Archive | Apr, 2015

Thomas Lawrence – ‘Always in Love and Always in Debt’

14 Apr

How strange that Thomas Lawrence’s romantic and dreamy paintings were on my mind yesterday, when in fact he was born on 13 April 1769. I thought to myself, this must be the voice of art telling me to write about Thomas Lawrence, and that’s exactly what I decided to do.

?????????????????????????1795. Portrait of Sally Siddons (Daughter of Sarah Siddons) by Thomas Lawrence

Thomas Lawrence belongs to ‘the golden age of British portrait painting’; the age of Gainsborough, Reynolds, Beechey and Romney. Although today his paintings may be regarded as too sentimental or too decorative, their romantic flamboyance was all the rage in Georgian London.

He was born in Bristol, the son of a tavern-keeper, and showed his artistic talents early on. His parents considered him a child prodigy and laid all their hopes in him. Fortunately, all their expectations came true. Lawrence’s success was rapid; one moment he was a ten year old boys making drawings and pastels at his father’s tavern, and the other he was a respectable young painter in London. He arrived in London sometime before his eighteenth birthday, in 1787, and settled himself near the studio of Joshua Reynolds who advised the handsome and lively young painter to study nature, and forget the Old masters.

Thomas’ ability to charm and seduce cleared his way to success. Polished manners and kind demeanor, along with obvious artistic skills and individualistic approach, made him popular among young Regency ladies who all wanted to be captured for eternity in Lawrence’s romantic and dazzling style. He happily plunged into the Regency world of aristocracy, fashion, theatre and art. Still, his painting style sometimes proved to be a tad too modern for the audience accustomed to more classical aesthetics. His free brushstrokes, thickly applied paint (especially when painting clothes) and strongly contrasted colours all differed him from the smoothness and feather-light touch of Reynolds or Gainsborough.

1790. Sir Thomas Lawrence - Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby1790. Sir Thomas Lawrence – Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby

As much as for his artistic talents, Lawrence was known for being ‘Always in love and always in debt’. He himself said –  ‘I have never been extravagant nor profligate in the use of money. Neither gaming, horses, curricles, expensive entertainments, nor secret sources of ruin from vulgar licentiousness have swept it from me’. Exactly what he spent his money on, and he had a great deal of it, remains a mystery. It is likely, however, that his generous nature compelled him to financially help his friends and relatives, and he did enjoy collecting works of old masters.

Thomas Lawrence led a life of romances, debts and art. He was a charming and flirtatious lad, and although he never married, his name was romantically linked to many beauties of the day. Two sisters, fragile and sickly ladies, Sally and Maria Siddons, the eldest daughters of the famous actress Sarah Siddons, caught his eye in the 1790s. He first fell in love with Sally, then transferred his affections to Maria, then broke with Maria and returned to Sally. But Maria died in 1798 and Sally promised her on her deathbed that she would not see Mr Lawrence again, and she kept her promise until her own death in 1803.

1793. Selina Peckwell, later Mrs. George Grote by Sir Thomas Lawrence1793. Selina Peckwell, later Mrs. George Grote by Sir Thomas Lawrence

There is a reason why these charmingly beautiful Lawrence’s portraits were on my mind: I’m re-reading my favourite novel by Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility. Since it is set in late 1790s, I can not help imagining Marianne dressed in one of those splendid yet simple white dresses. Thomas Lawrence is the only painter who could capture Marianne’s romantic idealism, vivaciousness and excessive sensibility. In my imagination Marianne would be portrayed with a book in her hand (Shakespeare’s sonnets of Cowper’s poems), with eyes full of ‘life, a spirit, an eagerness which could hardly be seen without delight.‘ May I add that Thomas Lawrence enjoyed reading Jane Austen’s works too, which I find rather strange.

Portrait of Sally Siddons, shown all the way up, is my favourite portrait by Thomas Lawrence. It appeals to me for many reasons. First of all; it portrays his love interest – Sally Siddons which gives it a level of emotional honesty. Secondly, her pose was always very captivating to me; she seems very thoughtful, dreamy and confident at the same time. Thirdly, her dress is painted so beautifully, those gathers captured so exuberantly, especially if you consider that white is the hardest colour to paint. Then there’s that dreamy atmosphere to all of Lawrence’s portraits, a remarkable theatrical sensibility, and a provocative touch. His sitters always seem caught in the moment.

Claude Debussy – The Girl with the Flaxen Hair

9 Apr

1875. Miranda,  J.W. Waterhouse1875. Miranda – J.W.Waterhouse

La fille aux cheveux de lin or ‘The Girl with the Flaxen Hair’ is a musical composition by French Composer Claude Debussy. The piece was written between late 1909 and early 1910, and it is known for its simplicity. It was first published in April, and premiered in June 1910.

The title was inspired by Leconte de Lisle’s poem La fille aux cheveux de lin, which is part of his Chansons écossaises (Scottish songs) published in 1852. Still, inspiration for this short composition is unknown. Some suggest that Claude Debussy had ‘Scottish beauties’ in mind. At the same time, the girl with the flaxen hair was always seen as a symbol of innocence, gentleness and naivety in fine art. Therefore the simplicity of the composition and the motif go hand in hand. Debussy once said ‘I am too enamoured of my freedom, too fond of my own ideas!‘; even though he disliked the term ‘Impressionism’, his music today is recognised as Impressionistic. All of his compositions are like impressions, of night skies, beautiful landscapes, reveries, and charming ladies.

The impression of the composition is an individual thing. ‘The Girl with the Flaxen Hair’ is a very dreamy composition, and yet very short. When it ends, I always have the feeling that the beautiful dream is gone, that the sweet and flowery moment has vanished. There’s a melancholic air to the composition as well, air of loneliness and longing. Every time I listen to this piece, I have the girl with the flaxen hair in mind; she’s not there anymore, except in the memories of the one who loved her. Her flaxen hair is now unattainable. Still, the memories of the romance are fresh and sweet. Something like in Alphonse de Lamartine’s poem ‘The Lake’.

I’ve heard many, many different impressions; the amount of emotions and memories that can arise from music is magical and unbelievable at the same time. Perhaps you should spare two minutes of your time and listen to this composition again to get your impression.

1875. Miranda,  J.W. Waterhouse, Detail

The Girl with the Flaxen Hair – Leconte de Lisle

Sitting amidst the alfalfa in flower,

Who sings in the cool morning hour?

It is the girl with the flaxen hair,

The beauty with cherry lips so fair.

        Love, in the summer sun so bright,

        Sang with the lark for sheer delight.

 

Your mouth has colours so divine,

it tempts a kiss, o, were it mine!

Come chat with me in the flow’ring grass,

Girl with the long lashes, silken tress.

        Love, in the summer sun so bright,

        Sang with the lark for sheer delight.

 

Do not say no, o cruel girl!

Do not say yes, far better still

To read your large eye’s longing gaze,

Your rosy lips which I so praise!

        Love, in the summer sun so bright,

        Sang with the lark for sheer delight.

 

Farewell to deer, farewell to hare!

And to red partridges! I shall dare

a kiss of your crimson lips to steal,

your flaxen locks to caress and feel!

        Love, in the summer sun so bright,

        Sang with the lark for sheer delight.

Jeanne Hébuterne – Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice

6 Apr

Amedeo Modigliani’s muse and the love of his life was born on 6 April 1898 in Paris. Her delicate demeanor and strange beauty quickly attracted many starving-artists, among them the handsome and charismatic Jewish Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani who turned out to be her great love and eventually the cause of her downfall. The tale of Modigliani and Jeanne’s love is perhaps the most tragic love story in the world of art.

1916. Jeanne Hebuterne at 19 Years, photoPhoto of Jeanne at the age of 19, taken in 1917.

Jeanne Hébuterne met Amedeo around her nineteenth birthday, in April 1917, in the cultural center of Paris at the time – Montparnasse. The two soon fell deeply in love and Jeanne moved in with Modigliani, despite the objections from her parents, strict middle-class Catholics. This is the beginning of the story that ends with death, on both sides.

Jeanne and her older brother André, showed artistic talents from an early age. Despite the conservativeness of her parents, Jeanne was allowed to enroll at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and to take classes at the Académie Colarossi. The Colarossi was on the Avenue de la Grande Chaumiere; the very center of Montparnasses’ avant-garde culture. What a coincidence that the young Jewish Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, known as ‘Modi’, also lived on that street.Although it was not far from Jeanne’s home, Montparnasse was culturally and ideologically a completely different place; in the context of Jeanne’s strict and sheltered existence in which she had been raised, it was an entirely different universe. At the Académie, Jeanne befriended other female artists such as Chana Orloff and Germaine Labaye who introduced her to Cafe life, particularly at ‘La Rotonde’ where she may have met Amedeo.

Despite her own artistic aspirations, and the fact that she was a proficient painter in her own right, Jeanne’s position as a painter rather than a painter’s muse is often overlooked, as it is the case with many female artist/models. Along with Jeanne, Elizabeth Siddal and Victorine Meurent are one of the best examples of overlooked talents.

1918. Portrait of the Artist's Wife (Jeanne Hebuterne) - Amedeo Modigliani1918. Portrait of the Artist’s Wife (Jeanne Hebuterne) – Amedeo Modigliani

Jeanne possessed a strange beauty which gained her many admirers at Montparnasse. Her eyes were bright blue and her hair was long and auburn. She was nicknamed ‘Noix de Coco‘ (‘Coconut’) due to the shape of her head and her very pale skin. All together her striking features created a ‘gothic appearance’, as it was described by one sculptor who had met her.

Along with her beauty, Jeanne possessed a sedate demeanour and was described as ‘gentle, shy, quiet and delicate. Slightly depressive.‘ With her calmness and youthfulness she was a perfect balance for Amedeo; habitual drinker, drug-user and womaniser who was fourteen years her senior. Due to these contrasts, Jeanne is often seen as a ‘pure girl’ who saved Modigliani. The situation reminds me of ‘Crime and Punishment’ where the pious and self-sacrificing Sonia saved moody Raskolikov. In addition to drawing and painting, Jeanne was known for being musical; she played the violin and she also designed and sewed her own clothes which can be seen in Modigliani’s portraits of her.

It does not surprise me at all that Jeanne was Modigliani’s muse. What other demoiselle, what other face could possibly reveal to us the meaning behind Modigliani’s art?

1917. Amedeo Modigliani 'Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace'1917. Amedeo Modigliani – Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace

For Modigliani, the future of art was in woman’s face. He painted Jeanne no more and no less than 26 times. Every single one of those portraits is like a love letter: very delicate, lyrical, spiritual and calm. Modigliani painted her lost in her thoughts, distant from reality, place and time, and extraordinary beautiful. Claude Roy said of these portraits ‘Modigliani is speaking here almost in a whisper; he murmurs his painting as a lover murmurs endearments in the ear of his beloved.

Amedeo moved to Nice in March 1918, hoping to sell his paintings to wealthy art experts who wintered there, and that the warm climate would have soothing effect on his fragile health, burdened with heavy drinking and substance abuse. Jeanne followed him, and on 29 November their daughter was born in Nice, out of wedlock. Little girl was named Jeanne after her mother. Although very little is known about their time spent in Nice, it is known with certainty that Modigliani was planing to marry Jeanne as soon as he got his papers.

1916. Self portrait by Jeanne Hébuterne1916. Self portrait by Jeanne Hébuterne

Sadly, he had no time to fulfill his promise. Amedeo Modigiani died on 24 January 1920 of tubercular meningitis. Jeanne was deeply affected by his death, and the next day, eight months pregnant with their second child, anguished and distraught, she committed suicide by trowing herself from the window of her parents’ apartment. With deep affection for Modigliani, Jeanne could not imagine life without him. The artist and his muse were united in death. Jeanne was only twenty-one years old.

Her epitaph read ‘Devoted Companion to the Extreme Sacrifice’.

Hylas and the Nymphs – John William Waterhouse

3 Apr

John William Waterhouse was a painter of mystery, beauty and dreams. Continuing the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, and adding a few Impressionistic touches, Waterhouse created an original and mystic world of melancholic, wistful and often fatal beauties.

1896. Hylas and the Nymphs - John William Waterhouse 11896. Hylas and the Nymphs – John William Waterhouse, Manchester Art Gallery

Little is known about John William Waterhouse; he was a private man and therefor left no diaries or letters, no famous quotes, private dramas or thrilling love stories. Up until recently, the names of his beautiful models were wrapped in mystery as well, some still are. Waterhouse was born in Rome to English parents who were both painters. Even the precise date of his birth is unsure, but he was baptised in early April 1849; the same year that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, led by the dashing young painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, first created a stir in the London art scene. His early life in Italy, and many trips to Italy later in life, inspired him to paint scenes of ancient Rome and scenes from Roman mythology. Over and above, Italy was a great source of inspiration for the Pre-Raphaelites as well.

Lack of information regarding his private life may compel some of the viewers to find his paintings cold, lacking in the ‘intensity and emotion’ of the other Pre-Raphaelite artists. In addition, some (recent) critics have classified his work as being pure imitation of Rossetti and Millais’ works, lacking the personal touch thus making his paintings vague in comparison with Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces such as Millais’ Ophelia. I highly disagree with these claims! Waterhouse, although adopting the Pre-Raphaelite painting style, created paintings that burst with originality, beauty and mysticism.

Their dreamy quality simply draws the viewers in, allowing them to escape from reality into the mythical world where nymphs, antic heroes, beautiful heroines and satyrs reside; the magic world that combines romantic Arthurian legends and mythological creatures with the painter’s own sensibility, poetic brush strokes and Victorian symbolism. The lack of known personal involvement with the subject in my opinion only adds to the element of mystery, thus making his paintings more intriguing and even harder to understand.

1896. Hylas and the Nymphs - John William Waterhouse Detail

Waterhouse painted this painting ‘Hylas and the Nymphs‘ in 1896, at the age of 47, when much of his most famous works had already been painted. The painting shows Hylas, the young and handsome companion of Hercules, surrounded by enchanting nymphs peaking from the tranquil greenish water. Hercules and Hylas had arrived at the island of Cios, and as soon Nymphs noticed young Hylas, they became enchanted by his beauty.

As usual, Waterhouse is never direct, he instead presents us the occasion just the moment before the inevitable happened. Hylas is being pulled by the Nymphs into their sinister watery abode, but we don’t see that tragic moment, we only see one Nymph taking Hylas’ hand and focusing her cold, wistful gaze at him. Only a moment later, lurid cries reverberated through the island; Hercules was calling for Hylas, but in vain. Waterhouse proficiently portrays dark and tragic moments, giving them beauty and serenity.

Nymphs are female creatures in Greek and Latin mythology. They are usually depicted as beautiful and fatal maidens who love to sing and dance, and behaving naughty as one can see in the story with Hylas. They represent power of nature. Name ‘nymph’ comes from Greek word ‘nymphē‘ which means ‘bride’ and ‘veiled’, referring to a marriageable young woman. One of the meaning is a ‘rose-bud’, perhaps indicating the beauty all the nymphs possess. By choosing nymphs as subjects and portraying this tragic story of love and doom, Waterhouse fully expressed his romantic sensibility, and revealed his fascination with strong and beautiful female figures. Nymphs are presented as alluring, and Hylas is powerless against their charms.

1896. Hylas and the Nymphs - John William Waterhouse Detail 2

Nymphs obviously stole the poor Hylas’ spotlight with their luminous skin and sensual bodies, capturing the viewer with their beauty in the same way they captured Hylas. Nymphs have been painted in art before, but never quite as magically, or as sinisterly. In previous versions they appeared plump and cheerful, whereas Waterhouse portrayed them as having more girlish bodies, with fair skin that exceeds into mystical green shades underwater. They appear otherworldly in every sense of the word. Their hair is sleek and wet, decorated with modest flowers, and they have different face expressions, ranging from cold to wistful and idle gazes.

Then there are those splendid lilac brush strokes which emphasise the magic and captivating strength that these beauties possess. The water is green, strangely calm, sprinkled with tiny white flowers. In India, water-lilies are considered symbolic of the grief of separation. Knowing the story, we could connect water lilies as symbols of separation for Hylas; separation from this world. Two nymphs on the far right are shown dreamily playing with large water lily leaves. These are the nymphs that Faun from Mallarme’s poem ‘The Afternoon of a Faun’ was obsessed with.

These nymphs I would perpetuate.

So clear

Their light carnation, that it floats in the air

Heavy with tufted slumbers.

Was it a dream I loved?

Listening to Claude Debussy’s ‘Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun’ you can almost feel them dancing and laughing in the background, the green water splashing around, their long hair floating on the water, their skin shining in the sunlight.

1975. Ondine Bath Dew1975. Advert for ‘Ondine Bath Dew’, Cosmopolitan, July, Photo found HERE.

The advert above was particularly interesting to me because it was obviously inspired by Waterhouse’s masterpiece, mixed with ’70s aesthetics. I think the photo captured the atmosphere very well; magical, dreamy and sinister.

The photo below shows a dress called ‘Nymphe’; an example of Parisian fashion for May 1921. I can imagine Nymphs wearing something similar, fluttery and decorated with flowers.

1921. Les Modes (Paris) May 1921 'Nymphe' robe du soir de la Maison Agnes1921. Les Modes (Paris) May, ‘Nymphe’

Subjects from Greek and Latin Mythology or Arthurian legends were especially popular in the nineteenth century, for they seemed to touch a nerve with Victorians whose everyday reality was far from ‘magical and romantic’; Industrial revolution was in full bloom and poverty and social injustices were on every corner.