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Jane Graverol (1905 - 1984)

Eloge de la Folie, 1971

L’éloge de la Folie is a heavily symbolic work which is undoubtedly named after ‘The Praise of Folly’, an essay written in Latin in 1509 by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam and first printed in June 1511. This work played a vital role at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and serves as a satirical examination of pious but superstitious abuses of Catholic doctrine and corrupt practices in parts of the Roman Catholic Church and its political allies.

The imagery of Graverol’s painting is clearly inspired by The Frog and the Ox, which appears among the ancient Greek slave and storyteller Aesop’s Fables(620-564 BCE) and is numbered 376 in the Perry Index. The story concerns a frog that tries to inflate itself to the size of an ox but bursts in the attempt. In 1688, Jean de la Fontaîne (1621-1695), inspired by Aesop, wrote his own version entitled: ‘The two Bulls and the Frog’, which recounts the fear of a frog who comes face-to-face with two bulls fighting over a heifer; the fable brings together opposing animals, one weak and one powerful, which evokes the imbalance of the power dynamics between the church, royalty, aristocracy and the ‘common’ people:

“This world of ours is full of foolish creatures too –

Commoners want to build chateaux.

Each princeling wants his royal retinue.

Each count his squires. And so it goes.”

The frog inside the Bull’s stomach has been identified as a Bull Frog, which gets its name from the sound that males make during the breeding season, which can resemble the bellowing of a bull. A highly invasive and destructive species, they were introduced to France in the 1960s by a collector who wanted to have them in a pond as a curiosity. Escaping into the wild and spreading throughout Western Europe at a highly alarming rate due to having no predators, as opposed to their native North America where they are eaten by alligators, by the 1970s they had completely taken over wetlands around the Gironde and Dordogne rivers damaging native wildlife. Failed eradication attempts were recorded in 2003 and 2007.

Graverol’s humorous reinterpretation of Aesop’s & De la Fontaîne’s fables reiterates powerful socio-political dynamics but with one main difference: Graverol’s bull, representing wealth, royalty and the church, has eaten the frog, representing the people. The bull, however, is being killed with picas, reminiscent of Spanish and Southern French Feria celebrations, indicating a revolution. The ‘jewels’ which adorn the top of the painting might also symbolise the wealth and prosperity of royalty and the church.

Animals are a recurring theme in Graverol’s work. While the theme of the half-man, half-machine was adopted by many surrealists as a tool for denouncing the effects of industrialisation on mankind, in paintings such as The Holy Spirit (1965) and The School of Vanity (1967), Graverol applies this juxtaposition to the animal world. Particularly during her later life, Graverol dedicated much of her time to issues of war and its impact on humanity and socio-political issues. This work, while highly surrealist, does not use the automatic techniques promoted by Breton, but instead uses heightened realism to create a dream-like dystopia centring on the animal kingdom as a way of explicitly highlighting hierarchical power dynamics and violence in which the ‘weakest’ people are ‘being eaten’ or ‘swallowed up’.

x W46cm
Oil on panel, Signed
Graverol, Jane

Jane Graverol (1905 - 1984)

Jane Graverol was born in Ixelles, Belgium, on 18 December 1905. Her father was the Symbolist illustrator and writer Alexandre Graverol. After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Etterbeek, she attended the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where she studied under Montald Constant and Jean Delville. She initially made her name in the field of still life and landscape and had her first solo exhibition in 1927, but in the late 1930s, she embraced Surrealism. In a striking departure from her male colleagues’ work, her compositions mainly centred on strong and determined female figures. Blending fairytale with the grotesque, and often depicting the erotic female body, Graverol described her paintings as "waking, conscious dreams". In 1949 she met members of the Belgian Surrealist group and in 1953 helped found the Temps Mêlés group in Verviers, which had leanings toward pataphysics - the absurdist, pseudo-scientific, literary invention of the French writer Alfred Jarry. She was a co-founder of two significant surrealist publications - the Temps Mêlés, and in 1954 along with Mariën and Paul Nougé, the avant-garde review Les Lèvres Nues. In the 1960s, she made the acquaintance of André Breton, and later Marcel Duchamp in New York. Even though she subsequently moved to France, she stayed in close contact with the Belgian surrealist artists and exhibited in Belgium every year. She died in Fontainebleau on 24 April 1984.