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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hopeful Monsters


For years I've had a small semi-obsession with Hector Berlioz, the great French Romantic composer who was pretty obsessive himself. I like his music a lot and I like his face almost more. He had a wide, sharp edged face, piercing eyes and an aquiline nose. as you can tell from the painting below by the (great French Romantic) artist Gustave Courbet (and I wonder what they chatted about during the posing sessions, like, which one was the greatest, Frenchest and most Romantic). Best of all, Berlioz had this great big crest of brick red hair, one of the great haircuts of the Romantic Period (except for this guy).

He had an eventful, triumphant and disappointing life, like most people, at least during the Romantic Period. His music was revolutionary in all kinds of ways and was received with open arms and cold shoulders. A lot of his pieces were kind of hopeful monsters; symphonies that mutate into concertos or oratorios and vice versa, and most of them tell a story.  His most famous work, the Symphonie Fantastique, tells a gruesome story of obsessive love spun out of control, and it's always struck me as being like a movie with a silly plot but really eye-popping special effects.
Whatever, he just seems like a great guy to draw. Even if, on some days (above), he bears an unfortunate resemblance to Robin Williams.

And I'm not the only one to be inspired by Berlioz's face. The above caricature is by the great, somewhat-forgotten sculptor Dantan Jeune, who, while no Daumier, nailed some of the great personages of his day. 

So, you know, lemme at him. I did this little unthinking sketch some years ago and realized, hey, that's him. I had a frame and mat that was just the right size and color for what I wanted to do; a poster-like caricature with just a few flat, bright colors and a yellow background. And with his big red crest of hair maybe my Berlioz would look a bit like the Gallic rooster, as a kind of visual pun that nobody would get but me.

After way to much fussing, this is what I ended up with. They say works of art are not finished but abandoned. I should've quit while I was ahead, but I never got ahead on this one. I love the hair, it's the best watercolor wash I ever did, 5 or 6 layers of various deep reds and maroons, all without a frisket. But somewhere along the way I got panicky on the face and background. I'd seen some of the splashed, vivid work of the painter Deloss McGraw, so I tried splashing gouache on the background, which might've killed it. I don't know. This has been sitting in a drawer for a couple of years, and I'm not sure if I like it or not. I can't find the frame and mat I had for it, so this isn't going on any wall any time soon.

This (above) is pretty close how I'm feeling about it. Which is a lot of emotional baggage for a mere caricature to carry. But like I said, I've got a small semi-obsession. This should help put things in perspective, especially as you'll note, if you watch the whole performance of the Roman Carnival Overture at the link, they've got Basil Fawlty playing tympany.

13 comments:

brian said...

Gouache doesn't hurt it one bit. And I'll be damned- that IS a deliciously nice red wash you've got there!

Mike said...

I have a feeling that living in the Romantic Age was probably a pretty good way to end up disappointed despite the occasional triumph. Even Byron probably sat around thinking about how he wasn't living up to the hype. The Romantic stuff wasn't really that much fun, the fun stuff wasn't really that Romantic ... I'm sorry, were we talking about pictures here? I like the picture!

Ponto said...

Love it! Care to see earlier cartoon takes on Berlioz?

http://www.hberlioz.com/Cartoons/index.htm

Mike Lynch said...

One of my favorite books is Berlioz' autobio, which begins when he's a student. He viciously criticizes his friends' talents, and complains about the judgment of his self-described brilliant compositions by the stodgy teachers. He was a talent, but also a prima donna egomaniac for sure. And maybe he had to be to succeed.

Muzition said...

I enjoyed reading Berlioz's "Memoirs". Have you read it?

Rooty Toot Toot said...

That is, indeed Basil Fawlty! Bwaaah!!

LizB said...

No, it's Peter Bowles of To The Manor Born. Or maybe a combination of him and Basil Fawlty!

Mister Fweem said...

Frankly, I see a lot of Petey Otterloop in that first portrait of Berlioz. Something int he slightly nervous look in the eyes, the nose, and the brow under that prow of hair.

Mike Rhode said...

Excellent post, Richard.

angryparsnip said...

That red wash is utterly Fabulous !
enjoyed your post today.

cheers. . . parsnip

mbbrown said...

Fun! But -- 5 or 6 'lairs"??? a wild animal's resting place, esp. one that is well hidden.
• a secret or private place in which a person seeks concealment or seclusion.

Ok, so maybe lair might work :D

richardcthompson said...

oops- fixed. thanks!

Patrick O'Connor said...

First off, this is a fantastic post. The caricature, while not Daumier, is superb! Love the red wash and I think you're being a little hard on yourself with the background. The texture created is lovely and that hue of naples yellow is great!