Tag Archives: Spring

Rimbaud – Sensation – I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing…

25 Mar

My heart leaps up when I behold the charms of spring; tree branches adorned with leaves and gorgeous little white or pink blossoms, daisies and buttercups gracing the meadows, violets smiling devilishly from the grass, sunsets in shades of lilac, pink and orange. These days my soul is filled with sweet restlessness and my mind is alive with ideas, and I found a special delight in aimlessly walking around town and by the river, listen to the water murmuring, feeling the cool breeze on my bare head. Every flower lures me to ‘rescue’ it from someone’s garden and put it in my vase. Flowers, flowers, just give me pretty flowers and I shall be happy!

Some things are synonymous with spring for me; paintings of Impressionists, Schiele and Klimt, music of Debussy and The Stone Roses, Vincent van Gogh’s letters and Rimbaud’s poems! When I first discovered Rimbaud, I instantly fell in love with his poetry. Oh, it was a mad love! His book of poems was in my hands always. Every evening I’d sit by the window, breathing in the chill evening air filled with the sweet fragrance of lilac trees, gaze at the distant hills covered with a veil of pinkish mist, and read his poems over and over again, for a moment stopping to rest my head and daydream, while the distant church bells permeated the air, along with an occasional dog bark. Inspired by what I felt, what I saw, and what I daydreamed about, I wrote many and many verses too, not very good admittedly, but it was Rimbaud who unlocked that creativity in me, and I shall never forget that! Sunsets are heartbreaking, not dawns, and every moon is indeed atrocious and every sun is bitter!

Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, 1875

This evening, the same book is in my hand, the same verses, the same view from the window and yet the feeling the poem awakes is more subtle. The excitement upon reading something for the first time is just exquisite, and you can’t get it back. Rimbaud wrote this poem in March 1870; not even sixteen years old. I first read it in March too, and I was overwhelmed by the fact that there was a boy who lived more than a hundred years before me, and yet felt the same things that I do, and managed to express it more eloquently than I ever could. It appealed me immensely that he was my age when he wrote all of his poetry. This verse from another poem was amongst my favourites as well: “Seventeen! You’ll be so happy!/Oh! the big meadows/The wide loving countryside! – Listen, come closer!…

These days, his poem Sensation is on my mind constantly and I think it goes very well with Claude Monet’s portrait of his wife Camille and their son Jean. It’s a beautiful en plein air study on a windy summer’s day, look how Camille’s veil playfully dances in the wind, and how green the grass, how blue the sky, how white the clouds? It was painted in just a few hours, and the intensity of the colours really shows that it was painted outdoors on a summer day, and not in the studio. Colours are intense just like they really are when the sun is high. Camille is shown dressed like an elegant Parisian woman, walking down the meadows on a blue summer afternoon, crushing the short grass and getting prickled by the corn… but will the endless love mount in her soul too, as she walks silently, her face covered with a mysterious flimsy veil?

Sensation

On the blue summer evenings, I shall go down the paths,
Getting pricked by the corn, crushing the short grass:
In a dream I shall feel its coolness on my feet.
I shall let the wind bathe my bare head.

I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing:
But endless love will mount in my soul;
And I shall travel far, very far, like a gipsy,
Through the countryside – as happy as if I were with a woman.

And here is the poem written by the man himself, what elegant handwriting!

Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, facing left, 1886

If this poem hasn’t awoken a sense of excitement and rapture in your soul, I don’t know what could. My plans for the rest of the weekend: Rimbaud, Debussy and a healthy dose of Egon Schiele, and you?

Egon Schiele – Portrait of Edith in a Striped Dress

21 Mar

Egon Schiele’s portrait of his wife Edith in a colourful striped dress is something quite unusual and new in his art, and her face, full of naivety, sweetness and innocence seems so out of place amongst his usual female portraits, nudes and half-nudes, with a decaying heroin chic appeal. Where did this change of style come from?

Egon Schiele, Portrait of Edith Schiele, the artist’s wife, 1915

When I first saw this portrait, I loved the stripes on the dress for they seemed so alive, so intricate and colourful, and yet the quality of the colour is murky and earthy, as usual in Schiele’s palette. I was also amused by her face expression, but my interest quickly turned to Schiele’s alluring nudes. What can this portrait show us, apart from the fact that Edith loved wearing striped dresses? Well, it’s a psychological study which shows us Edith’s true personality. Let’s say that her true colours shine through. Look at her – she looks awkward and artless, she is clumsy and doesn’t know what to do with her hands, her eyes are wide open and eyebrows slightly raised, her lips are stretched in a weird, shy smile, as if she’s in the spotlight but wants to get away, she’s pretty but not exceptional, timid but not gloomy. Prior to marrying Schiele, Edith led quite a sheltered life, with her sister Adele and her conservative parents.

In Spring of 1914, Schiele noticed that there were two pretty young girls living just across his flat. Naturally interested, he started thinking of ways to meet them which was hard because the girls lived under the watchful eyes of their mother. They started waving each other through the window, and sometimes Schiele would paint a self-portrait and show it to them through the window. Surely by now, both Edith and Adele had dreamt of meeting that cheeky, arrogant but charming artist across the street. Schiele started sending them little notes, the content of which must have made Edith and Adele blush and giggle, but they never replied to any of them for a year. They met with Wally’s help, and all four went to the theatre or cinema together. Needless to say that the cynical Schiele was interested in both girls, in fact, for some time he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to marry Edith or Adele. Crazy situation, but luckily for him, it turned out that Adele wasn’t really interested so he settled on Edith and they got married, despite the strong disapproval of her parents, on 17 June 1915, which was the anniversary of the marriage of Schiele’s parents.

Scenes from ‘Egon Schiele: Excess and Punishment’ (1981)

I can understand why Edith liked Schiele, women always go for the bad guys; he was an artist, straightforward about what he wanted, he had a bad reputation and was once imprisoned for pornographic art, and, admit it or not, there’s something romantic about criminals. What remains a mystery to me is why Schiele liked her? What could this timid, shy, proper and frightened girl had to offer him? Most importantly, what was it so appealing about Edith that the witty, funny street-wise, experienced Wally didn’t have?

We sense here the conflicting emotions that Edith must have caused in Schiele: a quiet pleasure in her innocence, a satisfaction with her selfless loyalty mixed with frustration at her lack of of sexual energy. Schiele makes her seem passive and whilst he found vulnerability attractive he must also have longed for those quite different qualities which Wally possessed in abundance: the kind of temperament and aggressive eroticism which made Schiele himself feel vulnerable.“*

Edith was portrayed well in the film Egon Schiele: Excess and Punishment (1981). If I remember well, in one scene she’s sitting in Schiele’s lap and he shows her some of his erotic drawings, and she throws a quick shy glance, giggling and blushing, and you can see that she’s at unease with the nude models in his studio, stretching in different poses. She wanted to pose for him so he wouldn’t look at other women, but she just couldn’t satisfy his artistic demands. Again, that’s something that Wally did more than well.

Where did this wish to settle down, this wish for security come from? It seems like he wanted to indulge in a bourgeois life all of a sudden. Also, his decision to marry Edith and not Wally shows the double standards typical for men of his time; Wally was an artist’s model, a position practically equal to that of a prostitute, and as much as he loved her aggressive eroticism, he still wanted his wife to be modest and chaste. In the portrait of Edith in a striped dress from the same year, again her shyness shines through. Look at her eyes, frightened like that of a delicate fawn in the forest glade, and her sloping shoulders, almost crouching under the weight of the artist’s gaze, her hands in her lap; she looks like a child forced to sit still against its wish. Schiele always painted his middle-class wife modestly dressed, with a stiff collar and long sleeves, whereas looking at the pictures of Wally we know only of her petticoats, lingerie and stockings, not of her hats and dresses. Without a doubt, Edith loved Schiele, but she couldn’t understand his art.

Egon Schiele, Portrait of Edith Schiele with striped dress, 1915

Their marriage didn’t last long for they both died in that sad autumn of 1918. First World War had just ended, Spanish flu had taken many lives, amongst its victims were Edith who died six months pregnant on 28th October, and Schiele who died a few days later, on 31st October.

Everything that is sad, and occurs in autumn, gets imbued with an even greater sadness, but Autumn was Schiele’s favourite season, he wrote ‘I know there is much misery in our existence and because I find Autumn much more beautiful than every other season…. It fills the heart with grief and reminds us that we are but pilgrims on this earth…’ He also wrote in his short lyrical autobiography: ‘I often wept through half-closed eyes when Autumn came. When Spring arrived I dreamed of the universal music of life and then exulted in the glorious Summer and laughed when I painted the white Winter.’ The fresh, new, dreamy Spring of his art is forever tied with the image of cheerful Wally in her stockings, forever smiling from the canvas, and so the Autumn of his art is tied with Edith’s timid half smile and her striped dress. First symbolises his rapture, the latter his gloom, which Kundera later wrote in his book Slowness as two main characteristics of central European mentality. Rapture and gloom, life and death, Eros and Thanatos; all intertwined in Schiele’s paintings.

___________________________

*Egon Schiele, Frank Whitford

Fashion Inspiration for Spring – Baby Doll, Brigitte Bardot, Flowers

11 Mar

This is the first time I’ve done a fashion inspiration for Spring, but basically it’s the same every Spring, my thoughts wander to French Baby Doll look; Brigitte Bardot’s voluminous skirt with gingham print, masses of pettiocoats and tight black shirt in Come Dance with Me is pure perfection, then Anna Karina’s blue and red wardrobe in Une Femme est Une Femme, and her white dress and blue eyeliner in Pierrot le Fou, France Gall with her hair parted on the side and a hair clip, and her knee-high socks, Francoise Hardy wearing pigtails, and pretty bows, kitten heels, straw hats with roses, cat eyeliner… cuteness all the way!

Japanese Prints – Cherry Blossoms and Moonshine

13 Feb

Watching the rain of soft pink petals of cherry blossoms, against the night sky and magical moonshine – must be one of the most profound occupations one could possibly indulge in.

1852-ukiyo-e-painting-from-the-tale-of-genji-chapter-20-hana-no-en-under-the-cherry-blossoms-by-artist-kunisada-1852Utagawa Kunisada, Ukiyo-e painting from The Tale of Genji, Chapter 8 ‘Hana no En’, Under the Cherry Blossoms, 1852

It’s winter in the real world, but it’s spring in this Ukiyo-e print. Spring: the sweetest time of the year – a time when nature offers its lushness and greenness to all souls sensitive towards its beauty, a time when even the dullest of people may find in their souls a newly awaken dreamy sentiments. Yellow bridge, court ladies in vibrant silks and lavishing kimonos. Flowers everywhere; in the sky, in their hair, on their fabrics. Large and white, the full moon is low on the horizon. Cherry tree protrudes in the composition, giving the false impression of haughtiness. Like a beautiful woman showing off her figure and shining pearls around her neck, this cherry tree stretches out its branches, one might think heavy from all those lush pink blossoms, but no – their petals are as light and delicate as the moonshine which caresses them, and their beauty is as pure as the first snow.

The most intense beauty hides in the upper right corner: dark night sky becomes darker, cherry blossoms turn a more vibrant pink, and then a rain of the gorgeous pink petals, observed by the moon, shining with stillness. There’s still chillness in spring nights, but perhaps there’s a soft warm wind announcing the Summer days. What gentleness – petals touching the porcelain skin and elaborate hairstyles of the ladies. One holds a fan, while the other tries to catch the blossoms in her golden basket – how very wise, for the next day they all might be gone, and the awareness of that transient beauty is what stirs the soul.

As you all know, ‘Hanami’ or the custom of watching cherry or plum blossoms is a very important thing in Japan, but what I find even more exciting is ‘yozakura’ (‘night sakura’); watching the cherry blossoms at night. Then, for the occasion, the trees are decorated with brightly coloured paper lanterns. Oh, how magical would it be to sit silently and admire the cherry blossoms at night, with someone who’d appreciate their beauty as much as I would. Then, I would speak nothing, think nothing, just allow myself to be fully immersed in that beauty, and these beautiful verses written by Matsuo Basho centuries ago, would come to my mind:

There is nothing you can

see that is not a flower; there

is nothing you can think that

is not the moon.

Utagawa Kunisada, Yozakura Cherry Blossom at Night, 1848. Oban triptych, photo found here.

Kunisada (1786-1864) was an Edo period artist whose Ukiyo-e prints reflect the culture of Japan just prior to its opening to the West. In his own time, he was more popular that Hiroshige and Hokusai. Stylistically, he follows the realistic approach of his teacher Toyokuni, and was specially interested in portraying kabuki actors (those prints are known as ‘Yakusha-e’) and making ‘Bijin-ga’ – pictures of beautiful women, usually courtesans, but occasionally girls from bourgeois households. This particular woodcut shows the scene from Murasaki’s novel ‘The Tale of Genji’, that is, from the Chapter 8 which is titled ‘The Festival of the Cherry Blossoms’ and you can read it here.

‘sleepless night —

the moon becomes

more familiar.‘(*)

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.

Monet – Women in the Garden

27 Mar

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.‘ – Claude Monet

1867. Women in the Garden by Claude Monet1866. Women in the Garden by Claude Monet, Musée d’Orsay

This painting, depicting four women, elegant, idle and carefree, is the best attainment of Claude Monet’s biggest ambition – to paint an everyday scene, in the open air, in the sunlight.

Upon arriving to Paris and visiting Louvre, Monet witnessed art students copying works of old masters. He also brought his paints and brushes but instead painted a view from the window, capturing his own impressions, rather than simply painting a lifeless copy of someone else’s masterpiece. In 1859 he settled in Paris. Disillusioned with the traditional art, Monet enrolled at the Académie Suisse. It was a ‘free studio’ which meant that nobody taught you anything, you decided for yourself what you wanted to paint. He soon met Camille Pissarro and the two got on very well, bonding over their love for painting outdoors. He met Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir at the same time; all these painters would later be the heart of the Impressionism. Young Claude was dashing, handsome chap, a bit of a dandy but girls, lorettes, loved him. ‘I only sleep with maids and duchesses. Preferably duchess’s maids‘, he once proclaimed haughtily.

Although a typical Impressionistic canvas is rather small in dimensions, this painting is actually large, about eight feet high. In the past, large canvases were always used for representing coronations, mythological or historical scenes, something grand, serious and significant, but Monet’s subject was a simple everyday scene! With this discourteous move, Monet secured himself a role of a rebel; a role he was yet to confirm with his painting Impression, Sunrise. As a boy, Monet was known for his cunning caricatures of the famous people of Le Havre where he grew up but in Paris his artistic wind blew in a different direction. It was Eugéne Boudin who encouraged Monet to start painting landscapes, and, in addition, to start working en plein air (‘in the open air’), that is, paint in the nature itself, not in the studio. By the way, Boudin’s pastels of stormy skies, boats, beaches, sunsets of Le Havre gained him admiration from both Baudelaire and Courbet who called him ‘king of the skies‘.

So, Monet followed Boudin’s advice and took up painting landscapes; frozen moments in time, decorated with flowers and women. However, in Women in the Garden Monet wanted to capture a bit more than just nature and idleness of women. He wanted to capture the play of light and shadow, one of the hardest tasks in art. Monet painted this painting in the summer of 1866, in his garden in Ville d’Avray in Paris. But painting on such a large canvas proved to be a difficult task so he dug a trench and lowered the canvas into it. Model for all of the figures was Camille Doncieux, Monet’s mistress and eventually wife. In this painting Monet aimed to capture the movement of light and air around figures, and he succeeded, partly. No one in art had previously painted sunshine as bright as this. Monet brilliantly captured the light on the white dress in the foreground, but there’s a sense of unreality about the painting. Isn’t a garden scene suppose to be playful and lively? And women gracefully strolling around, flaunting like butterflies? Instead, these modern women look like dolls, their idleness preserved for eternity.

The artificiality of their poses is partly due to Monet’s study of fashion magazines in order to paint his ladies in the latest finery. Still, heavy brushstrokes, interpreted as a sign of carelessness, and the obvious modernity prevented the painting from being exhibited at the Paris Salon. Other artists, writers and bohemians appreciated the painting, such as Emile Zola who commented: ‘The sun fell straight on to dazzling white skirts; the warm shadow of a tree cut out a large grey piece from the paths and the sunlit dresses. The strangest effect imaginable. One needs to be singularly in love with his time to dare to do such a thing, fabrics sliced in half by the shadow and the sun.

The painting was eventually bought by Frederic Bazille for 2500 francs as a way of helping Monet financially.

1866. Jeanne-Marguerite Lecadre in the Garden by claude monet1866. Jeanne-Marguerite Lecadre in the Garden by Claude Monet, Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Painting Jeanne-Marguerite Lecadre in the Garden belongs to the same time period and shows Monet’s obsession with the play of light and shadows, and his enormous wish to capture the air, the sunshine, and nature in full flair.

Rimbaud – Sensation

21 Mar

Spring has finally sprung! Every daisy in the grass, every drop of spring rain, every velvety breeze promises excitement! My days will soon be filled with laughter and colourful clothes, reading on the window sill, daydreaming to the sounds of Psychedelia or Madchester music, ‘Lazing in the foggy dew‘, and endlessly strolling around.

1872. springtime - claude monet1872. Springtime – Claude Monet

Arthur Rimbaud’s poem ‘Sensation‘, written in March 1870 when he was just sixteen years old, perfectly expresses a sense of freedom, excitement and being young. Along with Kerouac’s On the Road, this poem is the epitome of freedom, at least for me.

Sensation is Rimbaud’s rapturous dream of escaping into nature which was his main inspiration. Nature represented a wellspring of freedom and inalienable love at the same time. In Rimbaud’s eyes Nature was Venus, his love inspiration to whom he dedicated his poem Sun and Flesh (Credo in Unam). Poem ‘Sensation’ evokes sensuous freshness of Rimbaud’s early verses which were written while he still lived in a small town of Charleville. Life in the province suffocated Arthur Rimbaud, an intelligent and eloquent young man, with eyes that a childhood friend described as ‘pale blue irradiated with dark blue—the loveliest eyes I’ve seen‘.

His father had already left the family, and his mother, Vitalie, was a dominant and pious woman, patronising young Arthur and depriving him from his freedom. In all of his early poems there’s a sense of longing for freedom, an enormous wish to fly away, venture into the unknown; a typical teenage rebellion and yearning for excitement. His poems are marked by revolt against traditional values; family, patriotism and Christianity. For young Rimbaud the only escape from that bleak world of tradition was to wander off into the woods, and idle in the shadow of trees, imagining Venuses, Nymphs and fatal women, while still as inexperienced as a sixteen year old lad can be. Fruit of his musings were poems such as Sensation, A Dream for Winter and Nina’s Replies (‘Seventeen! You’ll be so happy!/Oh! the big meadows/The wide loving countryside! – Listen, come closer!…‘), all of which have an aura of dreamy and idle afternoons. A woman is an adventure, an escape into solemnity of senses, and a realised love equals liberation from all constraints of society.

Strong desire to escape boredom which pervades Rimbaud’s early poems, and their mystical quality is a combination which makes them popular today still. Rimbaud’s poems were read and admired by many different artists, from Amedeo Modigliani to Richey Edwards. I can’t even put it in words what this poem means to me, how it enlightened me, inspired me! Memories of reading Rimbaud’s poems for the first time are still vivid in my mind. I remember the thrill, the passion, the tremble, the rapture I felt upon reading ‘Sensation‘ for the first time, then Season in Hell and Illuminations. I was reborn after discovering Rimbaud!

Ever since I read ‘Sensation’ for the first time, these verses stayed etched in my head (‘I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing:/But endless love will mount in my soul’). I know the poem by heart, and do not hesitate to recite it during one of my long, long walks, in the rain, in the sun, in the dusk; those are the moments when I really feel free, like a bird released from its cage.

Sensation

On the blue summer evenings, I shall go down the paths,
Getting pricked by the corn, crushing the short grass:
In a dream I shall feel its coolness on my feet.
I shall let the wind bathe my bare head.

I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing:
But endless love will mount in my soul;
And I shall travel far, very far, like a gipsy,
Through the countryside – as happy as if I were with a woman.

1873. Reading by Berhte Morisot1873. Reading by Berthe Morisot

His ‘genius, its flowering, explosion and sudden extinction, still astonishes‘.