Monday, August 6, 2018

Cecil Tremayne Buller's Songs of Solomon

The prints of Canada’s Cecil Buller are both analytic and evocative, passionate and diagrammatic. It is a rare ability for an artist to dually describe events and subjects in such measured and balanced equal terms, but she does it with aplomb.

Cecil Tremayne Buller (1886 –1973) was born and raised in Montreal. She is well-known for producing a series of prints for her book Song of Solomon in 1929. She also provided illustrations for Cantique des cantiques which were published in Paris in 1931. I have selected some of these images to review for this article.

The Songs of Solomon set is one of the scrolls found in the last section of the Tanakh, and a book of the Old Testament. This set is unique within the Hebrew bible because it celebrates sexual love and the yearning between two lovers. The two each desire each other and rejoice in their intimacies; and we, as the audience, witness the lovers' erotic encounters. In a sense, one can even see the sweet engagement between the two lovers as they embrace, similarly to Antonio Canova's Cupid and Psyche. The feelings we take away from both pieces is the same.

Buller’s ability to transform the human figure from sinuous biomorphic forms into loosely fragmented sections that resemble the works of Fernand Leger and some of the German Expressionists, yet retain their organic origins, is amazing.

Her figures are engaged with each other to the exclusion of we the audience, who are privy to their encounters. The hunger and need of the figures for one another is earthy and basal. We feel their desire, and we can ourselves escape into their reverie for one another. Truly, Buller has evoked a sensual and gentle depiction of these two lovers, and we are blessed to know of it.

As for Buller’s artistic studies, she studied at the Art Association of Montreal, and the Art Students League, in New York City. In 1912, she went to Paris to where she studied with famed Fauve artist Maurice Denis. Four years later, she went to London to study printmaking at the Central School of Art and Design. While there, she met her future husband John J. A. Murphy; they eventually settled in New York City in 1918. She later returned to Montreal in 1961, and lived there the rest of her life.

1945 the Pennell Prize from the Library of Congress
1947 and 1953 the Audubon Society Award
1949 the National Academy of Design Graphic Art Award

Public collections:
Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris
British Museum
Library of Congress
Metropolitan Museum of Art
National Gallery of Canada
New York Public Library