Bad art? Le capitole de Toulouse

Created 3/3/20, images from 28/2/20. Apologies about the awful formatting of the embedded galleries of images, as ever, click on them to get the full glory of the images.

Oh dear, I didn’t take any general ‘photos on Friday, I was trying to get the details in all their grandiose and glorious awfulness. OK, so “Le Capitole de Toulouse” is a late 19th century building around much earlier roots and the main civic building. I had learned around the time I first went into it, with only smartphone camera, that my sister, a charismatic teacher of history of art, had found herself in an interesting discussion of whether there can be bad art with a Taiwanese colleague. I’m no art historian or expert on art but I think the answer is that there can be great art and I believe the art in the capitole in Toulouse is, for me, quintessential bad art. Well, those were in the inner courtyard. As ever, click to get full size images.

What is it about those, are they chimeras on each side of the smirking man? Women’s heads on dogs bodies? And surely not to scale. Like something that Mel Brooks and Marty Feldman might have done in the best spirit of Young Frankenstein?

As you go into the main show you go up a grand set of stairs (I’m sorry, “grand” may get overused here). The first face you meet is the face at the top of this post and perhaps that’s a warning. Here’s more from that staircase.

Is that man punting in the nude? What is going on here? Are the ladies looking heavenwards with the same question? Oh, how could I have forgotten? Just before the staircase on the left this chap (banished bishop of Toulouse?) who caught something of how I might have felt coming back past him having done the full tour …

At the top of stairs there’s a young male and female of the species on either side of the door into the first room.

Oh what gloriously tragic langour .. and lovely sandals

Is he really a match for her though?

Whoops, have we jumped centuries and allusions?

Then we go through into the first room where I think bad art is reaching towards its zenith … Those of a delicate disposition may want not to click on these … but we’re not, quite, at the worst yet.

Oh but you ain’t seen anything yet. I’ve almost skipped the second room as it’s, well, not quite such bad art: massive, rather pointilliste, contempory yet allegorical of the (next) artist’s family and important locals of the time like the rather impressive Auguste Marie Joseph Jean Léon Jaurès, yes, he of the university.

No, I haven’t quite skipped it, high up above the truly huge canvasses on the walls was one of heroes who spent much of his adult life in Toulouse: Pierre de Fermat.

Salute a truly great amateur mathematician … high and tiny up around the cornice

As the wikipedia entry tells us, Fermat bought a political position in the town, oh, and the right to add that “de” to his name. His “Fermat’s last theorem” must be one of the bits of maths to have achieved almost Hollywood level fame. Surely a blockbuster featuring his life and that of Andrew Wiles is soon to get started again pending the replacement of the last producer. (Ooops, we’ll come back to that.)

No, the huge gallery, apparently created by a man called Pujol by knocking through three existing rooms isn’t a simple case of putting it a couple of RSJs to take the load, oh no, dig this ceiling.

Is it just me or is a sort of theme about gender and garb emerging? And what’s going on with the lion? Is that old Britannia taking a stabbing from French aesthetic genius?

Here’s some of the art on the walls, some is Pujol again but not all.

They are rather different genre’s aren’t they? But I think they all still hit my “bad art” button. And there’s that theme again I think.

OK, I am sure you knew Fermat was coming back.

Fermat was ‘ere … and he did set the scene for differential calculus

So you remember that rather sombre looking head of Fermat earlier … fluent in six languages, lawyer and local politico … and amateur mathematician. What could go wrong if you wanted to celebrate him properly, not just tuck him away near the ceiling where only idiots like me are likely to see him but give him a bit more of a splash in the grand hall? This …

You got it: let’s pretty much recycle that bust we have of him and add, well, let’s imagine he had students, well of course he would wouldn’t he? What, they’d only have been male? Oh come on, we’ve got to make bucks here, sell the movie of the city. She’d have come for, well does it matter whether it was mathematical or legal training, she’d have needed a quill. What do you mean she looks a bit odd clad only in a rather natty chignon? Son, you’re still not listening, we’re making history here, not messing around with details.

Let’s hope all these artists and commissioners were sublimating/displacing their lusts for power and … well, to my mind deeply bizarre ideas about relationships between men and women into their … bad art rather than abusing their models and too many other women around them (and yes, as far as I could see they were all men). Let’s not forget there was that one man punting in the nude.

Aargh! I rest my case, there is such a thing as bad art and it was hitting some pretty grand heights in Toulouse at the end of the 19th Century and creeping just into the 20th.

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