For the next month or so, I’ll be covering the work of French Romantic artists who were the peers of Bouguereau. Little information is available on the internet on these artists which is likely due to the neglect of their work in the 20th century.
Émile Lévy (1826– 1890) was a talented Romantic painter, he won the first-class medal in the Salon of 1878. Some biographical information can be found on Levy online but I could find nothing which discussed the content of his work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even find the dates of many of his works. But I estimate that the works discussed in this article were painted sometime in the 1870’s by comparing them to works of which the dates could be found.
Lévy’s The Splinter is a charming image of a young couple. Their clothes imply they are from the ancient Greek or Roman times. The boy tenderly removes a splinter from the young maiden’s foot, they seem to be in their teens. If there is symbolism in the gesture, it is unknown to me. The face of the girl is the same as the next painting of interest so keep her in mind.
The Dizzy Spell is an interesting painting because one wonders what the relationship is between the figures. The girl seems to be very young, which seemed to rule out that they were lovers. So one could presume they are brother and sister. But what is the source of the girl’s dizziness? If you recall the face of the girl in the splinter, I noticed the face of the girl in The Dizzy Spell is identical. Apparently, Lévy used the same model for both paintings. I know from experience as an artist that a painting can make a girl look younger or older than they are depending on the rendering of the shadows on the face. I later found that The Dizzy Spell has an other title, The Elopement, so they are lovers after all. In the upper right of the painting there is a tiny figure in the distance between the trees, perhaps the girl became dizzy from running from the distant figure?
The Vertigo Idyll shows a young couple at edge of a cliff, the maiden looks below with concern while the young man seems indifferent to the danger. The definition of vertigo is, “Episodes of dizziness and a sensation of spinning with certain head movements.” Lévy certainly had a thing with dizziness! I actually find Lévy’s paintings tend to be more interesting than Bouguereau’s because of his unusual narratives. It’s a shame, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m the first to write about his work in a hundred years.
The Education of Cupid shows a woman guiding the arms of Cupid as he aims his arrow. presumably, the woman is Venus but what is the target she is directing Cupid to shoot at?
I found two images of The Education of Cupid, one in black and white and an other in color. The color version censors Cupid’s genitals with a narrow cloth. The existence of the black and white image indicates that Lévy intended Cupid to be nude. If Lévy later censored his work or if it was later censored by someone else is unknown.