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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:34

Video transcript

we're at the Musee d'Orsay and we're looking at Edouard Manet's portrait of emile zola who's a very important 19th century novelist and art critic and behind Zola is an image of mayonnaise Olympia and Olympia seems to look down at Zola and Zola was also a friend of Susan's so as always an important figure in this circle and this is a really new kind of portrait something very different then a viewer would have expected it doesn't give us very much information in the way that a portrait usually gives us information that is through the face well he's actually turned away from us ok you get a sense that he's at his desk at his studies and in some way he's turned towards us just for a moment almost in a pause of reflection not to look at us as if we were the camera for instance but we have sort of caught him in this odd 3/4 view that's really almost a profile there is something that doesn't really register emotion there it's not that he looks like he's been absorbed in thought I've looked up from his reading there's a kind of eligibility to these days and I think that quality of not being able to read a narrative something we see frequently in mayonnaise work we have it here in a portrait where it's incredibly frustrating especially frustrating because we want to have a sense of the person so we can't read his emotions or his interior life through his face in a sense there's a kind of flatness to the way the face is rendered but look also at the book that has turned towards us it is similarly illegible we can't read the text there so the artist is forcing us away from the reading of the particular to a sort of a broader kind of reading it's like the objects themselves have become more important than the figure we have the Japanese screen behind him so we can see that interest in the art of Japan that's coming so much into Europe now that Japan's been opened we see another Japanese print in the background we see a Velazquez recite the drinkers right at the top we have little pamphlet on MANET that has written is also mayonnaise signature and then a lovely inkwell which is also a station I look at this compositionally for just a very very complicated composition the figure is fit into a series of geometric shapes there's the right angle that is created by the frame on the upper right then you have a skewed right angle from the book which almost functions as an arrow pointing towards Zola himself and then Zola's body is an echoing right angle which is echoed again by the chair and so you have sort of this cascade of these right angles for moving from upper right down to lower left and then you get it again in the upper left with the edge of the Japanese screen that's right although in the opposite direction but yes there is a kind of interest in the two dimensionality which is a reference again to Eastern art but that comes across also in flattening of the face and the ways in which the jacket is so dark that you lose all spatial definition there yeah there's very little modeling in the face there's little modeling and the clothing so there is a real flatness and in fact the space itself is very very shallow so everything is very close to us and I guess there's a kind of irony there because despite its closeness I feel no closer to Zola you know all of that pea tremaine's paint all that paint is almost like a Velazquez yeah look at the chair and if you look at the books as well if you look at the inkwell if you will get the feather the quill that comes out the tools of Zola's trade there's very much a focus on reminding us that this is paint on canvas and refusing in a way to do the things that paint is supposed to do I do get a feeling of this image of a modern literary man a portrait of a man in his age in Paris at the end of the 1860s in a sense the lack of focus on Zola and it's such a curious thing to say because this is a portrait absorb but the lack of focus on the zoo in a sense he is leveled with the things that that he finds important the things that influence him the things that make up his art and so there's this very modern notion of Paris being a place where the world can come together you know where the influence of the East Asian where the visual the literary where all of those things mix and that art is born