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Fernand Cormon

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Fernand Cormon

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Biography of Fernand Cormon ( 1845-1924 )

Fernand Cormon is a formally trained painter who attends the Portaels's studio in Brusselles, afterwards the Eugene Fromentin's one and finally joins the Alexandre Cabanel's class. He began his painting carrier in 1863 at the age of 18 only and then exhibits his first works at the Salon of Paris.

As the official painter of the Third Republic, Fernand Cormon carries out lots of state commissions and starts an exemplary carrier. His talent is awarded twice in 1870 and 1873: he obtains his first medals. The immense and powerful intensity that emanates from his works such as "Murder in Sereglio" in 1874 would arouse interest among both art critics and spectators. Five years later, Cormon is once again awarded during the 1878 Exposition Universelle.

Since 1870, Cormon is regularly awarded at the Salon and therefore does not exhibit in 1879 for he wants to devote himself to his monumental painting "Cain", a subject directly stemming from the Victor Hugo's "The Legend of the Ages". The painting is eagerly anticipated and makes noise at the 1880 Salon since it distances itself from the other works: the execution is utterly smooth and the colours are bright and light. The extraordinary painting, which becomes the State's propriety and is nowadays held at the Musée d'Orsay, will eventually earn him the Legend of Honour and his fame. Cormon is soon considered as an expert in historical subjects.

His knows such a tremendous success and carries out on behalf of the town council of the fourth arrondissement of Paris a series of panels with four main topics: birth, death, marriage and war. Then the State entrusts him with the decoration of both the National Museum of Natural History and the Petit Palais.

Yet Cormon does not restrict himself to the historical and conventional styles, and by the late 1880s' he spends a lot of time in Brittany alongside his friends Théophile Deyrolle and Alfred Guillou. He then makes several paintings inspired by the Concarneau Port and eventually enrich the series in 1888 and 1891. The artist obtains again the Medal of Honour in 1887 at the French Art Salon.

Cormon is appointed professor at the School of Fine Arts in Paris and becomes a member of the Fine Arts Academy in 1889. He is also elected as member of the French artist Committee and becomes in 1912 its President. Since Cormon is a leading light artist of his generation, his studio meets a great success and more and more students join his tuitions. In addition of names such as Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, we also find Louis Anquetin, Armand-Jacques Assus, Émile Bernard, George Hendrik Breitner or Thorvald Erichsen among his pupils.

Our painting is the first version of the well-known masterpiece "Murder in Seraglio", held today at the Besançon Fine Arts Museum. Cormon is a very fastidious painter who is not afraid of doing and doing all over again the same painting, with different shades and contrasts. Beyond the obvious and the apparent, the artist aimed to reach and enter the most private and secret area of the Muslim culture: the jealously guarded world of family and privacy. The artist alternately looks at it as an ethnographer, or as a dreamer opening his mind to his vivid imagination. He then allows the harem doors to open in front of our sight and paints improbable odalisques. The Cormon's depiction of harem is for certain meaningful. One can find in these works a voluptuous and sensual Orient, swarming with glorified women that he shows us in several places belonging to the harem such as the seraglio or the baths. These numerous women portrayals become recurrent characters in his paintings. The artist seems to tell us the story of the harem.  "Murder in seraglio" is the outcome of this story, which ends by the new favourite murder. Thus, several paintings dated 1870, among them "The deposed Favourite", set up the same protagonists.

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