Sunday, July 1, 2012

At Least a Thousand Words

La Famille du Saltimbanque: L’enfant Blessé by Gustave Doré
Okay, I was just going to post the picture of this painting and leave it there. I wasn't even going to put a caption on it. I was just going to leave it there for you to drink in its wordless story, pretty much just as Gustave Doré intended it.
But I chickened out. I wasn't sure that you'd get what I was trying to do - or moreover what Doré was trying to do - tell a story without using any words, which is what visual artists do. 
Doré's other version. I prefer the top one.
I don't know why I didn't trust that you would experience this painting the same way that I did when I first saw it. I was moved by the anguish on the faces of the two costumed adults. Obviously, the anguish was for the child in the woman's arms. Obviously they were the child's parents and, obviously, some great malady had befallen the child who was now either dead or dying. No father looks at his child that way unless the situation is grave. Looking at the costumes, the parents are entertainers of some kind, and the child is in costume as well. They were performing and the child was injured. They must be acrobats of some kind. They may be street performers, desperate for money if they are including their small child in their act and now apparently unable to afford a doctor as they watch their child die.
The story is as clear as if it had been penned by Hemingway or Austen.
The title of the painting confirms part of the story. It translates as "The Family of Acrobats: the Injured Child." The placard next to the painting fills in a few more details that are of trivial note, but they do not  really add to or detract from the impact of the painting. The painting was inspired by an event that Gustave Doré witnessed firsthand. He was so moved by the scene that he actually made two versions of the painting.
This painting is why I so envy graphic artists. Even if enough words existed to convey the true emotional narrative of this story, I don't know that I  - or anyone - could arrange them in a way that would have the succussion of this painting.
I don't really have a point to this blog entry today. I just wanted to share this painting with you. If you'd like to see it yourself, it is currently hanging in the Denver Art Museum. Sixth Floor: European & American Art. It's actually right next to my favorite painting in the museum: the much more sanguine Childhood Idyll by William-Adolphe Bouguereau:

No comments:

Post a Comment