05 December 2015

Objects of Desire: Lubin Baugin

La dessert de Gaufrettes (Still Life With Wafers), no date given, 17th century, Louvre Museum, Paris.

Charles Sterling a Polish art historian and curator of the department of painting at the Louvre Museum,  called it the unquestionable masterpiece of 17th century still life.   Attempts to make an allegory of La dessert de Gaufrettes have fallen flat;  but so what? It is a marvel of its kind and a serene feast for the eyes.

What has Baugin done here? 
The three primary colors have been juxtaposed with extraordinary subtlety.  The yellow of the wafers is almost dimensionless while the yellow of the straw flask is tactile with  nubbiness - one color, two demonstrations of skill.   The glass holding the garnet red wine is at once both color and transparency, the latter being one of the most difficult effects to bring off in paint.  The blue tablecloth is Baugin's inspired addition; in his Still Life The Checkers the same (brown wooden)  table appears without a cloth and the same dimpled goblet is also used.

The  background is a stage set of contrasts that presents the objects on the table.  A stone wall is joined to a shadowy recessive space, allowing the artist the space to make a penumbra surrounding these everyday objects.
Baugin leads the eye around his painting so confidently that we hardly miss the riches familiar with from the paintings of Dutch interiors, no woven rugs draped across tables, no paintings decorate the walls; there is just a solitary glass, a tin plate, and some food and drink.

The light comes from a source  in front of the table and to the left, approximately at the level of the back of the table and, although its source is a mystery, it does not disturb the viewer.   The wafers, the flask, and the goblet reflect light while the tin plate functions like a frosted mirror, another virtuoso demonstration.

And the forms.  A circular plate, flat wafers rolled up in tubes, a round flask, and a conical goblet, all placed in a setting of unexpected lines.  The table which is in fact a rectangle is here a trapezoid, the deflection in the background does not line up with the upper corner of the table while in the lower corner a three dimensional drape of the tablecloth looks entirely natural in two dimensions.  All this makes the painting sound very busy but the result of Baugin's efforts is  a quiet masterpiece.
Lubin Baugin (c.1612- 1663) made just four still life paintings that we know of and those are roughly dated to the early 1630s.  Although Baugin was born into a wealthy family, Pithiviers was  far enough from Paris to be tarred with the brush of provincialism.  He had to make his entry to the Parisian art world of the time through a back door.  At Fontainbleau  he got to work on still life, a domestic and, therefore, an minor genre in the hierarchy of painting.  Later he advanced to a position as a master-painter at St.- Germaine-des-Pres.

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