September 1, 2014

Looking at Art

Since the eyes are what most of us focus on first, we are keenly compelled by the beautiful gray-green-blue pair in The English Beggar Girl, a 19th-century watercolor by Gustave Doré. The girl's physical beauty is captured with subtle washes of color to achieve the appearance of soft skin and pink lips. A blue-black background frames her creamy complexion, and an almost perfect symmetry defines her face. A swirl of brushwork depicts the tousle of her naturally wavy, blond-brown hair. Her white-collared crimson dress seems appropriately rumpled-an effect achieved with a dry brush of pigment.

Doré has captured a face that has a timeless appeal. In the 21st century, we might even mistake her for an actress in period costume; she looks too pretty to be a beggar. But in hindsight, she could also be a character from one of the 19th-century novels of Honoré de Balzac or Henry James.

This piece is part of an exhibition of 100 works on paper from the Prat Collection in Paris; the drawings were selected by Pierre Rosenberg, former director of the Louvre. The exhibition runs April 17-June 12 at the Naples Museum of Art. (239) 597-1900.

Mark Ormond is a Southwest Florida art historian and consultant.

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