Traces of the Hand

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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman

Social Commentary

In the nineteenth century we frequently encounter images that represent current social behavior and mores but with little apparent satire or moralization. The drawings by Forain and Guys appear to be frank, direct accounts of ordinary private life in the Parisian demimonde. Guys produced drawings of the kind seen here by the hundreds, recording his nightly forays in Paris. Its apparent lack of compositional structure reinforces the impression of an immediate, unedited encounter with these figures. Forain’s Mistress and Her Maid suggests some sort of amused exchange between the women, but provides few clues that would make the situation clearer. The Balzer is even more elusive regarding the relationship between the old man and the woman and between their actions and the cropped face of a man in profile in the foreground, whose mouth is open in what looks like shock or surprise. Whether he is actually engaged with the old man and woman or is a "chance" figure caught in the pictorial field as we see in the images of Toulouse-Lautrec remains unclear. Also cryptic is Staeger’s depiction of an elegantly dressed young couple being welcomed into a lush garden by a devilish gardener. They seem oblivious to the horns on his head or the claw-shaped shadow of his hand as they embark on the primrose path—an image made more poignant for us by its creation on the verge of the catastrophe of World War I.

Artists, Titles, and Accession Numbers

Ferdinand Balzer, Coffeehouse Scene, 2007.15.12 >

Jean Louis Forain, Mistress and Her Maid, 2007.15.35 >

Constantin Guys, The House of Ill Repute, 2006.11.24 >

Ferdinand Staeger, Up the Garden Path, 2006.11.57 >


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