Sunday, July 14, 2019

Léopold Burthe’s "Angelique" at NOMA



The Riverbend neighborhood's short, bucolic Burthe Street epitomizes the area's sedate, leafy aura as it meanders its 14 block trajectory from the CrossFit Nola fitness center at Leake Ave. by the river, to the Muslim Student Association near Tulane University at Audubon St. where it abruptly ends. Its obscure allure is appreciated by those of us who live nearby, but its newly revealed connection to the glory days of the Paris Salon was unexpected. The New Orleans Museum of Art's recent purchase of Léopold Burthe’s newly rediscovered painting, "Angelique," shines a new light on the street's time shrouded namesake, Dominique Burthe, the artist's wealthy father. Like many children of affluent local French families, Léopold, born in 1823, was educated in Paris. There he fell under the spell of French art star Jean-August Ingres whose influence infuses the virtuoso rendering of Burthe's "Angelique." Ingres even painted a somewhat similar canvas, “Angelica,” also based on the sixteenth-century Italian poem, “Song of Roland” by Ludovico Ariosto, but Ingre's version is a literal view of a white knight rescuing his beloved heroine in bondage, whereas Burthe's version is more psychological. (His other venture into dark mythology, "Ophelia," below, while also eerie still lacks the psychic complexity that makes "Angelique" such a psychically multilayered masterpiece.)
    

Instead of a classic white knight, Burthe's rescuing hero is a shadowy figure emerging from dark clouds, and if Ingre's heroine seems to be rapturously awaiting her hero, Burthe's heroine appears unsure, or as the unnamed author of a Zürich gallery's description of the painting put it, she seems “resistant” to both the threat of sea monsters and the approaching knight. Both Ingres and Burthe depict the knight astride a hippogriff, a mythic hybrid of a horse and an eagle, but Burthe's version looks more like a dragon. No wonder his would-be lover has cold feet! Here Burthe's magnum opus exhibited at the 1852 Paris salon appears as a precursor to the work of 20th century fantasy artist Frank Frazetta as well as the game series, Dungeons and Dragons, and the recent Game of Thrones TV series – which gives us a lot to ponder next time we find ourselves wandering down Burthe Street. ~Bookhardt / Angelique: A Newly Rediscovered Painting by Léopold Burthe, Ongoing, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.