I feel a little guilty for not blogging since April. And for not showing more women on beds, in spite of my promise ages ago. I guess the only way to make it up to you is to present you with lots of naked chicks today. All in excellent taste of course, and in art with a capital A. Here are some more examples from my ever growing collection. Picked and ordered rather randomly.
Jules Joseph Lefebre, 1874. French painter, teacher and, as far as I’m concerned, the King of Kitsch. Compared to other stuff he did, this painting is relatively kitsch-free. Except maybe for the incense burner, which is there to underline the mysterious, exotic atmosphere. He had a magnificent technique, I’ll give you that, and a string of famous and talented students:
Like Felix Vallotton, 1896. This is one of his most famous woodcuts (a technique he more or less resuscitated single-handedly) called La Paresse – in the collection of my local Van Gogh Museum.
Paresse, laziness, was a much-loved subject: this is Paresse Matinale, by Louise Breslau, 1910. (I wonder if she and I are related? My maternal grandmother’s name was Breslau.) Maria Louise Catherina Breslau was German-Swiss but spent pretty much her entire adult life in France, together with her colleague, muse, lover(?) Madeleine Zillhart.
The Austrian artist Johann Baptist Reiter, 1849. Most paintings by him that I found were portraits of women and girls, all with the same slimey smile. But this is stunning. Look at that light! It hangs in Vienna’s Belvedere, which has just landed at the top of my bucket list.
Isaac Israels, Nude (Sjaantje van Ingen) ca. 1900. In 2009 this painting was voted the most beautiful nude in Dutch art, in an election organized by the magazine of the Rijksmuseum, leaving candidates like Rembrandt behind. It is privately owned – by one very lucky SOB . . .
Another one of my heroes: Pierre Bonnard, La Siëste. 1900. Now hangs in Melbourne’s national Gallery of Victoria. They supply an interesting provenance: apparently it was acquired from Bonnard by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who sold it to Gertrude Stein, only to get it back from her a few years later in exchange of a Renoir. Ms Stein, I dare say that swap was a big mistake. Big. Huge.
Otto Schmidt, Viennese Nude on the sofa of Siegmund Freud, 1900. Otto Schmidt published a book, ‘Der Wiener Akt’, with photos of nude women. Officially it was an educational work, but it found its way into many collections of erotica.
Victor Pasmore, Reclining Nude, 1942. Pasmore is known for his abstract art primarily (which is beautiful and worth checking out). But this painting, too, is stunning – it gently, lovingly, catches the vulnerability of a sleeping person. And it reminds me of a sleeping cat. (In my book that’s a plus.)
Imogen Cunningham, Phoenix on her side, 1968. The photographic answer to Pasmore’s painting. These two women also collaborated on ‘Navajo Rug’, probably Cunningham’s most famous photo. I had a hard time choosing, but in the end decided on this one. I might show you more of Cunninghams work in due course.
Saul Leiter, Inez, 1947. Leiter was a fashion photographer, a painter, an experimenter. He was also trained as a rabbi. The beautiful, intimate, tender photographs he took of the women in his life, weren’t published until after his death – in a book called ‘In My Room’.
Bert Stern. The famous ‘Last Sitting’ with Marilyn Monroe. Of which Stern said: “I was preparing for Marilyn’s arrival like a lover, and yet I was here to take photographs, not to take her in my arms, but to (…) turn her into an image for the printed page.” Stern was pretty much the same age as Monroe, handsome, a new dad. In the book he later compiled about that photo session, he admits to having confusing, less-than-professional feelings for her. The shoot, at least the fashion part of it, was commissioned by Vogue magazine in June 1962. Six weeks later – days before publication – Marilyn Monroe died.
And lastly, let’s have a look at the Odalisque, one of the staples of art history.
An odalisque was a concubine – often enslaved – in the harem of the Turkish sultan. The word probably stems from the Turkish ‘odalik’, which means chamber girl (oda means room).
Western painters, particularly those of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, could not get enough of them. Together they painted thousands of lush, sexy women, often reclining on exotic furniture, relishing their own voluptuous bodies, doing absolutely nothing. The artists of that period were fascinated by the Middle and Far East: the fashion of Orientalism was everywhere, and not just in the visual arts.
This trend, too, has its roots in colonialism, which makes it sort of difficult to look at. These images are highly romanticized – the painters seized the opportunity to transport us all to some delectable fantasy, disregarding the true circumstances of these women. And totally ignoring the fact that they were appropriating a different culture, turning it into an unsavoury pick-and-mix. Which I guess puts those images level pegging with our holidays to faraway places, where we lose ourselves in Dolce Far Niente, basking in the sensuousness of the afternoon sun – not thinking of anything else, least of all of underlying injustice in the countries we are temporarily usurping.
Allright. Time to climb down from my soap box and show you the pictures.
Henri Matisse, Odalisque Couchée aux Magnolias, 1923. Matisse painted his odalisks over and over and over again, many with lavishly decorated backgrounds. His model here, as in many other paintings he made between 1920 and 1927, is Henriette Darricarrère. Matisse praised her for her ability to model for hours on end with her arms raised in the air. Due to her training as a dancer, no doubt.
Another of Matisse’s odalisks, from the Stedelijk (municipal) Museum in Amsterdam. This painting originally belonged to a Jewish collector, who perished in WWII. (Apparently, he gave it in safe keeping to either the museum, or a private person, the articles I’ve been reading contradict each other.) Like countless other artworks, this was confiscated by the Germans. The Dutch Restitution Committee is still working to return the pieces to the heirs of the original owners, I’m not sure what is going to happen to this particular painting. The girl, the concubine, has a slightly pained look on her face, which I guess fits her circumstances – and maybe the painting’s circumstances, too.
Henri Adrien Tanoux, L’Odalisque, 1913. Back to where we started: in the realm of kitschy academism. Tanoux painted this when he was in his late forties, ten years before his death. Not that it makes any difference – his painting remained the same throughout his life. It just became more and more old-fashioned, I suppose. No surprise then that he was a regular at the Paris Salon.
Is it beautiful? I guess. But there’s something in it that bothers me, in spite of the excellent execution. It’s the jewelry she wears – the chain around her ankle, the slave-band bracelets. She’s just too subjugated.
Just as I can sometimes crave a chunk of milk chocolate, I sometimes enjoy watching this type of romantic, smooth, sugar coated art. Although, like with the chocolate, I usually end up nauseous.