Tableaux Vivants for the 21st Century
“Portrait of Sylvia Von Harden” remake by Stephan Hoffman & SoYeon Kim
“Portrait of Sylvia Von Harden” by Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix
Lest we think we, as “modern” people came up with performance art, here is an idea that is older than our country: the art of Tableaux Vivants.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “tableaux vivants” as a “representation of a person, character, scene, incident, etc., of a well-known painting or statue by one person or a group of persons in suitable costumes or attitudes, silent and motionless.” Such playful, yet at times, serious, art has been around since at least the mid-18th century. The Italian actor Carlo Bertinazzi performed the “The Village Betrothal in Los Noces d’Arlequin” by Jean-Baptist Grueze for the court at the Palace of Versailles in 1760.
Tableaux vivant “actors” tried to mimic costume, lighting, and theme in order to delight, educate, and inform. These “living paintings” were very popular in the early 19th century when the re-creations were moved from lofty venues like palaces to more humble ones, such as the parlors of affluent Americans. Godey’s Lady’s Book, arguably the most popular and influential magazine of its time, described tableaux vivant as one of the most popular of party activities which also served to “engender a love and appreciation for art.”
Today, actors and artists still seek to create in form what visual artists put to paper. In April, the Adobe corporation challenged students in the UK to create their own tableaux vivant and vie for a 10,000 pound prize. An American website called “Booooom” wanted to participate in the project and asked Adobe for permission to adopt the idea (though not the prize). Adobe agreed.
Here are just a few of the stunning photographic tableaux vivants. What is truly delightful is the way in which many of the artists do not create a literal homage to the original work, but nevertheless embody its spirit.
“Self Portrait 1889″ remake by Seth Johnson
“Self Portrait 1889″ by Vincent van Gogh
“Automata” remake by Or Eitan
“Automata” by Edward Hopper
“Narcissus” remake by Max Zerrahn
“Narcissus” by Caravaggio