Thursday is Art Day – Constantin Guys (Dutch 1802 – 1892)

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For Thursday is Art Day – Constantin Guys (Dutch 1802 – 1892)

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WHO ARE YOU?   words Carmel Rowley

“… Waiting as they saddled Sultan I smoothed my black velvet habit before mounting and setting off at a prancing walk. The sun warmed my face and I felt alive and excited as soft gusts of wind lifted my hair from under my top hat.

The western hills were alight with the magical colours of moss; lime and shamrock all fringed by a faint gold reflecting from the sun. Sultan forced my attention from the landscape he  caught my excitement arched his neck and lifted his forelegs higher with each graceful step. I crossed the road into the open fields and set off at a canter.

Sultan would have none of it he snatched at his bit desperate for a gallop. Dare I risk it? Too late Sultan leapt forward and I felt the power in his stride and steadied him briefly before allowing him to fully stretch. A cheer went up behind me as I swept past a man who halted his chestnut staring at me with admiring eyes. He laughed aloud and gave chase pulling in beside me while urging his horse faster to match Sultan stride for stride.

His first words were, “Who are you? I envy you your horse.”

I blushed under his gaze and focused on the chestnut he rode. Its strong quarters and smooth lines presented the perfect picture of well-bred hunter. A cold wind suddenly swept along the hill. Was it the man or the weather making me shiver?”

Constantin Guys (Dutch 1802 – 1892)

Born in Vlissingen (the Netherlands) on December 3, 1805. Constantin Guys, real name was Ernest Adolphe Hyacinthe Constantin. He ran away from home at 18, to be a soldier and was a part of the War of Independence in Greece in the retinue of the English poet Lord Byron (1788 – 1824). in 1827, he returned from the war and joined a French dragoon regiment and travelled through Europe and Asia. His artistic career began at the age of 42, and he was a completely self taught artist. In the 1840’s and 1850’s. Guys was a war illustrator for the Illustrated London News.

In the beginning of the 1860’s, he settled in Paris with the city becoming the focal point of his art, stylish ladies riding side-saddle or driving their phaetons, combined with high society beauties at the opera while the raunchy street ladies boldly pranced and posed. Other work showed handsome men driving carriages, riding to war, racing horses or simply enjoying the Parisian lifestyle.

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Une Cavaliere

I read Constantin never drew straight from nature, but from memory. His observation of Parisian life is real and set you slap bang into the era. In 1863, Figaro published Charles-Pierre Baudelaire’s (1821 – 67) evaluation of Guys under the title “Le Peinture de la vie moderne”. Guys requested Baudelaire not to use his name in the article. For some reason he did not want his name becoming known in broader circles. Apparently he also never signed a single one of his paintings, and he never exhibited his works publicly. Sadly it seems he ended up living an isolated life of poverty.

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Sur le Trottoir

Only a small circle of friends acknowledged his importance during his lifetime, among them Paul Gavarni (1804 – 66), Honoré Daumier (1808 – 79), Nadar (1820 – 1910) and the man who discovered him, Baudelaire. Constantin Guys was affiliated with Gavarni through many an artistic relationship, but also his productivity. He left behind an enormous body of drawings.

Guys was run over by a taxi during the Carneval in 1885. Both of his legs were crushed in the accident. Thereafter, the artist spent his last seven years in the Hospice Dubois.

Constantin Guys died in Paris in 1892.

Top Photograph – Elegant woman in black riding a horse

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