It's visibly clear: Painting is brilliant but paintings aren't


January 28, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Jacques Maroger (1884-1962) was a French painter and conservator at the Louvre who believed that the old masters achieved greater brilliance with their paints than modern artists, and sought a way of mixing paints that would replicate that brilliance.

After considerable research, he discovered a method, involving boiling oil and varnish, and was praised by many including the artists Raoul Dufy and Augustus John and the critic Roger Fry.

In 1939 he came to this country and subsequently to Baltimore where he taught at the Maryland Institute. His method acquired a number of followers here including Joseph Sheppard, Franklin H. Redelius and Ann Schuler, and there is now a third generation including Will Wilson, Joanne Gerwig and James Cox.

These painters and others, 23 in all from Maroger on down, are now enjoying an exhibit "Jacques Maroger et son Heritage" at the Life of Maryland Gallery (through March 8).

There is no doubt that brilliance and luminosity of surface is achieved by Maroger and his followers in their paintings, which are by and large still lifes. There is no doubt that these painters can make a drop of water dance on a peach or a grape, that they can capture the transparency of glass the bright shine of a piece of metal, that their flowers sparkle with color, that work after work here is a tour de force of realistic accuracy.

But these are pretty exercises that seem out of another age, and those who go back and try to create as in another age all too often end by being irrelevant -- as here. The least irrelevant is Sheppard's "Orchard Street," which is positively gutsy

compared to the rest of the works here.

Yes, one can admire the work of Cox, Gerwig, Wilson, Thomas Rowe and others for its technical achievement. In fact, based on this show it's possible to say that a lot of Maroger's followers have turned into better painters than he was; his efforts here seem a little awkward compared to the most accomplished works in the show, although his drawings are charming.

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