Tag Archives: 1879.

Rogelio de Egusquiza – The End of the Ball

5 May

“I am like a winged creature who is too rarely allowed to use its wings. Ecstasies do not occur often enough.”

(Anais Nin)

Rogelio de Egusquiza, The End of the Ball, 1879

Dear diary,

All was quiet in the salon, but laughter, loud voices of drunk guests and music were coming from the ballroom. I had too much champagne and my cheeks were burning so I retreated to the salon for a while. The enveloping silence seemed strange after the noise in the ballroom. My heart was beating loudly under the corset laced so tightly that it made me wonder how it would beat at all. I reclined on the sofa and laid my head on my hand. Warm orange light from the lamp on the end table cast a warm glow on the chamber and I easily sank into reverie. The gorgeous pink tulle dress adorned with crimson red roses that I had made especially for the occasion made me feel as if I were a capricious butterfly flying from flower to flower, dancing with one gentleman and then with the other. But now its stiffness made it hard to breathe and I couldn’t wait to take it off. The roses which were fresh and fragrant just this afternoon were now withered. The soft fabric was now soaked with my sweat and heavy perfume. My aching feet longed to walk freely on the fur carpet, their silk confinement was tormenting, but how they made me dance with Julio but moments ago! I knew he would come, even though mama hoped he wouldn’t.

My heart was beating so fast when I saw him approaching me; so tall and slim, dressed in a dark suit in the latest fashion, with his silky chestnut hair and dark eyes that seemed to look through me. He took my hand and the orchestra started playing again a beautiful tune which brought tears to my eyes, for it filled me with ecstasy and melancholy at the same time. I felt Julio’s warmth so close to my body, and yet I could feel his absence as well. I was too aware that the music would stop, the dance end and we would part until… who knew? Julio was unpredictable with his travels, I never knew when and if his next letter would arrive, and what other ladies held his attention. I longed to join him in his travels, but I knew I was too weak, weak and scared of life I would be no companion. I felt his strong arm around my waist as the music carried us in swirls across the room. The scent of flowers in the air mingled with the rich manly smell of Julio’s body. Minutes felt like a dream. I followed his steps and laid my head on his shoulder. I wondered whether he would inhale the scent of my hair.

I wondered what he was thinking, but dared not assume that this moment held as much importance to him as it did to me. Julio was a man that didn’t belong to anyone, and I was but a girl who longed for the ecstasies in life; a winged creature who was too rarely allowed to use its wings. These kind of ecstasies did not occur often enough. I knew that the very next day I would be sitting in the drawing room and doing embroidery under mother’s watchful eyes, and I felt tears swelling in my eyes when I compared the endless rapture of the moment with the boredom that awaits me, from dawn to dusk. Such was my life, perhaps one day I would dare to sail the seas that I dream of and that Julio had told me about. But at that moment, breathing the same air as Julio, nothing else existed for me but the pure delight of his presence. I softly sank my nails into the fabric of his coat and sighed: I wish this moment would never end… But I could hear the orchestra’s playing was getting quieter and the enchanting tune was slowly drawing to an end. I closed my eyes and…

Your Isabel

Rogelio de Egusquiza, A reverie during the ball, 1879

Here is a photograph that Rogelio de Egusquiza used to paint the painting

‘Found Drowned’ by George Frederick Watts

19 Dec

One more Unfortunate
Weary of breath
Rashly importunate,
Gone to her death!
Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;
Fashion’d so slenderly,
Young, and so fair!‘ (The Bridge of Sighs, by Thomas Hood, 1844)

1850. Found Drowned is an oil painting - George Frederic WattsFound Drowned, George Frederic Watts, 1850

Painting Found Drowned was painted in c. 1850 by the famous Victorian painter George Frederic Watts, who is usually associated with the Symbolist movement. In this case however, he employed his talents in social realism genre. The painting depicts the dead body of a woman washed up beneath the arch of Waterloo Bridge, her body still immersed in the cold, dirty water of the River Thames. She is presumed to have drowned after throwing herself in the river in despair, trying to get away from the stigma of ‘fallen woman’: a term used in Victorian era to describe women who had lost their innocence. The painting was inspired by Thomas Hood’s poem ‘The Bridge of Sighs‘, published in 1844. The poem tells a story of an anonymous young woman, desperate and abandoned by her lover, pregnant and thrown out of her home, who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.

In the foreground we see her dead body, her torso and arms in the shape of a cross. The simplicity of her orange-coloured gown suggests that she belonged to the lower class, perhaps she was a servant. Some parts of the poem directly describe her appearance: ‘Look at her garments/Clingling like cerements; /Whilsts the wave constantly/drips from her clothing…‘ and ‘Loop up her tresses/Escaped from the comb,/Her fair auburn tresses…‘ and ‘And her eyes, close them,/Staring so blindly.‘ As a contrast, the background is painted in dark shades of blue and grey, portraying the gloomy London night sky and industrial cityscape. City sleeps, and so do the people, in their quiet and cozy homes, sitting by the fireplace; chatting or reading. Questions arise: Will she be missed? Will anyone even notice that she’s gone? What will they say when they find her body in the morning? Will anyone’s heart be filled with regret? And yet there’s a star in the sky, could there be hope? Hardly, I’d say.

1859. found - Dante Gabriel RossettiFound, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1859

Subject of ‘fallen women’ was particularly popular in Victorian art and literature, and, I’d have to say it’s a rather compelling subject to write about. As you will see later, many artists such as John Everett Millais, Augustus Egg, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Richard Redgrave decided to portray the sad and hopeless circumstances that tormented those fallen women after their innocence was lost. As expected, moral authority was almost always limited to women, nobody questioned the chastity of men. This is just one of many hypocrisies of Victorian society.

Fallen” was therefore an umbrella term that was applied to a variety of women in a variety of settings: she may have been a woman who had had sex once or habitually outside the confines of marriage; a woman of a lower socio-economic class; a woman who had been raped or seduced by a male aggressor; a woman with a shady reputation; or a prostitute. Furthermore, prostitution was defined in a range of ways and the “reality was that hard economic times meant that for many women, prostitution was the only way to make ends meet. Many … were only transient fallen women, moving in and out of the profession [of prostitution] as family finances dictated.’(*)

Rossetti’s painting ‘Found’ (unfinished) was inspired by fallen women, and he also wrote a poem on that subject:

There is a budding morrow in midnight:’ –
So sang our Keats, our English nightingale.
And here, as lamps across the bridge turn pale
In London’s smokeless resurrection-light,
Dark breaks to dawn. But o’er the deadly blight
Of love deflowered and sorrow of none avail,
Which makes this man gasp and this woman quail,
Can day from darkness ever again take flight?

Ah! gave not these two hearts their mutual pledge,
Under one mantle sheltered ‘neath the hedge
In gloaming courtship? And, O God! today
He only knows he holds her; – but what part
Can life now take? She cries in her locked heart,-
‘Leave me – I do not know you – go away!’

Picture 920The Bridge of Sighs, Sir John Everett Millais, 1858

Millais’ etching truly captured the alienation of the individual in the big city, a sense of hopelessness, while the question of ‘what shall I do next?’ lingers in her mind. Even though its colourless, it holds a certain warmth and vividness; city lights and the bridge seem so lively, the river glitters. Woman’s weary body is tightly wrapped in a shawl, her eyes tired, her face gloomy. A feeling of destitute pervades the atmosphere. She reminds me of Lou Reed’s Femme Fatale: ‘Where shall she go, what shall she do…’ There is no turning back, and yet the future brings nothing but uncertainty. A chance of finding a decent job was unlikely. Fantine, a character from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, is a good example of the poor treatment of fallen women. She was left with a small child, Cosette, after her lover abandoned her. Initially she worked in the factory, but lost her job after everyone found out she is an unwed mother.

For me, Millais’ visual interpretation of Hood’s poem really captured these verses:

Where the lamps quiver
So far in the river,
With many a light
From window and casement,
From garret to basement,
She stood with amazement,
Houseless by night.

The bleak wind of March
Made her tremble and shiver
But not the dark arch,
Or the black flowing river:
Mad from life’s history,
Glad to death’s mystery
Swift to be hurl’d–
Any where, any where
Out of the world!

1879. George Elgar Hicks, On the Seashore,1879George Elgar Hicks, On the Seashore, 1879

The lady above is undoubtedly facing completely different problems and dilemmas than the unfortunate woman in Millais’ etching or Hood’s poem. Her gown is black, but opulent, her hair lush and restless, her gaze wistful. All together she seems groomed and proper, on her face life has not yet left any traces of sadness and disappointment, everything awaits her, unlike Millais’ heroine who was forced to encounter the ‘real world’.

Augustus Egg’s triptych ‘Past and Present’, 1858, shows the downfall of a bourgeois family, the effects of adultery not only for the ‘guilty’ woman but for the children as well, and the whole reputation of the family. Third painting, Past and Present, No. 3, Despair’, is the most interesting one because it shows the same motifs as Found Drowned by George Frederic Watts. Woman, who had played he cards wrongly, now sits under the bridge, and, helpless and alone, oh, completely alone, gazes at the moon, as if expecting salvation from the stars. One wrong step gambled away her future. Was it worth it?, she asks herself, but the night doesn’t respond. All is silent, and Thames is asleep. The scene again leads me to Hood’s poem:

Whilst wonderment guesses
Where was her home?

Who was her father?
Who was her mother?
Had she a sister?
Had she a brother?
Or was there a dearer one
Still, and a nearer one
Yet, than all other?

Alas! for the rarity
Of Christian charity
Under the sun!
Oh! it was pitiful!
Near a whole city full,
Home she had none.

1858. Augustus Leopold Egg, 'Past and Present, No. 1, Misfortune'Augustus Leopold Egg, ‘Past and Present, No. 1, Misfortune’, 1858

Past and Present, No. 2 1858 by Augustus Leopold Egg 1816-1863Augustus Leopold Egg, ‘Past and Present, No. 2, Prayer’, 1858

Past and Present, No. 3 1858 by Augustus Leopold Egg 1816-1863Augustus Leopold Egg, ‘Past and Present, No. 3, Despair’, 1858

1851. Richard Redgrave - The Outcast Richard Redgrave – The Outcast, 1851

Edgar Degas – ‘Little Dancer of Fourteen Years’

26 Nov

At the 6th Impressionist Exhibition in 1881. Edgar Degas astonished everyone by presenting a sculpture. Previously he had just painted ballerinas, but now he choose to captivate the movement of a dancer in wax, an unusual medium at the time. Opinions varied; some critics decried its ‘appalling ugliness‘ while others saw in it a ‘blossoming‘. Still, this statuette is perhaps Degas’ most controversial work.

1879. The Little Fourteen–Year–Old Dancer - Edgar Degas 4

It was the first and the only time during Degas’ lifetime that the sculpture was exhibited. Extraordinary realism of the statuette surprised the critics, but the little dancer was considered ugly.

Degas made the statuette from wax and painted it so lifelike with real hair and clothes, and he even tied her hair with a ribbon, given to him by the model. Today you can see the bronze copies of a statuette, but although beautiful, they’re not as spooky, revolutionary or lifelike as the original, hand painted, wax ballerina must have seemed. Model for the dancer was a young Belgian girl, a typical ‘Petits Rat‘, a fourteen year old student of the Paris Opera Ballet named Marie van Goethem. Her family came to Paris in the early 1860s from Belgium. Marie, born in 1865, had an older sister Antoinette and a younger one named Charlotte. Both Marie and Charlotte were accepted into the dance school of the Paris Opéra in 1878, where Antoinette was employed as an extra. In 1880 Marie passed the examination admitting her to the corps de ballet of the Paris Opera Ballet and made her debut on the stage in ‘La Korrigane’.

Van Goethem family moved very frequently; from a stone apartment building on ‘Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette’ called ‘Place Bréda’, near Degas’s studio on ‘Rue Saint-Georges’, the family settled on ‘Rue de Douai’, on the lower slopes of Montmartre, a few blocks from ‘Rue Fontaine’ where Degas’ studio was located at the time. The Breda district in which that had previously lived was very poor and one of the most squalid areas for prostitution. As most ‘Petits Rats‘, Marie came from a poor and disreputable family. Various rumours circulated about her behavior. Some considered her sloppy and vulgar. Still, for Degas who frequently attended ballet performances at the Paris Opera and observed classes in dance school, Marie was a useful model. She would pop around in Degas’ studio and sit for him for four hours. She had beautiful long hair which she was very proud of, and when she danced, she would stick up her chin so that her hair would fall down her back. This particular pose can be seen in other Degas’ paintings she posed for. However, the position Degas required from Marie is very difficult and unnatural; he’d pull her hands at the back and tell her to stick her chin even higher. Even her feat are in a weird position. The arms are taut and the legs are twisted, a ballerina herself is presented differently than accepted, this is not an angelic pose which would be usual and approved.

1879. The Little Fourteen–Year–Old Dancer - Edgar Degas 3

1879. The Little Fourteen–Year–Old Dancer - Edgar Degas 5

1879. The Little Fourteen–Year–Old Dancer - Edgar Degas 2

Some Degas’ contemporaries praised the originality and modern approach of the statuette. Joris-Karl Huysmans called it ‘the first truly modern attempt at sculpture I know’. However, most of the critics were very cruel not only towards the statuette, but to the little dancer as well. Certain critics compared the dancer to a monkey and ot Aztecs. One critic, Paul Mantz, called her the ‘flower of precocious depravity‘, with a face ‘marked by the hateful promise of every vice‘ and ‘bearing the signs of a profoundly heinous character.‘ Degas had exhibited the sculpture inside a glass case, and the audience reported that is looked like a medical specimen.

Marie’s career as a ballerina ended soon after. She had skipped too many classes and at the end of 1881. taverns have replaced the dance stage. Her later whereabouts are unknown, as is any information about her death. An article in L’Evénement, which preceded the dismissal by two months, reported ‘Miss van Goeuthen—fifteen years old, has an older sister who is an extra at the Opera and a younger sister in the Opera dance school—consequently she frequents the Martyrs Tavern and the Rat Mort.‘ Once a gracious model to Degas, Marie stumbled in life. Still, she modeled not only for this famous statuette, but for many other Degas’ artworks such as ‘Dancer with Fan‘, ‘Dancing Lesson‘, ‘Dancer Resting‘ and many preparatory sketches.

1873. The Dance Class by Edgar Degas 1873-76. The Dance Class by Edgar Degas (You can see the proud Marie in the foreground; with a yellow ribbon in her beautiful long hair and chin raised high.)

1879. Dancer with a Fan - Edgar Degas1879. Dancer with a Fan – Edgar Degas

1880. Dancer with a Fan - Degas1880. Dancer with a Fan – Degas

1879. Dancer Resting - Degas1879. Dancer Resting – Degas