Nils Dardel and the Modern Age

One of the journeys of my life has been to reconcile myself to fame.  Not everyone gets famous, and often it’s the wrong people.  For this Canadian it is very clear at least how it doesn’t work.

  • It is not fair.
  • Itis not logical.
  • Sometimes brilliance is rewarded, sometimes it is not.
Gulliver by Nils Dardel.  Notice that the little man is a dandy

Gulliver by Nils Dardel. Notice that the little man is a dandy (photograph by Leslie Barcza)

I live close enough to one of the centres of the world (thinking of New York City) that I’ve seen how one’s perspective is distorted by being in one of those places.  NY is a place where talents compete for attention, and where it may seem that those in the limelight are automatically the best. We assume that a star in NY would be a star here or anywhere else because “if you can make it there you can make it anywhere”.

Except that it ain’t necessarily so. Each little cul-de-sac can have a local hero who is unknown on the world stage.

The internet may be eroding regional flavour, but it is still largely true. There have been barriers preventing some from achieving worldwide recognition. Language may be the biggest. Canadians and Australians regularly go to Hollywood and make a huge splash precisely because no one there realizes that theyíre dealing with foreigners. But what if you’re Hungarian? Or Swedish? Then the dynamics and the scope of fame will likely be different. You’re taken up elsewhere only when you have a champion, or when –like Franz Liszt–you make a splash in another city as Liszt did in the Paris of the early 19th Century: the NY or Hollywood of its day.

Nils Dardel is the reason for this digression on fame, the most impressive painter I’ve seen in awhile. His remarkable works are currently on display at The Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Dardel lived from 1888 to 1943, dying in NY.  I believe it is safe to call him a dandy, considering that he painted at least one picture where he self-identified as such. I suppose I have a weakness for dandies, or a weak stomach in the presence of those who valorize the macho ideal, as we see in futurism. What kind of art do you get with Dardel? In his early art he is influenced by the post-impressionists such as Matisse or Gaugin, add a smattering of cubism, then veers bravely into surrealism.

This is a dandy’s surrealism, the wild imagery of someone well-dressed whose sensibility is informed by good food, good clothes, good manners and all things aesthetic. We could be in a theatre or at least in a place where people play-act.

If Dardel were an American? he’d be famous. His painting is very good, highly individualized & quirky. Because he’s not from a country that is mainstream to the art-world, I suppose he is relatively unknown. Dardel’s art is on display in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet until Sept 14 2014.

Knowing that I’d be unlikely to ever see it again I bought the show catalogue.  It’s very reasonably priced, wonderful reproductions and also fascinating text.

Self-portrait, Nils Dardel (photograph by Leslie Barcza)

Self-portrait, Nils Dardel (photograph by Leslie Barcza)

 

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