By request, sort of

On the thread below the Mysterious Ovookla mentioned that this was her favourite painting of all time. It’s certainly resonant; I once put a beech floor into a restaurant, thin strips of tongue and groove. You had to drill through each tongue where it met the joist and then send a spiral nail home, finishing with a nail punch so the groove of the next one could lock in. I was helping a mate out who was miles behind on the job. I worked eighteen hours solid, at the end of it I’d got blisters on top of blisters and more than several black fingernails where I’d missed the punch. Also, back-wise, well, I was young, but all the same: stiff.

The Floor Scrapers, 1875

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17 Responses to By request, sort of

  1. Ovookla says:

    Some paintings cast a light over the viewer, I remember this as blue , and because it is a very large canvas you felt part of the scene, hearing horse hooves and shouts from the window, the peppery wine hitting the back of the throat, sensing heat and sweat from the bodies. Seurat’s ‘Les baigneurs’ has a similar feel, the scene at once beautifully, almost idyllically constructed in the foreground, and yet an awareness of industry and greyness at it’s back, a different reality. And once I saw Monet’s ‘Lavacourt sous neige’ in a quiet corner of an art gallery, lit so cleverly that you could hear the silence of snow, with the sense under the peacefulness of water melting but still there was a bleakness of poverty. I wonder if we are only entranced by paintings which echo our own pasts?

  2. OS says:

    OS doffs flat cap to Ovookla. That is one powerful painting, and I could easily write a 5,000 word appraisal of it. But I’ll just settle for these words: Caillebotte was a genius. I can only imagine how he must have been affected when he saw the floor scrapers actually doing the job. It must have moved him deeply for him to create this powerful and supreme work of art.

  3. OS says:

    Ovookla, we each get different things from works of art. Mine is a more simplistic view, which sort of echoes winger’s appraisal when he saw the effort these workers were putting into the job. To me (and winger, I think), I was drawn immediately to the mammoth task they are undertaking. I think you may have covered our feelings with your words…

    >I wonder if we are only entranced by paintings which echo our own pasts?

    I was once a coalminer doing one of the hardest jobs underground, in conditions that most ignorant people would dismiss as exageration if I were to describe it to them. Looking at these guys, I can empathise with them because they ‘echo my own past’.

  4. Ovookla says:

    Paintings must not make beauty the property of the bourgeoisie – when I first read Zola’s La bete humaine I bitterly resented having read Jane Austen, I was totally with Twain ‘He is like Miss Austen unreadable. No, there is a difference. I could read his if you paid me a salary but not hers.’ or ‘Nor are there any books by Jane Austen on the library shelves. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of one with no books at all…’ I’ve softened a bit now. So what Zola understood was how industry and work can crush a workers love of beauty. You just don’t lift your eyes. My Dad was a welder and often came home with little burns on his arms which terrified me as a small child, but the same hands worked to recreate the India he travelled to as a young man in the army, azaleas and dahlias, stunning shrubs and jungles of flowers, in his garden. And when he got in from work and Mum was in a mood (‘I only like blue flowers.’) he’d water the garden singing Cole Porter’s ‘Don’t fence me in’ doing a little jig in parts, which always softened her. And their generation knew what relentless hard work, poverty and malnutrition robbed people of, so Dad just loved Cassius Clay, for his background, for his stand against Vietnam, because, like Dad he was a boxer, but most of all because he was such a fabulous looking man. In Clay’s/Ali’s beauty he saw the most defiant of stands against the establishment.

  5. Stephen Foster says:

    Caillebotte was from a wealthy family, but you sense no voyeurism, it seems like he’s conveying empathy rather than flatly recording what he sees. I think the way the man on the right seems to be talking about the work or observing how his workmate is going about his business does some of that. It’s a fascinating business the point of identification you working-class blog readers are making between with manual labour and its representation in art.

  6. Ovookla says:

    Is it just a class thing? When I was at Watercolour last week there was a painting called ‘But Men must work and women must weep’ – not the idealised form of beauty that some of the romantics did, but what I thought was ‘Well the sod could have done something with her hands.’ and I meant the older woman’s. Because working class women from the latter nineteenth and early twentieth century would be photographed with their hands behind their backs because they had ‘man’s hands’ from manual labour. There are a lot of little brown and white snaps like that in my photo tin. And looking above I couldn’t relate to the work, as you and OS did, but remembered men on our estate stripped off to the waist doing gardens, but all wearing scarves/jumpers tied around their waists to stop them getting ‘a chill in the kidneys’. I don’t know what that was but it was serious. A similar thought did occur to me when I looked at the floor planers for the first time, but that too is part of my history.

  7. Ovookla says:

    Actually, forget the rest – I stick by what I said to start with – I am only entranced by paintings which echo my own past. I wonder if there’s a cure for it? I mean both all the burbling and if I could love paintings which don’t stroke my memories. Was it Renoir who said that our memories are the only thing we ever truly possess?

  8. OS says:

    Your father seems to have experienced the same as mine did. He, too, was in India, serving seven years there during Colonial days, and never taking leave during that time, which ended in 1834 when his mother died. My father was also a boxer for his regiment (flyweight), loved Casius Clay with a passion, as did I ( I loved him for his brashness, and because he was unequalled in the pugilistic art), but rather than grow flowers, my dad kept pigeons. 😉

  9. OS says:

    *Correction. 1934! I know they call me Oldstokie, but that was rediculous. : )

  10. Stephen Foster says:

    I don’t know but it’s an insightful and plaintive line and I like it.

    I’ve had a remark come in round the back on email to comment that the standard of artistic analysis and image reading on this thread is rather fine. I agree.

  11. Ovookla says:

    This is what the proper critics of Musee d’Orsay have to say:
    I’m interested that my hero Zola rejected the painting as too bourgeois, and that it is assumed the bodies are too fine to be real. I don’t think that, but then the bodies I have seen are all twentieth century and comparatively over-nourished. And actually, thinking about Bellocq’s photos of prostitutes in New Orleans in the early 20th century the women’s bodies are various and lovely, ( much like my friends and I’s bodies of the early seventies) In her introduction there are many things that Sontag misses, such as flea bites, the linea nigra of a pregnancy and the wedding rings – so critics don’t know that much. And what I love about those photographs is that a lot of the women have a defiance, this is a job I do and I am real, that I salute. And to the ‘Floor planers’ – ‘documentary’ does the job, and in spite of his background, I still admire Caillebotte for his eye, as it says on Calvin’s website, art, in his case photography, is a function of noticing things.

  12. Ovookla says:

    Just a further ‘Pah!’ to the d’Orsay critics, thus entirely ruining your measured comments blogmeister, as Kipling said ‘The Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady are sister’s under the skin.’…

  13. Ovookla says:

    In a strange way I’m not surprised our fathers had similar experiences. Do you remember, I suppose you might have been at a match, that wrestling was on Saturday afternoons between 4 and the results? Well, despite India, Dunkirk and Burma my Dad was very funny. The other thing he did, if Mum was in a mood at the weekend, was ruffle his hair up, take his teeth our and impersonate Les Kellett. He was the wrestler who’d shake his head after a forearm smash and stagger, Dad would do this every time Mum banged the cutlery drawer. He also told a story about Sonny Liston being interviewed by the BBC and being asked if he stood a ‘chonce’. A what? growled Liston. ‘A chonce’ Liston looks at his manager, ‘A chance’ Jeez says Liston and gets up to go…

  14. OS says:

    From your post above…”In a strange way I’m not surprised our fathers had similar experiences.”

    Indeed they did! My father was also at Dunkirk and in Burma. In between, he was in North Africa.

    Les Kellet! OMG! I’d forgotten about him and his silly antics, but he was so good he could actually do it and get away with it. He was the ‘Tommy Cooper’ of the wrestling world. I’m giggling here, because my dad used to get his false teeth out and make us laugh. Now, I do it to my grandchildren, and it’s great fun watching them squirm when I ‘kiss’ them with them. I did it only yesterday to my Thomas Trubble. He almost wet himself laughing.

    I think we’d better stop the personal reminiscing on winger’s blog. He’ll be telling us off. Not that either of us will take much notice of him. 😉

  15. Ovookla says:

    Wasn’t in the Manchesters was he? (Not taking a blind bit of notice)

  16. OS says:

    North Staffords in India. Was a reservist, hence he was in the BEF when war broke out. Both North and South Staffords during the war. I’m a ‘Dunkirk Baby’. Maybe that’s why I don’t like being in the water. He got home in June 1940, and I was born the following March. He came home in 1945.

    *Two fingers up to winger, then. 😉

  17. markelt says:

    I am surprised Daftburger hasn’t been on to discuss the homoeroticism of this painting.

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