Tag Archives: Decadence

Magical Nocturnal World of Federico Beltran Masses

27 Dec

Deep midnight blues, cold and distant femmes fatales entranced by the melodies from afar, silver stars and guitars, hints of Spanish folklore, aloof guitar players with closed eyes, luscious full red lips, shining golden fabrics, nocturnal somnambulist atmosphere; welcome to the magical worlds of Federico Beltran Masses and Federico Lorca.

1925. Federico Beltrán Massés ‘Carnaval’ ca.1925. Federico Beltrán Massés, Carnaval, ca.1925

I think that the visual companion to the magical world that Federico Lorca has created in his poems, particularly those from his poetry collection ‘Gypsy Ballads’ (1928), can be found in paintings of Federico Beltan Masses, not just because they are both Spanish and are named Federico, but because the mood, poetic images, and characters from Lorca’s poetry all found their way in Masses’ paintings. Although Beltran wasn’t officially inspired by Lorca, I feel that their wellspring of inspiration is somewhat similar; it’s deeply rooted in Spanish tradition, and similar motifs occur in their poems/paintings, such as moon, nocturnal atmosphere, guitar. In Lorca’s poetic world, passion is the initiator of everything, and the atmosphere rises to that of immense ecstasy and beauty, somnambulism, enchantment, and the feeling of trance and being utterly lost in time and space.

1920s-federico-beltran-mases-the-venetian-sistersFederico Beltran Mases, The Venetian Sisters, 1920

Lorca’s perception of the word was more sensual and passionate than rational, and his poems are the result of his deep experiences of the life of Spain, its landscapes and its people. He was inspired by tradition, but he leaned to avant-garde, and he is usually associated with Surrealism. As you’ll see further on, his poems are often based on metaphors and symbols, and are very musical and acoustic, because he enjoyed works of Chopin, Debussy and Beethoven, and perhaps subconsciously inter weaved his poems with this charming musicality. Characters in Beltran’s paintings often seem entranced by some melodies that we cannot hear, but are pervading their nocturnal landscapes painted in deep shades of blue that often appears blackish with a few silver stars in the sky.

1934-federico-beltran-masses-tres-para-uno-c-1934-oil-on-canvas-98-x-100-cmFederico Beltran Masses, Tres Para Uno (Three For One), c. 1934

In ‘Tres Para Uno’ a tanned gentleman entertains three ladies with a guitar while the gondolas sway dreamily in midnight water of the silent Venice that sleeps in the background. ‘Three maidens of silver’ with pale, ghostly, almost greyish complexions, shiny sensual red lips and large elongated eyes. Something about their appearance frightens me, especially the woman on the right, with a grey streak in her hair. Beltran modelled her on his wife. All four seem strange, like vampires, wondering through the lonely streets of Venice at night, half-drugged half-mad, searching for a victim to entrance with their dead-cold gazes and melodies from the guitar.

Guitar as a symbol leads me again to Lorca and his poem ‘Riddle of the Guitar’:

At the round

crossroads,

six maidens

dance.

Three of flesh,

three of silver.

The dreams of yesterday search for them,

but they are held embraced

by a Polyphemus of gold.

The guitar!

1920-luisa-casati-federico-beltran-massesLuisa Casati, Federico Beltrán Masses, Luisa Casati, 1920

Beltran Masses loved painting at night, and the story goes that Luisa Casati, a rich and extravagant Italian heiress once turned up in his studio in Venice and demanded that to be painted instantly, he indulged her happily. Nocturnal setting is present in most of his paintings, and this specific dreamy, dark, sensual blue is often called ‘Beltran blue’, because it pervades his canvases. Imagine a world where night would rule, with moon and stars – that would be really magical. Notice the attention Beltran places on details such as the shine of Casati’s dress.

Beltran was popular amongst Hollywood actresses and actors, but his popularity unfortunately waned when the World War II broke out; that’s because that world of glamour, decadence and frivolity disappeared over night. Some have drawn parallels between Beltran and Kees van Dongen; both painted glamorous worlds of rich people, but van Dongen was a Fauvist and his style of painting is more stylised.

1932-passion-by-federico-beltran-masses-1885-1949Federico Beltran Masses (1885–1949), Passion, 1932

Neither Lorca nor Beltran presented the real world in their poems and paintings, but a nocturnal fantasy, led by passions, enchantments, moonwalking, ecstasy… In Passion we can see that famed Venice gracing the background. In all of Beltran’s paintings there’s a sense of escapism, whether through dreams and fantasy, eating exotic fruit, listening to sounds of guitar, surrounded with pretty women, riding a gondola through Venice and daydreaming about elegance and luxury.

And now for the end, Lorca’s guitar again:

The Six Strings

The guitar
makes dreams weep.
The sobbing of lost
souls
escapes through its round
mouth.
And like the tarantula
it spins a large star
to trap the sighs
floating in its black,
wooden water tank.‘ (*)

1920s-pola-negri-and-rudolf-valentino-by-federico-beltran-masses-1885-1949Pola Negri and Rudolf Valentino by Federico Beltran Masses (1885–1949), 1920s

Franz Stuck: Dark Female Figures in a World of Anxiety and Lust

6 Sep

If you gaze at dark and richly textured paintings of a German Symbolist painter Franz Stuck for too long, you become spiritually drowned in a world of ‘anxiety and lust’, to quote Carl Jung. That peculiar mood of his paintings is as intoxicating as it is heavy and suffocating, radiating the typical turn of the century claustrophobia and interest in eroticism.

1903. The Sin (Die Sünde) - Franz Stuck

Franz Stuck, The Sin (Die Sünde), 1903

Last August, while I was in Berlin, I had a chance to see Stuck’s The Sin and Circe in Alte Nationalgalerie where they are part of the museum’s permanent collection. I remember it clearly, the feeling of being completely and fully mesmerised by hypnotic power of Stuck’s vamp femme fatales; dark eyed Eve luring from the shadow, and Circe, clad in purple, offering a gold cup, and smiling lustfully with moist, half-open lips. The day was rainy and gloomy, the chamber quiet and solitary because most visitors chose to see the Im-Ex exhibition that was on at the time. Even in the middle of the day, painting The Sin seemed frightening and grandiose because of its dimensions, but how magical and sinister at the same time would it look at night, with a few tall candles as only sources of light, shining in brilliant Byzantine golden flames, and a sofa you could lie on, smoke opium and immerse into dreams, watched upon by those big, darkly oriental eyes. I think that kind of experience would be the closest to an acid trip I could possibly imagine.

If you observe Stuck’s oeuvre, you’ll notice that darkness, like heavy November fog, lurks from every corner. World that he created in his paintings is a mythical one, where anxiety and erotic fantasies emerge from every canvas. Sometimes his paintings, just like those of Edvard Munch, can be a tad difficult to digest, at least for me, as they seem to lurk the viewer to the end of the cliff; first to be amazed, and then – to fall. I feel emotionally drained and ill after looking at them for too long, that’s the power of art for you all. Stuck portrays the dark side of mythology and female dominance and images that arise from his artworks are those of suffering and agony, twisted bodies, murky colours and strong contrasts, and ever popular in Symbolism, figures of wicked and possessive femme fatales.

So, what exactly is the true subject of his art, the spiritual fall of the Western society of his own secret Freudian fantasies?

Stu-04-NatGalFranz Stuck, Tilla Durieux as Circe, c. 1913

Stuck painted the subject of Eve’s sin and the consequent Fall of Humanity many times. The version I’ve put here, from 1903, isn’t the most striking, but it is the one I saw. In The Sin, Eve looks directly at the viewer, ironically smiling. Her sickly white, yet robust body emerges from the dark background. Two large, dark, protruding almond shaped eyes resemble those of Luisa Casati, an extravagant Italian heiress and a great example of fin de sicle decadency in lifestyle. A garishly green shadow hides her face. Framed with masses of Rossettian hair so dark it seems to have been woven from darkness itself. And then, as if the painting wasn’t unsettling enough, you notice the snake wrapped around Eve’s body, with thin piercing pupils and purplish skin that distinguishes it from the pervading darkness. If you don’t move your eyes, it will draw you in too.

Circe is visually brighter, painted in three vibrant colours; auburn for the hair, dark yellow with hints of olive brown for the cup, and lastly – purple, like dried larkspur flowers. Three colours against the pitch dark background and again, that strange sickly pale skin, were enough to uplift the mood of the painting. In body sculpting, Stuck slightly reminds me of Burne-Jones. Look at her purple tunic that sensuously falls, then her earrings and the luminous cup. Who wouldn’t be tempted to drink from it, even if the price was entering the kingdom of death and running into the arms of Persephone, a fellow mythological creature that played around with fin de siecle imagination. Stuck’s Circe reminds me of silent film stars of 1920s, such as Theda Bara and Pola Negri, who often played roles of vamp femme fatales.

Brian Jones – A Rock ‘n’ Roll Dandy

11 Oct

Brian Jones; an eccentric, decadent, creative, fashionable, extravagant and intelligent person was the soul of The Rolling Stones. As much as he was famous for his musical accomplishments and visionary ideas regarding The Stones, Brian Jones had a peculiar fashion style, and became a style icon of the 1960s as important as Marianne Faithfull, Twiggy, Pattie Boyd or Jane Birkin were.

1960s brian jones 6

Brian Jones seems to have stood out even in his teens. His fair locks, wide smile, mysterious gaze, perfect manners, romantic charm and attentive conversation all made him loveable with the girls. It’s not a secret that he loved them too, having had his first child aged only seventeen. Brian was a complex individual never the less, Bill Wyman remembers “There were two Brian’s… one was introverted, shy, sensitive, deep-thinking… the other was a preening peacock, gregarious, artistic, desperately needing assurance from his peers… he pushed every friendship to the limit and way beyond”. If it wasn’t for the introverted, deep-thinking side we might wouldn’t of had all the original sounds and ideas that shaped the band and made it popular, and still, if it wasn’t for his artistic, arrogant and swaggering side, I wouldn’t be here writing about the amazing fashion style he had!

A rebel even as a child, Brian successfully defied his parents in every aspect; his numerous romances and offspring, musical ambitions, the way he behaved, dressed, even cut his hair all made his parents angry, but hey, that was the intention. He certainly didn’t let others dictate his life. Highly intelligent, Brian passed two A-levels and seven O-levels and with the slightest effort he would excel academically, but even with the alleged 133 IQ, Brian blew it all away, and replaced the boring schoolwork with rock ‘n’ roll. I’m most obligated for that, and I’m sure the history of rock ‘n’ roll is too.

1960s brian jones 1

Though eccentric and eye-catching, Brian’s fashion style wasn’t as peculiar from the beginning. In the period 1963-65. he mostly wore striped Mod tailored suits and fairly neat bowl haircut. Even then, in those stiff and ordinary ‘Beatles’ style suits, usually worn by all the group members, Brian stood out with his  engaging smile, arrogant gaze and dandy-esque hairstyle. As the years went on, and the mod scene slowly waned in favor of more original, more daring and eclectic style inspired by Psychedelia, Brian’s style changed and evolved too. The change is the most visible in the haircut; blonde locks became more untamed and longer. The trousers became tighter, the boots bigger and the black-white geometric prints dictated by Mod style were discarded in favour of colours, paisleys, floral print, oriental scarfs combined with crimson coloured velvet Victorian inspired blouses plus plenty of jewellery on top.

Antique dealer and Brian’s friend, Christopher Gibbs, remembers ”Brian did absolutely love dressing up (…) He had a tremendous lot of clothes and spent an awful amount of time preparing himself for late-night forays into the clubs.”

1960s brian jones 7

Despite Brian’s numerous affairs, the love of his life seems to have been nobody else but Anita Pallenberg; half Italian half German rock chick, as eccentric, as daring, as decadent and every bit as impulsive and tempestuous as Brian himself. Their relationship was turbulent and ardent for the most of its course, and yet the two lovers were more similar to each other than they could possibly imagine. Their fashion style was very similar too, with Anita having almost the same hairstyle as Brian. Now remembered as one of the iconic 1960s couples, Anita and Brian met in Munchen on 14th September 1965. when Anita approached Brian after a gig offering him a joint which he gladly accepted. They started talking and a few months later they could be seen together swanning around London in Brian’s Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, purchased from George Harrison. They moved into a sumptuously decorated flat at 1 Courtfield Road, South Kensington, which was, after their holiday in Morrocco the following year, embellished even more by rich fabrics and embroideries brought from there.

Embodiment of unconventional and eccentricity, Brian Jones indulged himself ever since his position in the band degraded. He entered fully into a life of debauchery, surrendering to the rock ‘n’ roll decadency. He became a ‘playboy prince’, an eccentric, somewhat arrogant and impulsive dandy, befriended art dealers and film directors, and started hanging out with rock elite, never hesitating to indulge his whims, no matter how eccentric they might be. Jones’ biographer wrote ‘Together they forged a revolutionary androgynous look, keeping their clothes together, mixing and matching not only fabrics and patterns, but cultures and even centuries. Jones would parade the streets of London wearing a Victorian lace shirt, floppy turn-of-the-century hat, Edwardian velvet frock coat, multi-coloured suede boots, accessorised scarves hanging from his neck, waist and legs along with lots of antique Berber jewellery.’

Music Personalities. pic: circa 1967. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones group with one time girl friend, Swedish actress Anita Pallenberg.

1960s brian jones and anita pallenberg 5

1960s brian jones and anita pallenberg 2

1960s brian jones and anita pallenberg 6

Marianne Faithfull also remembers some of the extravaganzas of the couple when it came to style:

One of the best things about visiting Anita and Brian was watching them get ready to go out. What a scene! They were both dauntless shoppers and excessively vain. Hours and hours were spent putting on clothes and taking them off again. Heaps of scarves, hats, shirts and boots flew out of drawers and trunks. Unending trying on of outfits, primping and sashaying. They were beautiful, they were the spitting image of each other and not an ounce of modesty existed between two of them. I would sit mesmerised for hours, watching them preening in the mirror, trying on each other’s clothes. All roles and gender would evaporate in these narcissistic performances, where Anita would turn Brian into the Sun King, Francoise Hardy or the mirror image of herself.”

Brian Jones’ wardrobe was transformed almost over night. There was no place for the clean cut tailored suits and striped black-white trousers with modest details that evoked the Mod spirit of the mid ’60s anymore. No more was it ‘Paint it black’; paint it in colours would be the new motto. Hippie psychedelic decadency has by 1965. took its place; crimson velvet, tightly fitted jackets, fur coats, trousers with floral print, fur waistcoats, ethnic jewellery, abundance of rings, necklaces, floppy hats, big boots…

1960s brian jones and anita pallenberg 3

However, the progress of his fashion style went hand in hand with his destructive behavior. He sank deeply into the rock and roll decadence, indulging in alcohol and drugs, particularly LSD. Resentful and exhausted, he drove around London in his black Rolls Royce with the number plait DD666, the DD apparently standing for Devil’s Disciple. Strung out, betrayed, weakened and assailed by his asthma attacks, bored and withered, his song-writing and music composing talents slowly waned. His role in the band was pretty much reduced to adding exotic elements to the already existing songs.

Brian Jones, although arrogant, impulsive, gregarious and charismatic young man with Byron like quality when it came to romances, was still a very important figure not only in forming The Rolling Stones, but in the Rock and Roll scene and the development of the 1960s Swinging London culture in general. Remembered today for the mystery surrounding his death as much as for his crucial role in the music scene, Brian J0nes, the man who played every instrument and had any girl he desired, was as eccentric as he was intelligent. His life was as wild and glamorous as it was short, filled with unimaginable decadence, drugs, beautiful music, arts, party, clothes, sex and women. Brian Jones is a symbol of the 1960s, a decade he ruled and sadly died with.