Archive | Aug, 2015

Goodbye to Berlin

31 Aug

1914. Friedrichstrasse - KirchnerKirchner, Friedrichstrasse, 1914

Last three weeks I was in Berlin, visiting my family. I haven’t felt so good, so full of energy and inspiration, so rapturous and alive for a long time! I came to Berlin with thoughts of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Christiane F. and Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, Marlene Dietrich, Christopher Isherwood and his Weimar Berlin, industrial rock sound of the Einstürzende Neubauten, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and other expressionists. Even though I’ve been to Berlin a few times, this time seems to have been magical. I’ve enjoyed every moment. I’ve seen such diversities and vibrancy, a bunch of individualists, drunken people, an eclectic mix of cultures, architectural splendor; from frightening and modern building on Potsdamer Platz to lovely residential buildings on Wedding to the beautiful Schloss Charlottenburg. I think I left a little piece of my soul somewhere out there, on those beautiful cobble streets and wide avenues.

I’ve visited the Alte Nationalgalerie and I’ve seen the ‘Im-Ex’ exhibition, along with the museum’s permanant collection of German Romanticism and lots of other things. A few painting caught my attention the most, among them the works of Kirchner, especially the one called ‘Potsdamer Platz’. His dynamic brush strokes and vibrant colours continue to amaze me. Here are some other artworks that I’ve seen. Who knows, maybe I’ll write about one of them soon. Or maybe I won’t.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer PlatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner – Potsdamer Platz, 1914

The Boulevard Montmartre at NightBoulevard Montmartre, effet de nuit by Pissarro, 1898

1879. Chez le père Lathuille - Edouard Manet Chez le père Lathuille – Edouard Manet, 1879

1879. In the Conservatory by ManetIn the Conservatory by Manet, 1879

1868. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Bohemian (or Lise the Bohemian)Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Bohemian (or Lise the Bohemian), 1868

1876. The Cheval-Glass - Berthe Morisot The Cheval-Glass – Berthe Morisot, 1876

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - NollendorfplatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner – Nollendorfplatz, 1912

1899. Charing Cross Bridge - Claude MonetCharing Cross Bridge – Claude Monet, 1899

E.L.Kirchner, Rheinbruecke / 1914 - Kirchner / Rhine Bridge / 1914 -Rheinbrücke in Köln, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

1913. Drei Akte, Karl Schmidt-RottluffDrei Akte, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 1913

1903. The Sin (Die Sünde) - Franz StuckThe Sin (Die Sünde) – Franz Stuck, 1903

Stu-04-NatGalTilla Durieux als Circe – Franz Stuck, 1900

1815. Gothic Church on a Rock by the Sea - Karl Friedrich SchinkelGothic Church on a Rock by the Sea – Karl Friedrich Schinkel, 1815

1822. Moonrise over the Sea - Caspar David FriedrichMoonrise over the Sea – Caspar David Friedrich, 1822

berlin im ex 2

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – The Berlin Years

11 Aug

A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things.

1913. Kirchner - Street, Berlin1913 Street, Berlin

In 1911. Kirchner moved to Berlin and started a new phase in his artistic endeavors; vivid street scenes with prostitutes and elegantly dressed men, chic streetwalkers with angular faces; all presented in brilliant pinks, purples, blues and blacks, with heavy brush strokes accentuating the dynamic, hectic and urban mood of the decadent city. Luxury and anxious energy of Berlin, the Hauptstadt of Decadence, were perfectly captured by Kirchner who said of Berlin ”You’ll be totally surprised when you set foot in Berlin. We’ve become a large family and you can get everything you need – women and shelter.” Kirchner himself arrived there with his then new girlfriend Erna Schilling who helped him in re-creating the atmosphere of his studio in Dresden. Walls of his new studio-apartment in Berlin were soon decorated with primitivist hangings, Ajanta- inspired wall paintings and African sculptors he carved himself.

Berlin in those years was just what Kirchner was looking for; with the crowded cafes, different venues, interesting people, lively circuses and cabarets, the city proved to be very alluring for him, and the initial excitement with the life in Berlin was evident in his early works. Later however, his paintings showed an uneasy balance between the excitement with the city and the alienation he felt living in it. Landscape of his paintings was the one of vibrant colours, intensity, with the emphasis on movement, and the capturing of the intensity and urgency of the city. His artistic sensibilities, caught up in the city’s dynamism led to an increased sensitivity of the form, colour and expression. Daring brush strokes and harmonies, along with angular figures and night street scenes characterised Kirchner’s Berlin years.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer Platz1914 Potsdamer Platz

With the angular figures, intense colours and simplified, yet very atmospheric background, Kirchner succeeded in ‘creating new appearances of things‘; in these paintings, especially ‘Street, Berlin‘ and ‘Potsdamer Platz‘ we see Berlin not how it technically looked like in early 1910s, but rather through these twisted perspectives and vibrancy we see, or feel, a whole mood of the city; a decadent spirit captured for eternity. “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.“, Kirchner said, and that’s what he seemed to be doing, taking inspiration from the street scenes he saw through his window, portraying the street scenes in the ‘capital of cabaret’ with raw intensity of colours.

Conflicting interests and fierce rivalries characteristic for Berlin’s art world of the time, along with the competitive ambiance eventually splintered the group in 1913. Although they continued having joint exhibitions in Berlin, the close personal connection among the members loosened as the members struck out in different artistic directions. These artistic differences were aggravated by Kirchner’s chronicle of Die Brücke, in which he imposed himself as a prominent figure. The other artists associated with the group felt that their contributions for the group were understated. Kirchner’s relationship with the Bridge group remained difficult for the rest of his life, and he even rejected any association with them.

1913. Kirchner - Berlin Street Scene1913 Kirchner – Berlin Street Scene

After disassembling with the group, he went on to develop a much more individual style and his Berlin scenes of alienated figures, reflect a sense of creative isolation and city melancholia. Kirchner’s street scenes, painted in sharp brush strokes and vibrant colours, are permeated with sarcasm and the depressive and alienating atmosphere of Berlin. Initial excitement with the city shifted into a metropolitan loneliness and anxiety which resulted in a morbid fascination with the alienation in modern society. His ‘Berlin street scenes‘ portray society as Kirchner saw it; a bleak masses of people walking by each other, lonely and estranged figures with dark holes instead of eyes reflect the darkness that had begun to engulf him. Painted in dark colours, some of the sullen gentleman seem like shadows; a modern life stripped of its false glamour and splendor with nothing but a raw essential left; all the hypocrisy, obduracy,  materialistic obsessions and complete detachment from nature, God and true values of existence are presented without embellishment.

Ladies shown on the painting were mostly prostitutes. Kirchner’s girlfriend Erna Schilling and her sister Gerda, a dancer, whom the painter described as having ‘beautiful, architecturally structured, rigorously formed bodies‘, posed as models for his street scenes. Kirchner glorifies the hidden sensuality beneath the prostitutes’ clothes in these paintings; their bodies are elongated, their posture elegant, their faces angular, with a mask-like appearance, their gaze wanders between pride and doubtfulness. Dressed in their haughty attire, their faces painted with rouge, these ‘ladies of the night‘ mirror the alienating, melancholic, isolating and anxious atmosphere of Berlin at the time, and of the society in general.

1914. Friedrichstrasse - Kirchner1914 Friedrichstrasse – Kirchner

Perhaps the most famous of Kirchner’s street scenes is a painting ‘Friedrichstrasse‘ painted in 1914. In it, the viewer is confronted by three elongated women (most likely prostitutes again) who stand proudly in the foreground like three magnificent peacocks. Behind them stand anonymous suited men with blank expressions, suggesting the dehumanisation of individuals as a result of a modern life. Kirchner’s vivid palette and aggressive brush strokes only intensify the agony and anxiety an individual faces. The street is crowded, noisy and hectic, yet none of the individuals interact with each other. His street scenes portray an individual in isolation. Each of these works has a unique character, but the idea behind it is ‘a sense of living dangerously in a great capital city on the edge of a catastrophe.’

In these years his work became more dramatic; his usual heavy brush strokes now appeared almost violent, energetic composition and elongated figures reflect isolation, while the black brush strokes give a sense of movement and speed. The metropolitan alienation, despair and anxiety Kirchner expressed in his works perhaps show the life as it was in his head; dark and hectic, and serve as a prelude to his final mental and psychical collapse, and the collapse of modern society in general. These street scenes are only a continuation of the ‘Fin de Siecle neurosis.‘ Kirchner later described his subject matter as ‘the nervous faces of people of our time’ reflecting ‘every smallest irritation’.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Nollendorfplatz1912 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Nollendorfplatz

Kirchner’s work, and that of the other members of ‘The Bridge’, was influential on David Bowie who was fond of the Expressionists in general. He liked the intensity, striking forms and ‘raw power’ of Kirchner’s paintings, but the most appealing to him was the alienation that Kirchner expressed in his Berlin street scenes. In the 1970s Berlin was permeated by the atmosphere of neglect and desolation. Berlin’s world-weary self regard was attractive to foreigners who saw their own alienation mirrored in the city’s outsider status; David Bowie was one of them, fascinated by Berlin’s rich yet lush history of cabaret, expressionist silent movies and urban paintings. Bowie identified himself with the city’s fate; the fate of growing too quickly, both politically and in urban development, and having to suffer eternal growing pains. Architecture critic Heinrich Wefing once talked of Berlin’s partus praecipitatus – ‘always having to be more, always having to wrestle with one’s own role’ — Bowie recognised himself in this fate.

Brian Eno once said ‘Very rough, rough strokes — and they all have a mood of melancholy about them or nostalgia, as if they were painting something that was just disappearing. And all of that — the boldness of attack, the unplanned evolutionary quality of the images, and the over-all mood — remind me of the way David works.’ Works such as ‘Nollendorfplatz’ and ‘Brandenburger Tor‘ reveal Kirchner’s shift in subject matter from female figures to metropolitan scenes. The painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is painted in clashing blue and yellow shades, with monstrous ‘strassenbahnen‘ and a crooked perspective as a clear rejection of the previous architecture studies. It brings Max Weber’s concept of rationalisation on a higher level with people appearing as tall dark shadows, so uniformed and monotonous they merge with the landscape of the city. Quick and heavy brush strokes create a feeling of speed, movement and bustle of modern life in a city. Kirchner’s distorted imagery symbolise the destructiveness and desolation of an urban life; he questions the social progress and the dehumanization of people in cities. He expresses his inner emotions and confusion with life in modern society.

1915. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Brandenburger Tor1915 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Brandenburger Tor

Kirchner committed suicide on 15th June 1938. after the Nazis branded his work as ‘degenerate’ and sold or destroyed over six hundred of his paintings. Still, Kirchner ought to be remembered as a leading force behind German Expressionism. He was an artist who painted Berlin and captured both its decadent, dynamic and daring atmosphere, along with the isolated urban individuals completely detached from society. Kirchner’s paintings reflect the mood of the German capital in the years of political tensions and mirror both the extravagances and cultural florescence before the final collapse.

Twiggy – The Face of 1966

9 Aug

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1960s twiggy 236 1960s twiggy 255 1960s twiggy 261 1960s twiggy 269 1960s twiggy 271 1960s twiggy 275 1960s twiggy 283 1960s twiggy 286

1960s UK Twiggy-Rigs Magazine Advert

1960s UK Twiggy-Rigs Magazine Advert

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La Castiglione, Demi-Monde and Second French Empire

3 Aug

A vain and eccentric woman of mystery – Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione arrived in Paris in 1856, at the peak of Second French Empire. She was a rose of the Second French Empire garden, a rather exotic and extravagant rose that withered too quickly. She shone briefly, like a shooting star, but soon crashed into the darkness of her Place Vendome abode where she spent her last days in rooms without mirrors or daylight, mentally unstable and lonely.

1863. Photographie de la comtesse de Castiglione, dite à l'éventail, sous le titre de Elvira en1863 Photographie de la comtesse de Castiglione

La Castiglione, as she was later called, was born on 22 March 1837 in Florence. Her full name is legen (wait-for-it) dary: Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Carlotta Antonietta Teresa Maria Oldoïni. Before she arrived in Paris, La Castiglione was trapped in a loveless marriage to Francesco Verasis, conte di Castiglione, twelve years her senior. She was sent to Paris in 1856 to bolster the interest of Napoleon III in the cause of Italian unification. Her cousin, the minister Camillo Cavour, instructed her to ‘succeed by whatever means you wish—but succeed!

Succeeded she did, her beauty and extravagant clothes soon caught the Emperor’s eye, and she became his mistress, but not for long. Their love affair lasted only two years, and in 1857 it was all over. She was determined not to be forgotten nor by the Emperor, nor his poor wife Eugenie de Montijo, nor by the courtiers who were very much amused by the scandals, gossips and intrigues. By then, she was separated from her husband and bankrupted by her glamorous lifestyle. She returned to Italy in self-imposed exile in 1858. But, restless and mischievous as she was, she returned to Paris in 1861 and once again shook up the conventional nineteenth century society.

1862. Portrait of the Countess di Castiglione painted in Paris by Michele Gordigiani1862 Portrait of the Countess di Castiglione painted in Paris by Michele Gordigiani

Virginia was famous for her beauty as well as her extravagant lifestyle. Her long, wavy blonde hair, pale skin, and delicate oval face with eyes that constantly changed colour from green to an extraordinary blue-violet must have sparked the Emperor’s imagination when she was first presented at the court on 9 January 1856 at the ball. La Castiglione was two months short of her nineteenth birthday, the Emperor was forty-seven. They expressed their love in June 1856 in Parc de Saint-Cloud; the park that contains one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe: Marie Antoinette’s rose garden, English style garden and Le Notre’s French style garden designed for Louis XIV.

The Princess Metternich described her as having ‘wonderful hair, the waist of a nymph, and a complexion the color of pink marble!  In a word, Venus descended from Olympus.  Never have I seen beauty to rival hers, not shall I see her like again!‘ In the portrait above, painted in 1862 by Michele Gordigiani, we see La Castiglione at the age of twenty-five, her beauty already fading (the contemporaries have said), but her cheeks are as rosy and fresh as ever, while her eyes radiate confidence, disinterest and a slight coldness.

1858-62. Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione 51858-62 Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione

La Castiglione couldn’t have chosen a better moment to arrive on the scene for the splendor and opulence of Napoleon’s court seem to have been created for her. Second French Empire (1852-1870) was a culturally interesting era in French history. After decades of turmoils and revolutions, the court shone again like it did once before in times of Napoleon Bonaparte. Forty years later, Napoleon III made sure that his reign becomes a synonym for extravagances and opulence. It was in these two decades that many works of art and literature were created: Edouard Manet painted his scandalous masterpieces Olympia and Dejeuner sur l’herbe, Gustave Flaubert published his notorious novel Madame Bovary, and Baudelaire Les Fleurs du Mal – the two literary masterpieces were published the same year (1857), but the latter proved to be a tad too modern for the audience. Haussmann rebuilt Paris, and created all the boulevards, parks and avenues that the Impressionists have later captured on canvas, and which gave the city its current appearance.

1855. fashion empress eugenie and the ladies in waiting1855 The Empress Eugenie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting – Winterhalter

Still, the Napoleon III had a quite conservative taste in art, preferring the works of Franz Xaver Winterhalter and Alexandre Cabanel to decadent and fluttery brush strokes of Manet and Whistler. Winterhalter was a German painter famous for his court portraits such as the portrait of Austrian Empress Elisabeth Sissi. One of his lovely, lovely paintings shows Empress Eugenie and her ladies in waiting. Painted in bucolic, 18th century manner, it displays the opulence and stability of Napoleon III’s reign.

Just like Napoleon Bonaparte’s Josephine, Napoleon III had Eugenie by his side. She faithfully performed her duties as an Empress: organised balls, parties, accompanied the Emperor to the opera, advocated equality for women, and turned her court into a never ending fashion show, instead of Dior or Chanel’s creations, the courtiers admired her dresses made by Charles Frederick Worth, a very popular 19th century designer.

1858. une robe de taffetas et la même robe de bal Victoria et Elizabeth1858. evening and day dress, Magasin des Demoiselles, December

Fashion at the time seems to have been created for the Countess of Castiglione for it is truly the most extravagant period in Victorian fashion. Crinoline was all the rage, and evening dresses were a little masterpieces, in pastel colours with countless flounces, lace decorations, carefully arranged with roses or other flowers. The neckline was open, revealing the shoulders. Sleeves were short and usually puffed but came in variety of shapes; petal, puff, flutter, bell, cap, basic short, gathered, petal and puffed combination, cap and puffed combination.

Neckline was usually decorated with lace, flower bouquets, jewels or single flowers; roses were quite popular. Little bouquets were often asymmetrically placed on the skirt. Most used fabrics were silk, taffeta, moire, organdie, muslin, tulle and lightweight brocade. Dresses created by Charles Frederick Worth were known for their lavish fabrics and trimmings and for incorporating elements from period dress. He was the dream of every Victorian woman and his individualistic approach gained him many faithful customers.

1857. evening dresses, Le Bon Ton, November

1858. evening fashions, Le Bon Ton

Upon arriving to Paris the second time, in 1861, the Countess of Castiglione transformed herself into a mysterious femme fatale and formed numerous liaisons with notable aristocrats, financiers, and politicians. She is said to have charged a member of the British aristocracy one million francs for 12 hours in her company. All she had was beauty, and when it faded, the her admirers and lovers abandoned her.

La Castiglione was almost pathologically vain and narcissistic. Not only did she arrange photo shoots with a prominent Parisian photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson, but she also sent her friends photo albums filled with photos of her in different poses and dresses. Today, in ‘era of selfies’, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but back then it was considered almost deranged. Her sessions with Pierson produced more than 400 photos that were created in three specific periods: her glorious first years in French society, 1856-57; her reentry into Parisian life, from 1861 to 1867; and toward the end of her life, from 1893 to 1895.

1870s Virginia Oldoini, Countess de Castiglione (1837-1899), was an Italian courtesan who achieved notoriety as a mistress of Emperor Napoleon III of France, Pierre-Louse Pierson 21862 Virginia Oldoini, Countess de Castiglione

In the photos, La Castiglione is seen wearing extravagant and luxurious dresses, in different poses and face expressions. Not only did she pose as her glorious self, but she also transformed herself into many different characters from The Queen of Hearts, Medea, and Nun, to exotic Queen of Etruria.

The Queen of Heart is probably her most interesting costume. The photo shows La Castiglione dressed in the very same costumes that she wore on a costume ball years earlier. It was the ball held on 17 February 1857 in honour of Ministry of foreign affairs. The splendid ball had an aura of nostalgia for the Marie Antoinette and Petit Trianon, peaceful days before the revolution. Also, Empress Eugenie was a big fan of the 18th century and she adored Marie Antoinette, even dressed like her on one occasion. As always, La Castiglione outshone everyone on the ball when she arrived wearing her ‘heart dress’.

The Countess is not lavish of herself. She seldom appears in society. Whenever she does so it is an event. Behold her entering the salons of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the middle of the ___ She is dressed as the queen of hearts, a symbolic costume, for it is an allusion to the innumerable hearts which the Countess “draws after her,” as

Racine would have said. On her head glitters a crown formed of hearts. Her marvellous hair ripples around her forehead and falls in cascades on her neck. Her skirts and corsage are laced with chains composed of hearts. Her train is caught up on the hip. ‘Tis a bewitching costume.’‘(source)

1863. La comtesse de Castiglione en Dame de Cœur vers 1863, par Pierre-Louis Pierson à Paris.1863. La comtesse de Castiglione en Dame de Cœur vers, par Pierre-Louis Pierson à Paris

As to the Countess, she carried the weight of her beauty insolently. The proud Countess does not wear corsets ; she would willingly be a model to a Phidias, if there were one, and she would pose clad only in her beauty. La Castiglione is a courtesan like Aspasia ; she is proud of her beauty and she veils it only as much as is necessary to be admitted into a drawing-room.

1858-62. Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione 4 1858-62. Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione 7 1858-62. Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione 8 1858-62. Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione 101861-67. Dress that belonged to the Comptesse De Castiglione1861-67. Dress that belonged to the Comptesse De Castiglione

La Castiglione was a true demimondaine. With her extravagant lifestyle, hedonism, dependance on lovers, unusual demands, theatrical life choices she fully embodies the term demi-monde which was commonly used in the 19th and early 20th century Europe. According to the dictionary the meanings of this word are ‘(in 19th-century France) a class of women considered to be of doubtful social standing and morality‘ and ‘a group of people on the fringes of respectable society.

As most demimondaines, La Castiglione ended up as a victim of her own lifestyle. She spent all her money, she lacked charms and her beauty faded. In the last years of life, after the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, she lived a reclusive and eccentric life in the Place Vendome. She decorated her abode with black curtains which hid her from daylight. She smashed the mirrors for they revealed her true age and looks, a face that was once beautiful but isn’t anymore. Furthermore, she left her flat only at night when she wondered the streets of Belle Epoque Paris shrouded in a long black veil. We can draw paralells between La Castiglione’s lifestyle and photo shoots and those of Luisa Casati, an eccentric Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts in the early 20th century.

1893. La comtesse de Castiglione, enveloppée de voile et châle en crêpe noirs1893 La comtesse de Castiglione, enveloppée de voile et châle en crepe noirs

Her final photos show the mental instability that led her lead that kind of lifestyle. She still dreamt of having her photos shown at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in a retrospective titled ‘The Most Beautiful Woman of the Century‘. This never happened and she died on 28 November 1899 at the age of sixty-two. Her life caused admiration and curiosity among the aesthetes of fin-de-siècle Paris. Among them was Robert de Montesquiou, a symbolist poet and a dandy, who spent thirteen years writing her biography La Divine Comtesse. It is also said that he was the inspiration for the character Jean des Esseintes in Joris-Karl Huysmans’ novel A Rebours (Against the Nature) and for the Baron de Charlus in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.