember that some art historians and art critics recognize Aman-Jean as a successor of the English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Britain which wasn’t an exaggerated conclusion at all once I’ve learned more about the artist paintings.
John William Waterhouse,’Sweet Summer’, 1910, Private Collection
John William Waterhouse,’Lamia By The Pond’, 1909, Private Collection
The same evening, feeling already quite tired after a long and eventful day, there was a strange thought that that crossed my mind. I looked up attentively all the paintings by Aman-Jean available on the Internet and I have found there was one a muse that he painted throughout many years, with the same passion, and undeniable sympathy and tenderness.
Edmond Francois Aman-Jean , ‘Dolce Far Niente’, 1895, Musée d’Orsay
Edmond Francois Aman-Jean , ‘La Baigneuse’
Edmond Francois Aman-Jean, ‘Young Beauty With Flowers’
I recognized the very characteristic, full lips, her youthful and fresh complexion and hypnotizing gaze. I was happy to realize that the deduction brought me to few interesting observations. I’ve started my research from a closer look at ‘Portrait of Miss Ella Carmichael’ from 1906, an artwork initially owned by Jules Maciet, the cousin of Madame Aman-Jean and famous art collector. Mr Maciet donated this portrait to the City of Paris, shortly after his exhibition at the National Society of Fine Arts in 1907. Nowadays this Aman-Jean’s masterpiece can admired in in Musée du Petit Palais Petit Palace in France.
Edmond Francois Aman-Jean, Portrait of Miss Ella Carmichael,1906, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris
What you can see at a glance, is a young woman setting a vague point in space, taking the pose in front of a wall covered with wallpaper in Art Nouveau style. The presence of a French engraving of the eighteenth century from the Cascade Watteau brings a refined bourgeois and notes in this interior. The dreamy expression of the young lady and the quiet presence of the dog house leave an impression of sweet languor.
You’d probably begin to wonder now, how did a young and a very charming English woman ‘appear’ in the artists house. In truth, Miss Ella Carmichael was linked with the family Aman-Jean by the previously mentioned art collector and most important patron of Edmond Francois, Julec Maciet. ‘The English Rose’ that shall in the future become a wife of an American officer in India and then, after his death marry the Hungarian prince, came to France in order to study French language. As a matter of fact she has spent few summertime weeks year after year with the family Aman-Jean at their home in Château-Thierry. Her presence in France was undoubtedly a perfect opportunity to practice French and a chance to pose for several excellent paintings. Somehow I knew that there was more to discoverer about the beautiful lady.
Edmond Francois Aman-Jean, ‘La Confidence’, 1903, Private Colletction
Edmond Francois Aman-Jean, ‘Intimacy’,
Before I fell asleep that night I’ve studied Aman-Jeans paintings for a long time. As I woke up few hours later – I found myself seated in a rose armchair, holding a book called “Le roman de la rose”. The same moment when I’ve read the title of the book it became clear to me that I’ve been transferred to France, Château-Thierry, a small village about three miles outside of Paris and that I am in early 1900’s, posing for Mr Francois Edmond-Jean.
Edmond Aman Jean, ‘Le Roman de la Rose’, Private Colletion
What stroke me at first wasn’t really the new situation,the fact that it’s earl y XIX century or the beautiful rose laying down on my lap. What I found particularly intriguing was the book that the artist chose for me to hold while posing for the portrait.
In fact he could have picked up anything from his large library collection – but for some reason he decided that ‘Le Roman de la Rose’(‘Romance of the Rose’) would be the right choice, a medieval French poem whose intention was to teach others about the Art of Love. At various times in the book the “Rose” of the title is seen as the name of the lady, and as a symbol of female sexuality.
Edmond Aman Jean, Reverir, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon
I did not even start with ‘putting the puzzles together’ in my head, when the artist has suddenly put down his brush and came near me. He was looking at me with the eyes that told me that there is something that needed to be explained. I had no doubt that there must have been something was bothering the artist. Astonishingly enough, before I heard he spelled out his first words, he took my hand and covered it with his hand in a very soft and gentle way, which I found very flattering:
-‘My dear Ella, my English Flower, how could one possibly stop himself from loving a rose while being continuously faced with its delicacy, vulnerability, intoxicating scent, it’s holiness and overwhelming charm? I shall always treasure in my mind the vision of you holding this book. There will always be you wearing those pink gowns, you touching the petals of roses, you walking gracefully through my blossoming gardens….’
Edmond Francois Aman-Jean, Miss Ella Carmichael, Private Colletcion
The artist seemed to be embarrassed with all he has just said and seemingly lacked the courage to add anything else. There was nothing left to say. He kissed my hand gently and left the room where I’ve been posing for him.
The sweet feeling of Love. It is there or it isn’t. It cannot be faked, the same way it cannot be denied. When I was sitting alone in the silence, left to my thoughts, I begun to look for empty piece of paper , where I could leave the message for the artist that I respected and admired so much. I needed to write down something that would have a soothing and calming effect to his heart and soul. Instinctively I thought of the poem by Polish Poet and Philosopher, Priest Jan Twardowski. Without thinking much I started to write the stanzas that I’ve known by hart – ‘The Close And Distant Ones’:
‘Cause you see there are here the ones
who love each other
and they have to meet
in order to pass by
there are others who will find each other
even in the darkness
but they’ll pass by each other
cause they don’t dare to meet each other
they’re so pure and calm
as if it started snowing
they’d be perfect but they’ve lacked of flaws
the close ones are afraid to be close
in order to be no longer
there are also the ones
who love each other forever
and just because of it they can’t be together
like the pheasants which never walk in pairs’
I have signed this poem with my initials and left it inside of the book, hoping that the artist will find it someday, when he’ll read the book again. There was just one short note, that I still needed to add:
‘ The story of love is not important- what is important is that one is capable of love. It is perhaps the only glimpse we are permitted of eternity’
*** Many years later, in the letters written to a friend, Aman-Jean would mention a lady that he would call ‘a charming creature’ and whose identity he preferred not to reveal.
Edmond Francois Aman-Jean (Edmond Francois Aman Jean) (1860-1935)