A Casting from Life

This is one of those images I never tire of looking at. For observation, skill, pathos and 19th century sensibility it is a paradigm object. painted by the French painter Edouard Dantan, it is in Gothenburg and I have to admit I’ve never seen the original although I have seen other paintings by him with similar subjects.

The story is of workaday, even lowly matters mixing with and creating lofty ideals and aspirations, or at least those viewed through 19th century eyes. The superb figure of the central nude, contrasted by her ruddy peasant face and the attire and actions of ordinary craftsmen, in turn surrounded by objects at the idealistic core of Western culture all in a context of pots, tools and grimy furniture and walls.

It’s about artifice, a peep behind the beautiful and the unattainable at the grubby and ordinary. It’s not profound or mysterious, and I’m aware of all the arguments about sexual and class implications in such a thing, but I don’t care. There is such a love of painting here, such a relishing of detail and texture and overlaying of one material over another that points to a different kind and definition of beauty.

Much of Dantan’s work available to us is standard Salon fodder, a bit of mythology, a bit of sex, a bit of history, satisfyingly skilled and making all the right references to the masters of the time in style and subject matter. artists like Bouguereau, Alma Tadema, Meissonier, Cot etc 


He was well thought of in critical circles and regularly sold work to the French State and other institutions, won medals and had all the other hallmarks of success. He tried his hand at various manners even flirting with what looks to me like Impressionism.

His grandfather, father and uncle were all well known sculptors, their studios and foundry and casting workshops must have been a second home to him so that when he started to take them as subjects there was a personal element that, while being unremarkable to us, in his time was unusual. The painting “Coin d’Atelier”shows his father working on a relief. He obviously felt the need for a bit more than the situation allowed so he stuck in a nude for good measure to add a bit of narrative depth. I am being ironic.

The idea pursued him, or the other way round, and he produced a number of works with similar themes all having the same eye for detail, texture, arrangement and form.

And detail;

He made another version of the painting I’m talking about but I think it’s a sketch for the main picture, illustrated at the top;

There is one thing about the painting that I find bemusing rather than annoying. The model’s head is set too far to her right on her shoulders and I don’t understand why. Anyway, it doesn’t spoil the painting for me. It’s on my bucket list.



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