bad painting in the twentieth century

BeachMatthew Bown at the Times Literary Supplement:

The recent Bernard Buffet retrospective at the Paris Museum of Modern Art was of no interest to the contemporary art world. This is presumably because Buffet is not a terribly good artist. His surfaces are worked mechanically, his colour is diagrammatic. His stylizations – thick-trunked, skinny-limbed figures forced into angular shapes, like the square-cropped winter trees around the Place des Vosges – are banal. Such limitations, coupled with the artist’s ambitions of subject and scale, make for queasy viewing. But in the post-war decade Buffet was extolled by Louis Aragon, Jean Cocteau, Claude Roger-Marx; in 1955, Connaissance des Artsnamed him as one of the top ten post-war painters; in 1956 he had a room of his own at the Venice Biennale. His success in the 1950s raises interesting questions. Should histories of twentieth-century art acknowledge and explain his former prominence, or should they ignore it in favour of hindsight? Perhaps we accept that to write Buffet out of art history is reasonable; but what, then, is the value of Aragon’s celebrated two-volume appreciation of Matisse if he also thought Buffet was top-notch? Is it all just phrase-making from someone who didn’t actually have a clue?

There was a whole generation of figurative painters whose work may be discussed in relation to Buffet’s, including socialist realists such as André Fougeron, Renato Guttuso or even Peter de Francia, Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art from 1972 to 86. All, like Buffet, now more-or-less excluded from mainstream art history.

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