I've been searching for art books by both, so my better 4/5ths gifted me with From Homer to the Harem, a monograph about Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ. Her penchant for finding me great art books makes her my better by an increasingly large fraction.
Published by the Dahesh Museum, this is the first modern monograph on this fellow. This was the catalog of an exhibition of his work at the Dahesh in 2004, which I didn't know about and couldn't have attended if I did. As with many of the artists of the period, as modern art stole the spotlight, his work fell into obscurity, buried under heaps of modern critics' scorn. While many of his compatriots have been resurrected and are enjoying a renewed appreciation, Lecomte du Nouÿ's work is just being exhumed, and this book is a nice early look at a body of work that will undoubtedly grow and form the basis of a larger book I'll someday have to buy.
Mainly, a lot of the works are still in private collections, many of which have not been tracked down. As well, a surprisingly large number of important works succumbed to fires and to the destruction of World War II, which is my assumption based on the years and locations they were destroyed. In some cases photo reproductions survive, which only make the losses that much more painful. So, compared to some other books, this one is not quite as chock-full of art as one might hope for. But there is still plenty here, and it's fantastic. As word gets out, I imagine collectors will come forward to either have their works photographed, or they'll try to sell them with the renewed interest raising their prices, at which point they'll be documented for auction catalogs and the like.
I didn't realize that he was a favorite student of another hero, Gérôme. It certainly made sense once I learned it, as stylistically they have much in common. While one might normally dismiss a seeming copycat, there are enough fantastic pieces to entice. As well, that was an era when progress was made in small steps, without the urgency of needing to be radically different for its own sake.
The in-depth look at his works in the text is interesting, particularly for those already somewhat familiar with the milieu in which they were created. Of note was a mention of the Prix de Rome, the most coveted award you could get in the western art world for at least a century. Our artist narrowly lost this award, but the story of his seeking it highlights the rigors which one had to face to achieve the heights of fame in that era. Of further interest were exerpts from show reviews written by art critics of the day, who held enormous sway at the time and could sometimes make or break an artist with a few words.
Perhaps most interesting of all, for my purposes, is that the artist was in many respects an illustrator, whose works often re-imagined stories both classical and fairly contemporary to his time, at a time when the word illustrator was unnecessary, and art was simply art. On a personal note, he was widowed twice, went to war, and traveled a lot--soaking in the near east's flavor which he translated into his many Orientalist images.
Unlike my last book review, this one is still in-print. These exhibition catalogs don't stay in print for long, and they are long in the reprinting, so do yourself a favor and grab it today!