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in the National Gallery:
Street Musicians by Lillian Freiman and
Orchestra Sketch by Pegi Nicol
by Francine Sarrasin
| 2 | 3
The dialectic between the lower violinist
and the singer is one of rupture rather than linkage. The angular aspect
of the lines of the fingerboard and the bow echo those of the music stand rectangle.
The latter breaks up the space and, by isolating the voice from the strings
plucked, constitutes a sight and sound barrier. The instrumental music
of the two violinists accompanies the vocal solo of the one singer. The
supremacy of the voice is affirmed by the weight of the colour given exclusively
to the singer and by the physical position she occupies in the composition.
The singer virtually touches three sides of the drawing, and through the
reach of her gaze and her voice, she also occupies, in a sense, the fourth
and left side. The juxtaposition here of coloured pencil, graphite, and
pastel and the repeatedly redrawn outlines, as if on second thought, is entirely characteristic of the artist's approach. Paradoxically, this
light touch, both hesitant and quick, produces a finely profiled, clear, and accurate likeness, as can be seen in the upper violinist. Lillian
Freiman uses mixed techniques to create a dual visual effect: that of movement
and rest, of music and pause, of precision and confusion.
At first glance, judging by the postures of
the figures and the sketches as a whole, it is the representation that
appears to stop the musical movement and freeze the instant portrayed.
None of the three musicians appears to take any more notice of the viewer
than he does of the others in the picture. In choosing the moment, the
artist here creates a dual scenario: she tells us a story we take to be
true (the three musicians apparently playing music together), while writing
an imaginary story (the music of the trio). The music-makers do not pose
for the artist; rather, she makes sketches of them and then arranges
these in a single structured composition. This approach, in relation to
the moment to be singled out, does after all fit in with Freiman's working
methods, where she begins by gathering sketches and only later arranges them together.
Although we cannot know whether or not the
music truly links the same psychological instant of these three musicians,
there is no question that music is there. The moment of the picture therefore
encompasses a broader timespan - that of music in general. The production
of sound is already under way: the singer is singing, the upper violinist
is applying his bow; only the pizzicato is, perhaps, less convincing. It
would therefore appear that the musical moment of this representation
merges with a certain musical reality that is almost philosophical in nature.
The subject's past does not exist and the future, in image, has no reason
to come about; only the present is manifestly accentuated, and even at
that it is a present with symbolic rather than realistic value.
Just as the temporal aspect extends to music
in general, so the physical aspect is transformed into a space more psychological
Given the complete absence of setting and
geographical surroundings, attention is naturally focused on the three
figures in the drawing. The lighting does not have the expected dramatic
effect; on the contrary, it plays around angles and reflections, cancelling
itself out and blithely contradicting each of the preceding effects. It
is therefore somewhat inaccurate to speak of "lighting." A specific role
may be attributed to the white highlights; applied in careful relief to
the left hand of the upper violinist, they almost simulate the movement
of the vibrato (5) and the tension of the hand in the seventh position
on the fingerboard. Highlighting also, paradoxically, brings out the negroid
features in the face of the violinist executing the pizzicato. Overall,
the highlights are used to round out the volumetric spherical shapes and
accentuate certain reliefs.
Lighting as such is non-existent here: the blue shadow is much more a physical
reality than it is a lack of light. It is a splotch on the paper, or better
still, the halo of the music! What, then, is the perspective of such a
work? Bach musician expresses himself within his own universe; he moves
beside and across from the others. It is difficult to establish a single
vanishing point. The perspective shifts from the music stand to one musician
or the other. The eye of the viewer, while seeking a resting place, is
forced to move incessantly. It is as if each person, within his arrangement
in the picture, resists inclusion in the triangle.
We note that with this work the eye of the
viewer is forced to trace a path quite different from its usual movement
from the nearest to the farthest object. Instead, it goes back and forth,
following a horseshoe path from the singer to the violinist in the back,
by way of the lower violinist (fig. 3). The open space in front of the
singer facilitates access to her and bestows upon her a role of capital
importance. This open curve has a hint of feminine symbolism to it - further
confirmation of the singer's
importance. The right elbow of the back violinist, exaggeratedly high,
can also be taken as a sort of pointer. Indeed, starting from the signature
(a pictorial mark par excellence), the elbow may trigger toward
the singer the visual movement that ends at the shadow, the double blue
of this central figure.
We see that our right to hear their music
does not mean that the musicians must look at us: their universe remains
closed and almost inaccessible. As far as composition is concerned, it
could be claimed that the music here is contrapuntal, in the sense that
the melodies are autonomous prior to their being juxtaposed, independent
prior to being combined. In the same way, each musician is a complete image
unto himself prior to his being placed with the others, as in a collage.
Moreover, we know that the collage technique is used frequently by Lillian
The choice of violins and one voice as the
subject of the picture has an eminently melodic connotation, that is, one
note is played at a time. Indeed, the music created by this trio has a
linear quality. Here, as in her works generally, Lillian Freiman shows,
through her choice of instruments, a distinct predilection for strings
(violin, harp) and the fineness of certain sounds (transverse flute, the
The treatment of the hands in this sketch
deserves special attention. All are brought out in some way, with the white
highlights that imply the intonation being shared by the musicians. We
have already spoken of relief and three-dimensional effect.
The hands of the violinists are active, alive, and an essential part of the scene. The accent is on their activity, posture, position,
technique, and interpretation. Had the artist wished to impart the emotion
of a musical improvisation, she would not have decided to intensify the
hands. The agility and dexterity, indeed the virtuosity, of the musicians'
hands would have taken second place to the expressions on the faces, invention,
the surprise of the sounds produced, spontaneity. The face of the lower
violinist, although highlighted, has the impassibility of a statue.
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