Saturday, August 22, 2015

Happy Lovers

Happy Lovers (1760-5)
Jean-Honore Fragonard
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA

Fragonard brought to life the immensely popular works of the seventeenth-century author, La Fontaine, whose fables and tales, with their unchristian licentiousness and sensual allusions, captured and enlivened the soul of the spectator, providing him or her with aesthetic and spiritual edification as well as visual delight. 

Happy Lovers illustrates a world of aphorisms, of never-ending attraction and beauty, through the lens of laughter and enjoyment, the sensual and the pleasurable. The couple's undying admiration for one another leads us up a road of delectation, and then abandons us there to imagine what happens next. 

La Fontaine cleverly disguises inferences by not telling us what happens between the couple, gently pushing our minds to wonder and our souls to smile. Similarly, Fragonard's light brush strokes evoke games that precede love-making. 

Never lewd or lascivious, but caressingly erotic amid a lush background of foliage or in an enchanting bedroom or boudoir. 

The couple seem light-hearted and fancy-free, as if they have granted themselves permission to fully experience the impressions that naturally flow between lovers. 

We imagine their sweet discourse, expressed in the language of love ... 

Je t'aime 
          Je t'adore 
                    Tu es ma joie de vivre 
                              Mon amour pour toi est éternel 
                                        Ton amour est précieux comme l'or 
                                                 C'est pour toi que je suis ...

Que mes baisers soient les mots d'amour que je ne te dis pas 
(Kisses are the unspoken words of love). 

Entre deux cœurs que s'aiment, nul besoin de paroles 
(Two hearts in love need no words, Desbordes-Valmore). 

Dans tes bras c'est mon destin 
(My destiny is in your arms) ... 

Such romantic expressions portray love, laughter, and enjoyment. They tell the story of fruitful delight, of a young woman's welcoming eyes, and a man's fallen delight in the object of his affections. Continually declaring their sentiments, the clouds remain as light, vaporous and ethereal as dreams, which is where their love dwells ... half, between this life ... half, between an almost impressionistic landscape under their special tree. 

Her hopes match his plans. To the unsuspecting spectator, their gestures are light and comical, exploding with excitement and over-sentimentality. For the lovers, their sentiments raise them toward the sky, a symbol of celestial ascension and immortality ... from which the declaration mon amour pour toi est éternel  arises ... 

Instead of being surrounded by the animals of Arcadia, the visions of pastoralism and harmony with nature are seen in the mountainous topography and solitude of this scene. Their world is a poetic byword for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness, reflected in their purity of their shared love. 

He caresses the colombe (dove) in his hands, symbolic of the freedom they have embraced. She, holds over his head the cage, illustrating that their time together is fleeting. In her other hand she holds the strings to his heart, as it is the woman who says yes

They have escaped the restraints of their world and found homage in a secluded and peaceful space. For this moment, they are perfectly content. She holds her lover, allowing him to recline lovingly into her essence. In Arcadia the traditional roles of male and female take on their mirrored opposites. Instead of capturing the woman, he relinquishes control and allows himself to fall lavishly into her loving arms. She, instead of merely submitting, embraces and opens herself to him. 

Les deux pigeons (1883)
Gustave Doré

The cage is empty because time is fleeting. Knowing this intensifies their desire to fully immerse themselves in the earthly and celestial aspects of being. La Fontaine adds morals to his fables, not simply leaving the story for the reader to interpret allegorically. 

In Les deux pigeons (Book IX.2), La Fontaine ascribes the most tender feelings in relation to the evocation of past innocence: 

Deux pigeons s'aimaient d'amour tendre

Encore si la saison s'avançait davantage!

Mais le désir de voir et l'humeur inquiète
L'emportèrent enfin. Il dit: Ne pleurez point:
Trois jours au plus rendront mon âme satisfaite

A ces mots en pleurant ils se dirent adieu.

Un seul arbre s'offrit, tel encor que l'orage

L'air devenu serein

Voilà nos gens rejoints; et je laisse à juger
De combien de plaisirs ils payèrent leurs peines

Amants, heureux amants, voulez-vous voyager?

Que ce soit aux rives prochaines;
Soyez-vous l'un à l'autre un monde toujours beau,
Toujours divers, toujours nouveau;

Honorés par les pas, éclairés par les yeux

Hélas! Quand reviendront de semblables moments?

Me laissent vivre au gré du mon âme inquiète?
Ah! si mon cœur osait encor se renflammer!

Ne sentirai-je plus de charme que m'arrête?
Ai-je passé le temps d'aimer...

In this moment, he willingly gives his love to her. Theirs is a love the symbolizes the immortality that spans humanity. His desire is not to conquer, his desire is to embrace, to affirm his soul's deepest desire. She is his kingdom, sa reine ... he is her brave and morally pure soldier. Blended together their love reveals what awakens the senses and delights the eyes and the imagination. 

At first glance they are amused and light-hearted, but when examined more closely, we see that indeed, the soft flowing fabric reveals a more tender unconscious form of the grandeur that connects them through time, transforming a seemingly frolicsome theme into a dream reality, where earthly and celestial worlds collide and contrast with each other. 

Our Happy Lovers are loved and admired, the correct path leads them back to the beginning of their legendary tale. Their l'oraison is a tale of pleasure, a colorful contribution to the delight of lovers everywhere. He is a good, earnest and honest fellow, never taking advantage of his love, even when she offers him all; he only takes what is needed to elevate their love toward a harmonious exchange. She, with her innate innocence, gives freely, forever appreciating his protective nature. 

She is his beauté, and he is her lapin ... 

Je n'ai pas su ce qu'étant dans le lit
Ils avaient fait ...
Apparemment le meilleur de ce conte
Entre deux draps pour Renaud se passa ... 

Fragonard was one of the first painters to depict so many couples kissing. Before the eighteenth century, kisses indicated treason ... 

Kisses of Judas (1304)

... or motherly tenderness 

The Virgin Enthroned (1525)
Quentin Massys

... or a lecherous old man's lust 

The ill-matched lovers (1530)
Lucas Cranach

But the perfect lovers, the ideal lovers, are those lovers that blissfully transcend the world around them. They forget about that which the world sees; their world is pleasantly decorated and cozy, perfect for an embrace. 

Happy Lovers reflects the sincerity and passion in the hearts of lovers, as well as the curiosity contained in their soul. Their eyes are mirrors representing harmony as well as conjugal bliss and unity. Only when they look away do they feel the sting of separateness. 

Most importantly is that which we cannot see, that story which lies behind them and holds a particular importance. Lying upon an edenic bed, cooled by the shade of their sacred tree, the two lovers forget themselves ... she, graceful and charming; he, regaining his strength, his soul healed ... their fortitude is their shared love. 

Some lovers hide a secret they dare not unveil ... the time in this picture is dusk, it represents the gently stirring embers of time. The light that shines upon them is a metaphor for love; it overpowers the one who loves so that they can think only of the object of their affection and desire. It also represents the consummation of their love, the fire that results from their union. 

But fire also stands for a purifying and illuminating experience. 

Mais vous, Madame, à qui ressemblez-vous?
A nul object; et je n'ai point mémoire
D'en avoir vu que m'ait semblé si doux.
Nulle beauté n'approche de la vôtre
Or me voice d'un mal chu dans un autre:
Je transissais,  je brûle maintenant.

As our gaze comes to a close, we leave with a sense of pure contentment. The strings of time require constant attention, but they are not selfish creatures, they indulge in idleness only because they have given themselves to happiness and to each other. Their imaginative appetite narrates and illustrates beauty and allows our minds to run free. They immortalize the "carpe diem" advice for lovers, which La Fontaine warns that Le temps est cher en amour comme en guerre ... ("In war or love, time is equally dear) ... 

Happy Lovers is analogous to a high spiritual experience, one that enlightens the soul, transforms the mind, consumes the heart, and engulfs the soul ... their love is the source of creative genius. 

Their smiles rise above the landscape with a burning, unquenchable desire for a higher level of pure happiness and aesthetic pleasure, a fusion of reflection and fire that delights and captures, enchants and frees us from our daily life... uplifting us to a level of transcendent bliss that can only be obtained by contemplating true love. 

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