In an era more and more bereft of history – seemingly “come unstuck in time” like ace satirist Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, from the landmark 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five – Marquis de Lafayette (After Houdon, 1785), the painting showcased here, may well constitute a comfort, even a tonic.
In that striking 20- by 24-inch oil on canvas by St. Louisan Michael Byron, the eyes of the past peer into the present with astonishing resoluteness – enough, in fact, to suggest that they gaze also into a future beyond this current bleak moment.
The Zeitgeist, at least in part, may explain the power of that gaze.
“With the increasingly dense stacking of visual experience in contemporary culture,” muses Byron, a Rhode Islander transplanted here who serves as a professor of art at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, “the question of the appropriate form of expression has never been more essential.” Not for nothing has the phrase information overload entered the popular lexicon in the past few years.
Byron’s subject likely also lends his painting more than a little gravitas: French aristocrat and military officer Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, who fought for this nascent nation in the American War of Independence and who, on subsequently returning to France, helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, which invoked so-called natural law in defining principles of the democratic nation-state. Lafayette also advocated abolishing slavery – in short, a man of considerable and estimable vision.
As a lagniappe, Byron’s Marquis de Lafayette (After Houdon, 1785) references Jean-Antoine Houdon, the exquisite (and sometimes scandalous) French neoclassical sculptor whose bust of the marquis once belonged to President Thomas Jefferson and now occupies the permanent collection of the stately Boston Athenæum.
Byron, some of whose works grace the collections of the Saint Louis Art Museum and Saint Louis University’s Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, has enjoyed an international career in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. Moreover, “The Wheel of Fortune & How to Build a Ghost,” his third free exhibition at Clayton’s Bruno David Gallery, will open there in slightly more than a week, on Sept. 12, and will run till Oct. 24.
To learn more about our featured artist, visit michaeljbyron.com.
Metro area artists who wish to be considered for future installments of this monthly department of Ladue News should email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Art & Soul” in the subject line.
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