Located in the Marais District in Paris, le Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme houses a superb collection of periodicals, photos, graphics and other materials connected to the Dreyfus Affair, which is remembered as critical to modern Jewish history, and as having a pivotal impact on Theodor Herzl—formerly an advocate for assimilation—and his intense desire to create a Jewish homeland. The museum has recently acquired a collection of 200 illustrations by journalist and artist Maurice Feuillet depicting the proceedings at the trial of Emile Zola in 1898, and at Dreyfus’ second court-martial in 1899.
An observant Jew and patriotic Army officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted in 1894 of selling secrets to Germany after a sham trial in which witnesses lied and forged documents were submitted as evidence. In egalitarian France, his supposed crime opened the floodgates of hatred for the Jews as an ethnic group, revealed in the thousands of caricatures, anti-Semitic editorials and even board games preserved today. Two years later the real traitor was identified, leading to novelist Emile Zola’s open letter to the president of France, published on the front page of the journal L’Aurore in 1898. In it, he accused specific individuals in the French government of subverting the truth. Subjected to death threats and mob violence, Zola was tried and convicted for insulting authority. Dreyfus was pardoned and released from confinement on Devil’s Island after his second trial in 1899, but he was not exonerated until 1906.
A sampling of Feuillet’s sketches reveals his sources in Japanese art. With an economy of line, the young artist assigned to cover the trials conveys the stoicism of the physically deteriorated Captain Dreyfus, now ill and emotionally spent from his five-year imprisonment and the shame he had suffered. Her back to the viewer, Mrs. Dreyfus is rendered in profile, dignified and perfectly attired in a dark shirtwaist and plumed hat. At his 1898 trial, Zola glares at a man who is perhaps the prosecuting attorney. His expression defiant, the writer adopts a posture that may have been disrespectful in a court of law at that time, one leg crossed over the other. It is not difficult to discern that Feuillet was in sympathy with the innocent man and those who were fighting for justice.
It’s satisfying to learn that elsewhere in Europe, plans are going ahead to mount exhibits that were cancelled due to the pandemic. At London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, “Helen Frankenthaler: Radical Beauty,” which was to have been on view in 2020, has been rescheduled and can now be seen from May through November of this year. A survey of the artist’s woodcuts, the show is comprised of art loaned from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.
As Elizabeth Smith, the Foundation’s director, has commented: “The extensive survey of Frankenthaler’s woodcuts is an exciting opportunity to introduce the artist’s printmaking to U.K. audiences through works from our collection. It will continue to advance the understanding and appreciation of her ground-breaking contributions to art.”
Celebrated for her lyrical interpretation of Abstract Expressionism and her impact on the New York and Washington Color Field School, Frankenthaler was born in New York City in 1928, and studied art at Bennington College. After she was discovered by influential critic Clement Greenberg early in her career, she became a star and exhibited her large-scale paintings widely. Referencing the methods of first-generation Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, her process involved pouring and dripping that resulted in an entirely different, lyrical effect, produced by the thinning of the paint absorbed by the raw canvas and her use of a wide range of translucent tonalities.
Later, Frankenthaler would expand her medium, even applying the juicy residue of crushed berries on the surface of the canvas.
Mounted a decade after her death in 2011, the Dulwich installation will shine a light on the artist’s constantly evolving style and experimental methods through its focus on her large-scale, fluid and painterly woodcuts, executed from the 1970s on. Employing innovative processes and unconventional tools, Frankenthaler continued to draw inspiration from the aesthetics of Japan. A number of the woodcuts in the installation—including the room-sized “Madame Butterfly” (2000), produced in collaboration with Tyler Graphics artist Kenneth Tyler and woodblock print specialist Yasuyuki Shibata—represent a fusion of American and Japanese printmaking methods.
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