Paul Wonner and the ‘Femme au Coq’
November 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
By MATT GONZALEZ
For several years in the early 1950s, Paul Wonner returned to a subject matter in his art making practice: the painting of a still life with femme au coq, translated from the French as woman with rooster. Anyone familiar with modern European painting would recognize the motif as it was explored by many artists, including Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. The trope presents the rooster as a symbol of sexuality, virility and fertility. Paired with the woman, it exalts romantic love and the heterosexual coupling traditionally associated with marriage.
It is curious that Wonner would find the subject matter interesting enough to return to it over the years — at least four known times in a four- to five-year period — while he was a student at U.C. Berkeley. Of course, painters often return to the same landscape, or paint a subject’s portrait repeatedly, but the painting of a subject that is so allegorical and laden with symbolism is not as common. It suggests Wonner was intrigued by or wrestling with its meaning in connection with his own life and art.