August 6, 2011

Atul Kapur's Pick: Louis Hersent's "Daphnis and Chloe"

A special thanks to Atul Kapur for hosting this blog for a day. If you there is a work of art that you would like to share here, feel free to drop me a line.

Nationality:
French
Born/Died: 1777-1860

Creation Date: 1817
Size: 55.1 x 68.9 in. (140 x 175 cm)
Media: Oil on canvas
Location: The Louvre, Paris, France



Why I like Daphnis and Chloe:

One of my favorite paintings is "Daphnis and Chloe" by a 19th century French painter Louis Hersent.

I like the painting for its depiction of a passionate couple engaged in a life-affirming moment. Let me define that moment by briefly describing the painting as we see it (i.e. without any reference to the story that it's based upon).


A beautiful young couple is sitting in the countryside. The girl is holding a double-flute close to her mouth, while her face and eyes are rotated just enough to glance at the guy. The guy's slightly open mouth and the same positioning of their fingers suggest that he is teaching her how to play a melody. His posture is relaxed, her body is leaning comfortably on his chest with her feet crossed, and the dog's legs are stretched. It must have been a while since they have been sitting here. His touch is delicate, his gaze is affixed at her face, and their bright clothes are worn loosely. I'm sure that they are in love. He must be a shepherd by profession: he has a club, a dog (to herd), and some goats feeding on the branch leaves.

It's a lovely moment--a moment of sharing our small skills with our beloved, be it how to make an omelet, how to blow a bubble-gum, or how to play a flute. The joys that we feel during such moments concretize the happiness that we find by being with someone with whom we share a passion for life.

When I first glanced at the painting seven years ago at the Louvre, I didn't see anything special besides a beautiful couple and some skillful brushwork. So I took a photograph. Today, when I look at it again, I find more and more details, each adding something new to the scene, and thus being essential to it. The painter has employed tremendous selectivity in every aspect of the painting.

“Daphnis and Chloe” is based on an ancient Greek romance of the same name. In the novel, Daphnis (the guy) and Chloe (the girl) fall in love with each other, but do not understand it for a while. I think this was the situation Hersent chose for this painting, but I am not sure.

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