A naked woman lies in the tall grass, one hand resting on her right breast, under a tempestuous sky with perhaps the occasional bolt of lightening. The church bell tower and village are visible in the distance, if obscured by dark clouds. She has left behind her companions, her sisters with flowers in their hair. She has stepped out of the painting by Julius Leblanc Stewart and left the sheltered clearing.
Here she finds herself in another landscape, in a photograph by Nicolas Dhervillers. She is comfortable, at home here. A young man on his knees is drinking river water from his cupped hand. He wants for nothing, not even Diogenesʼ cup from Poussinʼs painting. He is part of nature, of its rough poetry. He fits perfectly, harmoniously within this rocky, hilly landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Next we come to a brother wearing his cassock in the dark woods underneath the powerful trees. His hands are opened skyward, his eyelids shut; he has chosen a humble pose. He kneels at the foot of a giant tree trunk, torn apart by the storms. His head is lifted towards the heavens. He can surely hear the celestial choirs from here. It is Saint Francis of Assisi, plucked out of the piece Franck Cowper.
There are many characters in Hommages, the new series by Nicolas Dhervillers. Many of them have travelled here from the canvas of a great master to be part of a photographic tableau : from oil painting to digital print. They are not lost souls wandering in the twilight, or tourists looking for the meaning of life with neither belonging nor purpose.
Their pervading presence comes with a story : a long and great history enlightened by their very presence in this new setting. In the shadows, the clearings, the obscurity and the sunlight, Nicolas has given them a spiritual, almost divine aura through which he pays homage.
These tiny painted characters have been outlined and exiled, as fragments of a masterpiece they have found a new home in the artistʼs landscapes, touched by grace, authority and ease. They are apparitions, markers in the décor that imprint upon it and emanate from it power and mystery. On every horizon and in each scene we are transported to faraway lands of the distant past and future. Places like retreats, platonic places and interiors. Nicolas guides his actors, the space and the photograph like a film director to obtain single-shot films. He invents a pictorial diaspora and disperses his characters throughout his world.
There are men by James Tissot, a boy by Vassili Perov, little girls and a baby by William Bouguereau, a woman by Julien Bastien-Lepage and a fawn by Gustave Courbet. Nicolas Dhervillers takes the displaced figures -who have leapt out of art history- on a journey and invites them to live a parallel life in the forests, the rocky mountains, the railroads, the green of the hills or high in the trees. And their terrible beauty permeates the surroundings, which are ever magical.
(Julie Estève, june 2013)