Judith in Monotone

27 Jul

I’ve been waiting to write about this.  One of the most exciting pieces in this gallery.  For me, that is.

This is the work of Arthur Greuell, a Belgian artist of the past century.   Not to be confused with Johnny Gruelle who wrote the Raggedy Ann books.  Nope, not even close.

Arthur Greuell, “Judith,” 1891-1943, oil on canvas, 48″ x 52,”auctioned by New Orleans Auction Galleries April 2009 (Lot 247), USA

This piece was auctioned by New Orleans Auction Galleries in April of 2009 and featured on the cover of the catalog.   It sold for $9,600 – far beyond the estimated value (1,2).   The condition report notes “the artist has skillfully drawn the movement and musculature of the figures in a dramatic monochromatic palette in the style of Caravaggio.”    In the style of Caravaggio only because it depicts an aggressive, violent moment in the story of Judith.   Otherwise, there are so many elements that are different.

I have never seen a painting like this before.  The elements that fascinate me have to be listed to cover them all.

  • The Color:  I am amazed by the intricacy achieved with a monochromatic palate.  How many shades of brown did Greuell use?   how many shades even exist?
  • The Scene:  this is the Holofernes i expected – not the victim in a stupor that offers no resistance to the sword but a guy putting up a fight.   The maid being actively involved in subduing him.  The tension between all three characters.
  • The Flow:  The clothing, the arms and legs all in  motion — at first glance, it looks like dancing. swirling.
  • Judith’s corset:   Reminiscent of ballet.   Delicate laces for an indelicate task.
  • Judith’s stance:  The extended leg and pointed toe, the turn of the other ankle — again, the movement of a dancer.
  • Judith’s shoulder:  white and smooth but muscular.   Propelling her hand over Holofernes’ mouth.
  • Judith’s head and neck:  Turned away as if to say “I’m not important here. it’s the action that matters, not me.”
  • The Maid’s face:  Rather than Judith, the Maid is fully turned to the viewer, grimacing with the effort of holding the victim, but determined.  Not afraid.
Viewing this painting on the internet is a privilege but is also disappointing.  There is so much to this work that I cannot distinguish and I suspect there is more going on that I cannot see.  Too bad it is now in a private collection – I doubt I ever see it in actuality.
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The other work by Gruel?  Illustrations for Baudelaire’s Les Poèmes Condemnés (The Condemned Poems)(1927)  –– with themes of lesbianism, rape, and necrophilia.    Remember the disclaimer:  I am no prude.  On the other hand, the illustrations were not nearly as exciting as this piece — so you may visit them at your leisure.    Or not.

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(1) New Orleans Auction Galleries
(2) discussed in The Corinthian Column, April 6, 2009

1 Comment

Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Glory


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One response to “Judith in Monotone

  1. columnist

    August 21, 2011 at 12:46 am

    Yes, it is indeed a splendid picture, and a great regret that I was not more bold with my bidding. Thanks for stopping by. Interesting to read the many incarnations of Judith and Holofernes.


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