japonisme: ranson's world

23 July 2007

ranson's world

Paul Ranson (1861-1909)
Tempera on canvas
H. 35.5; W. 24.3 cm
© photo RMN, Gérard Blot


Paul Ranson, one of the Nabis, developed an original style with Symbolist and esoteric resonances. In 1891, he made two versions of Lustral, including this one, which belonged to his friend Maurice Denis.

Apart from its enigmatic title, the work can be classed as a genre scene. It can be seen as a female nude at her toilette. A sponge and bar of soap are laid on a mat at her feet alongside an ornate pottery pitcher. Ranson has multiplied details that give the scene a more symbolic meaning; the fabric which unfurls above the bather like a snake, the swan-necked fountain with its shell-shaped basin or the flower blooming on the wall invite a more erotic reading. The ablutions of the young women are a purification rite, as the title suggests. Apart from its esoteric connotations, the term "lustral" refers to medieval mysticism: lustral water is supposed to purify souls and drive out demons. It is still used for baptisms.

Ranson invites us to attend this intimate purification, almost by breaking and entering. The colour range is reduced to a palette of greens and blues conjuring up the night. The young woman's orange-brown body emerges sharply against this dark background. Keenly interested in decorative art, Ranson has surrounded his figure with arabesques and floral motifs. The deliberate flattening of form and the simplified treatment of the colour explain the nickname Ranson was given: "The Nabi who is more Japanese than the Japanese Nabi," an allusion to Bonnard. 1

(there is a very weird blogger thing wherein if you post an image either centered or 'not placed' it will not allow type to flow normally around it. i had had two images posted like that in the 'ducks post,' so i ended up changing them both. what i didn't know, until harlequinpan's question on that post, was that in doing so i would be making changes i didn't expect. knowing he wouldn't have asked unless he didn't have access to the information on the post, i checked it out. sure enough, all the images but the ones i had re-posted were no longer live. ie. you couldn't click them to see them larger, nor find out any information attached to them. fixed.)

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