Monday, December 15, 2008
de Nuncques: Unseen in the Seen
"What is line? It is life. A line must live at each point along its course in such a way that the artist’s presence makes itself felt above that of the model.... With the writer, line takes precedence over form and content. It runs through the words he assembles. It strikes a continuous note unperceived by ear or eye. It is, in a way, the soul’s style, and if the line ceases to have a life of its own, if it only describes an arabesque, the soul is missing and the writing dies."-Jean Cocteau
"To make a painting, all you need to do is to take some paints, draw some lines, and fill the rest up with feelings." -William Degouve DeNuncques
Being a musician who uses up any "remains of the day" at home in the creating and practicing of music, in my spare time at my day-job I am lately driven onto a differing but somehow parallel path - drawing and pastel work. Or, at the least, thinking about it! Oil painting would be my first choice but requires more set-up and a larger space to make a larger mess. So, circumstances encourage me take the path of the "smaller mess" - pastels.
Curious to know what other artists have done with pastels - particularly those who, like Degas, also worked in oils - I came across someone unknown to me, the Belgian painter-pastellist, William Degouve de Nuncques. His pastel of a city park with lanterns as pictured above is hardly distinguishable from his paintings in oil. Our man Nuncques (as i'll call him!) is thrown in with that odd sliver of turn-of-the-century-and-beyond artists, The Symbolists.
It happened that the young Nuncques married another painter, Juliette Massin, and was introduced by his wife to Symbolists - both poets and painters. My guess, based on the scarce available biographical material, is that Nuncques was more of a "natural" Symbolist, and no follower of doctrine. His scenes, to me, derive more from a feeling than conveyance of a thought or principle.
Seeing Nuncques' pastels and paintings I immediately felt a thread connecting them. His style is simple and almost book-illustrative and not so boldly individual at first glance as, say, that other noted Symbolist, Redon. However, there seems to me something very strongly "internal" about them. An unlikely light is often juxtaposed against darkness and at times even a brightly lit daytime scene glows from within. Here the internal light of the unseen worlds seap through the seen; a ghost figure lingering as if to say "well, I'm going to take you part way there, and if you're drawn inside you'll find your way to the rest." Ultimately, the witness to this art is the invisible strand of light that seals the delicate haunting by his own intimations.
I introduced my lengthy Cocteau quote at the top of the page to these slender notes, not to call attention to the linear style of Nuncques' paintings, which are not particularly linear (in the way of Ingres or Picasso) but because I'm taking Cocteau's "line' to be something closer to the sense of it as a thread - something essential woven through an individuals work that connects it all with a subtle signature; not always overtly a "style".
The painting at the right is called the "Pink House" and was an influence on another Belgian, Rene Magritte, whose "L'Empire De Lumieres" takes similar delight in lights emitting mysteriously through the darkness.
Nuncques spent a great deal of the early 1900's traveling with his wife Juliette and painting in various locales. They settled for some years in the Balearic Islands off Spain where he painted the picture at the very top as well as the grotto scene. When she died in 1919 Nuncques was devastated and lost the use of his right hand for almost a decade. When, in the last years of his life, he remarried a woman who helped through his crisis, his facility was born again and he turned out a number of snow scenes from Stavelot, Belgium where they lived. His touch of the "unseen" remained.
The photograph of William Degouve de Nuncques seems to reveal someone, perhaps with a touch of madness, who has endured much and remained steadfast in his art. Interesting that his sometime roommate and fellow-painter, Henri De Greux, used him as a model for a painting of Christ. The photo of Nuncques suggests a Dostoeyevskian take on a Christ-like character.