Tag Archives: Orientalism

Raphael Kirchner – Lavender Girls and Japonisme

2 Feb

Raphael Kirchner, Girls with olive green surrounds, 1901

Raphael Kirchner was born in Vienna on 5th May 1875. He took music lesson, attended Conservatoire in Vienna and from 1890 to 1894 he was a student at the Vienna school of Art. He began his art career by painting portraits but quickly switched to making illustrations for magazines and newspapers. In 1897 he started drawing illustrations for a woman’s magazine “Wiener Illustrirte”. In 1900 he moved to Paris, settled in Montmartre and it was during this time that he created the most beautiful, most vibrant and captivating artworks. These illustrations were in fact postcards printed in different series with different motifs; for example the “Perfume” series features pretty La Belle Epoque ladies as allegories for different perfume smells such as patchouli or white rose. Kirchner made series which directly take inspiration from Japanese art, such as his “Geisha” and “Mikado” series, but the artworks that I am presenting here today also take inspiration from Japanese woodblock prints but in a more subtle way. The Oriental design is what drew me to these artworks in the first place. Vibrant colours, flat design, stylised figures; these are all the characteristics that Kirchner found in Japanese art but there is something more: the composite format.

Notice how in each of these artworks one composite format is placed withing another. In the example above a crescent shaped format is within the rectangular shape. Some formats are hard to even put in words, the one bellow looks like a keyhole, for example. This compositional method is referred to as “the contest of framed pictures” (“kibori gakuawase sanzu”) in Ukiyo-e art and it really brings excitement to an otherwise plain artwork. The method was also popular with lacquer box decorations and it was taken over by European artists such as Gauguin and even by the English firm Brown-Westhead, Moore & Co on their designs of ornamental plates. Kirchner adopted Japonisme like many European painters before him, nothing original, but these postcards offer a whole new dimension of Oriental inspired art. I love everything about them; the colours are perfect, the ladies enjoying simple activities such as gazing at the birds or butterflies, picking flowers, blowing bubbles, or watering plants, the simplicity of the design; the less is more is really true for Kirchner’s art. The woman in the postcard bellow; her bright yellow glove, her opened fan, her dress dancing in the wind, and the two yellow butterflies in the sky; just how simple yet how charming this is.

Alexander Golovin’s Costume designs for ‘The Firebird’ (1910)

14 Feb

Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird was written for the 1910 season of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. Premiered on 25 June 1910, it was an instant success. The Firebird was one of the three ballets composed for Ballets Russes by Stravinsky, along with Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). It was based on a story from Slavic folklore about a magical Firebird – a bird that can be both a curse and a blessing to its owner. Although the bird is described as having glowing eyes, feathers ‘brightly emitting red, orange, and yellow light, like a bonfire that is just past the turbulent flame'(*), in  Stravinsky’s ballet, the creature is half-woman, half-bird. Most of the costumes were designed by Alexander Golovin, but some were done by Leon Bakst. Diaghilev also said that ‘Art… is important only as an expression of creator’s personality‘.

This page here has a lot of pictures of costumes, dancers etc. for Ballet Russes, in chronological order! I was mesmerised for hours after seeing all those gorgeous costumes and illustrations. I read somewhere this phrase which best sums up the greatness and importance of Ballet Russes: ‘Serge Diaghilev – The man who introduced the world to the beauty and originality of Russian culture.‘A few more pages about this ballet: here, here. I originally found the pictures on a tumblr called russian-style.

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.”

Odalisque - Henri GervexOdalisque – Henri Gervex

1857. Eugène Delacroix - Odalisque1857 Eugène Delacroix – Odalisque

1839. Odalisque with a Slave, is an orientalist painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres1842 Odalisque with a Slave – Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

1845. Odalisque by Natale Schiavoni1845 Odalisque by Natale Schiavoni

1870s Odalisque - Lord Frederick LeightonOdalisque – Lord Frederick Leighton

Henri Adrien Tanoux (French painter,1865-1923)  –  L’ OdalisqueHenri Adrien tTanoux – L’Odalisque

1920s Odalisque with Red Pants by Henri Matisse1920s Odalisque with Red Pants by Henri Matisse

1923. Henri Matisse - Odalisque with Raised Arms1923. Henri Matisse – Odalisque with Raised Arms

1925. Odalisque in Red Trousers - Henri Matisse1925. Odalisque in Red Trousers – Henri Matisse

1928. Henri Matisse drawing the model Zita as odalisque in his third-floor apartment and studio in Nice1928. Henri Matisse drawing the model Zita as odalisque in his third-floor apartment and studio in Nice