The work is registered in the Martial Raysse archives.
Standing over six feet tall, Raysseland is an overwhelming painting filled with rich color dating from the highpoint of Martial Raysse's development of his own European brand of Pop Art. Painted in 1965, Raysseland belongs to a small group of pictures that Raysse created within the space of only a couple of years in which he appropriated and adapted pictures by various Old Masters, mainly featuring female nudes, giving them vivid, livid makeovers as he filled them with intense colours. Among these works, many of which were given an umbrella title of Made in Japan, were his adaptations of Ingres' celebrated Odalisque, which themselves have become iconic images of European Pop.
In Raysseland, Raysse has supplemented his source material by including an electric light, discreetly concealed behind the superimposed layer of the woman's image, meaning that a glow emanates from her. Some of the leaves at the bottom of this picture appear to have been created using stencils and a spraycan, while others reveal rich globules of impasto, as does the turbulent mash of abstract paint which dominates the upper right-hand corner. With its combination of overt print techniques in the magnified image of the woman and the deer, its bulb and its varied brushwork, Raysseland touches upon a range of styles and techniques. The combination results in a searingly, self-consciously ultramodern effect that was in contrast to and revitalised the images from an older artistic canon which Raysse appropriated in Raysseland and its sister-pictures.
In Raysseland, Raysse selected as his subject matter Apollo and Diana in a Wooded Landscape, an important 1530 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, which is in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. Raysse had used this picture as the source for another work, Conversation printanière of 1964, in which he included the figure of Apollo; in Raysse's modern reimagination of the work, the nakedness of the pair became all the more bizarre as they appeared to talk to each other. In Raysseland, by contrast, he has deliberately cropped the original composition, focussing instead on the figure of the naked Diana, whose arm is snaked around the back of the deer's head. Through its combination of scale, subject matter, and its hallucinatory palette, Raysseland is emblematic of Raysse's artistic programme: it is a mysterious, intoxicating vision of eroticism and investigation of beauty.
Although he was only 29 years of age at the time he painted Raysseland, Raysse had already made an incredible impact on the art world, first as one of the pioneers of Nouveau Réalisme alongside his friends Yves Klein, Arman, and Jean Tingueley, and subsequently as a trailblazing explorer of territories shared with Pop. Already in his Nouveau Réaliste period, Raysse had been intrigued by the beauty industry and its parallels in the world of so-called "high" art, incorporating cosmetic products into many of his works. This was a source of continuing fascination for him, as he turned to painting in the early 1960s. Where initially he used source images that showed women that appeared to have been taken from the world of advertisements, exploring the concept of the industry that surrounded, promoted, and even imposed artificial and subjective notions of beauty onto consumers, in 1964 he turned his focus to the past, allowing the ancient tradition of the male gaze to come into his sights. Ingres, Cranach, and Tintoretto all had their works re-tasked as Raysse immersed their highly-recognizable works in new intense palettes, also incorporating outside elements such as materials and lights that were a deliberately far cry from the oil on panel, or canvas, of the Old Masters whose images were being given this shocking and electric new treatment.
Raysse's inclusion of pictures by these esteemed Old Masters alongside pictures of contemporary models invoked both the idea of a long tradition of a guiding "beauty industry" and also the concept of an equivalency between the subject matters that recalled the campaigns of his Pop contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein on the other side of the Atlantic, who during this period at the height of Pop Art, were each taking works from the canon of the past, be it Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa or Cézanne's portrait of his wife. Each artist granted them reincarnations through the use of their own idiosyncratic processes, adding them to their own visual lexicons alongside soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, and comic strips. In the case of Raysse, the campaign was more concerted: he was plundering the past for his own purposes, taking images that had been given the stamp of approval in terms of taste over the centuries and twisting them. In part, Raysse explained that his own notion of the equivalency of the cultural value of the works by painters of the past and more modern advertisers was the fact that having grown up in Nice, he had seen very few artworks in the flesh. Instead, they had always been in reproduction, often glossy and with heightened colors, adding an extra layer of interpretation on the part of the publishers. "I have lived in Nice for years," Raysse explained:
"Nice is an old desert that lives 60,000 years in the past. You only know the works of the great classic masters in reproductions. The reproductions falsify everything. I was highly disappointed when one day I saw the original works. However this taught me something: the modern methods of incorporating pictorial space within the printing press are very important. You can make a work not only with a brush or a trowel, but also with a printer, with a camera, with whatever modern medium the world puts at our disposal. This led me to invent my own method" (M. Raysse, quoted in Martial Raysse, exh. cat., Paris, 1992, p. 53).
In short, for Raysse it was liberating to reconsider the works of the past masters after being underwhelmed by the "real thing." Now, he felt that he had been granted permission to create images in which he appropriated the works of his artistic forebears such as Cranach, who had laboured over their pictures, and to make something bigger, bolder, and therefore, according to logic, perhaps better, all the more so as it literally glows.
The year that Raysseland was painted, the artist was granted his first one-person retrospective, which was held at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. The cover of the exhibition catalogue featured the crossed-out name of "Henri Matisse" above Raysse's own, as well as the subtitle "Ma<->ctre et esclave de l'imagination." Raysse irreverently invoked the artistic inheritance of Matisse, a painter and a draughtsman in contrast to the more process-led artists of the 1960s. In Raysseland, he also appears to have paid some tangential homage to Matisse by visiting similar subject matter-the female nude-with an incandescent palette filled with the heady visual intensity and sensuality of the South of France. Raysse's own sense of colour had been reinvigorated by the time he had spent in Los Angeles in 1963, where the bright light and good weather and beach life had all reminded him of the Riviera. That rediscovered and heightened sense of color was all the more crucial to Raysse, as he had come into an art world in Europe that was still emerging from the legacy of the Second World War. To his Southern eye, much of the work that was being produced at the time was dominated by drab palettes. The vibrant colors of works such as Raysseland dispersed those shadows, all the more so through their incorporation of electric lights within their very fabric.