La, but someone has to strike a pose (Metropolitan Museum Favorites, 16)

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Captain George K.H. Coussmaker, 1782. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of William K. Vanderbilt, 1920. Photo: MetMuseum.org

Reynolds’s Captain Coussmaker always makes me think of the Scarlet Pimpernel, even though the Pimpernel did his heroic deeds in disguise, not in uniform. The  real Capt. George K.H. Coussemaker (1759-1801) served in the army for 19 years, but never saw action. What reminds me of the Pimpernel is the casual, elegant confidence of the man’s posture.

As with all exceptional works of art, it looks inevitable, as if Coussmaker leaned against a tree and Reynolds just happened to capture the relaxed pose in a sketch. But according to the Notes section on the MMA’s site, Reynolds booked an exceptional 21 sittings with Coussemaker … and eight more (!) with his horse. The interplay of the curves – in the figure, the horse, and the tree – is as perfect as the interplay of rectangles in Vermeer’s Geographer, and both represent an exceptional number of intelligent choices on the part of the artist.

More

  • As of 1/23/2017, Captain Coussmaker is currently not on display at the MMA. In storage? In conservation? On loan? The MMA’s site doesn’t say: check their page on the painting to see if it’s back by the time you read this post. They count it as one of their masterpieces, so it shouldn’t be gone for long.
  • Reynolds, who specialized in portraits, painted other soldiers: for example, Captain Robert Orme and General Sir Banastre Tarleton. Do you like them more or less than this one?
  • A Metropolitan Museum of Art bulletin on British portraits is downloadable here.
  • I’ve started adding lyrics and annotations for The Scarlet Pimpernel (cast recording of the Broadway musical) to Genius.com. See them here, or follow me @DianneDurante. I was particularly happy to find lyricist Nan Knighton’s site, which includes comments such as this one to a man who had been cast as Percy in a community theater production of Pimpernel:

I think the key to Percy is to remember these two things about him: 1) This is a man, endowed with great natural wit, who has led a rather pleasant and leisurely life when suddenly he is called upon to find inner strength and courage which he never before knew he had. As he rallies his men, he is also rallying himself and learning that he can be the sort of man he’s always admired from afar; 2) He has probably never been in love before. He’s the sort of man who only truly loves once in a lifetime. When he finally finds the woman, he knows immediately and he never deviates from that path. And so, even when Percy discovers Marguerite’s betrayal, he cannot kill his love for her, nor can he really kill his deepest inner belief that she is the woman with whom he fell in love. These are, I think, the two most basic keys to his character as we watch him develop during the show. (The Percy of the novel is a fairly different man from the Percy I’ve created in the musical).

The only other thing I would add is that you must never forget how important it is that we see Percy having fun with his charade as the idiot fop. What propels him is the constant desire to “get” Chauvelin, but he never stops reveling in the process … (incorporated on the “Prayer” page on Genius.com)

  • For more posts on Painting, see the tag cloud at lower right. Over a year ago, I used “La, but someone has to strike a pose” as the title for a post on Hals’s Willem Coymans at the National Gallery.

About Dianne L. Durante

I’m an independent scholar and freelance writer /lecturer on art and art history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are *Innovators in Sculpture¸* a survey of 5,000 years of art in two hours, and *Monuments of Manhattan,* a videoguide app by Guides Who Know that’s based on my book *Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide.*

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