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Picturing a World

Clearing the clutter (3): Artist, frames, and lay figure

Man, had I forgotten this one! But I see why I saved it. A 19th C artist, his studio, a lay figure, mirror images, picture frames—so much to linger over. An art-appreciation teacher might point to the way verticals and diagonals direct the eye, or the way the lighting picks out the gilding and that impressive mechanical figure. But what attracts a writer? What stories does His Favorite Model suggest?

Well, obviously, the Pygmalion theme. Who could miss it with the highly articulated, curvaceous, mechanical figure so decidedly highlighted. Surrounded by static angles, the curve of the artist's back and the swoop of his and the lay figure's conjoined arms make them seem about to step into a dance. But if you don't want to bring the lay figure to life, consider how working with a lay figure or puppet might affect the psyche of flesh and blood. (Puppets are weird.)
Now follow the artist's and the figure's gaze out into space. Their eyes are not directed at us but at something off to our right. What? a class? a mirror? Notice that the big frame behind the artist encloses a dressed model. Look closer. That's not a framed painting behind him; it's a mirror. We're seeing her reflection along with the painting she posed for. Perhaps the artist is demonstrating to her how he wants her to pose next. Notice also that the small self-portrait of the artist on the floor exactly echoes the head of the standing standing artist. Is there some kind of convoluted mediation on mirrors and distancing and what it is to be human going on?
John Ferguson Weir was the son of an artist (Robert Walter Weir) and the brother of another (J. Alden Weir). Imagine what the three of them might discuss. Make up your own family of artists: Do they encourage each other or fight among themselves. Is one of them a woman?
(For more about this family, see John Ferguson Weir (1841–1926) and the Weir Family Legacy.)

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