Editor's note: The following essay was rekeyed and reprinted on October 15, 2002 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of Vero Beach Museum of Art. The essay, written in May, 2002, was previously included in an illustrated catalogue for the exhibition Pierre Daura: A Retrospective, 1896-1976, held September 7 through November 10, 2002 at Vero Beach Museum of Art. Images accompanying the text in the illustrated catalogue were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the catalogue please contact Vero Beach Museum of Art through either this phone number or web address:
Pierre Daura: Reflections and Creations
by Kerry Greaves
Art is the mirror where man's avidness of bettering himself, of self-determination, of self-expression, his thirst for the comprehending of the shadows of`the unfathomed unknown, the mysteries of du au dela, where his driving impulse towards the great aesthetical truth are reflected. Art is the inner revelation of man's part in the universal and the eternal progression.
Pierre Daura's career as all artist spanned over three-quarters of the twentieth century. The generous donation to the Vero Reach Museum of Art of 44 works in various media by the artist's daughter, Martha Daura, is unprecedented in the Museum's history, These works solidly represent the Catalan-American artist's stylistic development throughout Daura's long and prolific career. From his school days in Barcelona, to his final years in Virginia, Pierre Daura remained the consummate creator, striving to give outward substance to inner expression. As Daura grappled with numerous, varied artistic influences from Europe, he remained a devoted father and husband, and it is perhaps this more than anything else that sustained and stimulated his singular, expressive vision.
The Museum's holdings can be divided into six subjects: war scenes, group portraits, self-portraits, geometric abstraction, landscapes, and still lifes. The thirty-six paintings (thirteen on paper), three drawings, four graphic works, and one sculpture range from naturalism and colorful expressionism to stark abstraction, and span the period 1924-75. Emotional images serve as reactions to Daura's experiences of the chaos and horrors of war. Penetrating family and self-portraits depict the artist's devotion to the concept of familial bonds and insightfully record various stages of adulthood. The vibrant, expressive landscapes of Daura's native Spain and home in St. Circ-Lapopie give way to both pensive and experimental scenes of the Virginia countryside. Finally, still lifes showcase Daura's use of color not only as an expressive, descriptive element, but also as a vehicle for abstraction.
The Spanish Civil War had an enormous impact on Daura, who enlisted as a forward artillery observer in 1937. His experiences fighting for the Republican forces haunted him for the rest of his life. Like many modern artists who lived during the first half of the 20th century, Daura used his art not only to represent what he saw and experienced while on the front, but also to grapple with the horrors and chaos of war. In this Daura was similar to the Expressionists such as the Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) and the German artist Otto Dix (1891-1961). Like Daura, both Kokoschka and Dix were artists who saw battle (in World War I), were profoundly affected, and sought to resolve through their art the trauma they experienced. The outbreak of World War I challenged the bohemian marginality of Expressionist artists; their careers were interrupted and their individuality threatened by the conformity of the military. Paralleling this was the response that war was seen as artistic inspiration. Kokoschka volunteered for military service in 1914 and was severely wounded in 1915, In 1917 he returned to Dresden to convalesce, His reaction to these war experiences can be seen stylistically in an increasingly agitated, rapid brushstroke in his work during this period. Dix served from 1914 to 1918 on both the eastern and western fronts, and was also wounded. He portrayed the intensity of battle, the effect of war on society, and the trauma it inflicted on surviving soldiers with an unforgiving, almost satirical realism. Similarly, Daura's lyrical and harmonious depictions during and immediately after the period of the Spanish Civil War were replaced during this period with tumultuous compositions and rapid brushstrokes. Daura's representations of war and his self-portraits as a soldier reveal his intense disillusionment from his experiences that resulted in the revocation of his Spanish citizenship.
Civilisation 1937 is a series of engravings (of which the Museum has three) which deal with the effects of the Spanish Civil War, especially on children. The innocent victims, 1939 (Fig. 4), portrays the extreme grief of a family who have lost their daughter (the little girl depicted in this picture is actually Martha; the only time Daura could get her to pose was when she was sleeping). The rawness of emotion in the scene is enhanced by deep shadows and stark black and white contrasts. The print medium, which allows for inexpensive reproduction in large quantities, was a popular way of disseminating artists' reactions to war in the first half of the twentieth century. Similarly, Otto Dix's Der Krieg (The War), 1924, a series of 50 prints, focused not only on the artist's emotional responses to war and actual battle scenes, but also the overwhelmingly maddening effects of everyday life in the trenches during World War I.
Take it or give it, 1939 (Fig. 3), a large gouache, incorporates both bright color and black and white contrasts, presenting an unsettling scene of war. The title indicates explicitly that in battle, one can either kill or be killed, and various stages of these opposing concepts make up the scene. In the midst of constant commotion, soldiers collapse, charge, and engage in physical combat with one another. Beyond the flames and smoke helicopters can be seen, either crashing or attacking. Among the chaos, in the center of the composition, the central soldier makes a sign with his hand that is similar to the universal sign for peace. This creates a place for the eye to focus and take respite from the surrounding violence. Color is reserved only for the background, while the foreground soldiers are depicted in monotone, emphasizing the bleakness of their horrifying tasks. Like Dix and Kokoschka, Daura attempts to capture apocalyptic, frenzied battle with heightened color and expressionistic strokes. Each figure, made up of quick, energy-filled lines, and rough washes of gray, can be seen as various studies in movement, and when viewed within the context of the entire scene, present a turbulent and disturbing image of war.
Group Portraits, and Green T
In addition to an enduring dedication to his art, there was one other constant in Pierre Daura's life -- his family. Daura's steadfast devotion to the concept of familial love is evidenced by his decision to remain in rural Virginia, where he could focus on his small family, and the dominance of portraits of his wife Louise and daughter Martha. Significant factors that impacted Daura's choice of subject matter and his decision to remain outside of the exhibiting scenes of Paris, Barcelona and New York were the early loss of his mother, his marriage to Louise Blair, who was an accomplished artist in her own right, and the sobering impact of the Spanish Civil War.
The Museum has two representations each of Louise and Martha. Louise is depicted as a graceful, willowy beauty in the ink drawing, Louise, ca.1934 (Fig, 6). Drawn during their first visit to Virginia, Louise stands in front of a farm in Rockbridge Baths. The overall flow of facile lines effectively conveys a breeze blowing through Louise's hair, and a contemplative stare, which frequently dominates portrayals of his wife.
This meditative contemplation can also be seen in Louise in Red Velvet Dress, ca.1942 (Fig, 5), in which the three-quarter turned pose of the upper torso and style of dress recall portraits of the Italian Renaissance. The deep, rich red velvet of the dress sharply contrasts with the austere background, facial expression and lack of ostentatious accessories. This somber atmosphere could be attributed to the fact that the image was painted during World War II, when the luxury and beauty of times past were just memories. The reference to the Renaissance -- a period during which there was a great flowering of art and ideas -- implies a hope for a better time, or a longing for a simpler one.
The luxuriousness of Louise's red velvet dress is also seen in the background drape of Study, Nude, ca.1933 (Fig. 7). In the context of the nude, red becomes the symbol for passion. Reclining in vague contemplation, the figure's thoughts are somewhere beyond the scene. Daura's experimentation with naturalistic representation can be seen in the uncomfortable placing of her torso, neck and head on an almost two-dimensional support, which was probably constructed in the studio. The diagonal upward sweeping movement of the background drape behind her creates a dynamic framing device for her body. This reclining of a nude in an indoor setting recalls a long, established tradition in art history. The Venetian artist Titian's (ca,1485-1576) Venus of Urbino, 1538 (Uffizi, Florence), which also uses deep red tones to frame the model, is the first example of a nude who is made naked. Daura's figure seems to be both nude and naked, as she does not look directly at the viewer, and although the drape sets her in an abstracted background, it is most likely a studio-constructed environment. Famous "naked" nudes can also be referenced with this study: Francisco Goya's Naked Maja, ca.1800-03 (Prado, Madrid), and Edouard Manet's Olympia, ca,1863 (Louvre, Paris). The suggestive display of the female body as an object for the male gaze, emphasized by an open, frontal pose with arms tucked defenselessly behind the body, particularly recall's Goya's Maja. The milky skin tones that make up the body of Daura's nude are sinuously outlined in black, which references Manet's linear treatment of outline and flat modeling of the body.
A very different depiction of the female body is represented by the Museum's single sculpture by Daura, Woman Kneeling, ca.1949 (Fig. 8). Here the flesh in Study, Nude is physically molded in three-dimensional stone. In Daura's hands the hard, cold stone is made soft and smooth. The only hint that she is clothed is the triangular fold in between her knees and sweep of a cape across her neck. Her head is thrown back, a pose traditionally used to imply either ecstasy or pain. With this extremely modern sculpture, Daura makes an important statement as a significant artist of the first half of the 20th century. He is able to incorporate primitive influences -- the reference to ancient female deities such as the Willendorf Venus, ca.21000 B.C. (Natural History Museum, Vienna), and the seemingly crude modeling of the stone -- in order to create a work of complete modernity. The integration of the primitive recalls the avant-garde tendencies of artists such as Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). The style and subject matter of Woman Kneeling aligns him with artists such as Picasso, who viewed seemingly primitive, un-industrialized people and traditions as inspiration for creating abstract art that he thought of as more original and authentic than naturalistic representation.
In all of Daura's oeuvre, nothing is as touching as the depictions of his daughter Martha. The Museum is fortunate enough to possess two of these: Our Martha, 1934 (Fig, 9), and Martha in Red Dress, ca.1936 (Fig. 1). In the earlier work the tenderness of the four year-old, who arranges her hair, is heightened by the delicacy and softness of the drawing medium. Her large, beautiful eyes and wispy curls are gently shaded and lovingly detailed. In the later work Martha has grown, and we now experience the same penetrating, contemplative gaze of her mother. The red dresses of both mother and daughter in each work make them interesting and touching companion pieces. The little girl's almost translucent eyes, parted lips, and the activity of background brushstrokes around her head emphasize the child's energy.
Daura's mother died before he was eight, an event that affected him deeply. It is not a coincidence that the theme of the mother and child was one to which he returned throughout his career. Images by Daura which depict a mother and child, or a family, have often been seen as a reference to the Holy Family with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child. Yet, even more than this, these works reference his own sense of family, and pay homage to the universal theme of motherhood. In 1962 Daura gave a small Mother and Child bronze sculpture, by Blacksburg sculptor Dean Carter, to Martha and Louise for Christmas. In a note with the gift he wrote, "Praise be the glory to the Mother and Child...to all mothers and all children; they are the infinite past that was, the present that is and the Eternity that will be. Life they are; without them there is no tomorrow. And of course, mother and child mean to me mother Louise and daughter Martha. To them both, this symbol of life, of renewal, of eternal continuity."
The Museum's Mother and Child, ca.1953 (Fig. 10), is a powerful depiction of the mother as symbol of creation and life that incorporates both the traditional and the modern. The icon of the Virgin Mary is an especially significant theme in the history of Spain, and has historically been revered by Christians. The roughly molded anatomy, blue mantel with red dress (a Renaissance-based tradition for depicting the Virgin), and expression of grief all suggest that this work depicts the Virgin Mary and Christ child. Yet the agitated background, Cubist-inspired breaking up of form into simple, elemental shapes, the thick texture of the paint, and informal leaning of the child on the mother's lap are all signs of a more contemporary portrayal of this universal theme. The repeated posture of both the mother and child within a triangular format (notice the child's back disappears as it reaches the edge of the canvas, becoming one with the mother's body), and the forceful simplicity of both color and line, make this work an outstanding and forceful representation of one of nature's most elemental bonds.
One of the Museum's most insightful depictions of a family is Rockbridge Mountaineers, ca.1939 (Fig. 14). This work differs from the others in the Museum's collection in that it is not allegorical or symbolic. It is an actual portrait of one of the mountain families of rural Virginia who were, until the draft of World War II, untouched by industrialization and most outside influences. The vacant stares and furrowed faces indicate the years of hard work in which they have and will engage. The center figure of the young daughter looks straight at the viewer, provoking us to contemplate their fate. Daura frequently poses one parent figure embracing a child, set lower in the composition, who leans in towards the protector. This is apparent in this early picture with the little boy and his father in the lower left corner. The mountains that are this family's life are suggested in the background. The weariness, quiet strength and adamant resolve of these people are forcefully conveyed in this jewel of a portrait.
A later depiction of familial bonds, Come Here My Daughter, ca.1955 (Fig, 2), incorporates a translucent, layered appearance of paint and the flatness of four intermingled figures. Flat shapes are differentiated only by heavy outlines and by various fields of color. Here the gaze is extremely important, as each stare serves to isolate the interlocking figures into each figure's own emotional situation. All four figures stare in different directions -- no one looks at one another, which balances their body language and physically connects them. The father figure, who is the apex of the triangular composition, protectively embraces his daughter. The worry and tension of the mother figure is revealed not only in her expression and pose (very similar to Mother and Child), but also in her nervous clasping of a white kerchief. Mirroring her right arm and balancing the group is the small angel-like child who gives the universal sign of peace and whose body forms the sign of the cross. One is also reminded of the theme of the prodigal son, best epitomized by Rembrandt's (1606-69) highly emotional and tender The Return of the Prodigal Son of ca.1665 (Hermitage, Leningrad). The intensity of emotion, however, does suggest an ambiguousness of the relationships between figures in the picture. Whether the Holy Family, or a symbol of familial love and forgiveness, what is important here is the way that the artist incorporates a sophisticated and delicate interplay between line, shape and color to create a forceful expression of emotion.
The intimate embrace between figures, in which bodies intermingle to constitute a single form, is something Daura frequently repeated. Three other figure compositions in the Museum's collection depict the contorted and tender embrace seen between father and daughter in Come Here My Daughter: White on Black, The Couple and The Family. White on Black, ca.1967 (Fig. 11), shows the family, again in the traditional triangular arrangement of figures which was made famous by Leonardo da Vinci's (1452-1519) Virgin and St. Anne, ca.1507-8 (National Gallery, London). Leonardo's preparatory drawing, The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Anne, and later depictions of family groups, seek to reconcile the intensity of feeling within the family with the composition of a closely arranged group of three or more figures in a triangular format. Daura often used the long-established triangular format for his family groups. The mother, infant and child sit in a garden filled with various pairs of both animals and people. The possible Biblical references to both Noah's Ark and the Garden of Eden by the pairs in the garden can also be seen as an allegorical reference to the bonds of love and creation.
The Couple, ca.1955-70 (Fig. 13), expands upon the translucent quality of color in Come Here My Daughter by using thin washes of watercolor over drawn figures. The bird feeding its young in the upper left corner emphasizes the importance of family as a sustaining element of life. As the male figure embraces his lover, he gently clasps her hair, which is a flat band of color. Daura often experimented with emphasis upon the surface of the painting by using flat areas of color, seen here in the female figure's hair, the orange wash over the male's face and the blue sky. This use of color is not necessarily a descriptive element but an entity unto itself, congruous with one of the main tendencies in modern art during this period, Colorfield painting. From the late 1950s the Colorfield painters similarly began calling attention to the two-dimensionality of the picture plane, focusing on flat washes and different properties of color.
In The Family, ca.1955-70 (Fig, 15), the embrace seen in The Couple is broken up even further into flat, geometric areas of color. This breaking up of space, along with the Minotaur-like face in the center of the composition, recall the work of a fellow Catalan artist, Picasso. Picasso often used the imagery of the Minotaur, half-man, half-bull, as a personal allegory in his work. The Spanish artist identified himself with the Greek legend of the Minotaur. Half-animal, half-man, the Minotaur often symbolized the unconscious, raw emotion of a beast in opposition to the reason of man. It is unclear, however, if Daura used this imagery outside of The Family.
Although the triangular composition is maintained in The Family, this further abstraction references the only purely abstract work in the Museum's collection, Green T, ca.1945-65 (Fig. 12). Daura experimented with entirely abstract works throughout his career, beginning with his involvement in the famous group Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square, see footnotes 1,3 and 4 in My Father Remembered by Martha Daura). The group, which focused on the development of an ordered geometric abstraction, as opposed to the irrationality of Surrealism, exhibited only once in 1930 at Gallery 23 in Paris. Daura designed their logo. His involvement with this group, especially his close friendship with Joaquin Torres-García, fueled the predominantly figurative Daura to expand upon what he knew and to experiment with a two-dimensional, geometric abstraction aligned with Constructivism. This was a geometric, abstract art movement originated in Russia about 1914 with the art of Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) and focused on "constructing" a purely abstract art that reflected modern machinery and technology. The movement was one of the influences on the successor to Cercle et Carré the Abstraction-Création group, which formed in Paris in 1931. This association, which broke apart in 1936, was intended to encourage the creative abstraction of geometric, non-figurative elements, and at one time included 400 members. Although Daura was not a member of Abstraction-Création, many of his Cercle et Carré colleagues went on to be involved in the group, and its focus on geometry and ordered abstraction nonetheless influenced his purely abstract works such as Green T.
In Green T the surface of the image is carefully
broken up into flat, geometric areas which are both separate from and a
part of one another. The painterly splashing of light pink and brown contrasts
with the smooth finish of the brilliant red and deep green opposing "T"
shapes. Rather than maintaining balance, shapes and colors are composed
to try and create a harmony of visually disparate parts. Lines are clearly
delineated and bounded, and the color fields obscure them (as in the case
of the pink rectangle) or emphasize them (as with the two "T"'s).
The proportion of smaller rectangles to larger ones references Daura's fascination
with J. Hambidge's Elements of Dynamic Symmetry, published in 1926
(New York: Dover). Hambidge's book dealt with proportion and order, and
stemmed from mathematical principles such as the Golden Section. Hambidge
wrote about design principles found in nature, which could be applied to
the work of the artist and designer. The book discussed fundamental rectangles
with their simple divisions based on the proportioning law found in nature,
and compound rectangles with their more subtle subdivisions, many of which
were taken from or suggested by the analysis of Greek art objects. Known
since antiquity, the Golden Section is the proportion in which a straight
line or rectangle is divided into two unequal parts so that the ratio of
the smaller to the greater part is the same as that of the greater to the
whole. Such a proportion has been seen as possessing aesthetic value because
of a correspondence with the laws of nature or the universe. The focus on
order and proportion can be seen in a series of abstract compositions (in
which Green T is one), made up of various rectangles and geometric
shapes in primary colors.
The Museum has five self-portraits by Pierre Daura. Throughout his career the artist often created introspective self-portraits that reflect various stages of adulthood. In the earliest of these, Self-Portrait, ca.1933 (Fig. 16), Daura portrays himself with graying hair, a solemn expression and rough, gray stubble, almost emphasizing a sense of fatigue. Daura's dark eyes seem to stare past the viewer. Yet as weary as Daura seems at first, he is also presented here as a sophisticated, experienced man of the world, which can be seen in his handsome face, upright posture, and the stylized curvature of his scarf and jacket.
In the 1940 ink drawing Self-Portrait (Fig. 17), the artist gazes penetratingly out at the viewer. Created when the artist was forty-four years old, Daura's concentrated brow and the energy of background strokes framing his face evoke a person full of meaningful thought and emotion. The expert use of crosshatching here molds and contours every fold, crevice and bulge of Daura's skin, and the long, vertical lines of his jacket lead the viewer's eye past a central shadow in the neck, which opens up to frame his face.
Daura's face is slightly more emaciated in Self-Portrait with Beige Collar, ca.1951 (Fig. 18). The former careful presentation of clothing is replaced by a relaxed, open collar, which loosely falls out of the picture plane at the bottom register. Daura's downward gaze to the viewer's left and the strong shadows on his face emphasize the concerns of middle age and balances the strong, rising right-hand diagonal of Daura's left shoulder. The horizontal background line directly lines up with the artist's eyes, emphasizing their importance.
In Self-Portrait with Red Shirt, ca.1965 (Fig. 19), Daura has become an old man. We see the artist in his element, as a painter. The dramatic nature of the earlier portraits is replaced by a more experimental use of color. Daura's once penetrating gaze is now obscured by heavily drooping eyelids. The vibrant, rich red of his shirt is surrounded by a radiating, milky white paint. Shadows are rejected for an effervescent film of fields of white and other bright colors which denote the joy Daura feels for his profession. The angular use of thin washes of almost translucent, bright color is typical of Daura's later work, also evident in Come Here My Daughter. It is no accident that this experimentation is taken on in an image in which Daura depicts himself first and foremost as an artist.
The artist's tradition of self-portraiture as a messenger of his or her profession is significant. Rembrandt portrayed himself time and time again as insightful and introspective, as well as a sophisticated, cultured personage in the guise of the artist. No painters before and few after Rembrandt portrayed themselves more frequently and in more guises. Daura, prolific in his insightful self-depictions, rivals the Dutch master's output.
Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is another artist whose production of introspective self-portraits, especially in old age, closely resembles those done by Daura. Munch was one artist who investigated his role in different stages of adulthood through unidealized, unforgiving self-portraits, Both Daura and Munch created self-portraits as a kind of psychological visualization of the inner life of the artist and as a way of dealing with the burden of old age. Daura represented himself in the twilight of his life in Self-Portrait in Blue Coat, ca,1970 (Fig. 20), the only self-portrait of the five in which the artist's head hangs low, and he leans down to our left. His gaze is hidden even more by drooping eyelids, and his jacket and sweater are painted in bland colors against a brilliant gold background. Yet the arch of the eye, the thoughtful wrinkle of the brow, and the free flow of the brushstroke all reflect the Daura's ever-present questioning, searching spirit. Daura's ability to portray himself in such a vulnerable state, hunched by old age, full of memories, entering the final stage of his life, is a powerful statement about the contemplative reflections of the artist.
Just as portraits outwardly reflected Daura's inner belief in familial love, the landscape expressed his dedication to and love of the beauty of nature, whether it was his native Spain, beloved St. Cirq-Lapopie, or his adopted home of Virginia. In the Museum's collection of fifteen landscapes, there are three depicting Spain, five of France, six of Virginia and one of Nantucket, Massachusetts. The Spanish scenes are earlier than most of the French and American landscapes (except for Sta. Eulalia, Ibiza, which was done in 1968 from memory). These works depict the areas in which Daura spent the most significant amount of time, where he lived, worked, fought and died.
Although it is hard to generalize a specific progression in his style, the oils done in France and Spain in the 1930s (along with one from Virginia, Farm and Jump Mountain, ca.1935) were most likely influenced by the work of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Daura's teacher Émile Bernard (1868-1894). Cézanne was the first modern artist to question naturalistic dimensionality with subtle gradations in tonality of various forms. Cézanne's images were meant to appeal to the mind rather than the eye, and his landscapes were created to analyze the structural properties of nature. Bernard was a French painter and writer who experimented with Impressionist and then Pointillist color theory. He co-founded Synthetism with Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), which involved the simplification of forms and the expressive quality of intense color. Bernard advised Daura to "Seek Beauty," and advised his students to paint scenes from memory and with emotion. It is interesting to note that while Daura was an apprentice in Bernard's studio he catalogued his teacher's correspondence with the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Perhaps this contact with the theories and beliefs of van Gogh also influenced Daura's style, which, at times, is very similar to the Dutch painter's. The vibrant colors, expressive strokes, and breaking up of three-dimensional space of Daura's works recall these three artists. In Daura's later watercolors of Virginia (1955-70) there is a more Cubist-inspired breaking up of space, while the oils from this period paradoxically reflect a roundness of naturalistic forms, the gentle flow of the brush and the blending of warm hues.
The large oil Reflections of Bancourel, 1932 (Fig. 21), exploits the rough splintering of the rocky cliffs of St. Cirq by multiplying the varying planes and textures in the reflection of water in the middleground. The Gothic apse of the village church can be seen in the upper left corner of the composition. The focus here is on the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside rather than the medieval quaintness of the town. Daura breaks up his forms with thick areas of color so well that the legibility of the body of water is difficult. The diagonal of the background mountain and the curvature of the shoreline create spatial depth and carry the viewer's eye from left to right.
OpaIine Mallorca (Fig. 23), also done in 1932, depicts the mountainous, sun-drenched scenery of Daura's native Balearic Islands. He was born in Minorca, the sister island to Mallorca. There is an expressiveness here that rivals the impressive appearance of the dramatic Spanish landscape. The rich, warm earth tones of the mountains, streets and buildings contrast and alternate with the lush, cool green trees. In the distance we see a solitary figure climbing the path up the terraced mountain, with the church holding court at the top of the village. The lines and forms making up the composition draw the viewer's eye through the choppy landscape and up to the church.
A later townscape, To the Gate (Fig. 25), is typical of Daura's style during the period 1955-71. The crowded, angular layering of forms within the composition, and the use of white highlights align this work stylistically with Come Here My Daughter, ca.1955, and similar landscapes of St. Cirq-Lapopie in Martha Daura's collection. This would place To the Gate closer chronologically to the late 1950s-early 1960s. Daura's construction of spatial elements in this St. Cirq scene lead the viewer's eye from the brown patch in the foreground through a dent in the trees at the right, past the village houses, and up to the arched medieval entrance gate at the top of the picture. The bright colors, skewed sense of space, and jumbled quality of forms have led to Daura being labeled a "romantic realist," because his work presents an emotionally charged vision of reality. In this way, Daura had much in common with the German Expressionists; he was in his lifetime compared to Oskar Kokoschka. Like Kokoschka's work, it is the vibrant color and expressive quality of line that take precedence over a naturalistic portrayal of space and form. Yet Daura was able to transcend any definite labels with works such as this, which contain so much of his original, independent style.
Ascó Spain, ca.1929 (Fig. 22), is an engraving of the Spanish town of Ascó, where the Daura family originated. Daura and Louise went there on their honeymoon. He emphasized the traditional, historical nature of the town by depicting multiple middleground gravestones and the castle ruins atop the hill in the distance. The dense lines in the middleground pull the eye past the bare foreground toward the castle, and almost obscure the two figures walking along a path. Shadows and trees seem to dance among a heavy crosshatched background and contrast the wispy, stark background mountaintop.
Anvers, 1926 (Fig, 24), an early gouache, was done on a trip away from Paris to Belgium. With Daura's fluid use of the watercolor medium in the background, and quick darker strokes for details, this piece is very far from the geometric phase influenced by Torres-García and Cercle et Carré in 1929. The gentle, rich countryside, the warm, pastel palette, with cows, delineated by only a few strokes, and the ever-present church and background town, create a serene sketch. It is interesting to see the similarity between this early work an later landscapes done in Virginia, such as Mist on the Mountains, ca.1940 (Fig, 29). Daura's former Cézanne-like breaking up of space (which would become more abstract and dominant during the period 1955-71), gives way here to his peaceful, fluid depiction of the beautiful Virginia landscape. The only hint of human existence is the foreground fence (fences are often present in many of Daura's landscapes), which is barely recognizable as short, dark strokes.
The New England harbor scene, Nantucket Waterfront, 1940 (Fig, 30), is the only non-Virginian, non-European landscape in the Museum's collection. It was done during the Daura family's trip to Nantucket. Daura later illustrated his sister-in-law Elizabeth Hollister Frost's book This Side of Land (see first section in My Father Remembered). Nantucket effectively reflects the deep, penetrating blue Atlantic waters and rough weather for which the area is known. The wonderful colors in the scene are dominated by rich blues and greens. Broad, short strokes with little blending constitute an agitated sea and dancing reflections. The foreground rock formation, man in yellow in the right corner, and flagpole frame the scene and we look out to sea with the solitary figure.
Field with Red Fence, ca.1941 (Fig. 31), like the Anvers scene, again presents a rural pasture, but this time details such as the fence and trees are more defined. The lefthand tree frames the scene, and the rail fence in the middleground gives the eye a place to focus before moving past it into the background. Perspective and dimension are more pronounced than the earlier Anvers sketch, yet there is still a significant amount of quick, expressive strokes to suggest details such as the foreground patches of grass. The background mountains lend a majestic quality to the scene, and they provide a place where Daura can experiment with color. The mountain consists of various flat, subtle patches of color while reflecting the effect of autumn on the various kinds of trees in the distance.
The "romantic realism" of Daura's earlier French and Spanish landscapes comes through in the Virginia scene, Fall, Tuckaway, ca.1943 (Fig. 26), which was painted while the Dauras were living at Tuckaway during World War II (see "Virginia" section in My Father Remembered). The mountains of Virginia, which are always present in Daura's landscapes of the area, strive for attention among the foreground mass of trees and gray buildings. Daura exploits the organic quality of trees by using them as highly stylized, almost decorative elements that surround the simple houses. As in his other landscapes, Daura does not emphasize the sky, but blends weaker colors there than in the rest of the scene.
Autumn Scene, 1955-70 (Fig. 28), and Upper Village, 1955-71 (Fig. 27), are examples of Daura experimenting more significantly with abstraction. Autumn Scene consists of geometric fields of color, hinted at in the mountain of Field with Rail Fence and used in the figural group The Couple. The artist's layering of watercolors creates a kaleidoscope of the brilliant hues of autumn, the time of year in Virginia Daura seems to have favored depicting. If it were not for the details of foliage created by short, dark strokes, clear horizon line, and descriptive quality of color, this would be a completely abstracted work. The townscape Upper Village is dominated by thickly applied white paint with hints of bright color. As his daughter has pointed out, when the time came to clean out his palette, Daura would already have a composition in mind, and then use his palette knife to apply large amounts of paint, creating surface texture and vibrancy. Daura's use of white highlights is now the main ingredient of this small picture.
The genre of still lifes was for L)aura, like his predecessor Cézanne, the perfect subject to study the descriptive, expressive quality of color, as well as to experiment with the breaking up of form and the fragmentation of traditional perspective, Brown Jug, Bread, Egg ca.1924-30 (Fig, 34), the earliest work in the Museum's collection, investigates the physical, spatial quality of natural objects. Daura experimentally uses broad, expressive strokes to model forms first and foremost as compositional elements. One can see this not only in the nature of the brushstrokes, but also in the placement of forms in the composition. If the canvas were split in half vertically, fruit and cheese on the left would mirror fruit and bread on the right; split in half horizontally, cheese and bread would mirror the two pieces of fruit. The bright egg at the bottom of the composition balances the larger, duller-colored jug at the top, and the crumpled blue cloth creates dynamism in this otherwise symmetrical composition.
Of the four still lifes in the Museum's collection, Pussywillows, Daffodils and Fruit, ca,1939-55 (Fig, 32), is the most naturalistic. Yet, as with all of Daura's work, there is an expressiveness that radiates from the energy of the brushstrokes. Daura's use of pulsating, vibrant color to model the spring flowers and succulent fruit in space, as well as his altered perspective reference Cézanne's early experimentation in abstraction. The fruit and flowers sit atop a table that seems to slant forward at an unrealistic angle. This ultimately challenges a clear, definite sense of space and recalls the ambiguous nature and intermingling of foreground, middleground and background in Cézanne's famous Still life with Plaster Cast, ca.1895 (Courtauld Institute, London). In Cézanne's work the table appears as if it were at ground level, the background floor becomes a tilted table, and it is unclear whether the still life in the left register is real or part of a painting.
Fragmentation of naturalistic space in Daura's works reaches a climax with Fruit, ca.1955-74 (Fig. 35), a geometrically abstracted, probably later version of Green Bowl, Lustre Pitcher and Fruit, ca.1950-65 (Fig. 33). In the earlier work, the angular folds of the cloth around fruit and tableware act as a flattened pattern which calls attention to the surface plane of the canvas. In the later, more abstracted watercolor Daura transforms the cloth into a series of angular, cubist fields of almost translucent color through which the fruit, bowl and pitcher fight for their representational place in the composition. Both of these works are similar to the early Cubist experiments by Picasso and Georges Braque (1882-1963), who built their doctrine of multiple simultaneous viewpoints and the representation of volume, while calling attention to the two-dimensionality of the picture plane, upon the abstraction of Cézanne.
Like most of the true modern masters of the twentieth century, Daura not only engaged in the aesthetic practices and dilemmas of his time, he also drew upon a sound knowledge of tradition and history, combining both to produce a singular and important vision of the world around him.
1. With the following text I have sought to demonstrate Pierre Daura's strong participation in the discourse of the history of art, both by relating the similarities of his work with that of his contemporaries, and by citing his knowledge of traditional subjects and techniques from the canon of art history. This relationship is referenced not to infer Daura's dependence on other artists or art movements -- this is clearly not the case -- but to demonstrate in what context his unique art can be seen and appreciated.
2. Pierre Daura, Lecture, Art Club, Lynchburg, Virginia, March 1958. Courtesy Daura Archives.
3. Traditionally, "nude" has been seen in the idealized, classical sculptures of Greek antiquity. In painting, nudes were set in pastoral landscapes. The "naked" female, initiated by Titian's Venus, is seen as a contemporary woman, often a courtesan, and is made earthly and unidealized by her provoking, explicit gaze, and contemporary ornaments such as jewelry or an indoor setting, which anchor her to a real time and place.
4. It is believed that prehistoric deities such as the Willendorf Venus, whose roundness of form are apparent in Daura's Woman Kneeling, were seen as images of fertility.
5. In the broadest sense, primitivism has been applied to the art of cultures outside of Western and Oriental societies, even though much of what has been seen as primitive was originally produced by highly sophisticated people. Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1906-7. (Museum of Modern Art, New York), is probably the most famous example of the merging of primitive elements (African masks), and avant-garde stylistic tendencies. The flattening of forms in space and indeterminate viewpoints in Demoiselles heralded the beginning of cubism.
6. Exhibition Hand-Out, Christmas Card Exhibition, Daura Gallery, Lynchburg College, 1997-98. Courtesy Daura Archives.
8. The Colorfield painters were both reacting against and building from the expressiveness and two-dimensionality of Abstract Expressionism. The group included such artists as Mark Rothko (1903-73). Barnett Newman (1905-70), Morris Louis (1912-62), Frank Stella (b.1936), Helen Frankenthaler (b.1928), Jules Olitski (b.1922) and Kenneth Noland (b.1924). A large scale, preoccupation with the materiality of paint, and color values were characteristic of this movement. Daura's multi-layering of floating, thin washes in tempera, gouache, watercolor and oil differentiates him somewhat from the group, and aligns his work most closely with the "stains" (washes of color) of Frankenthaler. Yet where the Colorfield painters denied naturalistic representation, Daura rarely completely abstracted his canvases, except for works like Green T,which appear fairly frequently but are not dominant in his oeuvre.
9. Teresa Macià, Pierre Daura, 1896-1976, Barcelona: Àmbit, 1999, p.27.
10. Ibid., p. 27.
11. Ibid., p. 173.
About the author
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Vero Beach Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine.
Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.
This page was originally published in 2002 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.