Jean-Louis Forain – Ballerinas and Their Admirers

22 Feb

Jean-Louis Forain, Intermission on Stage, 1879, watercolour, gouache, india ink and pencil on wove rag paper

Jean-Louis Forain’s watercolour “Intermission on Stage” is a wonderful example of the artist’s fascination with ballerinas; a fascination which he inherited from his friend and protégé Edgar Degas: the ultimate painter of ballerinas. Degas even invited the eighteen years younger Forain to participate in the Impressionist exhibitions that were taking place at the time, from 1879 to 1886. Even though both artists chose to portray the same motifs of Parisian nightlife; the balls, theatres, and cafes, they focused on completely different things. While Degas used ballerinas merely as a beautiful motif to further explore the problems of composition and perspective, Forain found good material for social satire whilst observing the social dynamics of the world of dancers, the harsh and ugly reality of their off the stage life.

“Intermission on Stage” is a great example because it shows the ballerinas and their admirer. It is easy to see why the critics at the time praised Forain’s work for its vibrant colour and vigour, I mean, just look at the ballerinas in their vibrant emerald tutus which are painted in swift, quick strokes and thus give the impression of something sketchy, immediate and exciting. A rich, older gentleman is seen eyeing the ballerina in the foreground who is adjusting her shoe, or rather, he is eyeing her perky white breasts peeking from her revealing dance costume. The gentleman is an abonné; a well-off older gentleman who can afford to pay a subscription which would allow him to spend time with the ballerinas behind the stage and enjoy their beauty and charms from close up. He almost looks like a caricature, his big nose, mustache hiding his mouth, his protruding belly, well certainly it isn’t his looks that the turquoise ballerina is after.

Jean-Louis Forain, The Admirer, 1877-79, oil on canvas, mounted on wood

Painting “The Admirer” shows the same thing, just this time the setting is a well-lit cozy spot with red velvet sofa and the gentleman is handing out a big, lush bouquet of red roses to the ballerina who doesn’t look too receptive of his offers. Her gaze seems to say “Oh dear…”, her hands aren’t stretched out eagerly to take the splendid gift. Hmm I guess money cannot buy everything now, can it? That is certainly how the gentlemen in Forain’s paintings felt when they used their money and status to gain access to young ballerinas who otherwise wouldn’t have even glanced at them. Forain was very observant of what goes on society around him and that is what the satire and caricatures interested him so much.

And even when he is not drawing a caricature, he is still imbuing his paintings with some satire and mockery, but there is also a pinch of moralizing here too which reflects his fight for justice and hatred for hypocrisy. It is easy to see why he was such good friends with the poet Arthur Rimbaud with whom he almost shares a birthday; Forain was born on 23th October 1852, and Rimbaud on the 20th October 1854. The two free-spirited men, both young and full of life, even shared a room for a few months and their bohemian lifestyle was certainly a slap in the face to the proper society and its values, or lack of thereof. Forain’s chatty and witty nature easily made him a friend of other writers and poets as well, such as Paul Verlaine and Joris-Karl Huysmans. He seems to have been a vivacious and important part of the artists group at the time and it is a shame that he isn’t more popular today.

Jean Louis Forain, Dancer in Her Dressing Room, c.1890

Jean Louis Forain, In the Wings, 1899

Fashion Inspiration: Early 1990s – Velvet Dresses, Dark Colours, Hippie Revival

18 Feb

Majority of pictures found here.

Pierre Bonnard – Street Scene

16 Feb

Pierre Bonnard, Street Scene, 1899, four panel screen, colour litograph

Pierre Bonnard was fascinated by the liveliness and vibrancy of Parisian streets and parks where nannies, dogs and children play in sunny spring days and he painted many such vibrant street scenes, but this “Street Scene” (also known as “Nannies Promenade, Frieze of Carriages”) is a special street scene because the common Impressionist and Post-Impressionist motif of a street scene is inspired by the Japanese art and it also exhibits the philosophy of the Nabis group that art should be present in everyday life, in everyday objects such as tapestries, fans, posters and decorative folding screens. A century and a half before Bonnard, the art of Rococo had already shown a fondness for folding screens which were painted in the spirit of chinoserie, but the artists who painted the screens were always anonymous and unimportant, but in the late nineteenth century the artists of Post-Impressionism and Nabis found a tremendous source of inspiration in Japanese art and works such as this street scene by Bonnard are a delightful mix of Post-Impressionist European art and the influence of Japan.

Bonnard, a young artist at the time, first painted the screen in distemper (pigment in glue) on canvas with carved wood frame in 1895. In 1894 in a letter to his mother he spoke about the idea for the painting: “I am working on a screen […]. It is of the Place de la Concorde with a young mother walking with her children, with nannies and dogs, and on top, as a border, a carriage rank, and all on a light beige background which is very like the Place de la Concorde when it’s dusty and looks like a miniature Sahara.” And in 1895-96 around a hundred and ten colour lithographs were made and the one you see here is one of them. Half of those lithographs were destroyed in a flood in Paris in 1940. They were sold either individually or in a set and could either be mounted on the screen and served as a decoration in the room, or they could have been framed and placed on the wall as a panting. It is beautiful to see it flat like a painting and also beautifully folded in zig zag way, each vertically enlongated screen is an artwork for itself and yet it created a scene for itself. This narrow vertical canvas is called “kakemono” in Japanese art, and the action in the painting is suppose to be read in Japanese way, from right to left.

Bonnard showed a great interest in the folding screens and the first one he created was “Women in the Garden” in 1891 but in that folding screen every part of the canvas was filled with pattern and colour. In contrast, “Street Scene” is beautifully empty and there is an intricate visual play between groups of figures and the empty space. The figures are flat and simple. The placement of figures seems spontaneous but is actually carefully planned and it looks beautiful when the screen is opened or flat. The group of figures in the foreground are a fashionably dressed mother with her two children who are playing with sticks and hoops, a game seen often in the art of the Impressionists. A little black dog is here too. In the background three almost identically dressed nannies, and a row of carriages with horses behind them.

 

Giandomenico Tiepolo – Pulcinella in Love

14 Feb

Giandomenico Tiepolo, Pulcinella in love, 1797

As the eighteenth century drew to an end so did the life of the Venetian painter Giandomenico Tiepolo who died in 1804. In those last years, both of his life and of that wonderful century, he was obsessed with the figure of Pulcinella; the stock character of commedia dell’Arte who is an ugly clown dressed in baggy clothes with a big nose. Giandomenico was born in an artistic family, not only was his father the famous painter Giambattista Tiepolo but also his mother was the sister of the vedute painter Francesco Guardi. For the most of his life Giandomenico was in the shadow of his father, learning to paint from him and serving as his most faithful assistant and that is why is it especially interesting to see what themes Giandomenico was truly interested him. These frescoes you see here, originally painted for his summer villa Zianigo, taken off the walls in 1906 in order to be sold abroad, but in 1936 they were bought by the town of Venice and transferred to Ca’Rezzonico.

The frescoes were painted over a long stretch of time, from 1759 to 1797; the latter year was especially dark in the history of the Venetian Republic, and another interesting thing is that they were painted by the painter for the painter’s own interior and his own pleasure so we can safely assume that the style and motifs Giandomenico painted were completely what his heart desired. That makes it all the more interesting, to ponder on why he loved the grotesque clowns so much and why he portrayed them in so many different scenarios; in the fresco above we have the Pulcinella in love where the cheerful party of four figures is seen dancing their way through the landscapes, one step more and they would have stepped out from the fresco. A little dog is barking at them, but they aren’t the least bit concerned. A lady in a simple white gown is wearing the same masque with a big nose that the Pulcinella is wearing, and the figure behind him is holding a big bottle of wine. Pulcinella’s hand is unashamedly on the lady’s breast and no one seems to care about reality or propriety, life is to be lived and enjoyed, and who has time to be serious and contrite when there is so much fun to be had? The background shows a sky painted in soft blue and grey shades; the eternally sunny baby blue sky of the Rococo world where it never rains and the party never stops. These frescoes are not only the crown of Giandomenico’s career as an individual artist in his own right but also the crown of the Rococo spirit, painted at the dusk of the wonderful century. The vivacious, playful spirit makes these frescoes so alluring even today.

In another fresco we see Pulcinella departing for a trip and here it’s interesting that Giandomenico painted him with his back turned to us, showing off his hunch, that way the viewer is more curious because it seems the character in the fresco doesn’t care too much about him. The fresco bellow shows the acrobats in contorted poses and we can just imagine them doing their crazy show, we can almost hear the laughter of the audience and their sighs of wonder and joy, the lady in white tights holding a fan is a pretty sights and the Pulcinella looks especially grotesque, as he should look.

Giandomenico Tiepolo, Il casotto dei saltimbanchi, 1770

Giandomenico Tiepolo, The departure of Pulcinella, 1797

Giandomenico Tiepolo, The Pulcinella Swing, 1783

Giandomenico Tiepolo, The Triumph of Pulcinella, 1760-70

Francisco de Zurbarán – Saint Agatha

10 Feb

Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Agatha, 1630-33

In the first half of the seventeenth century Francisco de Zurbarán, perhaps the spookiest painter of the Spanish Baroque, painted a series of portraits depicting female saints and virgin martyrs which is surprisingly vibrant in colour and mood, at least compared to his other paintings. Zurbarán painted around twenty such portraits and all of them present the image of youth and delicate beauty: the saints are painted as rosy-cheeked girls, elegant and serene, and most importantly – beautifully dressed in sumptuous fabric in all colours and shade, from mustard yellow and rich red to greens, blues and even some splendid Veronese pink. In his time Zurbarán got his fair share of criticism for portraying the virgin martyrs in such a lavish way, accentuating more their worldly beauty and rich attire rather than their humility and piousness. And indeed, they look more like dainty princesses than martyrs. Still, there is something that clearly marks them as saints and not princesses: their attributes; a visual symbol that helps us recognise which saints is presented in the painting. Our sweet little saint Agatha here is painted carrying her cut off breasts on a platter and that is how we know the painting shows Saint Agatha and not some other saint.

Agatha of Sicily (c. 231-251) was an early Christian saint born in Sicily and the story goes that, according to Jacobus de Voragine’s “Golden Legend”, the young Agatha took a virginity vow and, on many occasions, rejected the romantic offers of Roman prefect Quintianus. This all happened during the persecutions of Decius and eventually Quintianus reported Agatha to the authorities. He imagined that Agatha, when faced with torture and death, would give in to his demands, but instead she prayed to god for courage. Part of her torture included her breasts being cut off with pincers. She was suppose to be burnt at the stake but an earthquake prevented this and then she was sent to prison where St Peter the Apostle appeared to her and healed her wounds. She died in prison, remaining faithful to her ideals.

In Zurbarán’s portrait, not a trace of suffering, torment or pain can be seen on her delicate pale face, only perhaps a tinge of wistfulness. Her slender figure is arising from the darkness of the background like a beautiful sculpture and there is nothing in the painting that distracts us from the real motif: Saint Agatha. She’s gazing in the distance with her large dark eyes while her breasts, so pale and so beautifully sculpted, stand on the platter like two delicious cupcakes. Around her neck a pearl necklace, her dress falling beautifully. I like other female saints portraits as well but Agatha showing off her cut off breasts is perhaps the most interesting to me because it’s kinda provocative and naughty. Just imagine what an outrage these tits would cause if the theme of the painting wasn’t religious but worldly. Here are some other paintings from the same series:

Francisco de Zurbarán, Santa Dorotea, 1648

Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Dorothy, 1640-50

Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Ursula, 1635-40

Gustav Adolf Mossa – Symbolist Phase

7 Feb

“Then, O my beauty! You will say to the vermin,
Which will devour you with kisses,
That I have preserved the form and essence divine
Of my decayed loves!”

(Charles Baudelaire, Carcass)

Gustav-Adolf Mossa, The Dead Women (Les Mortes), 1908

Gustav Adolfo Mossa, a French painter born in Nice in 1883 to an Italian mother and an artist father, spent his late teens and most of his twenties painting in a Symbolist style and so that first artistic period in Mossa’s oeuvre is called the “Symbolist period” and it lasted from about 1900 to 1911. Later, upon moving to Bruges, he discovered Flemish paintings and his art drifted in another direction. In his Symbolist phase Mossa created a macabre and disturbing yet vibrant world littered with femme fatales and saints, heroes and heroines from Shakespeare, and just random skeletons. Mossa was introduced to the Symbolist art at the Exposition Universelle which he visited in 1900 and after that moment all the inspiration that was mounting in his teenage soul, taken from Art Nouveau and the literary works of Charles Baudelaire, Joris-Karl Huysmans and Mallarmé, suddenly flourished in these watercolours which are all so captivating and full of interesting details. I always felt drown to the spirit of Symbolism, and yet the way these ideas were manifested in the visual arts wasn’t very appealing to me. Now, in the art of Mossa, I found what I was looking for. I love how the classic, well-known themes in art are transformed by Mossa into a festival of blood, bones, lust and roses. The delicacy of watercolour mixed with somewhat gruesome or eerie themes is especially entrancing. The beauty of the Symbolist phase of Mossa’s art is that it both disturbs and bewilders the soul. In “The Dead Women” we see the faces of fashionable ladies after the vermins had devoured them with their kisses; the velvet smooth skin, the rosy cheeks are now all eaten away and the grey skull appears – what a contrast to the radiant blueness of their dresses and the elegance of their hats. Tall and dark cypress trees in the background look gloomy and foreboding, as they do in real life.

Gustav Adolf Mossa, Salome, 1901

In the watercolour “Salome” the severed, bloodied heads spring from the most fragrant and delicate pink roses, Salome seductively licks the blade of the very sword which had severed them. Dressed in a loose white nightgown with one breast exposed, her pale flesh is revealed, her hand adorned with rings, not a trace of remorse colours her face.

Gustave Adolphe Mossa, Hamlet and the Skull, 1909, Black chalk, pen and ink, watercolour and gouache on paper, 46.2 x 28 cm

Hamlet, a solitary figure under a grey sky and clouds as heavy as lead, his figure is elongated like the figures in early Renaissance art, he is holding an exaggaretedly large skull in his hands, a cup next to his feet with spilt wine – or is it blood? The town is sleeping in the distance, the tower looming as a threat, hundreds of little windows are like dark empty eye sockets ready to swallow who ever dares to gander upon them for too long.

Gustav Adolf Mossa, La chasse de Sainte Ursule, date unknown

Saint Ursula standing on the shore of a river with snow-white swans next to her feet. Dozens or arrows are flying her way, ready to pierce her virginal flesh, but her face reveals not a sign of worry, it is as serene and pale as can be, her golden hair makes one think more of a fairy than of a saint; she is above it all, shielded from the arrows by her heavy robe, nothing can touch her.

Gustav-Adolf Mossa, Valse Macabre, 1906

In “Valse Macabre” the fin de siecle fascination with Eros and Thanatos are united, a skeleton and a femme fatale with fashionably voluminous hair are locked in a kiss, their bodies intertwined, the breath of the death coming from the graveyard in the distance has extinguished the tall white candles, the lady’s gaze seems to say:

It is eternity when your kiss grazes me,

My heart, my heart rises,

ah! so high that it flies away.

(Remy de Gourmont, Hieroglyphs)

Gustav Adolf Mossa, Pierrot, 1906

Pierrot is wandering the old rotting town with a dagger in his hand and a mad look in his eyes, a face of sleepless night and madness, his under eye circles darker than the dark waters of the canals in Bruges. St Sebastian looks less like a saint and more like a charming boy, his poor, tortured body is convulsing in pain from the arrows while the crow is feasting on his eyes.

 

Gustav Adolf Mossa, Sebastian Martyr, 1907

Juan de Valdés Leal – In Ictu Oculi

4 Feb

“Now I have neither happiness nor unhappiness.

Everything passes.

This is the one and only thing I have thought resembled a truth in society of human beings where I have dwelled up to now as in a burning hell.

Everything passes.

(Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human)

Juan de Valdés Leal (1622 – 1690), In Ictu Oculi, 1670-1672

In 1670-72 Spanish Baroque painter Juan de Valdés Leal was commissioned by the Brotherhood of Charity to paint two paintings, “In Ictu Oculi” and “Finis gloriae mundi”, for the Hospital de la Caridad in Seville. The sombre and dark paintings fit perfectly with the mood that characterised the sixteenth century in Spain. The “vanitas” genre of painting captures the mood of the times because it unites the themes of the religious spirit bordering with fanaticism, the fascination with death and the obsession with the transience of earthly life. A dark, dramatic and foreboding atmosphere is seeping out of this painting like spilt ink colouring the white paper in the sea of darkness. Arising from the dark background is the figure of a grim reaper who is holding a scythe and a coffin and with his right hand pointing at the letters written above a candlestick “In ictu oculi” meaning “in the blink of an eye”. How nice of the grim reaper to point out the title of the painting for us. His left foot is standing on the globe; how very dainty. Bellow the grim reaper stretches a cluttered landscape of earthly life, filled with material possession such as books, globe, jewellery, crowns; everything that the soul cannot take to the spiritual realm. The colours – hushed down, sombre, faded, apart from that shiny pink and red – serve to convey the mystical and dark mood. Motif of transience was all the rage in the Spanish Baroque poetry and here is a poem by Pedro Calderon de la Barca called “These flowers, whose pomp“:

THESE flowers, whose pomp was joyous to behold,
When the white dawn awoke them out of sleep,
At eve shall be a ruin fit to weep,
Lulled in the darkling night’s embraces cold.
This posy bright with listed hues of gold,
Snow-white and purple, rivalling heaven’s bow,
Will be a warning to our life below;
So doth one day its little life enfold.

To flower, the rose displayed her buds at morn,
And to grow old and wither, did she flower;
One is her cradle and her grave forlorn.
So men behold brief fortune’s earthly dower,
To die upon the day when they were born,
For the past ages are but as an hour.

The verse “the past ages are but as an hour” goes well with the motif of the painting “In Ictu Oculi”; a rose blooms and withers quickly, compared to the rose our human life is long, but compared to eternity it is not. We are surrounded by things that remind us of transience and yet we dread it the most. The other painting, “Finis Gloriae Mundi”, further emphasises not only the passing of everything on earth but also the pointlessness of success, reputation and everything humans spend (or waste?) their life chasing after. The main part of the painting are the two coffins positioned in different directions and they hold the rotting, decaying bodies of a bishop and a knight who both enjoyed fame and repute, though of a different nature, but are both now – dead. In the dark background, another skeleton and a pile of bones and skulls are also painted. Can things get any creepier here? There are times and day when nostalgic thoughts and trips down memory lanes rip my heart in two, but on other occasions thoughts of transience fill me with bewilderment and passion at once because if life passes quickly, if “life is a dream” as Calderon de la Barca wrote, then why waste a single second of it not enjoying it, not being ecstatic that you are alive – while you are alive. In a second you’ll be ashes, so rejoice while you can.

Juan de Valdés Leal, Finis gloriae mundi, 1672

My Inspiration for January 2021

31 Jan

I cannot say that I am sad because January is over, I mean, it isn’t the most exciting month, but it did leave me a gift of some delightful violin music and a wonderful book “The Claiming of the Sleeping Beauty” by Anne Rice which I enjoyed immensely! It’s an erotic novel and most reviews I read were rather negative, but I found it a great read; I liked that it’s a classic and well-known fairy tale but with a twist. My aesthetic this month was partly very dreamy, princessy and snowy, and partly inspired by Marianne Stokes’s wonderful portraits of Slovak and Hungarian girls. Nature is still asleep but I am ardently awaiting it to awake once more, I can hardly contain my excitement when I imagine the meadows and gardens now covered with snow will be green and alive with the laughter of the primroses…

I treated Art as the supreme reality and life as a mere mode of fiction.”

(Oscar Wilde, De Profundis)

Chateau de Crazannes, France (by Mathias Doisne)

Picture found here.

Picture found here.

By: Victoria Chmel | victoriachmel

Drawing found here.

Pic by Stefany Alves

Picture found here.

My Favourite Books of 2020

30 Jan

I start every year by thinking “oh no, there are no more fun books for me to discover” and at the end of every year I am proven wrong haha. Let’s hope it will be the same this year. So here is a list of books I enjoyed the most in 2020 and I can recommend them to you!

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Reading (La Lecture), c. 1892

1 Morrissey – Autobiography: I LOVE The Smiths and I really love Morrissey as well so I was very happy to have read his autobiography at last. It was very witty and amusing, and even the moments when he is being melodramatic and self-pitying are coloured with his Oscar Wilde style wit. Morrissey’s teenage years and early twenties were spent in his bedroom writing furiously and feeling that he doesn’t belong and that chimed with me a lot.

2 Lovely Bones by Alice Seebold: I first saw the film “Lovely Bones” (2009) which I instantly fell in love with because it was very poignant and imaginative at the same time, so the natural thing to do was to read Alice Seebold’s novel of the same name and it was equally amazing. It’s a tale about a murder of a fourteen year old girl that happened in December 1974 and is told from her ghostly point of view.

3 Peyton Place by Grace Metalious; what I like about this book, and the film, is that it points out the hypocricies in society and life in small town, it reveals all the lies and gossips and prejudices of such a small area and it’s a really interesting study of small minds and small towns. The main character clearly has a bit of Metalious in her is the opposite of that small town, she wants to experience life and be a writer and I enjoyed reading about an aspiring writer.

4 Stepford Wives by Ira Levin; Levin’s writing style isn’t that beautiful per se, it isn’t rich and filled with vivid descriptions, but the story itself – about a family who moves to an idyllic neighbourhood where everything is perfect and the wives are submissive and do nothing but their household chores and have no personality – is really interesting, but near the end I felt quite unsettled with the ways things unfolded. You always hope for the best when you read a novel, but the good doesn’t always win and things don’t always turn out the best for the main character.

5 Carrie by Stephen King; I could definitely relate with Carrie being an outsider at school and not fitting in with the crowd so that was definitely a push to read this book. Maybe this book isn’t as scary as some of other King’s novels, but the mere thought of Carrie being trapped in a house with her madly pious, deranged and overprotective mother freaks me out. I like the mix of teenage silliness and shallowness with the reveal of Carrie’s mystical powers, and I like the way the novel was told, from many perspectives.

6 The Collector by John Fowles; this is perhaps my top favourite book for 2020! I enjoyed it beyond words and even wrote a book review already. It’s a novel about a shy young man who stalks and falls in love with a pretty art student in 1960s London and instead of just taking the usual road and asking her out on a date, he kidnaps her and keeps her in his basement until she, at least he hopes, falls in love with him. But the main character isn’t an awful, cruel villain, it’s the girl who is a bit bitchy in fact, so things are not black and white in terms of moral judgement and that makes it all the more interesting because, as you read the book, you don’t just judge the man for his actions but a deeper understanding and sadness develop along the way.

7 The Secret History by Donna Tart; I heard a lot of good things about the book and that is why I didn’t want to read it earlier but then I read an article about Bret Easton Ellis’ time spent at the College and guess who his fellow student was, Donna Tart. The novel is about a small and isolate group of students studying Greek at a New England college who have a festival one night and something goes terribly wrong… It’s a long book, but Tart keeps you alert for sure and the characters are so developed and so believable and she based them on her own classmates from college.

8 Torn Apart: Life of Ian Curtis by Mick Meddles and Lindsey Read: well if you love Joy Division there is no reason not to read this book! And it offers a better, a broader and less subjective, view on Ian Curtis and his life, his poetry, his relationship with his wife and with Annik, his struggles and health, it’s really a poignant and lovely portrayal of a person behind the legend. I enjoyed it much more than Deborah Curtis’ book.

9 Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden: this book was as beautiful and interesting as it was educational because I learned so many details about the geisha lifestyle and tradition. If you are interested in Japanese culture and history, then certainly this book will interest you. I don’t know why it took me so long to read this book! Aside from the richness of Japanese culture and beautiful descriptions of kimono and nature, there is a lot of sadness about this book as well.

10 Post-Office by Charles Bukowski; I really enjoy Bukowski’s writing style and his attitude towards life and so I knew this book would be a fun read. I read it one sleepless night in September and I just kept turning the pages and laughing, and I can really recommend it.

11 Hunger by Knut Hamsun; interestingly I started reading this book years ago and didn’t enjoy it, and then in 2020 I picked it up again and I was smitten. The main character’s obsession with his hunger and his ways of transcending it are mind-blowing and I really liked being in the mind of this frail-nerved yet strong character.

12 Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone; this is a romanticised biography about the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo. I am not that interested in Renaissance period usually, but the way Stone writes is just so beautiful and captivating and it feels so real; he not only conveys the spirit of the time so well but also the thoughts and feelings of the character, in this case Michelangelo and in his other novel “Lust for Life” Vincent van Gogh.

Tamara de Lempicka and Marianne Stokes – Slavic Girls

23 Jan

Tamara de Lempicka, The Polish Girl, 1933

I am not a big fan of Tamara de Lempicka’s paintings. I do find her life story terribly fascinating and her paintings peculiar and interesting, but her style of painting doesn’t appeal to me personally. Still, this painting of a Polish girl has been haunting my mind for weeks now; there’s just something about it which lures me, it seems. This Polish girl’s plump red lips and large steel blue eyes might otherwise be seductive and alluring, but in this painting they ooze a coldness that makes one hesitate to approach her, even gaze at her. She looks like a living statue; monumental, cold and untouchable. The portrait is closely cropped and she dominates the canvas, there is nothing else to look at but her. The light is hitting her pale, beautifully sculpted face from bellow, and this makes me think of the black and white photographs of glamorous movie stars such as Hedy Lamarr. The frizzy little locks of her blonde hair almost look as if they are paper cut-outs and her hands look like they belong to a wooden doll. Her white shawl with red flowers may appear as part of traditional clothes at first, but in this portrait it doesn’t give off that vibe of familiarity, tradition and warmth. There’s an impenetrable shield of coldness and mystery around this Polish girl. Marianne Stokes’ painting of a Slovak girl this time, is also a portrait of a Slavic girl in traditional attire and yet the mood and the style are completely different. Stokes painted this portrait during her travels to Hungary in 1905 and I’ve written about that here. Seen from the profile, this Slovak girl’s blue eyes are also looking somewhere in the distance. Neither of the girls in portraits are directly looking at the viewer, they are both caught on the canvas and captured, or rather, their beauty is captured. Elaborate headgear graces her head and a plethora of shiny beaded necklaces adorns her neck, and yet she doesn’t seem the least bit haughty with all that adornment, she doesn’t seem to be aware of her beauty and splendour. She seems to me like a beautiful and rare forest animal, unaware of how beautiful she truly is and how special and rare. Interestingly, usually the illusion of volume is here to make the painting seem more alive and real, and here the Stokes’ painting is more flat and yet it seems more realistic because De Lempicka’s illusion of volume is too exaggerated. Two very different artists, two very different styles, and still the motif is the same; a portrait of a Slavic girl.

Marianne Stokes, Slovak Girl in Sunday Attire, 1909