Archive for Edgar Degas

The Paradox of Henri Fantin-Latour

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting, Printmaking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

The canvases of M. Fantin-Latour do not assault your eyes, do not leap at you from the walls. They must be looked at for a length of time in order to penetrate them, and their conscientiousness, their simple truth—you take these in entirely, and then you return. — Emile Zola, 1880

Henri Fantin-Latour, Roses in a Glass Vase, 1873
Oil on canvas
(Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, England)

Recently, I’ve been revisiting the art of the still-life, and that pursuit quickly led me the work Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904). Fantin-Latour is a bit of an enigma—he produced work in three contradictory styles for his entire artistic career. He was an expert and innovative lithographer, a painter of portraits, self-portraits, flowers and still-lifes, but his least-known and appreciated works are what he called his imaginative compositions. These paintings and lithographs, largely inspired by the music of Wagner, Schumann and Berlioz, were considered by Fantin-Latour to be his most important work.

The flower paintings were painted merely for the steady income they provided, but, ironically, it is these paintings, which capture the essence of flowers in all their ephemeral beauty, that made Fantin-Latour famous. In his book, Atelier de Fantin-Latour, published in 1919, Jacques-Émile Blanche wrote:

Fantin studied each flower, each petal, its grain, its tissue as if it were a human face. In Fantin’s flowers, the drawing is large and beautiful; it is always sure and incisive…It is an individual flower and not simply one of a type…

Henri-Fantin-Latour, Roses de Nice on a Table, 1882
Oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon
(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)

Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour was born in Grenoble in 1836—his father, a painter, moved the family to Paris in 1841. Fantin-Latour lived in Paris most of his life, and the Louvre became the center of his artistic universe. He often said: “Le Louvre, il n’y a que le Louvre.” (The Louvre, there is only the Louvre.) Beginning when he was fourteen, Fantin-Latour entered a professional drawing school, where he studied under Horace Lecoq-de-Boisbaudran, who believed that memory was a spur to the imagination. He would set up a complicated still-life and discuss it with his pupils in elaborate detail. Then he would dismantle the still-life—and the students would begin to paint it from memory. This discipline informed Fantin-Latour’s work for his entire career.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Self-Portrait, 1861
Oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon
(National Gallery of Art,Washington, D.C.)

In 1854, Fantin-Latour attended the École des Beaux Arts on probation for three months, but was not awarded a permanent place. As a result, when he was 17, Fantin-Latour began to spend his days at the Louvre, copying the work of the masters, a practice he continued for many years. This deep study of Delacroix, Boucher, Fragonard, Rembrandt, Watteau, Giorgione, Rubens, Chardin, Hals, Titian and others shows itself throughout all aspects of his work. The Louvre was Fantin-Latour’s refuge, and in many ways his painting feeds more on other paintings than life or nature.

Louise Moillon, Basket of Strawberries and Basket of Plums, 1632
Oil on wooden panel
(Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France)

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Basket of Strawberries, c. 1760
Oil on canvas
(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Fantin-Latour also made a thorough study of the entire French school of still-life, especially the great 17th century still-life painter, Louise Moillon and the 18th-century master, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin—whose work Fantin-Latour is often compared to. (There are some very obvious and distinct differences between their work. Among other things, Chardin’s still-lifes have a strict frontality, with the elements of the subject at eye level, and the backgrounds are painted in his signature warm brown tones. Fantin-Latour’s work has a cooler tonality, with the table creating a more diagonal line, and tilted forward, towards the viewer.)

Henri Fanin-Latour, Roses in a Vase, 1872
Oil on canvas
(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

It was at the Louvre that Fantin-Latour first met Édouard Manet, James McNeill Whistler, Berthe Morisot—and his future wife, artist Victoria Dubourg.

In 1859, Whistler invited Fantin-Latour to London, where he introduced him to John Everett Millais and other Pre-Raphaelite painters, as well as to Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Edwards. The Edwards bought many of Fantin-Latour’s flower paintings, and found other buyers among their circle, securing him a regular and steady income. Between 1864 and 1896 Fantin-Latour painted over 800 floral portraits, and almost all were purchased in England.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Edwards, 1875
Oil on canvas
(Tate, London)

Fantin-Latour painted roses more than any other flower, but he also painted an enormous variety of old-fashioned cottage garden flowers, such as petunias, hollyhocks, tulips, dahlias, larkspur, forget-me-nots, peonies, sweet peas, hyacinths and cherry blossoms. He favored whites, yellows and pinks because he loved the luminosity of the pastel flowers. He had a deft hand with arranging flowers in a balanced yet naturalistic way, and the paintings, with the flowers silhouetted against a subdued background, have an enveloping atmosphere. They have a musical quality—a harmony of value, color and tone—that creates contrast and depth. Fantin-Latour also beautifully captures the contrasting surfaces of the vases, whether Chinese porcelain, enamel or clear glass.

Henri Fantin Latour, Peonies in a Vase, 1864
Oil on canvas
(The Hermitage, St. Petersburg)

Henri Fantin-Latour, Petunias, 1881
Oil on canvas
(Detroit Institute of Arts)

Fantin-Latour’s painting career was about perfecting and expanding upon his original ideas. Unlike his friends Degas, Manet, Renoir, and Monet, he had no desire to move forward into new styles: he was content to be a Realist. Fantin-Latour had an essentially different approach to painting from his friends who were experimenting with the melding of technique and subject matter that became Impressionism. Fantin-Latour saw technique as something apart—not an end in itself, or something to be integrated into the subject. Fantin-Latour believed that technique was to be mastered before you approached your subject and that it gave an artist the freedom to delve deeply. In this he was influenced by Courbet, who wrote:

Imagination in art consists in knowing how to find the most complete expression of an existing thing, but never in inventing or creating the thing itself.

Fantin-Latour’s paintings were an eclectic mix—Realism tempered with Naturalism and a deep Romanticism—and a small dose of Impressionism. He also took some ideas from Japanese art and photography, both of which were so influential at that time. From the work of his friend Whistler, he learned about cool harmonies, the use of gray backgrounds, and to occasionally incorporate some Japanese elements.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Still Life with Roses and Torso, 1874
Oil on canvas
(Private Collection)

James McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White #2, 1864
Oil on canvas
(Tate, London)

In addition to still-lifes and flower paintings, Fantin-Latour painted many portraits and five well-known group portraits. He also painted 21 self portraits, about which he wrote:

He is a model who is always ready, who offers all the advantages, he is punctual, co-operative and one knows him before beginning to paint.

Fantin-Latour was a bit of a loner—in fact, after his marriage he was content to stay in his family circle, joined only by a few close friends. He no longer frequented the artist cafés on the Boulevard St. Germain where he had spent so much time previously. His aloofness often affected his subjects, in some of his portraits you sense a cool distance. However, the portraits of his friends and those within his family circle are especially lovely, particularly his early portraits of his mother or sisters Natalie and Marie, and later his wife’s family. These familial works are dignified, serene and beautifully evocative.

Henri Fantin-Latour, The Two Sisters, 1859
Oil on canvas
(Saint Louis Art Museum)

Henri Fantin-Latour, Charlotte Dubourg, 1882
Oil on canvas
(Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

Henri Fantin-Latour, Portrait of Manet, 1867
Oil on canvas
(The Art Institute of Chicago)

Fantin-Latour painted five large group portraits, four of which still exist.  The painting below, Homage to Delacroix, was painted a year after the great Romantic painter’s death. Like all of Fantin-Latour’s group portraits, its composition and color palette is a nod to the great 17th century Dutch portraitists, particularly Franz Hals. Among those grouped around a painted portrait of Delacroix (done from a photograph taken ten years before his death) we see Fantin-Latour, in white, and his friends, the poet Charles Baudelaire—who called Delacroix “the most suggestive painter of all”—James Whistler and Édouard Manet.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Homage to Delacroix, 1864
Oil on canvas
(Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

The group portrait below includes many of the important poets and writers of the later 19th century, many from the Parnassus poetry group, including (seated, left) Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. Missing is Charles Baudelaire, who died in 1867, and Albert Mérat, who, the story goes, refused to be depicted with the transgressive Rimbaud and Verlaine, and was replaced by a large bouquet of flowers.

Henri Fantin-Latour, The Corner of the Table, 1872
Oil on canvas
(Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

An Atelier in the Batignolles, below, depicts Fantin-Latour, Claude Monet, Emile Zola, August Renoir and others, gathered around Edgar Manet, seated at his easel—the central figure in what was to become the Impressionist movement. Zola, who was a staunch defender of Manet and his circle against the rampant criticism of the day, wrote:

Around the painter so disparaged by the public has grown up a common front of painters and writers who claim him as a master.

Although Fantin-Latour had not joined Manet and the others in their move towards Impressionism, by painting his Portrait of Manet and this group portrait, which showed these radical young artists to be sincere and respectable, Fantin-Latour was making a strong statement of support.

Henri Fantin-Latour, An Atelier in the Batignolles, 1870
Oil on canvas
(Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

Fantin-Latour’s intense interest in music began when he first heard Richard Wagner‘s Tännhauser, and it inspired his first image of a musical scene, the first of many done on Wagnerian themes. In 1864 Fantin-Latour said “Schumann is, with Wagner, the music of the future.” When Fantin-Latour traveled to Bayreuth in 1876 to hear one of the first performances of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, he considered it one of the most important events of his life.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Scene from Tannhäuser, 1864
Oil on canvas
(Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Henri Fantin-Latour, Finale from Das Rheingold, c. 1877
Lithograph

Fantin-Latour’s imaginative compositions—the fantasies, allegories and myths, as well as the work inspired by the vocal music of Wagner, Brahms, Berlioz, and Schumann—are the least appreciated of his work. These intensely romantic works carried the most significance and meaning for Fantin-Latour, and it was a sorrow to him that the work got such a mixed reception. The visions that music inspired were also related to color, which he said was “procreative in its nature, giving birth to a thousand things which the eye cannot see and distinct from their cause,” and that spoke “to that region of the imagination which is supposed to be under the exclusive dominion of music.”

On the subject of the musical works, I cannot be objective—the first time I saw Tannhäuser, as a young girl, was for me, as for Fantin-Latour, a life-changing event. As an ardent Wagnerian, I find the images deeply evocative and full of meaning—I can hear the music when I look at them.

Henri Fantin-Latour,Wagner and His Muse, c.1892
Charcoal on paper
(The Louvre, Paris)

Critics complained that the allegorical and mythological works were re-workings of compositions by the old masters and added nothing new. There is no doubt that Fantin-Latour drew on his visual memory from those years spent in close observation at the Louvre when creating these works. I do agree that the accomplished, innovative techniques of the lithographs make them somewhat more interesting than the paintings done in this style. However, it is ironic that while Fantin-Latour’s oeuvre is often criticized for being too much of his time, for not breaking any new ground, these neglected musical and allegorical works were in a sense a pre-cursor of the French Symbolist school of the late 19th century. I hope that even those immune to the charms of these pieces will acknowledge that they are beautifully and skillfully rendered.

Henri Fantin-Latour, The Commemoration, 1876
Oil on canvas
(Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture, Grenoble)

I find the eclectic, paradoxical career of Fantin-Latour to be extremely interesting and refreshing. I admire his idea that painting should not be about schools and movements but individual expression. He is considered a secondary painter because he didn’t found a movement or have a major impact on art history—our contemporary standard of accomplishment or “genius”—but I believe his ability to give shape to what he observed and felt with such clarity and elegance definitely deserves our profound respect and gratitude. His paintings may never have been extolled by the art critics, but he was certainly highly lauded by the writers of his time—including Claudel, Baudelaire, Huysmans and Proust—who praises the paintings of Fantin-Latour in The Guermantes Way. Paul Claudel wrote:

A ravishing still-life by Fantin-Latour; a pitcher of blue glass and fresh-cut flowers; each painting bears a hushed silence that bids us still the inner voice.

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Ten plus One from the Musée d’Orsay

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2009 by Christine Cariati

Inspired by your “Fortune Smiles” blog post, I took myself on a tour of the collection of the Musee d’Orsay. I thought it would be impossible to choose, but it was easier than I imagined. There were ten clear winners–well, with an 11th thrown in for sentimental reasons. There were also a few I’d love to see as runner-ups, all oddities for one reason or another. Vuillard’s Au lit–a completely monochromatic, pattern-free study, more like a Morandi than a Vuillard. Tissot’s Faust and Marguerite, a quite wonderful pastiche that somehow combines the monumental quality of a procession from Piero della Francesca with the formality of a history painting—all in a theatrical format. And then there is Renoir’s portrait of my favorite composer, Wagner, odd because it has a softness and tentativeness so uncharacteristic of Wagner and so unlike any portraits or photographs of him that I have seen. As a curiosity, I’d be interested to see August Strindberg’s painting, Vague VII, predictably moody, dark and filled with anxiety. And I have to admit to a fondness for Gustave Moreau’s Galatea. It’s a bit overwrought but it has that quality of myth turned psychological study that I like.

This exercise is a bit of a Rorschach test. As I review my choices, the dominant themes seem to be the enclosed space and pattern. Clearly, I am drawn to interiors—the dark inhabited space—at home, in the theater, even the outdoors—or a portrait that draws you in to someone’s soul; they all have an element of drama and psychology—something has happened and we’re not sure what.

bonnard
Pierre Bonnard
, Dejeuner sous la Lampe (Lunch by Lamplight)

Love the dark and light, it is tender and funny and I love the way he framed the image, it is so intimate, you’re right there, in the space…

cezanne
Paul Cezanne, Portrait of Madame Cezanne

I know this is heretical, but I have never been drawn to Cezanne’s landscape and still life paintings. But I love his portraits. This one is a different type of interior, we enter into her stillness, her sense of peace, tranquility. The simplicity, the ethereal color palette, every brush stroke of this painting is in the service of creating a deep moving portrait, he must have loved her.

corot
Camille Corot, Une Matinee, danse des nymphes (The Dance of the Nymphs)

Very drawn to the inhabited landscape. This painting is mythological in its inspiration but doesn’t get stuck there. The humans and the landscape are one, distinctions blurred—it manages to co-exist on two levels—it is almost like a stage set and yet has a very primeval landscape-as-memory quality.

courbet
Gustave Courbet, Le ruisseau noir (The Black Stream)

Another interior landscape. It is dark and intimate, no panoramic views, nothing larger than life that causes you to simply step back and admire. This is a path you could walk in solitude or quiet companionship. Gorgeous rendering of foliage, so evocative with such a light touch.

degas
Edgar Degas, La Famille Bellelli

This painting is wonderfully subtle and sinister, so much tension and discomfort. A family portrait, yet everyone is so separate. The father, somewhat indifferent, turning his back to us; the mother so cool, her right hand on her daughter’s shoulder conveys no more affection than her left hand placed on the table. That daughter is already the image of her mother—the other girl looks ready to run off with the dog. I love the way he divided up the room, angles and partial glimpses of doorways–makes you feel that much more hemmed in. And then, there’s the wallpaper…

fantin-latour
Henri Fantin-Latour, La liseuse (Woman Reading)

What a beautiful painting. I love Fantin-Latour’s portraits. Here is an interior within an interior. She is so absorbed in her book, it is so peaceful, meditative. The whole image is so beautifully framed, the pile of books, the painting on the wall, the hint of detail in the wallpaper–and then that gorgeous curve of the sofa, its deep red, the only really warm color, enveloping her. Not only the reader, but every object in this painting seems to have an interior life.

gonzales
Eva Gonzales, Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens)

Here we are, another enclosed space, another mystery. I am not familiar with Gonzales’ work but I see from this painting that she learned her lesson well from Manet—present the relationship, don’t explain, leave the storytelling to the viewer. Beautifully painted curtain and flowers, wonderful light and dark. I love the way her arm is resting on the edge of the box, just the right amount of pressure, and the luminously painted skin, glove and jewelry just glow against the rich, dark velvet.

klimt
Gustav Klimt, Rosiers sur les arbres (Rosebushes under the Trees)

I’ve only recently become an admirer of Klimt’s landscapes. I love the shimmering, decorative quality and the subtle way the greens play against the pinks and mauves of the roses. It comes so close to abstraction but still keeps you firmly grounded in landscape. Especially like the patterns on the tree trunks and the little patch of sky in the upper right corner.

manet
Edouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass)

manet2
Edouard Manet, L’asperge (Asparagus)

Ideally, I would include every Manet in the world in this list, so I could not limit myself to a single one—so it’s a tie for my ninth pick.
I had to choose Dejeuner because the first time I came face to face with it, at the Jeu de Paume, I was absolutely thunderstruck by its beauty and power. I thought that a childhood and young adulthood spent gazing at masterpieces at the Frick, the Met and other great museums of New York had inoculated me from being knocked off my feet by seeing in person a painting I had so admired in reproduction. I can’t add anything to the volumes written about this painting, except to say that the crazy theatricality, the abstract light and dark, the sense of it being out of time and place, all combine to make it a painting you can never tire of looking at, there is always another mystery to unravel.

L’asperge is to me one of the most beautiful paintings ever made. In a way it has the quality of his late flower paintings, the still lifes painted as he was dying. Not their elegiac quality exactly, but the sense of clarity and light in every stroke of those flowers, is here in this asparagus. The luminous, infinite tones of white, the way it is hanging off the edge of the marble towards the dark wood of the table—it is one of those small paintings that manages to combine an amazing intimacy with a sense of monumentality, like a Turner seascape.

vuillard
Edouard Vuillard, Le salon aux trois lampes, Rue Saint-Florentin (Interior with Three Lamps)

This painting has it all—pattern everywhere you look, a wonderfully theatrical sense of space, lights and darks, an ambiguous mood. The figures are in repose but the room is animated with energy,  light and pattern. There are all these wonderful angles, recesses, a wonderful cool palette, set off by the glow of those three lamps. If they send this one, I am going to have to steal it.

Fortune Smiles: Thoughts on Musée d’Orsay and Picasso Collections at the deYoung

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Last week’s breaking news that both the Musées d’Orsay and Picasso will be sending a part of their collections to the de Young next year, while they renovate their facilities. The news made me want to shout for joy. How lucky can a provincial metropolis be?  Praise be to John Buchanan and Dede Wilsey for closing the deal.

The prospect of this once in a lifetime exhibition set me to dreaming. No doubt only a small number of the choice holdings will come our way. Still, if by some stroke of unimaginable luck, I were to have a say in the matter, which of the works in these glorious collections would I include?

I’m aching to see my best loves again, Manet’s Olympia for starters. Further, all things being equal, I’d prefer to view works from artists not generally well represented in the Bay Area. That is why there are no Rodins on my list, even though he counts as one of my favorite sculptors. Also, I’d want lesser known works from well-known artists included, which is why there aren’t any Picasso Cubist pieces on the list. (OK, I’ll admit: while I always found Cubism intellectually exciting, actually enjoying the work has always been challenging.)  Though it’s hard to limit the list, for the purposes of this space, limit I must.

My “Fortune Smiles” Top 10 list (in priority order):

#1.
Manet—Olympia

Edouard Manet,Olympia, 1863,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

Of the French painters at d’Orsay, Manet will always top the list for me. Olympia is the most fetching of his works—the first truly-naked nude in the history of art. That brazen stare says it all.

#2.

Bonnard—Croquet Game

Pierre Bonnard, Twilight (or The Croquet Game), 1892,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

Ever since reading Michael Kimmelman’s essay on Bonnard (“Introduction” to The Accidental Masterpiece), I’ve been hooked on Bonnard’s unique ability to make great art out of the seemingly monotonous details of his life.

#3.

Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers, 1875,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

The technical aspects of this painting—the perspective, the sheen of light captured as reflection off the floor and backs of the worker, the interacting poses of the workers, the stripes of the floor broken up by the circular curls of shaved wood. . . Stop me,  I could go on forever about this painting! And, on top of it all, a groundbreaking example of urban “realism,” to counter all those rural Courbet scenes.

#4.

Pablo Picasso, Two Women Running on the Beach (La course), 1922,
Gouache on board, Musée National Picasso.
I’ve always loved Picasso’s big chunky, neo-classical figures the most. Though thoroughly weighty, these two nymphs move with the spriest of strides.  They are joy personified.

#5.

Degas—The Tub

Edgar Degas, The Tub, between 1886-1889,
Bronze, Musée d’Orsay.

There are lots of Degas paintings around the Bay Area, but one of his sculptural works would certainly make my d’Orsay list. Not the young dancer—she’s everywhere—but a bather, another of his other emblematic themes. Like da Vinci, this form is squeezed elegantly into the circumference of a circle. See how her toes gently violate the frame. . .

#6.

Whistler—Variations in Violet & Green, 1871

James Abbott McNeill Whistler,Variations in Violet and Green1871,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

Whistler’s place in the pantheon of great artists is finally assured. Bets are that the de Young will want his more famous Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, known colloquially as Whistler’s Mother, but I’m hoping the d’Orsay sends this one instead. Since viewing Whistler’s Six Projects at the Freer, I’ve been inexorably drawn to his more ethereal works.

#7.

Gauguin—Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ

Paul Gauguin, Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ, 1890-91,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

The d’Orsay doesn’t own the original Yellow Christ (luckily, however, this painting is at the Albright-Knox and Buffalo is not nearly as far as Paris), but I hope we will get the next best thing, Gauguin’s self-portrait with the Yellow Christ.  I never tire of Gauguin’s palette, which gave a later generation of artists—Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter in particular—the permission to go wild with color.

#8.

Gabriel Loppé—TheEiffel tower struck by lightening, 1902

Gabriel Loppé, The Eiffel Tower Struck by Lightening, 1902,
Paper print photograph, Musée d’Orsay.

The French were instrumental in the birth of the photography, so it seems only fitting to include a representative of this medium on the Top 10. Loppé’s photograph achieves several aims—it uniquely speaks to to the role that photography played in the 19th century in documenting the natural sciences; it portrays this most most French of icons in all its majesty (the Tower built in 1889 was the tallest man-made structure until 1930); and ultimately it depicts unending the battle between the hand of man and the forces of nature.

#9.

Pablo Picasso, Groupe de Saltimbanques, 1905,
Pen, ink, gouache and traces of charcoal on vellum, Musée National Picasso.

I like the Picasso renderings of the Saltimbanques (acrobats), but frankly any of Picasso’s drawings would do nicely as demonstrations that the artist was in fact a master draftsman. Picasso famously noted that he spent a lifetime learning how to paint like a child.

#10.

Henri Rousseau—Portrait of Madame M 1895-97

Henri Rousseau, Portrait of Madame M., 1895-97,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

In this case, Le Douanier’s naive style of painting reminds me of the rigid and unpretentious folk portraits created by itinerant painters of 18th century Colonial America. Rousseau’s stylized treatment of the flora gives this painting a naively decorative quality not found in most other paintings of his day.

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