A Painter Behind The Curtain: Revolution and Art

This is where you can read the manhwa.  https://www.tappytoon.com/comics/painter-behind-curtainmBut be aware that this manhwa is mature Yaoi, which means, it is about homosexuality with explicit scenes, although there is a softer version: https://www.tappytoon.com/en/comics/painter-behind-curtain

The reason why I am writing another essay about A Painter Behind The Curtain is quite simple. The first composition about this wonderful manhwa has become the most read essay among all the other manhwas I examined. This signifies that people are interested to learn more about the manhwa and its historical context. In the first essay, I described the strong connection between art and monarchs. The latter would use painting in order to legitimate their power and authority. However, art and as such painting also played a huge role in revolutions.

Let me give you an example. When French revolution started in 1789, the deputies from Third Estate (mostly represented by bourgeoisie) accompanied by a few from Nobility and Clergy gathered in the Jeu de Paume court (Jeu de paume = similar to tennis) in order to take an oath that they will never separate, until a constitution is composed. This event is very important, as it represents the deputies’ second revolutionary act against Louis XVI’s authority. And in 1791, the famous painter Jacques-Louis David created a painting representing this oath. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques-Louis_David#/media/Fichier:Le_Serment_du_Jeu_de_paume.jpg

And this shows that artists can also support revolutionary ideas and movement, they can either help to reinforce the ruler’s authority or even do the opposite. In other words, arts are never obsolete or just for entertainment. They can have a strong influence of public opinion. This is also not surprising that dictators in the 20th Century used arts as a tool for propaganda. However, if you pay attention to the drawing from Jacques-Louis David, you’ll notice that his way of painting is still influenced by classical rules. And this leads me to the next observation, a painter can also become a revolutionary himself, when he starts defying academic rules in arts and as such to authorities. The best example for this statement is the Russian painter Kazimir Malevitch, who created in 1915 the work called The Black Square or Malevitch’s Black Square. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Square_(painting)#/media/File:Kazimir_Malevich,_1915,_Black_Suprematic_Square,_oil_on_linen_canvas,_79.5_x_79.5_cm,_Tretyakov_Gallery,_Moscow.jpg

The first reaction young people have, when they see this painting, is to laugh and say that they could do such a painting themselves, as it doesn’t seem to show any profound skill or talent. What they fail to see is how revolutionary his creation is, because they don’t put the work into his historical context. In 1915, Russia was still an autocracy, the Russian version of an absolute monarchy, where the Czar was still considered as the supreme ruler of the country. In this historical period, Russia was very conservative and refused any modernization, which signifies that academic rules in arts were very strict too. Thereby the idea itself was totally new. When Malevitch created his Black Square, he was defying not only the Russian arts academy, but also authorities. He was asking for a profound change in his country, he literally eliminated every rule and decided to create a new art, the suprematist movement. And this is no coincidence that 2 years later, Russian revolution occurred and in October 1917, Bolshevik faction organized an armed uprising against the Provisional Government leading to the establishment of the Bolshevik regime. From that moment, the new government tried to erase all the symbols from the past and the autocracy, just like Malevitch had done it with his paintings. It was, as though the author had announced a new huge change for Russia. As a first conclusion, the manhwalovers can sense that painters can play a huge role during a Revolution, they can advocate revolutionary ideas and movement, but they can also be used to reinforce the current government and as such become an instrument for propaganda.

After this introduction, it is time to focus on the manhwa and to examine the role played by Ian Scornel. It becomes clear that Ian belongs to the first part. Because he portrays the people involved in their revolution, he is advocating their ideas: liberty and equity. (chapter 44) He isn’t only a witness of the preparations for the revolution, he is also a participant, therefore he desires to assist to the revolution. This explains why he doesn’t intent to paint the event itself afterwards based on different sources and testimonies, like Jacques-Louis David. His paintings are the results of his observations. By portraying the revolutionaries, he support their protest and the change.

Nevertheless the revolution planed by Henry fails, since Raymond betrays the movement in order to obtain power and revenge. Due to his love for Raymond, the painter Ian accepts his decision and remains by his lover’s side, (chapter 46) although he feels terribly guilty. However, the consequences of his choice are far worse than the artist and even Raymond could ever imagine. Due to the immense burden, Ian Sconel’s creativity gets affected. He is no longer able to paint like before. It was, as though the loss of his innocence had tainted his creativity. Furthermore, since he is now connected to the king and nobility, his topics get limited. He becomes a painter portraying nobles, this explains why the paintings above are lacking energy and creativity. In other words, the closer Raymond got to power, the more Ian gets pressured to paint for the higher-ups. And this reminds me of the painter Jacques-Louis David, who first supported the revolutionaries and even Robespierre, the representative for Reign of Terror (La Terreur). When the latter got executed, the painter left France and came back, when Napoleon became the ruler, first as consul first and as emperor. As a conclusion, the artist supported an authoritarian monarchy contrasting to his first convictions. Jacques-Louis David became famous with the following paintings:

  1. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonaparte_franchissant_le_Grand-Saint-Bernard#/media/Fichier:David_-Napoleon_crossing_the_Alps-_Malmaison2.jpg
  2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David_-The_Coronation_of_Napoleon_and_Josephine-_detail.jpg

In my opinion, his conservatism is palpable in the way he created these paintings. That’s why he is labeled as a classic painter. And now, we have to wonder if Ian will become a second Jacques-Louis David. As you can anticipate, this won’t be the case. Ian might feel guilty, but he never gave up on the ideas of liberty and equity. And this is not the case of the French painter, although Napoleon presented himself as the heir of French revolution. Nevertheless, the readers have to grasp that this was just a justification for his expansionist politics. But there’s another reason for my statement. Right from the start, Ian was a revolutionary artist because of his style. Mr. François noticed it right away. This explicates why the latter is asking Ian to follow him, when he is about to move away. He is well aware that if he remains by Raymond’s side, his creativity and talent won’t be nurtured. And now, you understand that I consider the protagonist as revolutionary in both senses: he advocates liberty and equity, but he also represents a new style breaking academic rules. This is visible with the following painting: He expresses his emotions and a certain melancholy through the painting. That’s why I have the impression that the author chose Ian as a representative of Romanticism. Romanticism is characterized by the dominance of sensitivity, emotion and imagination over reason and morality. Artists paint by affirming their ideas and letting their personal impressions and feelings appear with passion through their works. This explains why Manuma selected Ian as first name for the protagonist, although the story takes in Italy. Romanticism was born in Germany existing from 1800 to 1850. Furthermore, Romanticism identifies with liberal and national movements in Europe (19th century). In order to understand what they are, especially for readers from other continents, it is important to explain the historical context.

The origin of these liberal and national movements existing in every European country comes from the French revolution. This important event started in 1789 and ended in 1799, when Napoléon Bonaparte seized power through a coup d’état. This marked the end of French revolution, although Napoléon used its ideals (liberty, equity and fraternity) in order to conquer the rest of Europe. In other words, the name of freedom and equality, Napoleon expanded his empire. He wanted to create an Europe of nations under French hegemony. That’s why the emperor supported Polish and Italian, who were ruled by foreign countries (Russian-Austria- Prussia for Polish and Austria for Italian). For Italian, it is different because the country was divided under different rulers as well. By creating a Polish and Italian nation, the French emperor imagined that he would get the support from people against traditional absolute monarchs. In order to disguise his true intentions, he introduced reforms in the different occupied countries: abolition of hierarchical societies, introduction of a constitution and the code civil. Yet, in reality, Napoleon’s ruling was not different from an absolute king, because freedom and equity were just paroles, empty promises. In fact, Napoleon could be perceived as the first dictator in our modern world. He used propaganda, schools in order to indoctrinate children and turn them into his future soldiers and even planted spies in all different social classes in order to monitor people. His minister Fouché desired to install fear among people by letting them think, there were spies everywhere. But with the downfall of Napoleon, people in Europe assisted to the return of the absolute monarchy. Metternich and other rulers decided to erase the ideals from French revolution, which was impossible, as you can imagine. Napoleon’s politics had indeed affected European people. While the latter can die, ideas don’t. This era is called Restoration, as the kings were trying reestablish the Ancien Regime. This explicates why the rulers were against the idea of nation and liberty. They didn’t want people to decide of their regime and as such determine their fate. That’s why in the 19th Century, in Germany and Italy, liberals were fighting against the princes or even against foreign authorities. Italian, Poland and German desired to create their own nation, based on the ideals of liberty and equity. However, the monarchs did everything to eliminate this movement, therefore the artists from Romanticism chose to use arts in order to express their feelings and support the national and liberal movements. I could use the following painting as illustration: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eug%C3%A8ne_Delacroix_-_La_libert%C3%A9_guidant_le_peuple.jpg

Eugene Delacroix painted the French Revolution from 1830, when the king Charles X had to flee to England. Back then, the revolutionaries succeeded and obtained a monarchy with a constitution. And now, you might wonder if I am not deriving from the topic, yet you have to remember that the story “A Painter Behind The Curtain” takes place in Italy. And we have many allusions that the king in this region has some diplomatic relationship with France. The king would like to marry his youngest daughter to the French crown. So it looks like that the story takes place before French Revolution. Besides, the way Henry planed the revolution reminds me more of French revolution from 1789, establishment of a new society based on equity and freedom , as Henry never speaks about Italian nation nor foreign ruling. Moreover, we have the impression that it takes place at the end of the 18th Century due to the culotte Ian Sconel is wearing like in the following picture. However, this is not possible, since Raymond is using a hat worn during the 19th Century. As you can see, the manhwa contains some historical inexactitudes. But what here matters is that Ian, as a painter from the Romanticism movement, is strongly influenced by his emotions. The latter are the source of his inspiration and creativity. And since he decided to side with Raymond and feels guilty, you can now comprehend why the young man can no longer paint like before. Because of this observation, I come to the conclusion that Ian will have to be separated from Raymond, as their relationship will affect the artist’s creativity. Once liberated from Raymond’s world, the young man will be able to discover the world and find a new inspiration. At the same time, Raymond will be forced to choose: power or love.

Right now, many readers are loathing Raymond, because he betrayed his friend Henry and Ian. He preferred siding with power and the king in order to get his revenge. But like always, it is important to see beyond the surface. The protagonist is definitely a modern man, who despises estate-based society. He reminds me of the finance ministers like Necker who tried to make the France’s finances healthier by criticizing the court and its expenditures or Turgot who attempted to impose some taxes on nobility. However, all of them fail in the end, because they were just ministers and as such advisors. The absolute king Louis XVI had the final saying. And Raymond will realize that he won’t get a real change, like he imagined. Furthermore, the moment he will lose Ian, he will realize that losing ideals for power is not right, as he obtained nothing. Let’s not forget that he will be just the princess’ husband and nothing more. In reality, by betraying his friend, he hurt himself. Therefore, there is no doubt that in the long run, Raymond will change his mind and support Henry’s revolution. The painter will play a huge part in Raymond’s final decision. That’s why the author chose this title for the manhwa. The painter behind the curtain was the one who inspired people for a change: he helped painters to create their own exhibition and develop their own style. At the same time, he pushed Raymond to question his values forcing him to support Henry for real. There’s no doubt that due to their separation, Ian will develop his talent in a different place and find his inspiration again. While his lover played a huge part in his inspiration and emancipation, Ian needs to learn to live on his own. With his new independency, Ian will become stronger and more motivated to paint again, so that he can recover from the wound afflicted by the betrayal.

As a conclusion, Ian belongs to Romanticism, that’s why he is a revolutionary artist. Not only he supports modern ideals (equity and liberty), but even his style is revolutionary, because he has even developed it without knowing the Romanticism from German.

Feel free to comment. If you have any suggestion for topics or manhwas, feel free to ask. If you enjoyed reading it, retweet it or push the button like. My tumblr-twitter account is: @bebebisous33. Thanks for reading and the support.

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