Tag Archives: La Belle Epoque Paris

The Night When Modigliani Stole a Stone…

5 Feb

Amedeo Modigliani, Woman’s Head, 1912, limestone

There is a beautiful bohemian chapter in André Salmon’s book about Modigliani (original title: “La Vie passionnée de Modigliani”) where the devilishly handsome sculptor and painter Amedeo goes out one night to steal a stone that he needs for his statue. The theft wasn’t a one night thing, for Amedeo had often ventured into the blue Parisian nights to steal a stone from a store or a warehouse, guided by the light of the shining stars. He dared to steal only after midnight, and often went with a friend, usually with the fellow painter Emmanuel Gondouin. What a sight the two artists must have been, roaming the empty streets: Amedeo with his raven “hair of a rebellious angel and fiery eyes”, as Salmon describes him, and Gondouin who was of robust built and whose appearance was similar to that of Beethoven. Gondouin would help him carry the heavy stone.

But that night Modigliani was alone… It wasn’t wise to go to the stone theft alone, all sorts of thoughts roamed his pretty head… but he had to carve, he had to create, nor his hands nor his mind would be at peace if he didn’t have that stone… Perhaps the night would be peaceful and the stars forgiving at this poor melancholy angel?… And so he went – alone. “I will get caught… I will end up in prison”, he thought as the darkness of the night shrouded him softly. After he stole the beautiful piece of limestone from someone’s shed, still in a haze from the alcohol and hashish of those glorious nights of Montparnasse, he carried it out and hid around the corner trying to catch his breath. His weak body, plagued with years of alcohol and illnesses, couldn’t keep up with the blazing passion of his spirit. Amedeo, at long last beholding his beauty, glanced at the stone. The beautiful piece of white limestone answered to Amedeo’s loud heartbeats with a smile and whispered promises of inspiration. It was happy to be in loving arms, at last. Then, he heard someone’s footsteps… Could it be the police? Drops of sweat slid down his forehead… No?… Good. It was a man, an anarchist and a nocturnal wanderer who worked at the Halles market, and whose intentions have proved to be kind. He helped Amedeo with the stone and chatted until they arrived to his atelier where they parted.

Modigliani would say that it doesn’t matter if the stone is soft, as long as it gives the illusion of marble. The photo above shows one of his sculptures. It is stylistically very similar to the paintings which followed; an elongated face, long slender neck and large almond-shaped eyes; eyes that seem to gaze into eternity, a face that echoes the sadness of the world, a neck of a swan, so fragile and breakable…

Advertisements

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

1968-baby-doll-moon-shiny-222

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

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – At the Moulin Rouge

16 Jan

Perhaps the most well-known and most detailed of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings, At the Moulin Rouge takes the viewer into a decadent and gaudy nightlife of Montmarte, with the glamour stripped away.

1892-95. At the Moulin Rouge by Henri Toulouse-LautrecHenri Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-95

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted this painting between 1892 and 1895. The scene depicts the infamous cabaret Moulin Rouge, which first opened just a few years earlier, in gloomy and misty October of 1889. Henri was instantly attracted to its vibrant atmosphere and energy. Imagine him, with his top hat and spectacles, sitting at the round table covered with white tablecloth, drinking cognac and drawing with charcoal, capturing movement of the dancers and their lavishing dresses, and people around him. These sketches were merely rudiments for the oil-on-canvas paintings that he later made. Moulin Rouge became his second home, and wellspring of inspiration because night life, dancers and cabaret became his main subject. There was something honest about Moulin Rouge. On one hand it was a bewitching, artificial, glamorous world, but on the other hand, it was more truthful, a straightforward place for the ‘working class heroes’, artists and eccentrics. Toulouse-Lautrec found beauty in places that other artists discarded. In spirit of Zola’s Naturalism, he relished in the aesthetics of ugliness, and meticulously studied faces of people and their individual characteristics. He stripped away the glamour of Moulin Rouge and the nightlife of Montmartre, and, at the same time painted scenes so evocative of La Belle Epoque Paris. His paintings posses a charm today still, and are entrancing for the modern viewers even though more than hundred years had passed since their creation.

(I suggest you to enlarge the painting by clicking on it)

Look at the painting. The first thing you notice is the crowd in the middle. Three men and two women are talking. They appear to be sharing the newest gossip, or discussing something important. The lady with the orange-coloured hair certainly stands out (possibly a can-can dancer Jane Avril). We see a part of her hand in black glove, perhaps she’s talking and gesticulating, but she turned her back on us so we can’t be sure. She’s dressed in a typical flamboyant La Belle Epoque manner, her wide sleeved dress and collar are trimmed with fur, her red hair is adorned with a black hat. There’s a bottle and a half full glass on the table. Across from her sits a man seen from the profile (Edouard Dujardin), clutching a walking stick and whispering something to a lady next to him (dancer La Macarona). She seems dizzy from alcohol, and there’s a sense of irony in her smile. The remaining two figures at the table are the photographer Paul Sescau and the vintner Maurice Guilbert.

Behind the crowd we see the artist himself, a short figure with a hat, walking with his cousin Gabriel Tapie de Celeyran, a tall and equally grotesque figure. In the backdrop, another can-can dancer, La Goulue and her friend are fixing their hairstyles in the mirror. The walls in the background are covered with mirrors which give the appearance of a flickering green surface, mottled with brown. Mirrors reflect the vibrancy that goes on in the scene. Even though this is a crowd scene, each figure is highly individualised. There’s a diagonal orange line in the lower left corner, a hint of Japanese Ukiyo-e style unsymmetrical compositions. The most interesting part of the painting is the lower right corner which shows a woman, an English dancer named May Milton whose face is garishly green from the lights below. Her bright yellow hair enhances the contrast. Again a hint of Ukiyo-e prints; the composition cuts her face and torso, which leaves us with a sense of incompleteness, and fires our imagination.

My ‘Midnight in Paris’

15 Jan

Do you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain? Imagine this town in the ’20s. Paris in the ’20s, in the rain. The artists and writers!

1889. The Starry Night - van gogh

This film delighted, fascinated and inspired me beyond belief! It seeded a hundred ideas in my head, fired my imagination and the already existing nostalgia for the times that passed away. Woody Allen is a brilliant director, my mother’s favourite, and Owen Wilson is a very natural actor with appealing face expressions, gestures and voice; is there a better combination? The very idea of the movie, coined in Allen’s head, is very alluring to me; traveling through time to the ‘golden era‘; an era one considers one would be happier living in. I can’t count the times I’ve been daydreaming about another era, another place, oh, the characters I’ve created, and the places, just to escape the reality, the sad present that always leaves you tired, gloomy, washed out and full of longings that cannot be fulfilled.

For Gil, a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter who travels to Paris with his fiancee Inez and her posh parents, a ‘golden era’ of Paris are the 1920s. It’s a decade he dreams of; the bohemian atmosphere of Paris, strolls in the rain, warm light of street lamps, cafes, his literally idols… On the other hand, he’s living a life of bourgeois dulness, conflicted with financial success and self-fulfillment. Gil is a romantic and nostalgic soul, and the vivid Parisian night fires his wish to become a serious writer. Inez, his shallow, materialistic and posh bride-to-be, always turns eyes on his fantasies and dismisses his preference for bohemian lifestyle and pleasure over financial prosperity. She does not give him any support, she dismisses him being a serious artist in front of her pseudo-intellectual friend Paul, and in fact, I don’t see why are they even together. Gil is so idealistic, imaginative, ready to go and taste life, live for his writing and not his paycheck, whilst Inez is focused merely on their future house, expensive furniture and the biggest engagement ring.

1888. Cafe Terrace at Night -van Gogh

One night while strolling in Paris at midnight, Gil sees a mysterious antique vehicle. Dazed and confused, Gil jumps in and unknowingly travels back in time. The antique vehicle and his occupants, dazed from champagne and laughter, take him to the bohemian 1920s Paris where he meets Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Ernest Hemingway and Cole Porter. Gil is amazed by this event, but Inez naturally isn’t impressed. Gil returns again only to meet Gertrude Stein, Picasso and his charming mistress Adriana, played by the beautiful Marion Cotillard, along with Dali, Man Ray and Luis Bunuel; all the prominent figures of the era he admires. Dali is extraordinary. Upon seeing him in the movie I realised that all those painting could have been painted only by a person who behaves like that. Still, Gil finds out that he’s not the only person struck by nostalgia; Adriana says how the past has always had a great charisma for her. Both share a mutual feeling they’re born too late; count me in.

For me, La Belle Epoque Paris would have been perfect‘, says Adriana, ‘The whole sensibility; the street lamps, kiosks – the horse and carriages. And Maxim’s then.‘ Her ideal Paris is the ‘Moulin Rouge, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Can-Can’ Paris of the 1890s. It seems unbelievable to Gil for he adores the ’20s Paris but this leads to a greater dilemma; were all those eras really that ‘golden‘ and exciting, or, is the dissatisfaction with the present and the idealisation of the past an inevitable part of the human nature?

midnight in paris 3

Upon arriving in the ‘La Belle Epoque‘ Paris, Gil and Adriana meet Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge, and Degas and Gauguin who soon join them too. Degas and Gauguin were just talking about how that generation is empty and without imagination. They believe that living in the Renaissance would have been better. Gils and Adriana’s nostalgic natures are conflicted at that moment; to Gil, the 1920s Paris; Charleston, Hemingway, Dali is amazing; he adores it, but for Adriana, it’s just her present, as dull and boring as the present is.The two split up; Gil realises that the present is dissatisfying because life is dissatisfying, and decides to live in his own time, enjoying the advances of it, such as antibiotics.

On the other hand, Adriana’s flair and idealisation of the ‘Golden age‘ of Paris is much stronger and she decides to stay in the 1890s, at the beginning of the Belle Epoque. She was happy to escape the 1920s; a decade so romanticised and idealised by Gil. I think I would act the same way Adriana did; for me, the golden age were the 1960s; London, psychedelia, vividness of life, optimism, carefree atmosphere, living for the moment, and that sweet naivety long lost in today’s cynical and opportunistic society,  integrity was valued back then. That’s the reason I named this post ‘My Midnight in Paris‘; I deeply sympathise with Gil and I respect his final decision. I often wonder whether my visions of the past are idealised as well, but you know what, I don’t care; if I give up my romantic and naive daydreams, then what is left of life?

Gil returned to the present, and, on a midnight stroll across the Seine at midnight, he meets Gabrielle, an antiques dealer he had met earlier. The two walk in the rain, she doesn’t mind getting wet, for ‘Paris is the most beautiful in the rain.‘And what isn’t?

Rain is the most poetic thing in nature; it is the sky’s song of tranquility and serenity.