Friday, August 13, 2010

Masterpiece of the Week: La Comédie Humaine by Jean Louis Hamon, 1852

Though undoubtedly talented, as a young painter, Jean-Louis Hamon struggled for recognition—success eluding him at every turn. In 1850, eager to make a living, he began work in the manufacture of enameled Sèvres porcelain. Strangely enough, an enameled box painted by Hamon brought him the attention he’d always sought. The beautifully painted casket won awards at the 1851 London International Exhibition.

Fueled by the praise he was finally receiving, Hamon went on to exhibit in the Salon of 1852. The painting he submitted was La Comédie Humaine, a reworking of a piece he first created in 1847. Based on a multi-volume collection of related novels and stories which depicted French society in the period of the Restoration, Hamon’s painting breathes with color and a remarkably lifelike fluidity of motion.

A Guignol Puppet Theater—the centerpiece of the painting—represents the art of social commentary. A multi-faceted allegory of the arts, society and humanities surround Guignol in assorted tableaus. Unsurprisingly, the painting was widely applauded, offering Hamon a chance to make his mark in the very society that he lampooned. When viewed through modern eyes, the society shown in this painting—despite the costumes—really still resembles ours today. Ultimately, Hamon was able to make a far more everlasting mark on the world than he had even imagined. This masterwork is on display at The Musée d'Orsay.

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