Tag Archives: Manic Street Preachers

Jean-Louis Forain – Elegant Woman at the Beach

22 Feb

‘Adrift in cheap dreams don’t stop the rain.’ (Manic Street Preachers – Motown Junk)

1885-jean-louis-forain-elegant-woman-at-the-beach-1885Jean-Louis Forain, Elegant Woman at the Beach, 1885

The colours and the mood of this painting instantly attracted me. An elegant lady is trying to leave the beach as quick as possible, to avoid the upcoming storm, but the wind is not making it easy for her. Exuding sophistication and class, she must be a Parisian lady who came to the seaside on holiday, hoping to find some peace from the stresses of modern life. Instead of enjoying a picturesque sunny day at the beach, with smiling white clouds and a clear blue sky, she’s welcomed by a turbulent sea and an overcast day, oh how aggravating!

Let’s imagine her name is Celestine, and that this is a one of those sudden storms at the height of Summer, let’s imagine it’s one Thursday afternoon in July. So, Celestine is in a hurry, because she knows that even cheap dreams don’t stop the rain. It seems that just a second ago she lifted her arms and dropped her umbrella, quick not to allow the wind to take over her lovely bonnet. We can see the direction the wind is blowing because the ends of her coat are turned upwards and her red scarf, painted in just few dabs of rich cherry colour, is dancing on the wind. Her vibrant garnet red dress and a navy blue coat stand out amidst all that greyness, which irresistibly reminds me of Anna Karina’s blue and red outfits against the backdrop of grey Parisian streets in Godard’s film ‘Une Femme est Une Femme’. Swift, thick and short brushstrokes are present everywhere, but most notably on her skirt, where the black and red seem to be battling for dominance over the fabric.

I’m sure Celestine would like me to talk more about that lovely outfit that she put together for a walk at the beach, but I think the sea and the beach itself deserve a moment of attention and appreciation. As Forain was an Impressionist, and a friend of Manet and Degas who even invited him to exhibit on the Impressionist exhibitions, he wanted to capture the mood, the magic effects of light and air, rather than perfect details and realistic portrayal of landscape. His careless brushwork and the illusion that everything was painted hastily, as a sketch, all bring to life the atmosphere of that gloomy afternoon: we witness the white clouds being devoured by the dark-grey ones, with almost a purplish undertone to them, we see the wind as it tries to blow Celestine’s bonnet, and probably carries the tiny particles of sand in her eyes, and the sea – we can hear the clasps of waves, and see their strength, beauty and naughty playfulness. This is a moment captured in time, like a photograph. And do I sense a spirit of Turner or Whistler in that portrayal of sea?

It’s hard to notice the line which separates the sandy beach and the sea, but this vagueness delights me. There’s a chair next to the lady, also painted in quick brushstrokes, and two small figures in the background. Sea is painted in beautiful sea foam colour. All in all, the beauty of this painting, for me, lies in its quick, exciting, playful brushstrokes and a gorgeous colour palette in which harmony of greys meets the vibrancy of reds and blues.

Rain, storm, and a desolate beach – my idea of heaven, or at least a perfect afternoon.

Manic Street Preachers – Little Baby Nothing

8 Feb

I often share poems on my blog, but why not share the lyrics of a rock song? As far as I’m concerned, their artistic value is the same, and often the lyrics of The Smiths, Manics, Syd Barrett etc. hold more meaning to me and I can relate to them more than I can to ‘classic’ poetry. Little Baby Nothing is THE first song by the Manic Street Preachers that I’ve listened to, and what can I say – it was love at first sight (or first hearing ha ha). This Friday, 10th February, will mark the 25th anniversary of their debut album Generation Terrorists. This is not my favourite song by the Manics, nor my favourite video, but objectively looking I think the lyrics are amazing and every line is perfect. Some of their lyrics, specially from The Holy Bible, can be a bit confusing, although they sound great accompanied by the music, but ‘Little Baby Nothing’ can be read on its own, like poetry and it would still be as meaningful. In their interview from 1992, Nicky Wire said that ‘men are the most horrible creatures because they use women’ and that the song is about a woman who had power and intelligence and was used by men. Therefore, having Traci Lords to sing some lines was more symbolic than anything, and they felt she could identify with the lyrics. One of their later songs, Yes, also deals with the exploitation of women, but it also says that every time you say ‘yes’ to something you don’t want to do, it’s also a form of prostituting yourself. And of course, the glorious line ‘Culture, Alienation, Boredom, and Despair‘ which perfectly sums everything that their early songs were about.

Here’s what Traci Lords said about Richey and the song: “He reminded me of a young David Bowie: very avant-garde, and there was something quite feminine about him. He was very soft-spoken, and struck me as being vulnerable, almost birdlike. He definitely came across as someone who was living in a glass-house, in some sort of fragile state. I thought he was lovely. He never spoke to me about why he wanted me to sing on ‘Little Baby Nothing’ – it wasn’t until later that I read his reasons for it. It’s funny because I saw Richey as someone who was very vulnerable, and that’s how he saw me“. (NME, 14 February 2015)

I’m glad they chose Traci Lords, not only because she totally fits with the lyrics, but also because I’ve liked her ever since I watched ‘Cry-Baby’ (1990), I thought she was the coolest character in the film! And judging her character and morality based on her ex-porn-star career would be hypocritical and immature. Even the Manics said in the same interview that she was the most intelligent American they’ve ever met in their lives!

1913-woman-in-black-stockings-egon-schieleEgon Schiele, Woman in Black Stockings, 1913

“No one likes looking at you
Your lack of ego offends male mentality
They need your innocence
To steal vacant love and to destroy
Your beauty and virginity used like toys

My mind is dead, everybody love’s me
Wants a slice of me
Hopelessly passive and compatible
Need to belong, oh the roads are scarey
So hold me in your arms
I wanna be your only possession

Used, used, used by men
Used, used, used by men

All they leave behind is money
Paper made out of broken twisted trees
Your pretty face offends
Because it’s something real that I can’t touch
Eyes, skin, bone, contour, language as a flower

No god reached me, faded films and loving books
Black and white TV
All the world does not exist for me
And if I’m starving, you can feed me lollipops
Your diet will crush me
My life just an old man’s memory

Little baby nothing
Loveless slavery, lips kissing empty
Dress your life in loathing
Breaking your mind with Barbie Doll futility

Little baby nothing
Sexually free, made-up to breakup
Assassinated beauty
Moths broken up, quenched at last
The vermin allowed a thought to pass them by

You are pure, you are snow
We are the useless sluts that they mould
Rock ‘n’ roll is our epiphany
Culture, alienation, boredom and despair

You are pure, you are snow
We are the useless sluts that they mould
Rock ‘n’ roll is our epiphany
Culture, alienation, boredom and despair

Now, who’s to say something can’t be aesthetically pleasing and have a strong social message at the same time?

Did I also mention that the video is cool? Well, check it out and decide for yourself.

Egon Schiele – Melancholic Sunflowers

19 Mar

Egon Schiele was just one of many painters who gave identity to sunflowers; he painted them laden with a heavy burden of melancholy and alienation. Gazing at Schiele’s sunflowers, for me, raises an awareness of the haunting fragility of life. I hope you’re intrigued by the oxymoron in the title.

1911. Sunflowers, by Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Sunflowers, 1911

Artist most widely associated with the sunflower motif is Vincent van Gogh, who painted the flowers using quick, ecstatic brushstrokes, in thick coat of intense, almost fire-like, burning yellow-orange colour, their petals almost dissolving on canvas, and saw them as symbols of blinding sun which, in the end, causes madness, or even death. While his vision of sunflowers may have something to do with his over indulgence in absinthe and the fervent sun of Arles, Egon Schiele’s sunflowers are pure sceneries of the soul.

Schiele’s sunflower scenes are gentle portraits of human alienation. He was twenty-one years old when he painted this painting, titled simply ‘Sunflowers’ (1911), but he already showed a profound interest and understanding of the world and society around him. At the age of fifteen Schiele lost his father to syphilis, and he quickly took off the rose-tinted glasses of childhood and became an adult, or at least he tried. My point is that his work is very mature and thoughtful. His self-portraits from the same year show his pondering on the question of identity, and his place in the society. In the same way, these sunflowers here represent the state of his soul, not the scenery he saw before him.

1911. Sunflowers - Egon Schiele Egon Schiele, Sunflowers, 1911

In 1913, Schiele wrote to an art collector Franz Hauer: ‘I also do studies, but I find, and know, that copying from nature is meaningless to me, because I paint better pictures from memory, as a vision of the landscape – now, I mainly observe the physical movements of mountains, water, tress and flowers. Everywhere one is reminded of similar movements made by human bodies, similar stirrings of pleasure and pain in plants. Painting is not enough for me; I am aware that one can use colours to establish qualities. – When one sees a tree autumnal in summer, it is an intense experience that involves one’s whole heart and being; and I should like to paint that melancholy.*

The melancholy that Schiele so eloquently described in the letter (he was a poet as well), is exactly the feeling which overwhelms me when I look at this painting. In stingy colours, using light brushstrokes Schiele created a true psychological study. His sunflowers appear tired and weary at first sight, and believe me, the second sight only intensifies the first one. Murky yellows, muddy browns, shades of green – neither of which is fresh or relaxing, all indicate a certain fatigue of the soul, decay of traditional values. Notice the sparse petals: some are missing while others are wildly protruding. Their stems are weak, dry, directionless, about to break – ‘heads’ of sunflowers resemble a tired head of a disappointed, forlorn man carried on fragile shoulders. The scene inevitably reminds me of these verses ‘Broken thoughts run through your empty mind‘ and ‘Endless hours in bed, no peace, in this mind/ No one knows the hell where innocence dies‘, again by Manic Street Preachers (Sleepflower). I may be aggravating with these verses, but I think similar themes often occur in many artworks, regardless of the time-period and style, don’t you?

1908. Sunflower - Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Sunflower, 1908

A poem that would go well with Schiele’s vision of sunflowers:

Georg Trakl: The Sunflowers

You golden sunflowers,
Feelingly bowed to die,
You humble sisters
In such silence
Ends Helian’s year
Of mountainous cool.
And the kisses
Make pale his drunken brow
Amidst those golden
Flowers of melancholy
The spirit is ruled
By silent darkness.

1906. Gustav Klimt - The Sunflower, 1906, Oil on Canvas. 110 x 110 cmGustav Klimt, The Sunflower, 1906, Oil on Canvas. 110 x 110 cm

Unlike Schiele’s isolated sunflowers, imbued with sadness, Klimt’s sunflowers have a mystical aura about them. He painted these sunny flowers incorporated in garden scenes. Whereas Schiele isolated his sunflowers, exposed their anguished heads and tired stems, Klimt’s fear of ‘horror vacui’, ‘fear of empty space’, drove his to fill the entire surface of his garden scenes with flowers, whether in form of tiny red dots and green dashes, or in a form of true flowers such as sunflowers. Klimt painted them with their heads looking in different directions, their green leafs dancing in the wind like tulle skirts. Jewish Hungarian journalist and author, Lajos Hevesi (1843-1910), noticed the contrast between bright yellow petals and ‘dark and mysterious’ inner space. Their appearance resembles the solar eclipse. Sunflowers did have a cosmic meaning to Klimt after all.

1913. Farm Garden with Sunflowers, 1913 by Gustav KlimtGustav Klimt, Farm Garden with Sunflowers, 1913

Vincent van Gogh – Almond Blossoms or ‘Fragile Beauty’

12 Mar

A few days ago I nicked a branch of an apple tree from someone’s garden. It looked lovely in my vase, but the whiteness and delicacy of the blossoms didn’t last very long, and my ‘stolen good’ quickly withered. First sight of this apple blossoms reminded me of Vincent van Gogh’s painting ‘Almond Blossom’.

1890. Branches with Almond Blossom by Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh, Almond Blossom, 1890

Vincent van Gogh painted his painting ‘Almond Blossom’ in February 1890, during his stay in Saint Remy hospital. He obviously had an urge to capture the nature’s awakening because he painted the almond blossoms on many occasions. Vincent painted this particular blue version, this artistic ‘vignette’ to commemorate the birth of his nephew; son of his brother Theo and his wife Johanna. Lush white blossoms are sprouting from what were, not that long ago, just a few frozen branches, and, like heralds of spring, they announce the beginning of new life. These almond blossoms are symbols of fertility, new life and new beginnings – both in nature and referring to his little nephew. This is what Vincent wrote to his mother, on 20 February 1890;

Dear Mother,

I intended to answer your letter many days ago, but I could not bring myself to write, as I sat painting from morning to evening, and thus the time passed. I imagine that, like me, your thoughts are much with Jo and Theo (…) I started right away to make a picture for him (the nephew), to hang in their bedroom, big branches of white almond blossom against a blue sky.*

Alongside almond blossoms and their symbolism, there are other interesting elements of this painting. Firstly, the gorgeous cerulean or sky blue (as you wish) that graces the background. Secondly, calm and confident brushstrokes which, knowing van Gogh’s passionate nature, most have required some restraining and admirable patience.  Painting ‘Almond Blossoms’ always reminds me of these verses:

One day I realise oil on canvas
Can never paint a petal so so delicate‘ (Manic Street Preachers – Life Becoming a Landslide)

I agree with this thesis; tree in bloom is surely a lovelier scene in nature than on canvas. But if there’s one painter capable of beautifully capturing the delicacy of the almond blossoms, it’s Vincent van Gogh.

When I gazed at my apple blossoms in the vase, I was saddened by their decay. And then a though occurred – I realised what the Japanese were on about with their cherry blossom viewing. The beauty of flowers lies in their transience. Every spring flowers adorn the tree branches, but for Vincent the spring of 1890 was the last one of his life (he died in July 1890). Next year almond trees blossomed again, in the radiant sun of Provence, but Vincent wasn’t there to witness and admire their fragile beauty.

Egon Schiele’s Nudes and Manic Street Preachers

9 Mar

Egon Schiele is known as the painter of anxiety, sexuality and death – a combination of which makes his paintings provocative, twisted, slightly morbid and trashy. Schiele was too radical for his contemporaries but later on he proved to be an inspiration for pop icons and rock stars from David Bowie to Manic Street Preachers.

NPG x87840; Manic Street Preachers (Richey James Edwards; Nicky Wire (Nick Jones)) by Kevin CumminsThe May 1991 NME cover of Nicky and Richey, photographed by Kevin Cummins

Many artists painted nudes, but Schiele’s nudes are certainty one of the most striking. Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Goya’s The Nude Maja, Manet’s Olympia – none of these masterpieces are as eye-catching, as disturbing or as decadent as any of Schiele’s nude or semi-nude women with pale skin, ribs sticking out, untamed pubic hair, dark circles underneath the eyes, overall unsettling appeal – Schiele defined ‘heroin chic’ look eighty years before it was trendy. And I’m sure Kate Moss would be more than welcomed to pose for him because Schiele’s ideal was a fragile and lean body.

Twisted body shapes and very sexualised poses typical for Schiele’s oeuvre raised the dust in conservative society of the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire. Poses, more than nudity, shocked the audience. His anti-academic tendencies and subjectiveness to the core drove him to explore human body and perspectives like no one else at the time. He captured his models in bizarre movements and weird, probably uncomfortable poses. Often, he’d step on the ladders and draw the model from above. The process of sketching is interesting as well. Schiele was very skilled in drawing, had a firm hand, never used a rubber, and if he did make a mistake, which was rare, he’d simply throw the paper away. Schiele’s paintings were based on lines, just like those of Ingres. He’d always colour his drawings in the absence of the model, working from the memory. This was probably good for the models because it meant that they didn’t have to spent a lot of time in those awkward poses – sketching was quickly done, and they could get their money and go home. About his fragile, world-weary figures Schiele said: ‘They were intended to look buckled under, the bodies of those who are tired of life, suicidal.

1917. Egon Schiele - UmarmungEgon Schiele, Pair Embracing, 1917

It’s easy to see the similarities between Schiele’s expressive, twisted body shapes and Kevin Cummins’ photo of Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers. Wire is in a leopard print shirt, Edwards in a black crocheted top; they both have make-up, this, along with the gold background certainly evokes the ‘trashy glam look’ that Cummins was aiming for. Still, the position of their bodies, their hands interwoven, along with love-bites and slogans written on their chests evoke a slightly nihilistic, anxious mood of Egon Schiele’s paintings. Also, with his angular face and messy hair, Edwards does look a bit like some poor girl Schiele would pick up from the streets and use as his model.

And now a bit about the Manic Street Preachers’ first ever NME cover shoot:

The May 1991 NME cover of Nicky and Richey was photographed by Kevin Cummins. ‘This was their first NME cover’, he says, ‘I bought the gold sari cloth to give it a trashy glam look – although it’s since drawn comparisons to the paintings of Egon Schiele, with the gold backdrop and the slightly twisted bodies‘. The cover image showed the two band members on their backs, gazing up at the camera. Wire has his right arm around Edwards’ shoulders and Edwards is pressing it to his chest. Both have panda-eyed make-up. Wire is in a leopard print shirt, open to below his nipple, while Edwards has a black crocheted top. Before the shot, they’d decided that they should both have a collection of love-bites on display and so the night before they had gone nightclubbing to try and get some. Wire succeeded but Edwards didn’t, much to his own disgust. In the photo studio, Kevin Cummins wrote ‘Culture Slut’ across Nicky Wire’s upper chest in lipstick. Edwards, upset about losing the love-bite competition, was determined not to be upstaged. He produced a school geometry compass and wandered over to a mirror, where he scratched ‘HIV’ into his upper chest. But he forgot he was looking at his reflection so what he actually wrote was ‘VIH’. It still made the cover.* (A Version of Reason: The Search for Richey Edwards, by Rob Jovanovic)

1917. Kneeling Girl, Resting on Both Elbows by Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Kneeling Girl, Resting on Both Elbows, 1917

1910. Female Nude (Weiblicher Akt) by Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Female Nude (Weiblicher Akt), 1910

1910. Squatting Female - Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Squatting Female, 1910

1917. Woman - Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Woman, 1917

Book Review: A Thing of Beauty (Is a joy for ever) by A.J. Cronin

6 Mar

A few days ago I finished reading one absolutely beautiful book – A Thing of Beauty or Crusader’s Tomb by A. J. Cronin. Perhaps a more appropriate adjective to describe a book would be ‘brilliant’ or ‘astonishing’ or ‘interesting’, but trust me, every line in this book is pure beauty, regardless of the title.

The main character is Stephen Desmonde, the son of Reverend Bertram Desmonde of Stillwater Rectory, Sussex. Novel begins with his return from Oxford, his father, mother, sister Claire and younger brother David are all expecting him. Soon there’s a dispute between Stephen and his father; Bertram wants Stephen to become a reverend as well, but Stephen wants to be an artist. Cronin leads us into the story in an interesting way: first we see the background and hear about Bertram’s wishes, and then the main character steps in. We don’t wait for his arrival too long, but still it’s enough time to spark mystery.

Something interesting about the setting: St Mary’s Church, Sullington contains traces of Saxon Work although most of the fine church you can see today dates from the early 13th century.

The church contains a well worn stone effigy of a crusader which is thought to have inspired the writer AJ Cronin to write his novel A Thing of Beauty (1956), a book which had the alternate tile Crusader’s Tomb. Cronin lived at the Old Rectory in Sullington before the Second World War.’ (westsussex.info)

I don’t want to tell you too much about the plot, but rather share my opinion about the book and Stephen as a character and as artist. If you decide to read the book, you’ll find out everything. I think Stephen is a fascinating character and it was interesting to witness his moral and artistic progress, personal growth and inevitable physical decline, and eventual death. Yes, sadly, he died in the end.

At first I had a feeling, or, I feared that Stephen would turn out to be shallow and weak, but I was so wrong. One day, abruptly, against the wishes of his family, he went to Paris. The year is about 1912. His first weeks in Paris seemed like a dream; he still had money and ‘friends’, although some people later used his naive and trustful nature. Luckily, one good soul and an artist, Richard Glyn, rescued Stephen from the company of dandies, charlatans and other money-sucker bastards. Only then did Stephen realise what does it mean to be an artist – it means work, work and work. It’s something a lot of people don’t realise, but true artists work from dawn to dusk because painting is not a job, it’s a passion, a way of life, it’s essential to their existence as much as breathing.

The book features many interesting scenes that are so worth reading such as: Stephen’s encounter with Amedeo Modigliani!, then his time spent in circus, travels to Spain and death of his friend Jerome Peyrat, a fellow painter, and a poor, kind soul, whose last words were directed to Sainte Therese of Avila… Only after he died did I realise what a gentle and unselfish man he was! All these losses and defeats left a trace on Stephen’s soul and body. In October 1920 Stephen looked like this: ‘And he had grown a beard, cropped close on cheek and chin, which somehow accentuated the length of jaw and temple hollows, gave the planes of his face bones an almost startling gauntness. (…) His face, pale and deeply shadowed beneath the eyes, wore a look of languor. His glossy black hair was parted neatly in the middle…‘ A new phase of his life began:

Yesterday saw the opening at the Maddox Galleries, New Bond Street, of an exhibition of paintings by Stephen Desmonde. Mr. Desmonde, whose controversial picture ‘Circe and her Lovers’…

Although some of his paintings were exhibited, gallery visitors didn’t appreciate them, as the story goes with many artists. Stephen decided to visit his family after eight years spent travelling and working in France and Spain – the wrong step. Oddly, he enjoyed his days at home, and after breakfast he’d bring his papers and pencil and walk around picturesque Dawns, sketching bare trees in late winter and stormy waters of Chillingham lake. (‘Bathed in moonshine, an angelic peace lay upon the downs.’)

He was soon commissioned to paint a few paintings for the church. He was inspired by Goya’s paintings of Peninsular war, and wanted to make an anti-war statement, condemn violence, greed and lust for power. Instead, reverends and judges condemned him. Irony!? Stephen’s paintings The Rape of peace, Aftermath and Hail, Armageddon were judged for their brutality and honesty. The same people who advocated violence, nationalism and victory in wars, were now appalled by his paintings. Oh, hypocrisy and its unbreakable bond with the bourgeois class! Things have not changed a bit today. This book only intensified the contempt I feel for the middle class. Fuck the conventions, shatter all conservatism, and absolute artistic freedom for artists! Descriptions of the paintings:

But when he turned to the second panel, ‘Hail, Armageddon’, with its deadly massing of guns and uniformed men, while, amidst cheering crowds, bands played and flags were waved under a darkening sky…

…amidst a scene of destruction that is far from edifying, is the naked, full-length form of a woman, which, we are informed by the accused, represents the figure of Peace.’

They even told him: ‘This is not a picture, it is a mere splattering of colours.‘ – ‘Nevertheless, it is art.‘ Stephen answered. The judge and the audience were shocked by nudity, scenes of violence and rape – well, that’s what wars are about – pointless massacres of people, propagandas of hatred, why encourage them in the first place? just the thought of agony he must have felt, really pisses me off. The scene reminds me all too well of Kafka’s The Trial. Just like its main character K., Stephen was prosecuted but wasn’t aware of his crime. Obviously, the society thinks that exposing truth is a crime. Injustices at every corner. The scene reminded me of verses from the song Faster by Manic Street Preachers:

I am an architect, they call me a butcher,

I am a pioneer, they call me primitive,

I am purity, they call me perverted.

How couldn’t they see that he was an ‘architect’ and a ‘pioneer’, not a ‘butcher’ and ‘primitive’, and they called his painting ‘perverted’, but they were nothing more than symbols of peace! Is there a thing more ‘pure’ than art and free artistic expression. After ‘the trial’, Stephen was mentally and physically exhausted. They almost drained life out of him. The story leads him to Jenny, who was a cleaner at his college, and they soon befriend. Jenny’s warm and open-hearted personality soon won him over and they eventually married. His ever-frail health and lung problems were soothed by sunny days on the beach in Margate (Kent) – the same place Delboy and Rodney Trotter visited in one episode of Only Fools and Horses. At that point it becomes clear that painting is his life, and that brushes and pencils weren’t tools but an ending of his hand. From a naive and wealthy young man in Paris before the First World War, Stephen progressed into a true artist, always carrying pencil and sketchbook with him. He spent days painting, forgetting on food on many occasions.

Every good artwork is nothing more than beauty born out of sacrifice. Is the sacrifice worth it? Is art a continuation of life, or something even greater than life? I think art is truth and moral and beauty all in once, and it is worth dying for.

Novel ‘A Thing of Beauty’ really brings the message that: ‘Not only is fame (and until recent years even liberty) denied to men of genius during their lives, but even the means of subsistence. After death they receive monuments and rhetoric by way of compensation.‘ Let’s not forget that.

I decided to write about this book because I don’t think it is as popular as it should be. I loved Cronin’s style of writing – very simple, easy to read, yet it conveys a much deeper message. I also thought that his description of art studios, lifestyle of artists and difficulties they encounter till the moment they die, were very realistic and written in a sensitive, compassionate way. Not one sentence is kitschy and melodramatic, and that’s something I appreciate. Reader feels that he is with Stephen, in all his ups and downs. Cronin also brings up an interesting thesis: that art is born of out artist’s lifestyle. Without the experiences, hunger and sadness, Stephen’s paintings wouldn’t be as beautiful. At one point he is offered money by his childhood friend Claire, but he rejects it, because financial security would ruin his art, and art is something he can’t live without. So, quite a long review, but this book deserves it. Hope you’ll read it. And now two paintings which came to my mind upon reading the book:

1920s El Circo by Federico Beltran Masses (1885–1949) Federico Beltran Masses (1885–1949), El Circo, c. 1920s -> reminds me of Stephen’s ‘Circus’ scenes

1892. Alice Pike Barney - MedusaAlice Pike Barney, Medusa, 1892 -> reminds me of Stephen’s painting ‘Circe and her Lovers’

Title of the book is a reference to Keats’s poem Endymion so I will finish my post with the poem:

Endymion by John Keats:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing….

Grande Odalisque – Ingres

21 Jun

Shards, oh shards
The androgyny fails
Odalisque by Ingres…” (Manic Street Preachers – Pretension/Repulsion)

1814. Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres1814 Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Odalisque was a tremendously popular subject in the history of art, from Francois Boucher to Henri Matisse, but the most memorable and the most fascinating rendition of the odalisque is certainly the one J.A.D. Ingres painted in 1814.

Ingres was a Neoclassical painter, and his style changed very little throughout his career. His favourite subject was quite unsurprisingly the female nude, and his fascination with the Orient was not a secret. Ingres was fascinated by the exotic world of the Near East (‘Proche-Orient’) and in 1814, aged thirty-four, he chose to convey his two fascinations on the canvas. A work that he created, ‘Grande Odalisque’, remains his most memorable and most controversial painting.

Painting ‘Grande Odalisque’ shows an Odalisque, a concubine in a Turkish harem, or more precisely – a concubine in the household of the Ottoman sultan. Odalisque was suppose to be a very beautiful woman, specially trained to dance and sing, and, unlike the Russian Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna who ‘wasn’t born to amuse the Tsarz‘ as Pushkin wrote it, an Odalisque was indeed born to amuse the Sultan. ‘In the Ottoman Empire, concubines encountered the sultan only once, unless she was especially skilled in dance, singing, or the sexual arts, thus gaining his attention.

1814. Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, detail 3

Ingres painted his Odalisque lying on a divan, offering herself, echoing the pose of David’s portrait of Madame Recamier painted in 1800. Unlike later Odalisque paintings by Matisse, or even Eugene Delacroix, Ingres’ Odalisque seems quite modest, turning her back, and rewarding the viewer only with a glance. Her face appears cold and aloof, radiating disinterest. Reserved and refined, she is a stark contrast to subsequent Odalisque paintings. Compared to Matisse’s Odalisques, painted in vibrant colours, plump and sensual, spreading their legs, dressed in colourful and inaccurate garments, or Delacroix’s vivid Odalisque lacking formality, coldness and restraint that were of vital importance to Neoclassical style, and therefor valued by Ingres.

1814. Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, detail 4

Her body was a source of fascination throughout the centuries as it is too elongated and idealised. For Ingres, long lines symbolised sensuality and with a few corrections her wanted to portray a pure beauty on canvas. This infamous elongation and the small head evoke the spirit of Mannerism. It is also interesting to note how perfect her skin tone is – Ingres adored thin, almost invisible and perfect brushstrokes and he was disgusted by heavy or visible brushstrokes; he never gave up his Neoclassical ideals.

Grande Odalisque‘ gives us a very good insight into Ingres’ style and its main characteristics such as precise and refined lines, masterly handling of lines, light and shadow, and a limited use of colours. Ingres was very proficient in drawing, and he considered colour to be just a useless accessory. Even in this painting, a limited use of colour is evident; there’s an interesting contrast between blue and yellow, but that’s all there is. He said: ‘Drawing is the probity of art. To draw does not mean simply to reproduce contours; drawing does not consist merely of line: drawing is also expression, the inner form, the plane, modeling. See what remains after that.

1814. Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, detail 2

Ingres painted in Davidian style and considered himself a ‘…conservator of good doctrine, and not an innovator‘. He disliked all the dramatic and flamboyant qualities of Romanticism, but nevertheless chose an exotic subject for his painting, thus making a shift towards Romanticism in art. ‘Nature and exotic landscapes’ was one of the four main areas of interest in Romanticism, and it’s not surprising that Ingres wanted to capture that sensual, colourful and exotic world of Orient on canvas.

In painting, Ingres was somewhat influenced by what he had read. Although his reading list was slightly limited (Homer, Virgil, Dante), a female writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu prompted his fascination with Odalisques. Lady Montagu is today remembered for her letters from Turkey which are described as ‘the very first example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient‘.

So, this painting is a love child of Neoclassicism and Romanticism. Baudelaire described Ingres as a painter of “profound sensual delights.”

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