Lady Gaga: Death of Marat

The Lady Gaga portraits in this room premiered at the Louvre Museum, Paris, in 2013 as part of Robert Wilson’s solo exhibition Living Rooms. This series drew inspiration from paintings in the Louvre’s collection and from conversations between Wilson and Lady Gaga on ideas about beauty, pain, sainthood, and perception.

Lady Gaga: The Death of Marat responds to a painting from the studio of the French neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793. Jean-Paul Marat was a physician, poet, journalist and revolutionary leader through the French Revolution and also a friend of David’s. The portrait depicts his murdered friend in his bath. Wilson’s video portraits have been likened to the spirit of surrealism. Indeed, the French poet Louis Aragon was a sitter for Wilson’s first video portraits in the 1970s and once said that Wilson was ‘What we, from whom surrealism was born, dreamed would come after and go beyond us.’

The synchronous work here is a commode attributed to Pierre Langlois, a cabinet-maker working in Britain in the French style of Louis XV and Louise XVI around the mid-eighteenth century. A set of drawers in the rare timbers of this type may have housed the writings and letters of Jean-Paul Marat, who was a defender of sans-culottes, ‘a radical voice’. A skin condition demanded that Marat spent much time in the bath, and it was here where he was murdered by Charlotte Corday, who herself became the subject of various artist’s depictions of the incident. David’s original painting has been described as the first modernist work, for ‘the way it took the stuff of politics as its material, and did not transmute it’.

Lady Gaga: Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière

Amongst the portraits Lady Gaga and Wilson selected was that of Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière (1806) by the French neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. An official in the Napoleonic regime, in 1805 Caroline’s father commissioned Ingres to paint portraits of himself and his wife and a portrait of his teenage daughter the following year. Caroline died within a year of the portrait’s completion. Wilson’s homage to Ingres introduces a single tear, which rolls down Lady Gaga’s cheek, and a snow goose, flying across the serene sky, alluding to the brevity and beauty of life.

The works from the collection that display synchronicity with the Wilson video portraits in this section cover twenty centuries and most art forms, and include Balsarium, a pearlescent Roman glass vessel, dated to between the first and second centuries and used for the collection of tears. Also included are a gloriously elaborate contemporary sculpture in metal and glass by the Australian-American artist Timothy Horn, an Ingres lithograph, entitled Odalisque, and an arresting double portrait of the artist and an art student by French artist Louise-Adéone Drölling. This important new acquisition was painted just four years after Ingres’s portrait of Mlle Rivière.