Tag Archives: Luisa Casati

Magical Nocturnal World of Federico Beltran Masses

27 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the round

crossroads,

six maidens

dance.

Three of flesh,

three of silver.

The dreams of yesterday search for them,

but they are held embraced

by a Polyphemus of gold.

The guitar!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Six Strings

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

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

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Kees van Dongen – ‘Painting is the most beautiful of lies’

18 Feb

Painting is the most beautiful of lies.’ – Kees van Dongen

1910s La Casati by Kees Van Dongen1918. La Casati by Kees Van Dongen

Kees van Dongen was a Dutch born French Fauvist painter famous for his sensual, somewhat gaudy female portrait, infallibly permeated with avant-garde and mystique. Out of all the Fauvists, Kees van Dongen’s work is the most appealing to me. His paintings have a great charisma for me; the decadency, the sultry face expressions of van Dongen’s ladies, palette of cold and vibrant colours, and those brilliant blue-greys, it’s all just enchanting to me. The close line between banality and glamour, clash between elegance and eroticism makes a powerful combination which draws the viewers in a world of false glamour and bleakness; a prelude to the Roaring twenties. Kees van Dongen’s female figures have often been described as ‘half drawing-room prostitute, half sidewalk princess‘.

1920. Kees van Dongen, La violoniste1920. Kees van Dongen, La violoniste

Kees van Dongen’s paintings have a strong erotic, modernly sensual vibe, which is not strange as he was a ‘ladies man‘. The combination of eroticism and vibrant colours made his paintings very popular in the First World World and the years immediately after the war. Still, some found his paintings too repetitive and his best work is considered to be done before 1920. Even at the age of fifteen, while he was still in the Netherlands, he used to visit the docs and sketch sailors from afar, and courtesans that gathered there too. In 1899. Kees left for Paris for good. He participated in the exhibition and Salon D’Autumne in 1905; the exhibition was controversial but it set a scene for a new art movement; the Fauvism.

Kees was one of the painters of the new generation of artists with avant-garde tendencies and an enormous elan for improvement. Main characteristics of Fauvism were vibrant colours and strong brush strokes; raw energy thrown on canvas, each brush stroke overwhelmed with emotions and passion. The combination of the two proved to be a particularly powerful one as the works of Fauvists are still valued today, and, although Kees van Dongen isn’t the most popular of them, his painting evoke the spirit of the time better than anyone elses, at least for me.

1920s Marchesa Casati by Kees van Dongen1917. The Bowl of Flowers – Kees van Dongen

This particular painting ‘The Bowl of Flowers‘, shown above, captivated me the most these past days. The painting shows a rich and eccentric heiress, Luisa Casati. She was an Italian heiress, muse, patron of arts, and in the first place an extravagant society hostess, a femme fatale who scandalised and delighted European high society for three decades. Luisa is the epitome of decadency and eccentricity and she lived her life with passion, relishing in abundance. It won’t come as a surprise that she commissioned many portraits of her to be painted from artists such as Giovanni Boldini, Romaine Brooks, and Kees van Dongen as well.

On this painting, Kees van Dongen used his tested technique of elongated figures, large eyes and strange vibrant yet mystical colours. As he was famous for portraying rich and fashionable ladies and society hostesses, he commented one time ‘The essential thing is to elongate the women and especially to make them slim. After that it just remains to enlarge their jewels. They are ravished.‘ I especially love the composition, how Luisa was placed on the far left instead of the usual central position common for portraits, and find it very interesting how she turned her back on the viewers, intriguing them even more. Her figure is elongated, her hands are thin, her waist is tiny, and that greenish skin colour, that sickly absinthe shade of green. Her pearl necklace, red high-heel shoes and thin flimsy shawl are here only to round off her mystical, sensuous and dreamy figure with all its decadency and avant-garde mood which is so appealing even today.

1920s Luisa Casati, Kees Van Dongen.1920s Luisa Casati, Kees Van Dongen

1913. Kees van Dongen - Tamara, The Painter’s Muse1913. Kees van Dongen – Tamara, The Painter’s Muse

1910. The Lace Hat, Kees van Dongen1910. The Lace Hat, Kees van Dongen

Kees van Dongen’s ‘Femme Fatales‘ live in their own world; trapped in avant-garde, bursting with beauty and modern kind of sensuality, living at the clash of glamour and decadence. They are mythical creatures, divine and garish at the same time, living at the verge of dreams and reality; they are the fruit of Kees van Dongen’s imagination, so wonderful, so timeless, and so surreal.