Despite being perhaps the weakest of the High’s three-year Louvre Atlanta series, “The Louvre and the Masterpiece” surprised me with several pieces that testify to the greatness of technical mastery and skill.
Jean Baptiste Klagmann’s cast silver ewer, for example, is covered with real and fanciful figures grouped in vast tangles reminiscent of statues carved into the outside of Indian temples. The detail is almost maddening in its chaos. Fauns, dolphins, mer-people, musicians, and even a pharaoh comprise the dazzling mish-mash encircling the vessel’s middle.
Upon entering the lobby level of the Chambers Wing, I encountered what is undeniably the most stunning piece of the exhibit. Antoine-Louis Barye’s Lion Crushing a Serpent is just as awe-inspiring as (if not more so) the Roman marble sculpture of the Tiber, the space’s previous occupant.
Barye’s incredible lost-wax bronze casting is both terrifying and gorgeous from every angle. The animals’ anatomies are meticulously rendered in form as well as a variety of textures, demonstrating hours of study of both live and dead specimens. Barye’s small studies done in bronze, plaster, and terra cotta occupy the rear periphery of the space, providing further evidence of his technical skill and dedication to his work.
Other impressive works included a self-taught French artist’s depictions of crystallized minerals and sea shells, Michelangelo’s satyr in profile (drawn over a student’s apparently subpar drawing of a woman), and Francois Boucher’s large painting, Rinaldo and Armida (above), with its wonderful composition and varied, painterly surfaces. Each piece is a steadfast testament to the fundamentals, regardless of subject or medium.
Although this final episode of Louvre Atlanta only took about two hours to wander through, it nonetheless served to bolster my belief in the value of craftsmanship. Almost every piece showed an intense effort on the part of the artist without seeming overworked. This show is both an encouragement and a much-needed spanking for any artist willing to pay attention.
“The Louvre and the Masterpiece” is on view at the High Museum of Art until Sun. Sept. 6, 2009.