Tag Archives: Ballet

Cleo de Merode: A Portrait of a Moon Child by Giovanni Boldini

27 Sep

September is nearing its end, it’s the 27th already, and it is also the birth date of Cleo de Merode, the famous French Belle Epoque dancer and beauty.

1901. Cleo de Merode by BoldiniGiovanni Boldini, Cleo de Merode, 1901

La Belle Epoque dancer and a famous beauty Cleo de Merode was born in Paris on 27 September 1875, in times just after the Franco-Prussian war, when the Impressionists were chatting, quarrelling and sketching in Parisian cafes. Her full name, Cléopatra Diane de Mérode, seems to have been made for a star.

It is my opinion that Cleo was equal in beauty and fame to Brigitte Bardot, a fellow French femme fatale. Both studied ballet from an early age, both possessed beauty and charm appealing to the age they lived in, both had numerous affairs interesting to the public eye, and they share a zodiac sign – Libra, Cleo being born on the 27th and Bardot on the 28th September. Although Brigitte Bardot acted in many films, her popularity throughout Europe in the Swinging Sixties was more due to her beauty, lifestyle and sex appeal. Likewise, beautiful Cleo – with oval face framed with masses of thick endlessly long and shiny raven black hair, almond shaped dark exotic eyes – often appeared on postcards, posters and playing cards. Men lusted after her, and women were envious of her bold fashion and lifestyle choices. One of it being the choice of hairstyle, which you’ll see in the photos below. Instead of wearing her hair up like every decent woman would do at the time, Cleo wore her hair down, decorated with a jewelled hairpiece. I found a similar look in a September 1968 drawing ‘Moon Shiny’ for the Baby Doll cosmetics. Whenever I see a photo of Cleo (and I do see it a lot since it’s on my bedroom wall) I instantly think of that sixties cosmetics add and that’s why I decided to put the ‘Moon Child’ in the title. For me, Cleo is the Moon Child of La Belle Epoque.

Her face, if not beautiful by today’s standards, is striking to say the least, more so in the photos than in the painting by Giovanni Boldini. Boldini was the painter of La Belle Epoque. He painted duchesses, courtesans-turned-actresses, beauties and really everyone who could afford his portrait services. Still, out of all his portraits, this one was stuck in my mind for a year now. I like Cleo’s dynamic pose, her sensual nude shoulder, her blue ring and the face expression, so confident, so aware of its own charms. Notice the typical Boldini brushstrokes: swift, dynamic – passionate expression of the moment of creation.

And now a bit of psychedelic music I’ve been listening to a lot this month, The Zodiac by Cosmic Sounds – Libra:The Flower Child for beautiful Cleo:

Libra listens and quietly sings,

gently peeling each yellow note.

 

Beauty lives within an eye of jade.

Venus contemplates a serene flower,

the color of an hour

of love.

1905. Cleo de Merode by NadarCleo de Merode by Nadar, 1905

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Baby Doll ‘Moon Shiny’, 1968

1895-cleo-de-merode-danseuse-et-icone-de-beaute-francaise-1875-1966-photographie-de-reutlinger-paris-1 1895-cleo-de-merode-danseuse-et-icone-de-beaute-francaise-1875-1966-photographie-de-reutlinger-paris

1895-cleo-de-merode-danseuse-et-icone-de-beaute-francaise-1875-1966-photographie-de-reutlinger-paris-2

1890s-cleo-de-merode-18 1890s-cleo-de-merode-11 1895-cleo-de-merode-photographiee-par-charles-ogerau 1903-cleo-de-merode

 

Alexander Golovin’s Costume designs for ‘The Firebird’ (1910)

14 Feb

Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird was written for the 1910 season of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. Premiered on 25 June 1910, it was an instant success. The Firebird was one of the three ballets composed for Ballets Russes by Stravinsky, along with Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). It was based on a story from Slavic folklore about a magical Firebird – a bird that can be both a curse and a blessing to its owner. Although the bird is described as having glowing eyes, feathers ‘brightly emitting red, orange, and yellow light, like a bonfire that is just past the turbulent flame'(*), in  Stravinsky’s ballet, the creature is half-woman, half-bird. Most of the costumes were designed by Alexander Golovin, but some were done by Leon Bakst. Diaghilev also said that ‘Art… is important only as an expression of creator’s personality‘.

This page here has a lot of pictures of costumes, dancers etc. for Ballet Russes, in chronological order! I was mesmerised for hours after seeing all those gorgeous costumes and illustrations. I read somewhere this phrase which best sums up the greatness and importance of Ballet Russes: ‘Serge Diaghilev – The man who introduced the world to the beauty and originality of Russian culture.‘A few more pages about this ballet: here, here. I originally found the pictures on a tumblr called russian-style.

Edgar Degas – Star of the Ballet

9 Jul

Edgar Degas is my favourite Impressionist painter. He’d probably turn in his grave if he knew I called him an Impressionist because he hated the term, preferring to call himself a ‘Realist’ or ‘Independent’. I’ve written about him only once, but I adore his work so much that I don’t even feel the need to express how deeply I admire and love his ballerinas and theatre scenes.

1878. Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers by degas1878 Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers (Star of the Ballet)

Degas’ name in art is almost inseparable with ballerinas, in the same way that Monet’s name is inseparable with waterlilies or the Sainte-Victoire mountain with Cezanne. Degas started painting ballerinas and subjects connected to ballet around 1870 when his family bankrupted. These paintings were appealing to the audience and possible buyers.

Painting Star of the Ballet is not my favourite Degas’ painting but it’s certainly very interesting. The paintings shows the ‘star of the ballet’ as the title suggests during her solo-performance on an empty stage. Other ballerinas can be seen peeking behind the curtains. The star is finishing her dance movement which Degas captured very accurately; one leg is visible, her hands are elegantly harmonised, and her head is slightly inclined to her right. One feels that one is truly witnessing this beautiful passing moment, and Degas highlighted this dynamic and fleeting mood even more by painting the skirt so fluttering, and the plush black bow around her neck flying around. The ballerina is placed in the right corner of the canvas, while the empty part of the stage occupies the largest part. This interesting asymmetry of the composition (all due to Degas’ interest in Japanese art) only enhances the sense of this fleeting moment. Still, her movement seems strangely frozen at the same time. Like the characters on Keats’ Grecian urn, the ballerina cannot travel through time, it even seems like she’s going to fall because of the lopsidedness of the composition. Degas hasn’t painted the duration of the movement, but rather the ‘eternity’ of the captured movement. His ballerina is eternally incomplete, her leg is invisible due to the dance position, and she’s balancing on the other leg like a flower.

The model for the painting was a very popular nineteenth century ballerina of Catalan origin – Rosita Mauri, famous for her ballet skills, her beauty and fierce temper. She captured the attention of many artists of the day. Degas’ brush is not the only one in Paris that wanted to capture her gracefulness on canvas, other painters such as Edouard Manet, Auguste Renoir and Leon Comerre painted her too. She even caught the attention of the symbolis poet Stéphane Mallarmé with her performance in Andre Messager’s ballet Les Deux Pigeons. He wrote he was impressed with her ‘ritualistic animality’ because she performed the lead role with her long black hair loose.