Guillaume Seignac was a French academic painter whose works were regularly exhibited at the Paris Salon. In the tradition of William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Seignac often depicted classical themes with an emphasis on the female form. I will conclude this year’s Art for the Month of June with his amorous Pierrot's Embrace.
As some necessary background, Pierrot is a stock character found in Pantomime and Commedia dell'Arte. My knowledge of theatre is very limited, but from my research I know that Pierrot bears the likeness of a clown and is frequently depicted as a buffoon who plays to the audience’s sympathies. He often seeks the love of his dear Columbina, though she ultimately leaves him for the valiant Harlequin. Whatever the case, to me Embrace feels like an interaction between two individuals off-stage—perhaps attendees at a masquerade function—rather than a portrayal of characters engaged in a theatrical performance, thus I will interpret this work as such.
Also, although the French theatre would occasionally cast the role of Pierrot to a female, I will refer to our white faced individual as male, as to not complicate verbiage.
Anyway, what appeals to me about Embrace is that it captures a candid, playful moment between two lovers. While their faces are obscured by mask and makeup, our title draws attention to the man’s embrace, a very intimate piece of information about this otherwise mysterious couple. Few things could be more personal than how any two lovers expresses tenderness toward one another.
As we see here, Pierrot lunges down upon the neck of his companion to deliver a deep kiss as his hand firmly grips her breast, and though taken off guard, she accepts this familiar greeting—her body recognizing his touch as if it were a signature—and sets herself at ease while grazing her hand over his sleeve, grinning in delight. Citing our title once again, we are inclined to observe this generous display of affection while our subjects’ identities remain concealed by mask and cosmetics, thus offering a subtext which suggests exhibitionism.
That being said, their interaction together, and our participation as the viewer, feels consensual—a sentiment which I find endearing if not earnest. Seignac offers no evidence with which to cast judgement upon these two spirited souls; They are experiencing a intimate moment together, and his narrative ask us to appreciate it as such and assume role of the voyeur.
Observing the heat of these two passionate Parisians, how could one not accept Seignac’s invitation?