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Cranach/John Currin


John Currin .Yhree Friends ,1998



Lucas Cranach, The Judgement of Paris, 1528, tempera and oil on wood, 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. c. 1530
John Currin, 'Three Friends' 1998

Comment by Rachel  Le Goff

First we had Odd Nerdrum reviving the technique and style of Rembrandt now we have John Currin hitting on Cranach and Durer. Are they aspiring to paint like their old master heroes, or have they just decided to rely on tried and tested formulas for artistic success? Currin  has obviously understood the magnetic appeal that German renaissance nudes emanate with their pristine alabaster bodies and blondness. These rosy maidens were the Varga pin-up girls of their day, remote and unattainable to the viewer. Cranach was painting an ideal of beauty formulated by the tastes of early sixteenth century Northern Europe.  That these cannons of beauty are little changed five centuries later is interesting. Currin has glorified the smooth cheeked wholesome beauty of w.a.s.p. girls by paralleling them to the models in celebrated paintings of Cranach's era. Imagine the heads of Uma Thurman, Michelle Pfeiffer and Gwyneth Paltrow  placed on Cranach's bodies, coaxed into a mixture of poses quoting from both renaissance standards and contemporary manners and you have Currin's formula. Its Hollywood meets the Court of Frederick III.  Whilst his 'Three Friends' is a remake of the classical 'Three Graces' composition inspired from antique sculpture his 'The Go-See' is a strangely informal/formal arrangement of two young women seemingly sharing a joke. Currin's models are often smiling as girls do when self-consciously caught by the camera, this feature serves to distance them from their renaissance prototypes.
Currin also plays at varying the anatomy of his contemporary models elongating the breasts and broadening shoulders to lend them an individuality not aspired to by Cranach or Durer or their contemporaries like Hans Baldung Grien. Erasing their overall believability however is a kind of plastic surreal quality that makes them cousins to the wide-eyed mannequins of Dinos and Jake Chapman and Charles Ray.
Whether Currin is trying to put across a powerful message about timeless beauty and women's place in history as objects of desire or whether he is just making whimsical attractive paintings that sell well is hard to discern. In Cranach's time, each painting had a literary source whether scriptural, allegorical or mythological in subject. Enormous symbolism was embodied by every naked figure he painted. My guess is that Currin is just using the visual vocabulary of the German sixteenth century masters to add a quirky twist to his female nude and the contemporary faces that smile from his canvas  make that old master world less forbidding, less intellectual for his modern audience.
Ask any auction house crony what always sells well and he will tell you "naked women and flowers". 
The question with Currin is, the running distance of his popularity. There are only so many museum catalogues he can flick through to borrow poses from German old masters, he will have to move on to Flemish Mannerism or French nineteenth century Pompier painters to renew his stock.

Uma Thurman and the Girl-Next-Door?

John Currin 'The Go-See', 1999 oil on canvas 111 x 86cm Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York


John Currin, The  Veil, 1999 oil on canvas, 111 x 81cm Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

 Lucas Cranach, 'Lucretia'


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