Tag Archives: London

Claude Monet: London Calling – Absinthe Coloured Weather

22 Jan

Every day in London there is beautiful, absinthe-coloured weather. Is that enough to lure you here?‘ (*) – John Singer Sargent wrote in a letter to Claude Monet, on 28 December 1894.

P.S. This is my 300th post!

1903-04-claude-monet-the-houses-of-parliament-effect-of-fogClaude Monet, The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog), 1903-1904

And so Claude Monet arrived to London, drawn by Sargent’s promises of the absinthe coloured weather. ‘Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river….’ – Well, that’s not really what Monet had on mind, but his artistic eyes certainly craved to discover London’s magic. And so they did. There were three sights whose beauty Monet captured on his canvases many times; the Houses of Parliament, Charing Cross Bridge and Waterloo Bridge. This dedication to the subject and endless fascination with the same thing is something I really love about the Impressionists.

This wasn’t Monet’s first stay in England though. He spent some time there from September 1870, just after the outbreak of Franco-Prussian war, to May 1871, but his stay wasn’t particularly productive; he painted only six paintings. He did, however, get acquainted with works of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, and this influenced his later work, especially Turner’s poetic yet turbulent seascapes. He visited London many times since, but this turn-of-the-visits have proven to very special for his art.

1899-1901-claude-monet-waterloo-bridge-overcast-weather-1899-1901Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, Overcast Weather, 1899-1901

1903-claude-monet-waterloo-bridge-hazy-sunshine-1903Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, Hazy Sunshine, 1903

Monet hardly spoke a word of English, but that didn’t stop him from attending fancy parties and admiring the English culture and way of life. Even at Givery, he practically lived like an English gentleman, wearing suits made of English wool and eating English breakfast every morning. Monet simply fell in love with London in 1871 and he fantasised about painting Thames again, in a completely different manner. With years his painting style has become more whimsical, relaxed and dreamy. So, what stopped his from returning to England earlier? Well, he was occupied with painting his series of paintings portraying the Cathedral in Rouen and ‘wheatstacks’, but after the Dreyfus Affair, he became disillusioned with his homeland, and felt a need to just go away for a while. It’s interesting to note that Monet supported Zola, while Degas and Renoir, for example, became extreme anti-Dreyfusards.

1904-claude-monet-houses-of-parliament-effect-of-sunlight-in-the-fog-1904Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, Effect of Sunlight in the Fog, 1904

In September 1899 Monet went on a six-week artistic holiday in England. He settled in the Savoy Hotel, ignoring the expenses, which provided him with great views of south London and the Thames. He went on to return to the same hotel for three months the following year, and in 1901 again. All these months spent in London resulted with his biggest ever series of paintings, and, in my opinion, it is one of the most magical of his series, comparable by beauty only to his water lilies. Claude Monet’s ‘London scenes’ are love poems to London, painted with such delicacy, extraordinary mastery of colours and beautifully captured atmospheric effects.

1903-claude-monet-1840-1926-the-houses-of-parliament-sunset-1903Claude Monet, The Houses of Parliament, Sunset, 1903

Here’s an interesting quote about Monet as a landscape painter:

Few landscape painters had been as inventive or as passionate and few had captured nature’s elusive ways with as much power and poetry. Few also were as individualistic or as moody, and few loved the sea more. Turner, therefore, was Monet’s soulmate and guide as well as a special challenge.‘ (Claude Monet – Life and Art, by Paul Hayes Tucker)

1902-claude-monet-houses-of-parliament-1902Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, 1902

As much as I admire the beauty of ‘Charing Bridge’ and ‘Waterloo Bridge’ series, my personal favourites are Monet’s dreamy portrayals of the ‘Houses of Parliament’ scenes, I find them so romantically exuberant and Gothic, and dreamy in their fiery reds, pink and purples amalgamating one into one another. Paintings from this series in purplish and pinkish shades are my favourites. ‘Houses of Parliament at Sunset’ down below is one that I really love: the colours are so nocturnal and decadent, the Houses of Parliament are protruding from the descending darkness like wraiths, while the alluring burning orange-pink sun invites the viewer to look on the right side of the canvas. Rich atmosphere present in all these paintings is the result of the ‘smoke from the bituminous coal that Londoners burned at the time that mixed with the moist conditions of the region.’

Monet’s ‘series paintings’ were imagined as studies of objects in a way that each painting shows a variation of colour and light effects. They were based on direct observations of nature, but have turned into dreamy illusions where colour, light and texture play more important roles than capturing the reality. Monet’s painting from his late phase are almost anticipating the fantasies of Abstract Expressionism.

1903-claude-monet-houses-of-parliament-at-sunset-1903Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament at Sunset, 1903

Monet pained The Houses of Parliament in dusks, sunsets and mists, bathed in purples, pinks and blues, and some seventy years later, on 7th June 1977, The Sex Pistols played their anti-monarchy song ‘God Save the Queen’ on the boat, while passing The Houses of Parliament, singing ‘There is no future, England’s dreaming’. Many of them were arrested later.

I can’t help it wonder, if buildings could talk, what kind of stories or poems would their tell us? Culture, music and fashion changes, but they stand in silence for eternity, unless someone decides to destroy them, which sadly often happens. Buildings are witnesses to so many things; from peaks and decays of cultures, riots, gossips, kisses and whispers, laughters and shouting. They know everything, they’re worse than Daily Mail!

1899. Charing Cross Bridge - Claude MonetClaude Monet, Charing Cross Bridge, 1899

I remember when I saw the painting ‘Charing Cross Bridge’ in Berlin, and I didn’t think much of it. It seemed so pale, like there’s a gauze veil over it, and I was more drawn to Kirchner’s large canvases of frenzy and anxiety, to notice the simple dreaminess and meditative quality of this painting, woven with lightness, with gorgeous pale blue and the flickering water surface. The simplicity of composition reminds me of the Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, and their way of portraying nature, bridges and rivers.

I have a feeling that, with Monet, the older he got, the better his art was. His early paintings are interesting, no doubt about that, but they look rather conventional and stiff. On the other hand, his London scenes and Water lilies are all capable of inspiring a scale of emotions. He was about sixty years old when he painted those, and older, but I feel that this is the moment his art was truly ripe. That’s the thing that saddens me immensely when I read about an artist who died young, like Modigliani, what would their art develop into?

1900-1901-houses-of-parlilament-sunlight-effect-1900-1901-claude-monetClaude Monet, Houses of Parlilament, Sunlight Effect, 1900-1901

When Monet’s London scenes were exhibited in May 1904, conservative magazine L’Action wrote: ‘In his desire to paint the most complex effects of light Monet seems to have attained the extreme limits of art… He wanted to explore the inexplorable, to express the inexpressible, to build, as the popular expression has it, on the fogs of the Thames! And worse still, he succeeded!’

1900-1901-claude-monet-houses-of-parliament-londonClaude Monet, Houses of Parliament, London, 1900-1901

Do you hear that? London is calling Monet, just like it called Joe Strummer:

London calling, yes, I was there, too
An’ you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this, won’t you give me a smile?
London calling’ (The Clash)*

Witches Round the Cauldron by Daniel Gardner (1775)

5 Nov

When shall we three meet again,

In thunder, in lighting or in rain.‘ (Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act I, Scene I)

by Daniel Gardner, gouache and chalk, 1775Daniel Gardner, The Three Witches from Macbeth, 1775

‘…something wicked this way comes.’

As the eighteenth century slowly approached its end, things were getting darker on the artistic scene. Ghosts, vampires and witches suddenly appeared on canvases of painters such as Henry Fuseli, Goya and William Blake. Dark side of the imagination began to shape works of art as well as literature, and the aesthetic of sublime slowly crept in. This was the answer to the excessive coldness, lightness and rationality of Classicism. In times when this was painted, public tastes were inclined towards the supernatural and Gothic, especially with theatre-goers who loved scenes from Macbeth. ‘Paint the witch!‘ replaced the more barbaric ‘Burn the witch!’.

Although the subject of this scene hints at the later developments of Romanticism, its execution is true to the styles of Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, two artists whose style Gardner emulated, and often borrowed ideas for composition and arrangement of figures. This is an utterly charming and dreamy portrayal of three witches from Macbeth. There’s nothing scary or disturbing about it, and these three ladies are certainly prettier than Shakespeare had intended his witches to be, but these are not just three witches, oh no, Gardner actually portrayed three friends, society hostesses, art lovers and supporters of Whig party in this portrait.

The figure on the left, with long brown hair, is Elizabeth Lamb (nee Milbanke), Viscountess Melbourne. Witch on the right, dressed in splendid, sparkly black robe with zodiac symbols on it and tiny golden details, is Anne Seymour Damer (nee Conway) who was also an amateur sculptor. She has a typical black ‘witch’ hat and holds a magic wand in her right hand. In the middle is the most extravagant and well remembered out of all three; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, famous for her beauty, bold fashion statements, gambling and partying (much like Kate Moss today), her affair and an unhappy marriage. Along with a hat, her beautiful head is covered with gauze veil, and while she holds the sumptuous white silk fabric of her dress with one hand, she uses other to throw some herbs or blue flowers in the cauldron. Despite portraying a Shakespearean scene, which is a great task for the imagination, Gardner didn’t really use it, but rather chose to follow the fashion of the day; both in clothing the ‘witches’ wear and the style and composition of the painting itself.

High society lady, writer and diarist Lady Mary Coke (1727-1811) wrote in her diary of ‘the Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Melburn, and Mrs Damer all being drawn in one picture in the Characters of the three Witches in Macbeth … They have chosen that Scene where they compose their Cauldron, but instead of “finger of Birth-strangled babe, etc” their Cauldron is composed of roses and carnations and I daresay they think their charmes more irresistible than all the magick of the Witches‘. (*)

Although I find the whole painting aesthetically pleasing, and very fitting for the mood of these post-Halloween days, I must say a thing or two about the brushstrokes and the play of light. Gardner beautifully portrayed their dresses, painting in soft, playful and refined strokes, using gouache and chalk. And the light; see how the bronze cauldron glistens, smoke arises like in a dream, and the reflections of the fire on the gorgeous silk dresses of the witches. I should also mention the possible allegorical meaning of the painting; since all three women were interested in politics and publicly supported the Whig party, it is possible that Gardner painted the cauldron as a symbol of ‘shadowy political machinations as leading members of the Devonshire House circle.’ (*)

Art Nouveau and 1960s: A Psychedelic Dream

6 Oct

I noticed that some sixties posters and film costumes have a strong Art Nouveau and Pre-Raphaelite vibe, so naturally I turned to my art, culture and music bible when it comes to the Swinging Sixties – book ‘Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe’ by Julian Palacios, And here’s what I found. So, in this post we’ll take a look at the influence of Art Nouveau, Aesthetic movement and 19th century Orientalism on 1960s posters, designs, fashion and film costumes. I’ve also chosen some whimsical psychedelic tunes that I love and that fit very well with the mood of the post. Psychedelic Autumn, is it not?!

1967. Flower Power fashion, Photograph by Peter Knapp. Image scanned by Sweet Jane.

Flower Power fashion, Photograph by Peter Knapp, 1967, Image scanned by Sweet Jane

Donovan – Season of the Witch

Around 1966/67 there was a shift in style and mood. A change was in the air, as ‘vibrant coloured clothes and laughter’ filled the drab tube stations. Waning Mod fashion was quickly being replaced by a style more romantic and oriental. The new mood, exhibited not only in clothes but in posters, designs and music, found its inspiration in nostalgic reveries of the past and romantic daydreams about far East. Gone were the days of short skirts and fake eyelashes. Instead, young people – students, artists, musicians, groupies and dollies – traded their black and white geometrical outfits for caftans, vibrant coloured long dresses, long hair and less make up.

1960s fashion illustrations

1900. The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) - Alphonse Mucha

Do you notice the similarity in colours and composition between the sixties illustration (above) and Mucha’s painting ‘The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) from 1900.

Cosmic Sounds – The Zodiac

In late sixties, when Mod culture was starting to be looked upon as too commercial, and ‘futuristic themes gave way to exoticism, romanticism and nostalgia’ (1), young people started seeking answers and inspiration in paganism, mysticism and Eastern stuff: I Ching, Bhagavad Gita, The Golden Bough by James George Frazer which explores ‘magic, myths, Druids and Viking lore’, (p. 91), Ouija boards, tarot cards, meditation, vegetarianism and Hindu scriptures. Driven by LSD and hashish, they believed they were creating a new world, and so they delved into mysticism, found beauty in forgotten illustrations and paintings, whether it’s the sumptuous Klimt’s golden paintings or intricate William Morris wallpapers or William Blake’s drawings, laden with spirituality, hidden meanings and symbolism.

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1) Baby Doll Cosmetics 1968/ 2) Photo of Cleo de Merode, 1905; similar hairstyles.

Ravi Shankar – Sitar

A quote from the already mentioned book that sums it all:

The underground exhibited a curious nostalgia, unusual in people so young. Living in tattered Victorian flats, smoking dope and rummaging for antiques on the Portobello Road, the underground pillaged their cultural history. Part romantics and part vandals, as they pulled away from their parents’ world, they embraced the shadow of their grandparents’ Victoriana, torn between an idealised future and rose-tinted visions of the past.

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1) Flower Love, C.Keelan, 1967/ 2) Painting by Mucha

Just imagine that beautiful asceticism of the sixties; candle lit room with bare floor, mattress, incense sticks, Eastern fabrics for curtains, someone jamming on the guitar, girls in colourful clothes with flowers in their hair, resembling Mucha’s painting, laughter, optimism, mind expanding chatter… General mood of the time could be described as a combination of idealism, hedonism and optimism that eventually exceeded into decadence. Similar were the turn of the century vibes and the art movement that came to define the era – Art Nouveau.

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1) 1960s poster/ 2)Alphonse Mucha, ‘Job’, 1898

Art Nouveau demanded artistic freedom, art for art’s sake. Free the colour, the line, the beauty itself, the artists demanded. Similarly, in the sixties, after the drab post-war years were finally over and the economic situation was a bit better, artists and designers demanded the liberty of colour and design. Taking inspiration from the past, in a hope for a better artistic future, designers combined the refinement and elegance of Victorian and Edwardian art; floral prints, aestheticism and playful lines, and combined it with acid-laced colours such as magenta, aqua and bright yellow. Inspiration was often found in flamboyant turn of the century designs by Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley, Mucha and Georges de Feure.

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1) Poster for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at UFO, 16 and 23 June, by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, 1967, London (Michael English & Nigel Waymouth / 2) 1897-98. Journal Des Ventes, Georges de Feure, Color lithograph

As you can see above, poster for the UFO designed by Michael English and Nigel Waymouth who worked under the moniker ‘Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’, is truly Art Nouveau in style; whimsical lines, fluid shapes amalgamating one into another, female figure with flowers and different ornamental detailing in her hair and on her body, the whole mood very playful and fit for the new sixties spirit and yet beautiful aesthetically.

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Psychedelic poster, Pink Floyd, 15 March 1966

A sixties touch in designs is definitely colour which is often bright, contrasting and eye-catching, whereas the turn of the century style preferred more refined colouring, jewel-like colours being popular but always combined with subtler shades. Klimt, Mucha and Georges de Feure placed the attention on ornamentation, almost Baroque in its heaviness, whereas in the sixties, the designs were made for the tuned-in folk, and colour combination such as mauve and yellow, orange and lilac, red and green appealed to the crowd. Psychedelic flamboyancy owes it all to Art Nouveau (and LSD).

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’s posters rejected the stark formalism of graphic design in favour of referencing the 19th century illustrators William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley, with opium-laced flora and leaves drawn in interlaced patterns, hypnotic motifs and arabesques.“(p. 147)

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1) Barbra Streisand in Edwardian-inspired dress and hairstyle/ 2) Biba drawing

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1) Barbra Streisand /2) Edwardian illustration

The book also mentions illustrations by Arthur Rackham, a late Victorian and Edwardian era book illustrator who portrayed subjects from Nordic mythology to scenes from Shakespeare and Alice in Wonderland: “Art Nouveau posters by Alphonse Mucha and illustrated books by Arthur Rackham, dented silver carafes, spindly umbrellas with ivory handles, and chipped porcelain tea services formed a backdrop for an undulating mass along Portobello, Curving to Landbroke Grove…

And it seems to me that the sixties were one really long Mad Hatter’s tea party with great clothes, music and attitudes towards life and spirituality.

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1) Pattie Boyd and Twiggy for Vogue, 1969 / 2) Barbra Streisand in Edwardian dress

Influence of Art Nouveau, Pre-Raphaelites and Edwardian era can be seen not only in visual arts but also in fashion and film costumes. In 1990s there was a Jane Austen revival with films such as Sense and Sensibility. Well, films from the sixties and seventies are all about turn of the century; large hats decorated with roses, Art Nouveau interiors, Edwardian dresses in pastel colours with abundance of ruffles and lace… Some great examples of this aesthetic are films Hello, Dolly (1969) with Barbra Streisand, La Ronde (1964), Morgiana (1972), Viva Maria (1965) with Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, Baba Yaga (1973) etc.

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1) Catherine Deneuve in Edwardian dress / Photo of Emilie de Briand, 1900s

Even in everyday fashion, it’s hard not to see the influence. No, women didn’t return to tight corsets and uncomfortable lingerie, but some designers such as Barbara Hulanicki of Biba took the best of Victorian and Edwardian fashion and incorporated it in sixties style. Think of longer dresses (compared to Mary Quant’s mini dress that ruled the Swinging London), straw hats and lace details, floral prints, velvet, bishop sleeves, heavy dark coloured fabrics, longer hair often with curls (instead of the previous strict bob hair) or soft voluminous buns that were worn by Pattie Boyd and Twiggy for Vogue in 1969, and also Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot. Jane Birkin couldn’t resist the style as well, picture below:

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Jane Birkin in Edwardian dress with lace and ruffles, 1970

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1) Biba girl with Gibson Girl Hairstyle, 2) Illustration by Alphonse Mucha, 3) Biba illustration

Fashion Icons: BIBA Girl

22 Sep

First day of Autumn – a very appropriate date for the mood of Biba fashion. Still, this is the last post in my fashion icon series. You can read all of them here.

I really hope you enjoyed this collage-journey throughout (mostly) 1960s fashion icons. Who knows, this might not be my last series regarding history of fashion, I do have a cunning idea on my mind, but about that some other time. What do you think? And let me know which one was your favourite fashion icon from this series. Do share your opinions. Although I enjoyed writing about them all, my personal tastes lean towards styles of Marianne Faithfull, Brigitte Bardot, Edie Sedgwick and Anna Karina.

1970s biba lady

This photo is the essence of Biba look (apart from the nudeness) -luscious richly textured pillows in jewel colours of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, fabrics from the East, velvet, heavy perfumes, dark lipsticks, orchids and roses, animal prints – leopard and tiger, hint of 1930s glamour, doll-like make up, black lace, rosy cheeks and floral print evoking Victorian wallpapers – that’s Biba; more than fashion, it is the aesthetic, the mood, the spirit…

And now a few facts. ‘Biba‘ label was started by Barbara Hulanicki, a fashion designer and illustrator born in Warsaw in 1936, who moved to England in 1948 and later studied at Brighton School of Art. The first Biba boutique opened in Abingdon Road, Kensington in September 1964, and its first hit was a brown pinstripe dress. Despite its popularity in times of Swinging London, Biba style couldn’t have been more different to the classic, tailored and structured Mod look worn by Twiggy and The Beatles fans. Barbara’s designs were made specifically for young people, girls in their late teens and early twenties, because, in a typical sixties spirit, she wanted to draw a line between the outfits those girls would wear and the outfits their mothers would.

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Likewise, her store was a place for ‘groovy’ individuals, with loud music and lavishing decadent interior in a boudoir-meets-Art Nouveau-and-Art Deco style. When designing, Barbara drew inspiration from romantic Victorian and Edwardian fashions, as well as the glamour of the 1920s and 30s, particularly when it came to make up, inspiration for which was found in faces of film stars such as Greta Garbo, Louise Brooks, Jean Harlow and Theda Bara. Colours she used were very Autumnal, very much in the Count Dracula-graveyard tea party-Miss Havisham-Ophelia-funeral kind of mood – browns, shiny purples, midnight blues, plum, orchid, mahogany, copper, tobacco, camel, camelia pink, red, amethyst, jade… Dresses themselves were very uncomfortable, made from itchy materials and designed in a way it often made it hard to move your arms! But the sixties gals didn’t really care, as long as they looked like Victorian dolls.

Young girls working there were given a new Biba dress every week, along with their regular pay check, so you can only imagine how cool it must have been working there. Hulanicki described her customers as ‘postwar babies who had been deprived of nourishing protein in childhood and grew up into beautiful skinny people: a designer’s dream. It didn’t take much for them to look outstanding.‘ Biba’s models, such as Maddie Smith and Ingrid Boulting, followed a similar pattern. They were all skinny chicks with doll-like faces; soft round eyes, chubby cheeks, thin eyebrows and beautifully shaped full lips. And the best thing is that Barbara Hulanicki dressed in the same style she created, which I think shows just how passionately she loved the whole aesthetic. She lived her designs, and isn’t that the best advertisement?

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This is the end, dear reader, the end….

Fashion Icons: Pattie Boyd II

18 Aug

Pattie Boyd is my seventh fashion icon in this series. I’ve already written posts about Jane Birkin, Sharon Tate, Britt Ekland, Uschi Obermaier, Anna Karina and Edie Sedgwick.

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Pattie Boyd (b. 17 March 1944) was a model in times of Swinging London and a dolly bird who married my favourite Beatle – George Harrison, and later another great rock star – Eric Clapton. After being a model and a muse to two musicians, Pattie went on to become a photographer and an author by writing her autobiography Wonderful Tonight. Pattie holds a very special place in my heart because she was one of the first fashion icons of the 1960s that I fell in love with, and she was loved by George which is quite enough for me. And speaking of George and The Beatles, I have to mention their song Something which was written by George and inspired by Pattie herself! Do listen to it, the lyrics are so beautiful:

Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how
Somewhere in her smile she knows
That I don’t need no other lover
Something in her style that shows me
Don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how
You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around now it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know…

Pattie and George were a typical Mod-turned-Hippie couple. So, for her Mod-look think of mini dresses, cute jumpers with knee-length skirts, striped shirts, pointy shoes, black dresses with white collars, and the typical Mod make up. For her hippie phase think of floral dresses, flared paisley trousers, beads and long necklaces, floppy hats and longer, free-flowing dresses. Her hairstyle and make up also changed; for Mod style she wore heavy eye makeup, fringe and hair with flicked ends, and for her hippie phase she ditched the fringe and opted for a bit longer, more natural looking hair. Here you can read about Pattie’s tips on 1960s makeup and long hairstyle.

And now the collages:

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Desperate Romantics (2009) – A Review

6 May

I’ll start off this post by saying I absolutely loved ‘Desperate Romantics‘ – a period drama set in Victorian London which revolves around the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; their art, lives, loves and scandals.

WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 2009***

First glimpse of Desperate Romantics, from left to right; Rafe Spall as a somewhat austere perfectionist William Holman Hunt, also known as ‘Maniac’, Aidan Turner as the dashing Byronic Hero, ‘half-Italian, half-mad’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Samuel Barnett as a child-prodigy, sweet and bewildered John Everett Millais, and lastly Sam Crane as the gentle, caring and ‘always-in-the-shadow-of-others’ Fred Walters; a composite character mainly based on Fred Stevens and several other historical figures who serves as a journalist and a diarist of the brotherhood.

I found the actors and actresses wonderful and perfectly suitable for their roles. Every character has an individualised personality and that is one of the main reasons this period drama is so brilliant. This emphasis on individual personality traits, be it good or bad ones, helps a great deal to understand the artworks they produced. Their choice of subjects seems so natural after understanding their characters. For example, the strong-willed and religious Hunt would never go on painting sensual women or characters from Roman mythology, and likewise it’s inconceivable that Rossetti would ever paint anything similar to The Light of the World.

***

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Brooding Rossetti and his sorrowful muse

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I very much enjoyed how relatable everyone seemed. Their conversations and jokes in the pub sounded beautifully modern. Pre-Raphaelites smoked hashish, consumed opium, flirted with waitresses and visited brothels. In several scenes you can even see Charles Dickens himself entertaining the ‘ladies’. After watching this, I feel like the Victorian world wasn’t as grim and proper as presented, perhaps in the higher classes but not amongst artists and intellectuals.

In Desperate Romantics Featurette (you can watch it on YouTube) actors and actresses talk about their roles and opinions of the PRB. I found it especially thrilling how Rafe Spall connected the members of the Brotherhood to modern artists and writers. He made a parallel with the Beat Generation and compared Fred Walters to Jack Kerouac, Millais to Neal Cassady, Rossetti to Allen Ginsberg and Hunt to William Burroughs. Also, he compared the radical avant-garde quality of the brotherhood to Punk Rock, and he described the make-up and hairstyle of Annie Miller (Hunt’s girfriend and model) as being Vivienne Westwood-esque.

***

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DESPERATE ROMANTICS

Amy Manson as Lizzie Siddal

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I’m afraid that costumes are a great factor for me, and in Desperate Romantics it was yet another source of enjoyment. As you can see from the pictures I’ve assembled here, dresses worn by Lizzie Siddal are very simple and romantic, made of printed cotton in earthy colours, no corsets or crinolines. Along with her long flowing coppery hair, she looks more like a Medieval maiden than a Victorian lady. Apart from a few bonnets, everything seemed historically accurate. Men’s attire was interesting as well, which is unusual because it tends to be boring and grey. Millais is a true peacock, usually wearing scarlet-coloured velvet jackets and lots of purples and greens. Rossetti is very flamboyant but more sophisticated, he wears loose, half-unbuttoned shirts and vibrant coloured scarves. Fred is all simple and proper, true mama’s boy and Hunt is dressed according to his reserved nature, but after his trip to the East, he starts growing a beard, smoking hashish straight from Syria and dressing with a touch of East just like The Rolling Stones when then discovered Marocco.

***

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First love couple: Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt and Jennie Jacques as Annie Miller

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I’ve read some complaints about the lack of art in the series and I highly disagree. Exhibition of Millais’ Ophelia, an important moment for the PRB, was well presented and so was the moment when Rossetti found his new direction in portraying pure womanly sensuality after an encounter with Fanny Cornforth. Millais, Rossetti, Hunt and Fred are often seen visiting the Royal Gallery, even objecting the mainstream Victorian art, Rossetti said: The Academy’s utter disgust is what gets us all out of bed in the morning‘, continuing Where is the naturalism, where is the life, the flesh, the blood, the nature?’ When Hunt comes back from his trip, he also showcases his paintings, and after Lizzie dies we see grief stricken Rossetti painting Beata Beatrix. We see Rossetti painting Jane Morris and the murals in a nearby church, and Lizzie painting as well. Is this not enough art?

In Desperate Romantics we are presented by something even more important than ‘art’, we see the background of their artworks and everything that went on in their personal lives and the way it reflected on their works. The series captured the mood of the Brotherhood and I think that’s not only more interesting, but more important. Anyone can simply google their paintings, but it takes a lot more to understand them.

***

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal as Victorian era Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull

INTERESTING QUOTES:

“We are artists, we thrive on strong emotions.” (Elizabeth Siddal, ep 5)

“We cannot confuse our feeling about the artist with the art, that would leave us only able to admire works of those we like.” (John Ruskin, ep 3)

“I insists it’s the most noble profession there is. An artist only records beauty, but a model radiates it. If I were Millais, oh, I would paint you in a pure white silk dress.” (Rossetti’s opinion on modelling and words directed to Jane Burden)

“I find the modern world the most random and confusing place.” (Millais, ep 3)

***

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Love couple number 3: Millais and Effie as Victorian version of Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg

A only have a few objections. Firstly, I’d love to have seen Rossetti’s family because his sister Christina was a poet and his brother William Michael also belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Secondly, no mention of Lizzie’s stillborn child and that was something that deeply saddened her and ultimately led to her death. Thirdly, too many sex scenes which was tasteless and unnecessary in my opinion. It’s obvious that Rossetti wasn’t celibate. Perhaps a hint of intimacy would be more interesting than seeing Rossetti jump on every redhead in London.

All in all, I loved Desperate Romantics – escapism into the bohemian circles of Victorian era London. It’s beyond inspiring, the story itself is enigmatic and interesting, actors were brilliant, thoroughly recommend it! There are six episodes, each is one hour long. If you can spare six hours of your life, I sincerely recommend you to do that.

Ode to British Psychedelia or ‘What it means to me’

6 Jan

Last few days I’ve been rereading the book called Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe by Julian Palacios, and relishing in its every page. It explores Syd’s life from the early days in Cambridge, to his Swinging London days at the height of his fame as a psychedelic rock star, all the way to his last days spent in seclusion. Each page reveals Syd’s influences in terms of books, artworks (as he was a painter too), films, music and his ideas in general. Even though he is best known for his days with Pink Floyd which resulted in the album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967): a beautiful psychedelic gem, and his subsequent solo albums, it is not his fame or heyday which interests me the most.

Quite the contrary, it is his childhood and teenage years that reveal the true Syd – a creative figure and a true inspiration. What made Syd a psychedelic icon, what made the underground scene thrive wasn’t just LSD, but a great Pandora’s box of different influences. I am fascinated by the 1960s counterculture before it became mainstream. After reading the book, one can truly see all that lay beyond acid trips because psychedelia is so much more.

1960s Swinging London 7

”The vanguard of London’s latest subculture, driven by LSD and hashish, far removed from the plastic flash of mods and dolly birds, took a sharp turn into the mystic. Drugs prompted many questions, so out came Ouija boards, I Ching, tarot cards, Hindu scriptures, meditation and vegetarianism.” (quote from the book)

Psychedelia or ‘altered consciousness’ doesn’t mean wearing tie dye shirts, listening to Jimi Hendrix and being stoned. That’s almost a disgrace of the original spirit and ideas of the underground scene. For me psychedelia means exploration, daydreams, hedonism and joy, everything that’s opposite of logical and rational. Reality is so bitter, and fantasy worlds so appealing, so why couldn’t we choose fantasy, lead happy lives, and discard reality like a fan after the ball. Sadly, this option is impossible, but infusing one’s life with a dash of psychedelia isn’t.

syd 118

First of all, as, for me, psychedelia equals almost childlike exploration, the key thing is to delve into all sorts of activities and hobbies. Whole range of interests may be suitable for the spirit of psychedelia. Art, for example. When Syd was studying art in London, he became acquainted with painters from totally different art movements; from Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s whimsical portraits formed with fruits and vegetables, to Gustave Caillebotte’s striped wooden floor to Klimt’s golden, mystical beechwoods – all of which I’ve written about. He was also fascinated with Dali, James Ensor and Chaim Soutine. If Syd stands as a symbol of psychedelia, at least in British rock, then everything that influenced him may be considered psychedelic too, am I  right.

alice in wonderland mad hatterAlice in Wonderland (2010)

The erudite nonsense of these traditional English children’s stories blends fantasy and sly surrealism. Gnomes, goblins, Hobbits, unicorns, Cheshire cats and hubble-bubble smoking caterpillars. Moles and toads walked, talked, and even drove motor cars. English in eccentricities and mannerism,m the animals wore waistcoats, carried pocket watches, smoked pipes, and were irritable and witty by turns.

Syd’s writing in Pink Floyd was described as ‘rock meets Mad Hatter’s tea party’. Now, who wouldn’t like to attend a tea party with acid-laced sugar cubes? David Bowie also liked Syd’s lyrics and even compared him with Peter Pan. This is precisely why the British psychedelia appeals to me strongly, more than American, as much as I like The Doors and Jim Morrison, I could hardly imagine him reading fairy tales or attending a tea party, and I’m afraid that’s a major factor for me. May I also note that I adored the opium smoking caterpillar when I was little, and I do still. Such a great character. I was thrilled when I discovered Pink Floyd because Syd’s lyrics combined everything I loved. Adults read fairy tales, men wore velvet trousers and floral shirts – must have been a lovely era.

Alice in Wonderland (1966) 9”..doll’s house, darkness, old perfume…” (Matilda Mother – Pink Floyd), still from Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Another thing that British psychedelia cherished was nature. Syd had a profound connection with nature which never left him. Even around London he use to walk barefoot. In moments of loneliness at Wetherby Mansion, he remembered the idyllic strolls, and the landscape of his innocent childhood days. ‘Barrett’s powerful connection to nature set him apart from others brought up with the same books. His lyrics evoke the woods, fenlands and rivers of Cambridge shire.‘ Syd defined nature and energy as one. Sculptor Emily Young, and the inspiration for the song See Emily Play, called Syd ‘a little wild Puck figure coming out of the woods.’

1877. Linnie Watt - A Woodland WalkLinnie Watt – A Woodland Walk, 1877

Another thing typical for British psychedelia is a certain nostalgia unusual with people so young. In December Syd and his friends attended the annual performance of Handel’s oratorio Messiah at the Albert Hall. Also, a typical evening at the UFO started with Vivaldi’s Four seasons. Girls took fashion inspiration in Arthur Rackham’s illustrations; they dressed in long flowing gowns and adorned their hair with flowers. William Morris’ illustrations and drawings by Beardsley influenced the poster designs for the Underground, as well as the 19th-century Orientalism. Young people were ‘torn between an idealised future and rose-tinted visions of the past‘, quoting the book again.

Syd’s interest in Eastern mysticism grew upon moving to London. He was particularly fascinated with I Ching (esoteric reading) and Chinese board game Go. As the decade progressed, many adapted bright colours and loose cut Eastern-inspired clothes designed by Thea Porter. The Rolling Stones traveled to Morocco. George Harrison admired Indian culture and mysticism, became a vegetarian and admired Lord Krishna.

1967. Maddie Smith, she had a part time job working as a shop girl in Biba and also did some modelling for them, appearing in the first Biba catalogue which was photographed by Donald SilversteinMaddie Smith, model for Biba, 1967

All in all, British psychedelia is a whimsical and dashing mixture of Alice in Wonderland, LSD, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Jazz, Eastern mysticism, focus on the innocence of childhood, Wind in the Willows, Pre-Raphaelites, and cheerful domesticity.

My recipe for adding a dash of psychedelia in one’s life is: obviously listening to matching music such as Pink Floyd’s album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (magnificent title), Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and even bands like The Stone Roses. Secondly, indulge in fantasy novels, fairy tales and imaginary worlds, Tolkien is the best in my opinion, as well as Romantic poets, explore William Blake’s artworks, the Pre-Raphaelites. Take interest in many things! Quote by Vincent van Gogh ‘It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.

My plans for the following weeks include reading Scandinavian, Persian and Russian fairy tales and reading about (and finally learning) Greek and Roman mythology, and connecting it to art. Thirdly, wear colourful clothes, and earrings, feather boas, floral shirts, velvet trousers, in homage to the glorious days of the flamboyant London scene. And venture into nature, feel its energy. As Heraclitus said: Nature loves to hide itself. Who known what kinds of creatures inhabit the forests. I believe that trees have souls, and different personalities. I’m certain of it. Birch trees look so fragile, while poplars seem so lonely. This is kind of my manifesto for this year. I wish you all a psychedelic 2016.