Tag Archives: erotic

Book Review: The Final Mist by María Luisa Bombal

13 Aug

I already wrote a book review about the wonderful novel “The Shrouded Woman” by María Luisa Bombal, and now I feel that I must also mention her other novel “The Final Mist” (La última niebla) first published in 1934 when Bombal was only twenty-four years old.

Just like Bombal’s already mentioned novel “The Shrouded Woman”, the story is told in the first person by a young woman called Regina who had just gotten married to Daniel. The newlyweds are arriving to Daniel’s country house. From the beginning the atmosphere is mysterious and eerie, maybe slightly sinister too because his first deceased wife is mentioned:

“The previous night’s storm had removed the shingles from the roof of the old country house. When we arrived the rain was dripping into all of the rooms. (…)
As a matter of fact, ever since the car had crossed the boundary of the farm Daniel had become nervous, and almost hostile. It was to be expected. Hardly a year ago, he had made the same journey with his first wife; that sullen, weak girl he adored, who would die unexpectedly hardly three months later. But now there is something like apprehension in the way he examines me from head to foot. It is the same hostile expression with which he always looks at any stranger.
“What are you doing?” I ask him.
“I am looking at you,” he answers. “I am looking at you, because I know you too well…”

The narrator is clear that their marriage isn’t one of love and adoration but one of practicality; she was afraid of becoming an old spinster and she wanted a better life. They start living together in that unkempt sad country house, but they mostly spend time apart and rarely make love. The shadow of his first wife’s death is hanging over them and the enveloping fog is sucking their souls and energy. The motif of the first wife and the film noir atmosphere kind of reminded me of Daphne du Maurier’s novel and film “Rebecca”. The strange atmosphere is kind of similar. Also, just like Flaubert’s provincial heroine Emma Bovary, the narrator is bored, disillusioned and unloved, yet still romantic and prone to dreaming. In dreary autumnal weather she is silently and slowly sinking in the countryside boredom. She is constantly making remarks about her youth, beauty and joy fading forever. But, one night she goes for a walk and meets a stranger who takes her by the hand and leads her into a grand old house where they make love passionately. This adventure makes her feel alive and its memory helps her to endure all the other disillusionment of life.

The central point of the novel is the struggle between dreams and reality; the narrator, just like Anais Nin in her diaries, tries to escape her trivial loveless existence through dreams, fantasies, make beliefs and her cold and distant husband is the first one to shove truth into her face. Did she really get lost in the mist that night and met that man, or was it all just another dream that she uses as a defense against reality’s blows that she cannot bear. The element of fog isn’t here simply to indicate the state of weather, as if perhaps might be in some English novel where people are keen to discuss the weather, no here it sort of stands as a symbol for the portal to the world of dreams. The heroine escapes into fog and the reality ceases to exist. There is also an erotic element that lingers throughout the novel which is also present in “The Shrouded Woman” but here the sensuality is even more emphasised, and it sadly belongs to the world of dreams and not reality for the narrator. Bombal’s writing is full of beautiful imagery, sights, sounds, emotions, acute perceptions and it’s very feminine in a way that Regina’s longing and desperation and boredom are very feminine, I think only a woman can experience them in that particular way… Here are some beautiful quotes:

Every day the fog gets thicker and thicker around the house. It has now covered the trees whose branches brush against the edge of the terrace. Last night I dreamed that, through the cracks of the doors and windows, the fog was slowly leaking into my room, diminishing the color of the walls and the furniture, filtering into my hair, and sticking to my body, as it dissipates everything, absolutely everything…

The years pass by. I look at myself in the mirror, and I see myself with clearly noticeable little wrinkles that only showed when I laugh before. My breasts are losing their roundness and the consistency of a ripe fruit. My flesh is stuck to my bones, and I no longer look slim, but angular. But, what does it matter? What does it matter that my body withers, if it has known love? What does it matter that the years go by, all the same? I had a beautiful adventure, once… With just one memory one can tolerate a long life of tedium. One can even repeat day by day, without boredom, the same small, everyday tasks.

There is a person who I could not meet without trembling. I might find him today, or tomorrow, or ten years from now. I might find him at the end of the street, or in the city when I go around the corner. Perhaps I will never find him. It doesn’t matter; the world seems full of possibilities, and for me in every moment there is hope, so that each minute has its emotion.

There are mornings when I am overrun by an absurd contentment. I have the feeling that a great happiness is going to come to me within the space of the next twenty four hours. I spend the day feeling a kind of exaltation. And I wait. For a letter, or an unexpected meeting? In truth, I don’t know.

My body and my kisses never make him tremble but, like they used to do, they made him think about another body, and other lips. Like years ago, I saw him trying again furiously to caress and desire my body, and always with the memory of his dead wife between the two of us. As he surrendered himself to my breast, his face unconsciously tried to find the smoothness and the contour of another breast. He kissed my hands, and other places, searching for some familiar passions, odors, and shapes. And he wept bitterly, calling for her, shouting absurd things to me, that were directed at her.

Daniel takes me by the arm and starts walking as if nothing had happened. (…) I follow him in order to carry out an enormous number of little jobs; to perform an enormous number of frivolous tasks; to cry as usual, and to smile out of obligation. I follow him to live correctly, and to die correctly, someday. Around us the fog gives things the quality of endless immobility.

And now I will just take a moment to tackle the issue of the title. Bombal’s novel originally called “La última niebla” was published in 1934 and it is translated in English as either “The Final Moment of Fog” or “The Final Mist”. But in 1947 Bombal wrote and published a longer and much altered version of this earlier work and named it “The House of Mist”.

Egon Schiele and Klimt: Danaë

12 Jun

Wonderful and one of a kind Austrian artist Egon Schiele was born on this day in 1890. In this post we’ll take a look at one of his very early works “Danaë”, inspired by Gustav Klimt’s painting of the name.

Egon Schiele, Danaë, 1909

Although Egon Schiele died fairly young, in 1918 at the age of twenty eight, he left an oeuvre of mostly erotic drawings and paintings, which is as provocative and captivating nowadays as it was in his time. In 1909, Schiele was a confident, self-aware and handsome nineteen year old who had already started creating the image of his art as something extraordinary and something that the world would remember. He was truly following his own path and his art already started showing the characteristics that he would develop in later years in something unique. Still, in 1909 he was still in his experimental phase and very influenced by Gustav Klimt; both share a fascination with the body and the erotic component of art.

Schiele’s painting “Danaë” is a perfect example of this young artist looking up to the older one. It shows Danaë as a nude auburn haired girl hiding from what is suppose to be a lush shower of gold, though it doesn’t quite look golden here. She looks like a dreamy child of nature, surrounded by grass and woods, a shy rosebud in hiding. Her face is rosy-cheeked and sweet, but her body appears yellowish and flat, much like the way bodies look in Japanese Ukiyo-e prints that both Klimt and Schiele admired. In contrast to the minimalist approach to painting her body, Schiele painted her hand little and bony, the same way he would continue to paint his girls; fragile, all skin and bones.

Egon Schiele, Study for Danaë, 1909, watercolour, pencil and ink

Whereas Schiele was directly inspired by Klimt’s version of “Danaë” from 1907, Klimt on the other hand was merely following a painterly tradition of portraying the mythical woman Danaë that started with Grecian vases and reached its peak in the Renaissance with renditions painted by Correggio and Titian. Danaë was the princess of Peloponnese, daughter of the King Acrisius of Argos who unfortunately didn’t have an heir to his throne but the prophecy said that his daughter Danaë will have a son and the King would be murdered by Danaë’s son. The King did the only reasonable thing he could; imprisoned his daughter in a bronze tower with no doors or windows, with just a source of light instead of a roof. She spent a long time there until Zeus started desiring her. Zeus’s lust knew no boundaries and there are many stories from Greek mythology about the different ways he seduced beautiful young girls but the way he came to Danaë is surely a very magical one; he took form of the golden shower which fell down into the tower and left her with a child, a son named Perseus.

Schiele exhibited four works in the Kunstschau of 1909, one of which was the painting “Danaë” whose decorative and erotic elements showed a frank homage to Klimt, but Schiele’s painting isn’t a pure copy of Klimt’s style, for it shows the young artist’s personal touches, the shape of the body and a slight reluctance to excessive decorative background. Klimt’s version has more sensuality; Danaë’s body is portrayed as plump and accepting of the rich stream of gold which is flowing through the canvas. Her hair is red and seems alive, her lips are parted and her eyes closed, she seems to be enjoying the moment.

Gustav Klimt, Danaë, 1907

Book Review: Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki

23 Mar

Secrets, erotic obsessions, love triangles; those are some themes that linger throughout Junichiro Tanizaki’s novels such as “The Key”, “Quicksand” and my favourite “Naomi”. Things always starts so normally, the characters and their lives are seemingly perfect and uneventful, but then things take a darker turn…

Brooke Shields in “Pretty Baby” (1978)

This fascinating tale begins with the main character Joji, a twenty-eight year old man working on a well-payed office job as an electrical engineer, telling us where and how he met a beautiful fifteen year old girl called Naomi who later became his wife. Naomi was working as a waitress in a cafe when Joji noticed her. To him she seemed “a quiet, gloomy child”, he was intrigued by her silence and her face which had western features, later he compares her face to Mary Pickford’s. He befriends her and starts taking her out, to a movie and dinner. Joji grows fond of her company and, at first, innocently wishes to provide her with a better life starting with her education, as Naomi expressed wishes of studying English and music. Coming from the countryside, being a bit shy and focused first on his education and later his career, Joji had no experience with women and wasn’t interested in living a conventional married life.

As Joji says himself: “My original plan, then, was simply to take charge of the child and look after her. On the one hand, I was motivated by sympathy for her. On the other, I wanted to introduce some variety into my humdrum, monotonous daily existence. I was weary from years of living in a boarding­house; I longed for a little color and warmth in my life. Indeed, why not build a house, I thought, even a small one? I’d decorate the rooms, plant flowers, hang out a birdcage on the sunny veranda, and hire a maid to do the cooking and scrubbing. And if Naomi agreed to come, she’d take the place of both the maid and the bird. . . . This is roughly what I had in mind.

(Picture: Kate Moss) “My darling Naomi,” I gasped from the darkness under her sleeves. “My darling Naomi, I don’t just love you, I worship you. You’re my treasure. You’re a diamond that I found and polished. I’ll buy anything that’ll make you beautiful. I’ll give you my whole salary.”

When they start living together in a cozy little house with plenty of light and a rice field growing behind it, things are incredibly dream-like and seen through rose-tinted glasses, like a gentle and precious moment of dusk, just after sun sets, birds are singing softly from a nearby tree and nature is veiled in silence and dreams, your mind is free of all worries in such a moment. These first chapters are so full of idealism and naivety, and describe a seemingly perfect life that one could only dream of; Joji goes to work in the morning, and the obedient and sweet natured girl Naomi goes to her English and music lessons: “Wearing a dark blue cashmere formal skirt over a silk kimono, black socks, and charming little shoes, she looked every inch the pupil. Bursting with excitement at having realized her dream, she went off to her lessons diligently. Now and then I ran into her on my way home, and I could hardly believe that she had grown up in Senzoku and worked as a hostess. She never did her hair in Japanese style anymore; she wore it in braids, tied with a ribbon.

Mary Pickford, c. 1910s

Joji’s intentions are truly innocent at the beginning, he’s not a predator out to take advantage of her, and he notes that under his care she soon became “a truly radiant, vivacious little bird, and the enormous atelier was her cage. May came to a close and bright, early-summer weather set in. The flowers in the garden grew taller and more colorful day by day. In the evening, when I returned home from work and she from her lessons, sunlight streamed through the India-print curtains and played on the white walls as though it were still the middle of the day.” After they would both come home, he would listen to what she’s learned in class and they’d play games such as tag and blindman’s buff.

Their day to day life together is full of sweetness and innocence. Apart from paying her lessons, Joji buys her many pretty dresses and likes to gaze at her as she puts each one on: “Dressed in one or another of these outfits, she’d parade around the house, stand in front of the mirror, and pose while I took pictures. Wrapped in gauzy, translucent clothing of white, rose, or pale lavender, she was like a beautiful large blossom in a vase. “Try it this way; now this way,” I’d say. Picking her up, laying her down, telling her to be seated or to walk, I gazed at her by the hour.

Here is a passage which I loved, about Naomi’s love of flowers:

“The blossoms remind me that she loved Western flowers and knew the names—troublesome English names—of many flowers that I was unfamiliar with. Apparently she’d learned them at the cafe, where she was in charge of the vases. Sometimes we saw a greenhouse beyond a gate as we passed. Always alert, she’d stop and cry happily, “Oh, what beautiful flowers!”

“Which flower do you like best, Naomi?”

“I like tulips best.”

Her longing for spacious gardens and fields, and her love of flowers, may have been in reaction to the squalid alley­ways of Senzoku where she had grown up. Whenever we saw violets, dandelions, lotus grass, or primroses growing on a levee or by a country road, she would hurry over to pick them. By the end of the day, she’d have a great many flowers grouped in any number of bouquets. And she would still be holding them carefully on the way back.

“They’re all wilted now. Why don’t you throw them away?”

“Oh, they’ll come right back if you put them in water. You ought to keep them on your desk, Mr. Kawai.” She always gave the bouquets to me when we parted for the day.”

“While she was my wife, she was also a rare, precious doll and an ornament.”

As it so happens in a Tanizaki novel, slowly and yet out of nowhere, things take a darker turn. A reader can flip back the pages and wonder where it started, but there is no point of downfall; the darkness just crawls in slowly into the story and you get sad that the happy dream cannot last. How can Tanizaki be so cruel and peel the layers of niceness from the characters’s faces and present them in a whole new light? I desperately want to believe in a dream, and Tanizaki rubs my face into the gloomy reality. The more insolent, stubborn and rebellious Naomi gets, the more possessive Joji becomes, led not by sympathy and kind intentions anymore, but by jealousy and wild desire. “Consumed with love”, he describes himself, as Naomi is slowly but surely weaving spiderwebs of secrets and lies even in times that are seemingly innocent. Joji said: “Except for summer vacations, we’d spent all of our time alone together in our “fairy-tale house,” avoiding contact with society at large…” but the truth is that Naomi had befriended some boys without his knowledge, and these connections, although unassuming at first, will turn darker overtones.

They start going out and dancing, and for the first time Joji starts seeing Naomi’s behavior in public, slowly realises how arrogant and rude she is. Joji is conflicted with the realisation that Naomi will never be his ideal woman, that their love wasn’t as innocent as he thought, but that, as she grows up and her body develops, he is more and more attracted to her physically, to the point of the mad delirious desire: “My heart was a battleground for the conflict­ing emotions of disappointment and love. I’d made the wrong choice; Naomi was not as intelligent as I’d hoped. I couldn’t deny it any longer, much as I wanted to. I could see now that my desire for her to become a fine woman was nothing but a dream. (…) But at the same time, her body attracted me ever more powerfully. I use the word “body” advisedly. It was her skin, teeth, lips, hair, eyes—the beauty of her en­tire form—that attracted me. There was nothing spiritual about it. She’d betrayed my expectations for her mind, but her body now surpassed my ideal. Stupid woman, I thought. Hopeless. Unhappily, the more I thought so, the more I found her beauty alluring. (…) I had wanted to make Naomi beautiful both spiritually and physically. I had failed with the spiritual side but succeeded splendidly on the physical. I never expected that she’d be­come so beautiful.

Photo found here.

Lies upon lies, intrigues upon intrigues, as Joji’s life turns into a nightmare, all that he believed is a lie and the girl he loved doesn’t exist; the Naomi he loved and desired was a fantasy created by his idealistic mind. The real Naomi is a puzzle never to be unraveled. Because the story is told from Joji’s point of view, and we may conclude that he is a good observer, but still we don’t know what is going on in her mind and her heart. This is the thing which intrigues me the most about the novel! And this is the same thing I wondered about Nabokov’s Lolita, the parallels can be made between these two novels obviously. Joji states with sadness about the difference between the Naomi he’d met that rainy afternoon at the cafe and the Naomi that she’d become: “She’d been much more appealing in those days than she was now. In­genuous and naïve, shy and melancholy, she bore no re­semblance to this rough, insolent woman. I’d fallen in love with her then, and the momentum had carried me to this day; but now I saw what an obnoxious person she’d become in the meantime.

The novel starts with as a dream and ends as a tragicomedy because Joji is aware of the truth and yet he admits finding Naomi physically irresistible. He consciously chooses to live a lie; a fool manipulated by this femme fatale: “Naomi wasn’t a priceless treasure or a cherished idol anymore; she’d become a harlot. Neither lovers’ innocence nor conjugal affection survived between us. Such feelings had faded away like an old dream. Why did I still feel any­thing for this faithless, defiled woman? Because I was being dragged along by her physical attractions. This degraded me at the same time it degraded Naomi, because it meant that I’d abandoned my integrity, fastidiousness, and sincerity as a man, flung away my pride, and bent down before a whore, and I no longer felt any shame for doing so. Indeed, there were times when I worshipped the figure of this despic­able slut as though I were revering a goddess.

Art by LETHE.

A fascinating novel, not very long, but very intriguing from beginning to the end, with short chapters and flowing lyrical writing. I totally recommend it, I think it’s better than “Quicksand” and “The Key” which I read also.

Gustav Klimt – The Virgin

3 Mar

Today we’ll take a look at Klimt’s painting “The Virgin”, to me, his most vibrant and psychedelic work which signifies a stylistic change in his art and deals with a theme of girl’s sensual awakening. I will start with this ode to virginity from the novel “Valerie and her Week of Wonders” written in 1932 (but published in 1945) by a Czech Surrealist writer Vítězslav Nezval. Nezval was a teenage boy when Klimt and Shiele were created their works, and in those days they were all compatriots. Valerie is a seventeen year old girl who lives in this strange little village with her strange aunt, the atmosphere is reminiscent of Gothic novels and it’s more romantic than surrealist actually. One night she, along with other village virgins, goes to a sermon where a strange priest is instructing the virgins on how they should behave: “Oh virgin, do you know who you are? (…) You are an as yet uncleft pomegranate. You are a shell in which the future ages will ring. You are a bud which will burst open when the time is ripe. You are a little rose-petal floating on  the tempestuous ocean. You are a peach oozing red blood…”

Gustav Klimt, The Virgin, 1913

I am absolutely captivated by the colours, shapes and patterns in this painting. This isn’t Klimt’s “golden phase”, this is his colourful psychedelic phase, and it proved to be his last stylistic change before he died in February 1918. Klimt on acid; borrowing purples and yellows from Matisse and Bonnard, flowers and patterns from Japanese textiles and kimonos, daydreaming of the mosaics of Ravenna. The waterfall of colours is joyfully flickering, laughing, bursting with excitement, dancing and swirling around the pale maidens who are languidly floating in a dreamy kaleidoscopic world of their own; a floating island of love, a resplendent Cythera of their own. The rigor mortis of “The Kiss”, his most famous work and a representative of his golden phase, is now a thing of the past. Though the space is still flat and ornamental, it appears far more lively because there’s so much more going on; in a pyramidal composition six female figures are intertwined, their poses and face expressions differ, but they all have the same flesh; their skin is very pale with patches of blue and pink, which brings to mind Schiele’s nudes. Here and there breasts are protruding. They are not as seductive as the femme fatales in his earlier works were, here the colour is what captures all our attention. While the girls all possess similar features and doll-like faces, the pattern appears very unique and well planned. Negating the figure and giving free reign to the pattern might be a step towards abstract art.

Nonetheless, Klimt’s focus here is still on women, without a doubt his favourite thing to paint, and the face in the middle, right above that wave of purple, is the face that my mind keep coming back to. That is her – the Virgin. Her white mask-like face with closed eyes seems peaceful with a trace of anticipation in those blueish eyelids and lips pressed together; she is dreaming within her own dream. Her heart is fluttering with the anticipation of the delights that are to come, the ecstasy which is to awake her from her virginal slumber. Her eyes are closed; she doesn’t yet see and she doesn’t yet know, but the flowers blooming all around her are far less secretive about the desires awakening inside her. Her feelings are stirred, and her hopes sweet, but she patiently awaits the future. Gazing at her face and imagining her feelings made me think of this poem by a Japanese Poetess of the Heain period Ono no Komachi (c. 825-900):

Was I lost in thoughts of love
When I closed my eyes? He
Appeared, and
Had I known it for a dream
I would not have awakened.

Gustav Klimt, The Bride, 1917-18

A stylistic and symbolic continuation for the painting “The Virgin” might as well be Klimt’s unfinished work “The Bride” where the maiden figure is at the last step of her virginal life and about to enter a new phase, she is now ripe as a fig at the height of summer, bursting with sweet juices. Again, the close-eyed figure and the swirling pattern and abundance of colours is present. It’s interesting to notice that he painted pubic hair on the figure on the right, and began painting a vibrant dress over it, and I’m sure it wasn’t a sudden change of mind but rather a preference.

Egon Schiele – Death and the Maiden

31 Oct

Egon Schiele died on the 31st October 1918. Three days prior to that he witnessed the death of his pregnant wife Edith. If it wasn’t for the Spanish influenza, she could have had their child and his prodigious mind could have produced many more drawings and paintings.

Egon Schiele, Death and the Maiden, 1915

Painting “Death and the Maiden” is a very personal work and it connects and unites two themes that were a lifelong fascination to Egon Schiele; death and eroticism. It shows two figures in an embrace, apparently seen from above, not unusual at all for Schiele to use such a strange perspective. They cling to each other in despair; painfully aware of the finality and hopelessness of their love. They are lying on rumpled white sheets, their last abode before the hours of love vanish forever, which simultaneously add a touch of macabre sensuality and remind us of the burial shroud. The background is an unidentifiable space, a desolate landscape painted in colours of mud and rust.

Death is a man not so dissimilar to Schiele’s other male figures or self-portraits, without the help of the title we couldn’t even guess that is represents death. The red-haired woman hugs him tightly with her long arms and lays her head on his chest. She is not the least bit afraid of his black shroud of infinity. She holds onto him as if he were love itself, and still, her hands are not resting on his back gently, they are separate and her crooked fingers are touching themselves. We can sense their inevitable separation through their gestures and face expressions, and, at the same time, their embrace feels frozen in time, the figures feel stiff and motionless, as if the rigor mortis had already taken place and bound them in an everlasting embrace. The maiden will not die, she will be clinging to death for all eternity.

It is impossible not to draw parallels between the figures in the painting and Schiele’s personal life at the time. The figure of Death resembles Schiele, and we do all know he showed no hesitation when it came to painting and even taking a photo of himself, and the red-haired woman is then clearly Wally. To get a better perspective at the symbolism behind this painting, we need to understand the things that happened in Schiele’s life that year. In June 1915 he married Edith Harms; a shy and innocent girl next door. But first he needed to brake things off with Wally Neuzil, a lover and a muse who not only supported him during the infamous Neulengbach Affair but was also, ironically, an accomplice in introducing him to Edith.

Upon meeting Wally for what was to be the last time, Egon handed her a letter in which he proposed they spend a holiday together every summer, without Edith. It’s something that Wally couldn’t agree with. Perhaps she wasn’t a suitable woman to be his wife, but she wasn’t without standards or heart either. There, in the dreamy smoke of Egon’s cigarette, sitting at a little table in the Café Eichberger where he often came to play billiards, the two doomed lovers bid their farewells. Egon gazed at her with his dark eyes and said not a word. He was disappointed but did not appear particularly heart-broken, at least no at first sight, but surely the separation must have pained him in the moments of solitude and contemplation, the moments which gave birth to paintings such as this one.

Egon Schiele, Embrace, 1915

If we assume then that the painting indeed shows Egon and Wally, the question arises: why did he chose to portray himself as a personification of Death? He chose to end things with Wally, so why mourn for the ending? And shouldn’t Death be a possessive and remorseless figure who smothers the poor delicate Maiden in his cold deadly embrace? Schiele’s embrace in the painting seems caring and his gaze full of sadness.

On a visual level, the motif of two lovers set against a decorative background brings to mind both Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” (1907) and Oskar Kokoschka’s “The Bride of the Wind (or The Tempest)” from 1914. Although similar in composition, the mood of Schiele’s painting differs vastly to those of his fellow Viennese eccentrics. Klimt’s painting shows a couple in a kiss and oozes sensuality and beauty, the background being very vibrant and ornamental. It’s a painting made before the war, its horrors and changes. Kokoschka’s painting is, in a way, more similar to Schiele’s but they two are very different in the overall effect. Both show doomed lovers in a sad embrace, and a strange, slightly distorted background, but Kokoschka’s painting is a whirlwind of energy, brushstrokes are nervous and energetic, the space is vibrant, not breathing but screaming. Schiele’s painting exhibits stillness, stiffness, a change caught in the moment, a breeze stopped, and the space around them seems heavy, muddy and static. “Kokoschka’s is a ‘baroque’ painting, while Schiele’s relates more to the Gothic tradition. “The Tempest” is life-affirming, the Schiele is resigned to the inevitable, immobile and drained of life.” (Whitford; Egon Schiele)

Egon Schiele, Lovemaking, 1915

In this painting Schiele used the old theme of Death and the Maiden and enriched it by adding an introspective, private psychological dimension. Schiele’s rendition of the theme isn’t a meditation on transience and vanity as it was in the works of Renaissance masters such as Hans Baldung Grien; a gifted and imaginative German painter and a pupil of Albrecht Dürer. Grien revisited the theme of Death and the Maiden a few times during a single decade, at the beginning of the sixteenth century. These paintings always feature a beautiful and something vain young woman (she is looking at herself in the mirror) with smooth pale skin and long golden hair, and a grotesque figure of Death looming behind her like a shadow, reminding her with a sand clock that soon enough she too will come into his arms.

Hans Baldung Grien, from left to right: Death and the Maiden, 1510; Death and the Maiden, 1517; Death and the Maiden, 1518-20

I’ve included two more examples of this theme in this post; another version by Grien where Death is shown chowing the Maiden’s dress and the knight is literally saving his damsel not from the dragon or from danger, but from Death and mortality itself. Quite cool! And an interesting detail from Van Groningen’s “The Triumph of Death” where Death is shown as a skeleton in a cloud armed with a spear, chasing a frightened and screaming young Maiden dressed in flimsy robes who is running around hopelessly trying to escape. In these paintings, the Maiden is merely a symbol of the fragility of youth and beauty, but later artists, the Romantics and the fin-de-siecle generation, and Schiele too, had different vision of Death; they glamorised it and romanticised it. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Edward Fane’s Rosebud” the beautiful young Maiden Rose is faced with mortality for the first time and how poetically Hawthorne had described it:

She shuddered at the fantasy, that, in grasping the child’s cold fingers, her virgin hand had exchanged a first greeting with mortality, and could never lose the earthly taint. How many a greeting since! But as yet, she was a fair young girl, with the dewdrops of fresh feeling in her bosom; and instead of Rose, which seemed too mature a name for her half-opened beauty, her lover called her Rosebud.

Death was a life-long fascination for Schiele; at a very young age he witnessed his father’s madness and suffering death, possibly from syphilis, he was obsessed with the idea of doppelgänger who was seen as a foreboding of death, in his poem “Pineforest” he even wrote “How good! – Everything is living dead”. All his art is tinged with death, and with Schiele it wasn’t a fad of the times but a deep, personal morbid obsession. In the height of summer, he already senses autumn leaves, in the living flesh he already sees decay. Also, he was born in 1890, and along with other artists of his generation he witnessed the final decay of a vast empire that had lasted for centuries; “Decay, death and disaster seemed to haunt their every waking hour and to provide the substance of their nightmares.” (Whitford, Egon Schiele)

Hans Baldung Grien, The Maiden, the Knight and Death, date unknown

Jan Swart van Groningen, Der Triumph des Todes (detail), 1525-50

Life and Death contrafted or, An Essay on Woman, 1770

Richard Bergh, The Girl and Death, 1888

Henry Levi (1840-1904), La jeune fille et la mort, 1900

Marianne Stokes, The Young Girl and Death, 1900

Happy Halloween, with Schiele and Death!

Francois Boucher – Resting Maiden

17 Dec

Today we are going to take a look at a famous Rococo painting by Boucher; a painter that is almost synonymous with the era. The painting of a nude girl unites luxury and eroticism, is painted in sensuous pastel shades of yellow, pink and blue, and it epitomises Rococo’s pursuit of pleasure and hedonism.

Francois Boucher, Resting Girl (also known as:L’Odalisque blonde), 1751

Plump nude beauty. Seashell pink skin. Sumptuous interior. A rich and mesmerising amber-coloured fabric: yellow was a beloved colour for Rococo artists. All these things you are likely to find in any Rococo painting, especially if the painter is Francois Boucher himself. His painting “Resting Girl” is one of the first things that come to people’s minds when they think about Rococo. I know it was for me; this painting, Fragonard’s The Swing and portraits of Madame Pompadour. In this simple interior scene with a horizontal composition details are limited and everything draws the eye to the focal point and that is the girl. The gorgeous yellow fabric surrounds her like the green leaf surrounds the fragrant white lotus flower. She is lying on a sofa; her one leg rests on a pillow whose crisp whiteness you can almost feel, the other on the yellow fabric. On the floor are two elegantly discarded pink roses. There is an open book in the lower left corner, but she doesn’t seem to be reading it. We see her only from the profile, and yet we can sense her mood. She looks a bit startled, surprised, slightly worried. She is holding her hand under her chin, her lips are just slightly parted. Perhaps she saw someone she wasn’t expecting?…

Note: There are two different versions of this painting, but I think the one above is the prettier one and I am referring to that one. Still, the blue ribbons in the painting below do entrance me. The second version was made for Madame de Pompadour’s brother.

The second version: Francois Boucher, Resting Girl, 1752

You must all be wondering right now, who is the owner of this cute Rococo ass? I shall gladly tell you: Marie-Louise O’Murphy; one of the mistresses of Louis XV. She was the youngest of the O’Murphy sisters and her family was of Irish origin, but lived in Normandy. The story goes that one day Louise was at her sister’s house and Casanova himself happened to be there and he saw her stark naked. The image of her pretty teenage body left him so entranced that he demanded a nude portrait of her to be made. Of course the painter was Boucher, for who else painted such openly licentious and unashamedly erotic scenes? Casanova wrote this about the finished portrait: “The skilled artist had drawn her legs and thighs so that the eye could not wish to see more. There I write below: O-Morphi wasn’t a Homeric or either Greek word. Was simply mean Beautiful.” Greek word for beauty, “Omorphiá” is similar to Louise’s surname “O’Murphy”. Having been born in October 1737, Louise was very young when she posed for this painting and her body does look more developed, and yet, when the king Louis XV himself demanded to see her, he concluded that she is even better looking than in the painting.

Francoise Boucher, A Female Nude Reclining on a Chaise-Longue (Graphite, red and white chalk on paper), Sketch for the painting

Louis XV’s reign practically coincides with the existence of Rococo era in art, and he himself led a life full of extravagances and many love affairs so he is a good person to represent the mood of this art movement. His most famous mistress, Madame de Pompadour, is knows as “the Godmother of Rococo” and Boucher was her official portrait painter. Pink was her favourite colour and champagne glass was allegedly made according to the shape of her breasts. Need I say more: the woman loved the art of her time. No other era in art displayed such straightforward eroticism as Rococo, in no other era did the sexual conquests fill the canvases, the novels, the gossips. After centuries of religious art holding dominance, the 18th century brought a liberation, just like the 1960s did in a way.

In art before Rococo, nudity or half-nudity was justifiable and acceptable only if it served a purpose, if it was part of a religious (St Sebastian) or mythological scene (Venus). In Rococo an artist was finally allowed to paint a nude without putting it in a context. Still nature with jugs and apples needs no context, why would a nude body need one? In “Resting Maiden”, the subject is not another Venus; it’s just an everyday girl called Louise and her adolescent beauty captured for eternity. In the 1740s, Boucher painted a similar scene, this time using his wife as a model. Diderot was particularly disgusted with the painting and Boucher was accused of “prostituting his own wife”:

François Boucher, Brown Odalisque (L’Odalisque Brune), 1740-49

These paintings by Boucher can be seen as epitomes of the Rococo spirit because they are straightforwardly hedonistic and light-hearted, sensuous and pastel coloured but things didn’t stay so pink and light-hearted for a long time. As the century progressed, things changed, flirty and frivolous guests of the Rococo party were facing a hangover; dreams and escapism gave way to reality. Pinkness and liberation descended into decadence and the French Revolution of 1789, sharp like a guillotine, cut Rococo’s timeline in a second. It seems that every pleasure has its consequence. I feel that there is such fragility and silent wistfulness hiding underneath Rococo’s shiny pink exterior. On the inside, Rococo is as gentle as porcelain or antique lace; it idealises, it fuels daydreams, it yearns for an eternally lovely world with baby blue skies, it tried so passionately to avoid reality that it got swallowed by it.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Girl with a Dog, 1770

Fragonard’s painting above is yet another example of Rococo’s naughtiness. To end the post here are a few verses from Charles Baudelaire’s poem “Spleen” that perfectly capture that fragile appeal of Rococo:

I am an old boudoir full of withered roses,

Where lies a whole litter of old-fashioned dresses,

Where the plaintive pastels and the pale Bouchers,

Alone, breathe in the fragrance from an opened phial.

***

Je suis un vieux boudoir plein de roses fanées,

Où gît tout un fouillis de modes surannées,

Où les pastelliste plaintifs et les pâles Boucher,

Seuls, respirent l’odeur d’un flacon débouché.

David Hamilton’s Dreamy Eroticism of the 1970s

14 Dec

I have been in love with David Hamilton’s photography since June this year, and since it is December now I thought it was about time I dedicated a post to these visual treasures.

The Muse, 1971

David Hamilton’s photos have a distinct dreamy, grainy quality and feature almost exclusively young women and girls: girls lounging around in stockings and half-buttoned shirts that wonderfully reveal their budding breasts, girls with messy hair getting lost in reveries, girls braiding their hair or coyly glancing in the distance, girls dressed like ballerinas, girls in the idyll of the countryside, girls reading… Girls with sun kissed skin and freckles, possessing a natural, gentle, unassuming beauty – they are just like a dream. The young age of the girls and the erotic nature of the photos led to discussions about his art being art or pornography. Well, I love the pictures for their aesthetic value and I think there’s no need to be prissy. Gazing at Hamilton’s photos is like escaping into a dreamy fantasy world and what I like the most is their intimate mood, it feels as if the girls are unaware of the photographer’s presence, as if Hamilton stepped into their secret inner world and captured it. I feel as if I am flipping through their diary, invading their secret thoughts. The photo that I am particularly entranced with at the moment it the one above called “The Muse”. The girl is so beautiful and I can’t help but wonder about her life in 1971? What was her personality like, what music did she listen to, how did she dress?

And lastly, my favourite: