Tag Archives: courtesan

Kyōsai Kawanabe – Hell Courtesan – She’s a Maneater

10 Mar

“She’ll only come out at nightThe lean and hungry typeNothing is new, I’ve seen her here beforeWatching and waiting…

Money’s the matterIf you’re in it for loveYou ain’t gonna get too far
Watch out boy she’ll chew you upShe’s a maneater…”

Kyōsai Kawanabe, Hell Courtesan, 1874, colour woodcut

I usually appreciate the Japanese ukiyo-e prints because of their innovative compositions, or because of their sense of calmness or contemplation, but in this woodcut by Kyosai Kawanabe called “Hell Courtesan” it is definitely this strange and creepy mood that lured me and keeps luring me to gaze at it again and again. I mean, just the title alone, “Hell Courtesan”, yes – I want to see a painting by that name, absolutely. The visuals of this woodcut justify its title. “Hell Courtesan” shows an evil, blood-thirsty courtesan sleeping and dreaming, and the space around her represents her dreams. There is no need for a small crimson letter to be stiched onto her dress, for she is a walking ‘crimson letter’, wrapped in a fetching red robe. Even the King of Hell is seen peeking from the lower part of it. Looking at his crazy protruding eyes and a grimace on his blood red face, I am scared indeed; I certainly would not want to be dreaming of him, but in comparison to the King of Hell, this courtesan is even scarier and all the skeletons in the background are a living, no wait, a dead, proof of that. The skeletons might be seen as representitive of all of her victims. Perhaps for some murderers, to dream of their victims would be a nightmare, but to this courtesan it is a pleasant, fun almost, dream.

As it goes with old tales, the story about Hell Courtesan or “Jigoku Dayu” has many variations but generally it is said that the courtesan lived once upon a time in the pleasure quarters of old Japan and that she was very beautiful but also very cruel. She was wicked to everyone around her; her servants, fellow courtesans and even her clients. When she died suddenly one day the King of Hell forced her to wear an outer-kimono which was made out of all the souls of hell which were being tortured by the demons, and this was to be a constant reminder to her of how badly she had treated others when she was still alive. The skeletons seem rather jolly; the are dancing, laughing, joking and drinking, it’s a whole party going on there!

Kyosai Kawanabe has been called “the painting demon” and also “the last virtuoso of Japanese art”, well he certainly had a wild imagination as you can see in this woodblock. There is almost a sense of humour present in his work and skeleton do appear in his other artworks as well. Now that I think of it, his macabre spirit makes me think of James Ensor’s paintings. But now, to end a post, here is a song that kept reminding me of the painting, by Daryl Hall and John Oates called “Maneater”:

She’ll only come out at nightThe lean and hungry typeNothing is new, I’ve seen her here beforeWatching and waitingOoh, she’s sitting with you but her eyes are on the doorSo many have paid to seeWhat you think you’re getting for freeThe woman is wild, a she-cat tamed by the purr of a JaguarMoney’s the matterIf you’re in it for loveYou ain’t gonna get too far
Watch out boy she’ll chew you up(Oh here she comes)She’s a maneater(Oh here she comes)Watch out boy she’ll chew you up(Oh here she comes)She’s a maneater
I wouldn’t if I were youI know what she can doShe’s deadly man, she could really rip your world apartMind over matterOoh, the beauty is there but a beast is in the heart…

Miroslav Kraljević – Olympia (Homage to Manet)

15 Sep

A few months ago I wrote a post about the Croatian painter Miroslav Kraljević’s Parisian phase (1911-12) and today let us take a look at one particular painting from that phase called “Olympia” (1912). It is a direct homage to Edouard Manet’s controversial female nude “Olympia” (1863). Decades later, a painter from a provincial Austro-Hungary (now modern Croatia) had been so inspired by Manet’s painting that he had to paint his rendition of it. This just goes to show the immense influence of Manet on modern art.

Miroslav Kraljević, (Great Female Nude) Olympia, 1912

In 1911, after having spent awhile studying abroad in Munich where he had encountered the newest trends in art, the Croatian painter Miroslav Kraljević was back home in a town called Požega. In the peaceful and idylic small-town environment, Kraljević painted many self-portraits and landscapes, but still he was restless, perhaps slightly claustrophobic as well, and there was something his heart desired, a shiny red apple of sin he wanted to grab from the branch and sink his teeth into; Paris, with its vivacity, art, and the bright lights. He turned his fantasies into a reality in September 1911 when he travelled to Paris; the it place for an artist. He had been looking forward to seeing the works of the finest French painters, especially those of Edouard Manet. Apart from museums and galleries, Kraljević visited parks, cafes, bistroes and infamous places such as Moulin Rouge. As appropriate for the city he found himself in, his favourite motif in his Parisian phase was – the woman, more often than not nude or wearing very little clothes. And of course, as a hommage to his idol, Kraljević painted his own “Olympia” in 1912.

Female nude has been a popular motif in art for a long time, but when Edouard Manet painted his nude Olympia, it was seen as brash and shocking to the audience and critics. Why? Well, firstly because Manet didn’t bother to dress his painting up in mythology and allegory, and secondly because of the manner in which he painted her; realistic rather than idealised and highly eroticised. Inspired by Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” (1532-34), Manet’s Olympia is visibly less sensuous and inviting. She looks like a dull, flat, paper doll. In fact, she looks uninterested, as if she’s saying “oh, it’s you again, ah well…” Olympia isn’t a Roman goddess that every man would desire, she is a realistic looking courtesan that was well-known to Parisian men of the upper classes. Manet stirred the waters of Parisian society by directly pointing out the hypocrisy and serving some hot realism on a platter.

Kraljević’s Olympia is equally pale and uninterested, looking directly in the viewer, without a trace of shame or shyness. She doesn’t have a waterfall of long, golden hair to sensually cover her nudity like a Baroque martyr would. Nope, she is flaunting her body, but, just like Manet’s Olympia, she is wearing dainty slippers; God forbid some madman with a foot fetish gets a thrill from looking at her feet, oh no. Kraljević painted her pale flesh in the same way he had approached his earlier portraits, with more visible brushstrokes and a sense of volume than Manet had done it. Around her are a few vibrant coloured cushions and we can see a bouquet of purple flowers on the right, echoing the flowers that the servant is presenting to Olympia, most likely a gift from a client. Colours in Kraljević’s painting are more warm and muted, which makes it seem more like a budoir scene whereas Manet’s painting shows Olympia as a doll in the shop-window. I wonder what Manet would have thought of this homage?…

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863