Madame Eggplant: A Nod to John Singer Sargent

Grenning Gallery
Apr 24, 2017 7:01PM

Many people believe that an artist’s ability to create is based on an innate ingenuity. To some degree, this belief stands true. However, the power that drives one to cultivate a work of art is often derived from looking back to the Old Masters. Famous paintings that were either the masterpieces or succès de scandale of their time. One example,  Edouard Manet painted “Olympia” in 1863 with a certain famous painting in mind, Titian’s “Venus of Urbino,”1538.

"Olympia" Édouard Manet, 1863 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)  /// "Venus of Urbino" Titian, 1538 (Uffizi Gallery, Italy)

Grenning Gallery artist, Maryann Lucas, a self-trained contemporary known for her regal still-life paintings, decided to garner 19th century inspiration in her depiction of an eggplant. While examining some of the masterpieces of the past in an online course lead by artist, Dennis Perrin, Lucas was presented with the question: “What was it that made certain well-known paintings, “great.”” Was it, composition, color, light, drawing skill, brushstroke, or subject matter, that was predominately responsible for a works’ success. Lucas concluded that in the case of John Singer Sargent’s Madame X, it was composition via the use of line that contributed most to the painting’s success.

From this conclusion, Lucas decided to put this theory to the test and see if the dark form of an eggplant could strike a pose, equal to that of Madame X. The first test, was to find the right eggplant; shapely with a pointed stem to imitate Madame X’s sharp nose. The next challenge was to get it to stand up straight.

“A few toothpicks, some duct tape and a lot of patience did the trick” exclaims Lucas. “Against a monochromatic backdrop, I painted Madame Eggplant, concentrating on the seductive curve of deep rich darks, and their dramatic culmination at the sharp stem in full light.”

"Madame X" John Singer Sargent, 1883 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) /// "Madame Eggplant" Maryann Lucas, 2017, (Grenning Gallery, Sag Harbor)

Sargent’s Madame X cuts through a monochromatic backdrop with a strong confident woman in an alluring black gown. Lucas’s Madame Eggplant pops out of a grey backdrop, gleaming in rich hues of black, purple, and blue along the perennial’s illumined ample curves. The Eggplant is again personified not only in its upright posture and feminine buxomness, but the green-cap where body meets vine can insist one to be reminded of Madame X’s dramatic ‘V’ neckline of her gown.

Detail of "Madame X" John Singer Sargent, 1883 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) /// Detail of "Madame Eggplant" Maryann Lucas, 2017, (Grenning Gallery, Sag Harbor)

Moreover, the high contrast between X’s pale white skin and velvety black bodice creates a glaring focal point; a silky-smooth collar bone resting beneath a luxurious gown. Lucas’s Eggplant fosters a similar focal point in that its depiction is not silky smooth, advancing instead of receding from the smooth black body. Instead, it is thickly painted, with strong lines accentuating the vines original encroachment of the eggplants figure.

Conclusively, the Grenning Gallery is impassioned by an artist’s ability to leverage great paintings of the past to create groundbreaking contemporary art. Maryann Lucas’s adopts Sargent’s tradition of composition and his palette, yet her concept and overall execution is exceedingly sharpened to 21st Century tastes. Lucas’s elevation of a single, mundane object to almost heroic status, is a mark of modernism. The irony of comparing an eggplant to Madame X is specific to Lucas’s great sense of humor. Madame Eggplant is on view at the Grenning Gallery through May 7th, featured in our current exhibition “Lucas|Bauman.”

Maryann Lucas
Madame Eggplant, 2017
Grenning Gallery

Written by: Megan Toy, Grenning Gallery

Grenning Gallery