Patrick Noon

This picture is inspired by Richard Wagner’s opera, Tannhauser. Fantin would go on; become one of the most important flower painters in France. But at this point he is thinking about doing history subjects and illustrations to literature and opera. And Wagner’s first appearance in Paris was in 1861, and it was a production of Tannhauser that Fantin had gone to.

What was typical of conservative French critics, when something came from a foreign source, they were not very happy to support it. And in fact they attacked Wagner’s production. The attack was so vehement in the press. And with actual people in the audience who were planted there to create a row that the production was cancelled, after three performances.

This had echoes of what had happened in the 1820s, when a British troupe tried to present Shakespeare in Paris, the same thing happened then. And then in 1830, when Victor Hugo tried to stage Hernani. Fantin of course was very, very sympathetic to Wagner.

Fantin decided that in the same exhibition when he was going to show his homage to Delacroix, he was going to show this illustration to Wagner’s Tannhauser. And what makes it interesting really is that it’s executed in a style that’s very dependent on Delacroix’s late mural style and the palette is very Delacroix. Clearly as a technical exercise, it’s clearly as much an homage to Delacroix as the more literal. So these two pictures would have been side-by-side and they have a similar kind of message.

It also reflects the fascination of that moment (Fantin shared with Baudelaire, Manet, many artists including Delacroix) in synesthesia which is an actual neurological condition, at that time it was a very, the artist were very interested in a blending of senses so that if you stimulated one sense it simultaneously produces a sensation in a different sense. So quite literally, you hear colors, you feel sounds, you taste shapes. And they were fascinated by this and it explains probably Fantin’s interest in illustrating this Wagner. It also explains Manet’s giving the title Music in the Tuileries to his first modernist painting when there isn’t any evidence of a musician or an instrument anywhere in sight. It probably has a lot to do with Redon’s admission that Delacroix’s Apollo ceiling is a modern symphony. And it certainly has everything to do with Whistler suddenly titling all of his pictures in the 1860s the symphony of this, symphony number one, symphony that, symphony in black etc, etc.

These references to music, it all is related to this notion of synesthesia and whether Delacroix believed in it or not, I think he did or at least he had some sense that it was probably true. He does write about when he is doing murals in the church as he is working on the mural, he is hearing music but it’s not being performed and it’s not hallucination, it’s something being triggered in his mind.

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