Wine and Art is an ongoing GFR series on the relationship between the two creative endeavours by working artist and author Lorette C. Luzajic. el jaleo by john singer sargent
It’s the absolute silence of this artwork that casts its spell, but you don’t notice that at first. El Jaleo: Dance of the Gypsies is a rare painting in that it comes perilously close to perfection. It’s widely understood as one of American artist John Singer Sargent’s greatest works, but it’s seldom referenced among masterpieces.  This is tragic.

Sargent’s epic work is a massive twelve foot wide panorama of a Spanish gypsy dancer before her accompanying regiment of men on guitars and a row of revelers.

The risk he took with colour, adopting Tonalism’s fashionably dreary palette of greys, was immense. That he used this rainy monochromatic technique for a subject matter as colourful as gypsies was shocking in and of itself. But his choice was used to great effect, being paired with the flash of white light from the lanterns’ flames catching the Flamenco dancer’s skirts.  There is an added slash of drama from red dresses among her audience.

Sargent also used contrast nearly as intense as chiaroscuro. He employed a thrilling asymmetry with razor precision. The flow from left to right of the musicians and onlookers works seamlessly.  The composition is flawless.

More important is the way these elements have come together to resonate emotionally, transporting us to another time and place. In 1882 when this was painted, gypsies were considered to be outlaws, people who lived with superstition and questionable ethics. But Sargent wanted to garner intrigue for the music, costume, and dance traditions he admired.  There’s an elusive poetry about the scene. We are standing here in the flickering shadows, watching the dancer.

Somewhere in contemplating the intensity of the bewildering beauty of the moment, we notice that we do not hear the music or the finger snapping or the applause. We imagine it, we do not hear it. Time has stopped completely. El Jaleo is a marvel, being somehow, flamenco, unplugged.

There is only one wine that goes here, and it’s Rioja. My impartiality to Spanish wines does mean I too often neglect many worthy others. But it must be indulged this time. We are, after all, in Spain tonight.  I advise that you run to the LCBO for this one: Baron de Ley Reserva 2010 Rioja is a gorgeous wine; a 95 no less, according to Decanter Magazine, for only $21.95.

There are layers and layers of refinement, giving the flavour of longstanding traditions to a winery only thirty years old. The wine is aged for 20 months in American oak barrels, in one of Spain’s old monasteries.

As a lover, it is gently insistent, restrained but certain. It is interesting, with an intense palate and stark, dramatic fruit flavour. There is something wild pent up within that rolls boundlessly and buoyantly.

This Tempranillo is as composed and elegant and artful as the painting. In the candlelight, it rains garnets in the glass in your hand.  It does not require noise or embellishments for seduction. It doesn’t need any of these things to ask you to dance. You have already said yes. You are already there.

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Lorette C Luzajic by Ralph MartinLorette C. Luzajic is a Toronto writer and artist. Her collage-centred paintings use mixed media to explore ideas from art, literature, history and culture, always fascinated by the intersection of human creativities. Exhibition of her work is ongoing throughout Toronto, including such venues as the Spoke Club, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Flying Pony Gallery, Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, and the Artist Project, and it has been shown in Belfast, Brisbane, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, and beyond. In addition to occasionally writing about her other passions, food and wine, she is the author of more than ten books of poetry, short fiction, and essays, including Funny Stories About Depression, Fascinating Artists, and Kilodney Does Shakespeare. She is the editor of the new online journal, Ekphrastic. Visit her at Photo by Ralph Martin.