The “Noir Art” segment on NoirWhale.com is intended to showcase the artistic abilities and contributions of significant individuals in the noir genre. These men and women create the vibrant backdrops our beloved anti-heroes and dames inhabit, and lend character to the settings that have come to define noir.
Jean-Gabriel Domerge was born in the city Bordeaux, which may be found in Southwestern France, on March 4th, 1889. As a young man, he studied art at the world renown École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (National School of Fine Arts) in Paris, which was founded in 1648. The school’s central instruction program was based upon a series of anonymous tests and competitions which culminate in the Prix de Rome. The winner of which would receive a bursary (a grant) and be sent to the French Academy in Rome for a season to practice their art. Jean-Gabriel, in 1911, won for the painting category. Thus he was given a rare opportunity to practice and enhance his art at an earlier stage of his career.
“Domergue invented a new type of woman : thin, airy, elegant, with a swanlike neck and wide seductive eyes which gaze upon the world with longing.”
From 1920 onward, his work revolved almost exclusive around the female portrait. He even famously claimed to be the inventor of the ‘pin-up’– an art-form very closely tied to much of the noir genre, as the covers of ‘pulps’ perpetuated it into the main stream. Late in his life he was the curator of the public museum, Musée Jacquemart-André, and he organized several high profile exhibitions (Van Gogh, Goya, Toulouse-Lautrec, among others). He died on November 16th, 1962 on a sidewalk in Paris.
Domergue’s strokes are as delicate as the women he paints, their skin warm, flawless, and inviting. Their men serve as props only, each an incomplete cardboard cutout or piece of dark/bland scenery behind an intoxicating palette of soft color. As convicting as their lips may appear, it’s their eyes that draw the viewer into the canvas; squinting softly, Domergue paints them as windows into the empowered female– she lives in a world of certainties, and the viewer is barely worthy of her gaze. These women are femme fatales, dames of luxury, worshiped for their beauty and fragility– when in reality their perceived weakness is as fake as their crimson pout.