Wednesday, July 26, 2006



Private Collection/Conseil Investissement Art, BNP Paribas

Lovely little portrait of Johnny Depp in one of his Libertine absinthe-soaked roles you might think. In fact, its 'Despair' (1844-1845), a self-portrait by the French realist painter Gustave Courbet (1819-77).

It first came to my attention in a newspaper story in the summer of 2006, at the opening of an exhibition entitled '
Rebels And Martyrs: The Image Of The Artist In The 19th Century' at London's National Gallery. The Independent reported that the exhibition's curator's knew of the painting's existence and wanted to include it in the show. However the painting had vanished, after being last seen in 1978 at a Courbet retrospective at the Royal Academy. The week before the Rebel show was due to be installed, the curators received a phone call from France offering to lend them the painting. The owner's identity remains a mystery.

Yesterday, I bought the New York Review of Books' to see the painting staring out at me once more. There is a major Courbet exhibition which recently ended in Paris, soon to be seen at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (February 27–May 18, 2008)

As John Golding writes in 'The Born Rebel Artist': 'This is the image that was chosen for the traditional banners that Paris sports to advertise major exhibitions. It would have pleased Courbet to be presiding over hundreds of thousands of Parisians as they roamed through the streets of the capital. And the fact that this relatively small picture survives magnificently the test of being blown up to twenty or thirty times the size of the original testifies to its power and the beauty of its paint effects. It will be seen on posters in New York.'

Read Chrissy Iley's exclusive interview with Johnny Depp here.

No comments: