Today is the 204th Birth Anniversary of 19th century French artist, Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin.

With Flandrin’s masterpiece ‘Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer’ (Seated Young Male Nude by the Sea) from 1836 (Above me - not behind) at the Louvre (May 2009)

With Flandrin’s masterpiece ‘Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer’ (Seated Young Male Nude by the Sea) from 1836 (Above me – not behind) at the Louvre (May 2009)

Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864)

Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, born on 23rd of March, 1809, had an interest for the arts since his childhood. Yet he was forced into being a businessman by his parents. Still determined, in 1929, he went to Paris, and trained under the famed French Neoclassical painter, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867); who eventually ended up not just being his teacher but his friend as well. Although Flandrin’s works were nowhere as great as  Ingres’, and even though Flandrin is not famed for leaving behind a great bulk of masterpieces, he did manage to make a mark with his one great painting ‘Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer’ (Seated Young Male Nude  by the Sea) from 1836. Which I was lucky enough to come across, when I visited the Louvre for the 4th time (which was the last time I visited the Louvre) in May 2009.  

Unlike the renaissance era previously, when it comes to the neo-classical era of the 18th & 19th centuries, though they embody many a traits borrowed from the renaissance; there is a more photographic element to these newer paintings. Especially when it comes to human portraits and nudes.

That’s what’s most probably the best thing about ‘Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer’, it’s almost photographic, it could almost feel as if it’s an actual photograph of a male nude with a seaside backdrop and not a painting. It’s also famous, for the body’s somewhat 3D effect with the roundedness of flesh on the flawless’ skinned human form. The nude in the forefront is almost cut-off, and protruding outwards towards us, while contrasting to this, the backdrop is flat and blends in. It has also been compared to the renaissance master, Leonardo da Vinci’s study of the human form from four centuries before, da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, from 1490.

In 1857, first President of the French Republic, Napoleon III, nephew of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, bought ‘Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer’, which is now housed at the Louvre, in Paris.

In 1853, Flandrin was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. A decade later, he started to get ill, and just two days before his 55th Birthday, he died of smallpox, on the 21st, of March 1864.  

The Flandrin Pose

Flandrin’s ‘Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer’,  due to it’s famous pose, is now more commonly known as The Flandrin Pose. And since the paintings advent to the public, The Flandrin Pose, has been re-created a zillion times till date. The most notable photography versions happen to be; Fred Holland Day’s (1864-1943), the first person in the U.S.A. to advocate that photography should be considered a fine art, version called Ebony & Ivory (from the late 19th Century, most probably 1897), which showcased a black male with a white statuette, taken inside a studio, Wilhelm von Gloeden’s (1856-1931) Caino (1902), who brought back the nude outside to a very rocky natural surrounding, and Karel Egermeier’s work for Paysage Olympique from 1924; to name a few. As time went by the image became more and more homoerotic, even though nothing sexual is implied in the original paining. The most controversial version most probably is photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s (1946-1989); some of whose work I came across at an exhibition in London, back in Jan-Feb 2005, I do not remember the name of the small gallery that housed the exhibition; Ajitto (1981). Ajitto, was, like most of Mapplethorpe’s works, almost bordering on pornography. The still is of a black male inside a studio, on top of a stool, with his huge genitals shown hanging loose below. It’s the only re-creation of The Flandrin Pose that showcase male genitalia, that I have come across. In the 21st century, there was Richard Taddei’s painting, Meditation (2003), an interestingly slightly abstract and distorted image, with slight pop art feel, this work feels like a postmodernist work from the 1960’s. More recently I came across a work titled Flandrin’s Skateboarder, a picture taken somewhere between 2009 and 2012, by an unnamed photographer. Which was an interesting take on the classic. Here the nude is seated atop a skateboard, kept on a bench on a terrace/roof top with a chilly industrial background with leafless trees afar. And the nude is wearing a woolly beanie on his head. A stark contrast to the sunny summer appearance of Flandrin’s original, ‘Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer’.

Nuwan Sen’s Art Sense

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