Sunday, October 14, 2007

I once was blind but now I see

Julien Lemordant, Maisons en construction

The etching with aquatint above was published in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1912. The artist is the Breton painter Jean Julien Lemordant (1882-1968). Lemordant was a close associate of Charles Cottet, influenced by both Gauguin and the School of Pont-Aven and by the Fauves. Lemordant was evidently moving towards Modernism when he created this strikingly bold – almost Vorticist - etching of buildings under construction. Lemordant was severely injured, and blinded, at the battle of Artois in October 1915. There is a portrait of Lemordant recovering from his wounds by Susan MacDowell Eakins in the Eakins Gallery at Thomas Jefferson University. When Lemordant was made a Commandeur of the Légion d’Honneur, the greatest artists of the day carried him on their shoulders through the Grand Palais. In 1919 Lemordant was awarded the Howland Memorial Prize at Yale University, for his distinguished contribution to French art; the same year saw an important retrospective at Gimpel & Wildenstein in New York. In an ironic twist, Julien Lemordant’s sight was restored 50 years after it was lost, following a series of operations. I find it moving to think of Lemordant’s long wait for the return of his vision. What must that have meant to a visual artist? Georges Braque, having been reported missing, was retrieved from the battlefield of the Somme completely blind. His sight was restored by trepanning – if not, would Cubism, and all the modern art that followed, ever have happened? And if the same cure had been possible for Julien Lemordant, what would his contribution to 20th-century art have been? As it was, Lemordant devoted the rest of his life to the cause of pacifism.

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