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Émile Friant

Emile Friant-Les Amoureux-Musée des beaux-arts de Nancy
Les Amoureux, 1888

Friant is an artist I know relatively little about, admittedly, but his work is definitely worth appreciating. Born on this day in 1863, in North East France, he avoided his father's wishes to become a chemist and found his path into painting. Initially, he studied the Academic Atelier method under Cabanel but he must have found it stifling and soon discovered his own realism, a natural style that avoided stiff posing and instead focused on people just being themselves, yet still managing to capture their dignity and character. In the above painting, The Lovers we see what appears like a scene from a movie...a man and woman talking on a bridge overlooking a scenic river view. Compositionally, we never see the main subjects of a painting with their backs to the viewer, and yet their body language and facial expressions are so real, so natural, it is as if we are spying on their conversation. It is also quite rare for an artist to incorporate nature and people in a way that isn't formal or religious, and here Friant creates two characters with opposite personalities: the man is clearly the extroverted one, while the lovely woman is coy and sensitive. Friant reveals a moment of awkward silence between them, and by doing so stirs our curiosity about who they are. He raises questions— not defining answers— about love and ultimately, life itself.

Friant La Discussion politique
La Discussion politique, 1889

In this painting above, Friant uses four men— even numbered subjects being an unusual combination for a painting— in what appears to be a heated political discussion with no resolution. This time, the silent figures are wearing prominent hats and clenching their fists while the other two men are with open handed gestures of appeasement and dismay. Both sets of figures that are in agreement are diagonally placed from each other, instead of side-by-side. Again, Friant has a brilliant penchant for facial expressions that are real. What is happening here is completely self-evident. To heighten the unusual tension in the air, Friant creates an aqua green foreground from the table to contrast with the warm skin tones of the men and in the fence and wall behind them...breaking the rules of color perspective to perfect dramatic effect. Like the previous example The Lovers the hazy sky seems to balance both the composition and keep the figures from losing their temperaments.The feeling of voyuerism again haunts us in a natural and familiar way.

Emile Friant-Les Buveurs-Musée des beaux-arts de Nancy
Les Buveurs, 1884

The influence of the camera is very obvious here, yet it feels fresh and spontaneous. Two drinkers sharing cheap wine, perhaps on a lunch break at work...Friant chooses unusual themes and in turn creates a realism that forces us to think about people and life in a way that we often overlook. He is a poet and storyteller and yet no words are spoken at all. A poet without drama, yet discovering a reality behind the lives of ordinary people that is truly engrossing. Merci Émile.

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