Peter Daverington is an artist of considerable ability. With a painting practice that draws from a broad range of ideas and art historical periods, Daverington is able to ever-so-deftly juggle vastly disparate approaches into a cohesive and compelling whole. Yet interestingly enough – and clearly visible in his work – Peter’s brush with the Classicism of Western Art was born not from the High Alters of the Medieval Cathedral but from his graffiti art. Peter works from the street, up to the Heavens.
The April 2020 Michael Reid Sydney exhibition, illuminates a series of paintings based on The Birth of Venus (a Naissance de Vénus) a master work by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It was painted in 1879, and is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
“I have used the painting as a compositional foundation to create various iterations on the original. Exploring surface and finish I have employed erasure and graffiti to degrade the slick finish of the original to explore various tropes of contemporary painting.
I have always admired Bouguereau’s incomparable ability to create highly finished painting surfaces but have also been at odds with the overtly romantic aesthetic of his pictures. Both enthralled and appalled but they never departed my mind. I am aware of the fact that his subject of idealised classical women and the abundant use of cherubs or putti is anathema to contemporary art and taste. It is therefore of interest to me because of how out of sync the images are to contemporary culture. This represents a challenge for me to explore aesthetics and the shifting tastes of art and culture.”
William-Adolphe Bouguereau; ‘One has to seek Beauty and Truth, Sir! As I always say to my pupils, you have to work to the finish. There’s only one kind of painting. It is the painting that presents the eye with perfection, the kind of beautiful and impeccable enamel you find in Veronese and Titian.’
Bouguereau’s career was a nearly straight up ascent with hardly a setback. To many, he epitomized taste and refinement, and a respect for tradition. To others, he was a competent technician stuck in the past. Degas and his associates used the term “Bougeuereaute” in a derogatory manner to describe any artistic style reliant on “slick and artificial surfaces”. In 1900, Degas and Monet reportedly named him as most likely to be remembered as the greatest 19th-century French painter by the year 2000, according to chairman Fred Ross of the Art Renewal Center – although with Degas’ famous trenchant wit, and the aesthetic tendencies of the two Impressionists, it is possible the statement was meant as an ironic comment on the taste of the future public.