I’m back from my third visit to look at The Reading by Henri Fantin-Latour at the Beaux-arts Museum in Lyon. I’ve finally located whats been puzzling me in it. The listening female figure isn’t really listening, she’s hearing the reader but her sentience is as mute as her silhouetted dress.
We enter our studio living space from the street through the middle of a 12 metre long wall of glass. The standing height sections are frosted while the clear panes above and up 4 metres show a tangle of branches from the plane trees in the park opposite.
The footpath outside the door gets a lot of use, its on a good slope directly into town and the park across the way is elevated providing an open space that lights the glass with daylight and lamplight . A pale light enters the room, heels click just outside amplified by stone and glass. Vague grainy figures are caught and hover across the frosted surface.
Listening to shoe soles following one another in succession becomes an exercise in imaging runners, patent leather shoes, heels, boots, pairs of legs pivoting at the hip, core muscle efforts, bodies in motion.
I’ve been trying not to imagine these things, trying to let it go for a more structured space while I draw. If one locates a sonic environment in which heel-clatter, vocal exchanges and car noises dwell together, one might find an ambient space of some autonomy and order, of interval and sound. I hear sentences blurted out in breathy bursts or loose gaggles of word sounds floating among the slapping of footsteps. A voice caught rising on a vowel and a distant electric grinder peeling off it.
Sonic space has its own register of attention or inattention, noise that I hear when I’m not really listening.
The Reading draws me in with an undulating line stretched and tensed by the figures it contours. It’s a painting in which vision is provided with terms that convey personality and relationship. The reader’s face is chiselled with brush marks in warm hues while the woman on the left is treated with a transparency; the brush has retraced it’s movement as blue enters the shadows with cool pink bringing an evaporative quality to the face.
I read a comment online from someone who found it hard to tell whether the listener is distracted, or bored from sitting so long for the painter.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether the spell of fiction is broken, there’s an expression in the paint that includes the painter in the architecture of the experience. It’s a three dimensional but shuttered visual space and the artist and his production are together within a tense and somewhat fragile web of relations.
These aspects are reinforced in a work of Fantin’s hanging nearby. His flower paintings are known as flower portraits.
In The Reading there are linkages between the women, the book, the woven cloth and the flower that exchange meaning. The different visual treatments given to the flesh and objects is made to carry meaning in the absence of obvious iterative references.
There’s a term that was used in the Lyon silk trade to denote the cloth weavers activity: Bisclack, the word derives directly from the noise of the loom at work, a soft BIS sound of the pedal frame then the CLACK of the shuttle flying through the separated warps.
The Bisclack of this painting is a study in suspended action, the women held by the line travelling over the canvas. The relationship between the book and the cloth bringing to mind the shuttle and the loom which in classical legend represents a coming into being of language.