Balzac’s novella ‘The Unknown Masterpiece’ (Le Chef – d’oeurve Inconnu) tells the story of the ageing painter Frenhofer who has been working on his last masterpiece for over ten years. He is reluctant to show the work to anybody but in the end is persuaded by his colleagues (and some trickery) to reveal it to them. They stand before the large canvas perplexed, for they can see nothing except for a confusion of colours daubed on top of one another and a criss-crossing of lines and shapes forming a wall of paint. After some time they discover in one corner a perfectly formed foot. Poussin, the younger of the artists, exclaims that while the foot might be perfect it has been overwhelmed and destroyed by the rest. Frenhofer is aghast, he feels talentless and his work worthless. Confused and dejected he ushers his visitors from the studio. That night he destroys all his paintings, and next morning is found dead.
Balzac wrote ‘The Unknown Masterpiece’ in 1831, and it still has a resonance today. Frenhofer is appalled that his colleagues cannot see what he himself sees, forgetting that subjective insights and ways of working may not be apparent to other observers. The work is often seen as a parable of contemporary art, ‘Frenhofer c’est moi’ claimed Cezanne.
Anthony Bennett had his first solo exhibition in Berlin in 1982. He has since exhibited widely in Germany as well as the UK.