Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Christmas Wish


Or at least my olfactory Christmas wish: a fragrance that would conjure up the inner world of French painter realist painter Gustave Courbet (1819–1877). At turns dreary and drunk with the establishment grandiosity of the Salon painters, Courbet embodied a revolutionary spirit which wrestled, albeit painfully, with subject-matter and technique. Dark landscapes, the hunter and hunted, dusky foliage, a conflicted relationship with the realm of woman – each of his themes hints at a deep, perhaps unconscious, wish to plumb previously hidden depths through what was essentially a bourgeois medium, the oil canvas. Courbet has appealed to me since my parents first took me on a day trip to the Metropolitan Museum in the early Eighties. On seeing his work that day I was frightened but intrigued, the way I felt when taken to a wake and beheld the familiar macabre tableau, the maquillage, the clutched cross. Unlike the other Gustave (Moreau), whose nacreous seductions gave instantaneous pleasures, Courbet’s subjects haunted my dreams, spurred my own meditations on sex and death, even when I lacked the vocabulary to discuss such things. His ideas, his women, his blackened abysms became the playthings of the angular, intellectual, if hardly sheltered, child I was. Nowadays I lack the key to many of the sensations his paintings gave rise to then. But it occurred to me today, ill in bed, that scent may be one way back into that shadowed loge of memories. I’m sure there are are many scents which would purport to offer such passage backward, but too often they are merely superficial attempts at forest undergrowth and musty libraries. Courbet’s would be a scent of flesh and blood and disappointment, the silent moldering ashes, the lamp oil spilled next to the open locket.

Image: G. Courbet, Grotto of Sarrazine near Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne, oil on canvas, 1864. Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

8 Comments:

Blogger chayaruchama said...

Oh, I hear you, clearly.
Along with Courbet, I think Rubens should follow-
As he celebrated us as we exist, not as we desire to be...
In our flawed flesh, which he faithfully renders with infinite love and forgiveness.

Plus, his toenails of St. Hieronymus leave me breathless- like those on the Dali crucifixion.

Not for the faint of heart, and utterly real.

Lovely post.

December 19, 2007 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Marie Fatime of Damascus said...

Lovely comments, Vetivresse, on the power of imagery to impact on the formation of the mind and heart. Jung did have his points to make on that score. A question: are there any coniferous scents that are used in body fragrances? Pine is such an evocative scent for me, and I wonder if it works at all when applied to human skin.

December 20, 2007 at 4:54 AM  
Blogger perfumeshrine said...

Feel better soon!
It would be simply marvellous if paintings could be translated into odours. And memories take their own shape so lovely...

Love the photo.

December 20, 2007 at 6:02 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Chaya, thanks. I've never noticed that detail in the Dali. As ever, I must "look again." And MFoD, thanks too. To answer your question, I'd recommend you try: Creed Epicea, Diptyque L'Eau Trois, Knize Forest and Commes de Garcon Incense Series: Zagorsk. They all have wonderfully etched forest details. Happy Holidays! An afterthought: Annick Goutal's Noël scented candle is the truest fir-tree room scent I've ever smelled...really divine.

December 20, 2007 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

E., dear, thanks for the "Gute Besserung"... just as long as it's gone by Monday morning. Andy and Vero recently went to a gallery show in Munich, which I believe had an olfactory component.

December 20, 2007 at 4:20 PM  
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