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Still Lifes of Suzanne Valadon – Where No “Decent” Woman Would Tread

Much has been said on the nudes of Suzanne Valadon, and rightly so. Truly, they are wonderfully composed and naturally iconoclastic in nature.

Women. Real women portrayed in natural scenarios by other women was unheard of in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. Generally women did not tackle nudes at all; the powers that be fearing the practice would corrupt delicate souls.

Valadon, exempt from propriety due in part to humble birth and in other part her choice of tawdry career as an art model, was able to express herself in ways other women could or would not at the time. She was admitted into salons (where no “decent” woman would tread) and even found herself the first woman painter of Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (SNBA), in 1894.

Here she is pictured with her son, Maurice, in 1889.

All this is quite spectacular on its own, but I would like to leave the icon smashing and feminist critique behind for a short while. I’d even like to leave the entirety of her personal life behind. Today we will look at Valadon as a genderless painter of fruit and flowers. We will examine her still lifes and perhaps see the merit the SNBA saw when they chose to add her to the pantheon of art gods.

Bouquet de Roses dans un Obus, oil on card, 1913

One of my favourites, Suzanne places roses inside an obus (cannon shell). To the roses she gives definition with her characteristic heavy lines. To the obus, however, she uses soft short strokes.

This renders an object of war nothing more than a harmless vase. The placement of the object on a kitchen sill next to feminine lilac drapes annihilates the last bit of danger to the point that the obus loses its meaning entirely.

Even knowing what cannon shells of the period look like, a viewer would be hard pressed to identify it as such. Bordering on symbolist, she keeps the colours orthodox and avoids contrivance.

It is a balanced work that evokes a timely “Frenchness”, and a little titter at the tender emasculation of a phallic object (whoops, some feminist critique slipped in).


Untitled, oil on card, 1930

Speaking of timely Frenchness, what could be more delightfully 1930s French than a blue vase stuffed with roses? Never a servant of style, Valadon takes a more post impressionist (but not quite) look at these flowers.

Her beautiful built up highlights and shadows are made somehow more realistic by the presence of clear brushwork. The flowers are lit up from within.

Her choice of perspective is ever so slightly naïve, causing the vase to float, lending extra emphasis to it as a focal point. Objects in the background are arranged firmly in reality though, grounding the whole thing on what I’m sure was a wonderfully printed tablecloth.

Valadon painted many roses, tulips, orchids and the like, but her greatest still lifes often involved the honesty of circumstance her nudes had in spades as well.

A common basket of even commoner duck eggs waits quietly for the cook, nestled in straw. The stonework is alive with colour, both in light and shadow.

Valadon does not half paint even the most simple of highlights. The way the light falls over the eggs and onto the wall brings to mind an open door; perhaps the cook has come for these blue cast beauties at last.


Basket of Duck Eggs, oil on card, 1931

Nature Morte au Lièvre, Faisan et Pomme, oil on card, 1930

Pieces like, Still life with Hare, Pheasant and Apple, convince us of Suzanne’s sense of humour. An old hare dangles almost peacefully from hind legs drained and awaiting a competent cook to relieve it of its skin in one swift pull.

The young pheasant seems to be dreaming grand, worried dreams despite its questionable life status. Apples sit pertly on a plate, as if to rub in how alive they are; not knowing they all share the same fate.

A quick laugh is had at the idea of a “nature morte” of dead animals. It’s so on the nose if it weren’t for the sombre, reverent overtones this piece would risk vulgarity. As it stands though, in characteristic Valadon style, she goes just far enough.

We feel the ambivalence of the old hare, the tragedy of the young pheasant and the haughtiness of the apples. It mirrors truth, not to mention the sanctifying warmth pervading the scene is downright Fauvist.

Given her close ties with Ganguin, this is unsurprising. Suzanne’s emotional colour vocabulary is extremely developed across her still lifes and painted portraits.

So far the emphasis has been on her later, more developed works, but what of earlier material?


Nature morte au compotier de fruits, oil on card, 1917

Again, nearly symbolist in nature, this fruit bowl is absolutely uncommon. Her slight naivete of perspective keeps a sense of stuffy refinement far away from her popular and often grossly academic subject.

Colours, simply layered, build a juicy pear and living grapes. She bothers to paint the calyx of an upside down apple though. In fact, this composition is rife with luxurious, unnecessary details.

The brocade stripes of the wall cover, blue details on the china pedestal bowl and the delicately defined wicker table stand in sharp contrast to the relatively faceless fruit.

She forces the viewer to realize detail in objects she omitted it from. Like so many excellent paintings, it is what is left unpainted that is remarkable.

Remarkable works, Valadon has many. In her time she was a immensely popular and respected artist, though time can cruelly erase that which does not fit the appropriate narrative.

Suzanne, when she is mentioned at all, is mostly talked about in terms of being a revolutionary woman (she was) or being a woman in the den of great men (Ganguin, Cezanne, Latrec…).

Her life is often cast, if cast at all, in the red glow of bawdiness thanks to the childish puritanism of our modern world. This I think, though titillating, is unfair.

Her work shows a greatness of spirit and a delicacy of soul. She mastered the concepts of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’; played with humour and nuance.

Everything about her art suggests an actualized, inspired, aspiring mind. If anything, Valadon achieved in life what most artists only achieve in death.

The respect and admiration of her peers. It would be wonderful if she were appreciated in death the way she was lauded in life.

Let us quietly appreciate a grouping of more typical Valadon still lifes and see what Gauguin saw in a talented, young art model so many years ago.


Bouquet des Fleurs 1937

White Fruit Bowl undated

Roses dans une Verre 1937

Her confident lines are instantly recognizable as is her slightly off perspective. Even working with universal subjects, she manages to make every vignette intensely personal.

Her still lifes are as intimate, in my opinion, as her nudes and deserve as much notoriety in popular art critique beyond the French Riviera. Though, it must be said again, her nudes are extremely worthy of examination.


The Future Unveiled, 1912

So please, no more of this “Mistress and Muse of Montmartre” crap that appears in so much analysis of her. When it comes to Valadon there is plenty to talk about inside the frame.

Speculating on the woman more than the work does no one any favours and has constantly robbed the present of the honest presence of a brilliant artist. Suzanne Valadon; a Crown Jewel of Montmartre.

This is her rightful place and there she will live in my heart and mind forever.

Photo of Valadon, Photographer and date unknown


 

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Niki de Saint Phalle – Ready To Kill

In 1960 I was a very angry young woman. Angry at men and their power. I felt that they had robbed me of my own free space in which I could develop myself.
 
I wanted to conquer their world, to earn my own money. Angry with my parents who I felt had raised me for the marriage market. I wanted to show them that I was somebody, that I existed and that my voice and my scream of protest as a woman was important.
 
I was ready to kill.

Niki Saint Phalle’s unique brand of feminist art expressed both jouissance and angst in equal measure, and explored the complex and confounding ways in which biology and culture co-construct the female experience.

She was born on October, 29, 1930 to an aristocratic Catholic family as a second of five children; her father André was a wealthy French banker, and her mother Jacqueline Harper was an American, but raised in French.

Soon after her birth, facing with aftershocks of the Black Tuesday, the French wing of the Great Depression, the Saint Phalle’s lost their fortune; her father was forced to close his finance company and they moved to the United States.

From an early age, Niki pushed the boundaries in her personal and artistic life. She attended the prestigious Brearley School in New York, which she found to be a formative experience for her, and a place where she became a feminist.

However, she was expelled for painting the fig leaves covering the genitals of statues on the school’s campus red.

Coming of Age

When she was 18, Saint Phalle eloped with Harry Mathews, a person that she knew through her father.

Both of them were artistically inclined, oversensitive, overtly rebellious romantics, and they bounded together as such. While Mathews studied music at Harvard University, Saint Phalle began exploring painting, and gave birth to their daughter Laura in 1951, when she was 20 years old.

In 1952, the couple moved to Paris, where Mathews continued to study music, learning to become a conductor, while Niki studied theater to become an actress, and she was also modelling for Elle and Vogue.

The following year, Saint Phalle was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown, and hospitalized in a psychiatric facility.

At this point of her life, she had gone through a violent nervous breakdown, caused by the facts she had married young and somehow accepted the conservative values and the lifestyle of her family that she wanted to reject so badly.

Niki was first treated with a barbarous treatment, a series of electric shocks, but luckily, she ended up in the hands of a humane psychiatrist who restored her to mental health.

She was encouraged to paint as a form of therapy; somewhere in between the shocks and analysis, she began doing her first collages, and soon after that her first paintings.

They were so original and compelling, that her husband, following her energetic example, gave up all thoughts of a musician career and began writing for the first time since 1949.

The couple moved to Majorca off the coast of Spain, where their son Philip was born in 1955. During this time, Niki developed her imaginative, self-though style of painting, experimenting with a variety of materials and forms.

During the visit to Barcelona, she was stuck by the work of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi and his park Güell, which was instrumental in Niki’s early conceptualization of the elaborate sculpture garden she would fulfill much later in her career.

Saint Phalle’s art was also influenced by other various artists such as Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jackson Pollock.

At the end of the 1950s, Niki and her husband moved back to Paris; in 1960, she divorced Mathews, giving him the custody of their children. She met artist Jean Tinguely, with whom she would collaborate artistically; within a year, they had began a romantic relationship, and eventually married in 1971.

Niki Saint Phalle’s first solo exhibition in 1961, punctuated a dynamic period of her early career and she met a number of influential artists living in Paris at that time, whose use of found objects was to have a strong influence on her work.

On show were several of her Shooting Paintings. They were made by fixing polythene bags of paint to a board, and covering them with a thick plaster surface. Viewers were invited to shoot a rifle at the surface, popping the bags and causing the paint to run down the textured white surface.

The process of creating the artwork became a live performative event done in the public eye, and with the public’s participation, challenging traditional perceptions of the artist as a hermetic figure. Shooting Paintings involve the viewer directly and physically in the creation of the work, and leave the resulting image to chance.

In this period, Saint Phalle’s artistic work had become a bold act of defiance, reclamation of space for herself, and for women. She started to articulate these ideas and combining them with other social and political issues‒ amidst an atmosphere of radical ideas, from civil rights, anti-war and anti-violence protests to campaigns for women’s rights and sexual liberation across the West.

Famous Works

The Crucifixion piece, from 1963, an abstracted female figure, is made from found objects and fixed on the flat surface of the wall. It partly resembles to the method of sculptural assemblage, a combination of collage and sculpture that brings in a third dimension by adding elements that project out of a planar, two-dimensional surface.

The work responds to the genre-blending of mid-century abstraction and expresses Saint Phalle’s attitude towards the female condition, which she saw as a highly ambiguous and contentious state.

The figure comprises together suggestions and formal elements of the constructed, biological-cultural stages of womanhood: youthful and sexualized, maternal and abundant, elderly and confined.

The figure has no arms, indicating a lack of female agency and disempowerment within a society that strongly delineates woman’s roles in accordance with diminishing reproductive capacity.

Her most famous and prolific series of works, the Nanas, were inspired by a friend’s pregnancy, her reflections on archetypal feminine forms, and the vexed positions that women occupy in modern, patriarchal societies.

‘Nanas’, a French slang word roughly equivalent to ‘broads’, is a title that encapsulates the theme of the everywoman as well as the casual denigration that closely accompanies the rhetorical grouping of women as a social category.

The Black Venus (1965-67), a large-scale sculpture presents a non-traditional view of the goddess figure and does not conform to the stereotypes of female beauty established by Western classical art, and does not recall sculptural goddess form of the Ancient Western world.

Instead, the figure is large-limbed, black-skinned, actively in motion, and adorned in a colorful, cartoonish bathing costume.

In 1966, she collaborated with Tinguely and Olof Ultvedt on a project for Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. The trio created a large installation Hon-A Cathedral, the largest nana figure; the installation provoked a strong reaction from the public.

It is a large-scale sculptural work which viewers could enter from the vaginal opening, and could hold up to 150 people at a time. ‘Hon’ is the Swedish word for ‘she’, implying that the sculpture is both a symbol for the every-woman and a cathedral-like space for the worship of woman and femininity.

Its structure references classical architectural theories about the entrance to cathedrals and their metaphoric and symbolic relationship to female genitalia. The feature also presents the woman’s body as a place of exchange and creation, a generative space of new life by way of its exit.

That was also the period when Niki worked on Le Paradis Fantastique, a commission for the French Pavilion at Expo Montreal, Canada in 1967.

While she was working on this project with Tinguely, St Phalle’s lungs were severely damaged by polyester resin toxic fumes. Her favorite material, polyester, was the cause of her recurring health problems.

During the early 1970s, she spent some time in the Swiss mountains recuperating from a serious lung illness. In Swiss, Niki met childhood friend, Marella Caracciolo Agnelli who was a well-connected socialite with a penchant for collecting art.

Saint Phelle told her about her vision of creating elaborating sculpture garden of Tarot symbology. With Agnelli’s help, she acquired a parcel in Tuscany, Italy. In 1978, the foundations were laid, and two years later, the construction of the first sculpture began;

The Empress, an enormous sculptural building designed in the shaped of a sphinx, became her home and studio for the next decade.

Elaborately decorated with mosaics and ceramics on the outside and Venetian glass on the inside, the work maintains the aesthetic of assemblage used in many of her earlier works.

Niki spent many years completely immersed in the creation of her dream place. After nearly 20 years of intensive work, financial and health problems, the garden was opened in 1998. It contained vibrant mosaics and colossal sculptures, based on the Tarot cards symbols.

Tarot is an ancient, venerable set of cards, with picture representations of archetypal, elementary situations upon them. They described existential, human experiences and psychic states. Saint Phalle was deeply convinced that the cards have a considerable meaning.

She saw the Tarot Garden as a site which crosses boundaries into the religious and where everyone is potentially able to have a direct experience of the archetypal content of the Tarot.

The idea came from Antonio Gaudi’s Park Guell, but the garden became much more than a simple variation on Gaudi’s concept. It was her absolute, on-going concern, and a deep, captivating theme for life.

Jean Tinguely died in Switzerland, 1991, and Saint Phalle began to make a series of kinetic sculptures, his chief sculptural medium, to honor his memory.

The Grotto

The Grotto, Hanover (2001-2003), the final instalment in a series of semi-architectural works accessible to public is the last project Saint Phalle worked on before her death.

This particular cave was originally built in the baroque style in 1676 as a place for members of the Hanover court to escape the heat.

Niki was invited to turn the space into an immersive art environment; she created a design in response to the formal qualities of the existing architecture, and maintained the original function of the Grotto.

Grotto consists of three rooms, each decorated in different style. The central room’s (‘Spirituality’) walls feature a spiral of yellow, gold and orange mosaic pieces made of glass and ceramics, along with river pebbles and seashells.

The room on the right is set against a field of dark cobalt blue, inspired by the work of Henri Matisse.

The final room is bright and full of silver shards of mirrors, creating an impression of continuous daylight inside the dark cave. The room features sculptural figures in a range of styles from across Niki’s career, acting as a form of retrospection of her oeuvre.

Death

Niki Saint Phalle died on May, 21, 2002, after six months in intensive care in La Jolla, California. Her death was caused by emphysema, a chronic obstructive lung disease.

Saint Phalle continually disrupted long-held conventions in art; her iconoclastic approach to her identity and society at large made her an early and important voice to both the development of early conceptual art and the feminist movement.

Her work often combined plastic art and performance in new ways, blending and dismantling hierarchies between sculpture, painting and performance in a way that would influence conceptual artists and their thinking toward developing new and hybrid forms rather than refining single-medium-specificity.

 

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Lyrical Metaphora by Marc Chagall

Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.

Marc Chagall never aligned himself with any single movement, but his influence is as vast as the number of styles he assimilated to create his work.

Many of his peers pursued ambitious experiments that often led to abstraction, but Chagall’s distinction lies in his steady faith in power in figurative art, one that he maintained despite absorbing ideas from many different avant-garde movements.

As a prime example of a modern artist, Chagall mastered multiple media including oil painting, gouache painting, murals, watercolors, etching, ceramics, theater, drawing, stained-glass work and costume design.

Background

He was born on July, 7, 1887 to Feige-Ite and Khatskl Shagal in Liozna, near Vitebsk, in Russian Empire, today Belarus. He was raised in a Hasidic family and attended local Jewish religious school where he studied the Old Testament and Hebrew.

During this time, it was obligatory for Russian Jews since discrimination policies prohibited mixing of different racial and religious groups.

During his early schooling, Chagall adopted the habit of copying and drawing images from book, which developed into an emotional relationship with art, and eventually the choice to pursue it as a life career.

He began to learn the fundamentals of drawing, but more importantly, he absorbed the world around him, storing away the imagery and themes that would feature largely in most of his work.

To continue his studies, in 1906, he moved in St Petersburg and enrolled at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting. There, he briefly apprenticed under the artist and set designer, a devout Jew himself, Leon Bakst.

He is believed to have encouraged Marc Chagall to introduce Jewish themes and imagery in his work, a practice that was pretty unpopular at this time in the Russian Empire.

Paris

At the impressionable age of 23, speaking no French, Chagall moved in Paris in 1910. It was the time when Cubism was emerging as the leading avant-garde movement, and young artist aligned himself with the new movement.

Chagall responded to the stimulus by rapidly developing the poetics and seemingly irrational tendencies he had begun to display in Russia.

Under the influence of the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Fauvist pictures, he gave up the usually somber palette he had employed at home.

In his early work, Chagall is obviously adopting dynamic composition and the abstract forms that characterized much of Cubism; yet, he came to reject the movement’s academic leanings infusing his work with touches of emotions and cheerful colours.

In the Paris Through the Window (1913) the figure in the bottom right looks both ways, the couple bellow the Eiffel Tower seems to be split apart.

On first glance, the picture may recall one of Robert Delaunay’s many fractured portraits of the Eiffel Tower rendered in the Orphic Cubism style.

But, Chagall has no intention to dissect the view or the subject. Instead, he searches for beauty in details, creating ‘ sur-naturalist’ elements, such as two-faced head and floating human.

The end result is a balanced and visually appealing snapshot of Paris.

In his Parisian period, Chagall often used subject matters from memory in his paintings; subjects included weddings, pastoral village scenes, fiddlers playing on rooftops.

He kept close to his heart his home town of Vitebsk; the figures seem to float freely in the sky- Chagall’s lyrical and melancholic signatures of his far-away home.

Fusing his own personal, a dreamlike imagery with hints of the fauvism and cubism, Chagall created his most lasting work. The four years of his stay in Paris are often considered Chagall’s best phase.

In the piece I and the Village (1911), abstraction is at the heart of this piece, it exists to decorate the picture rather than invite analysis of the image.

This very approach: a blend of the figurative and modern, with a light, whimsical tone, would make the artist influential and famous.

Bella

During one of his visits to Russia Chagall fell in love and became engaged to the writer Bella Rosenfeld. Chagall met Bella, the daughter of a wealthy Russian jeweler, in 1909 in St Petersburg when she was 19 and he, seven years her senior, was attending art school.

In 1914, Chagall enjoyed a well-received exhibition of some 200 works in Berlin, all of which he would never recover. After the show, he returned to Vitebsk with plans to marry Bella.

The same year, the two did marry, but the outbreak of the World War I stopped their plan to move back to Paris. For the next nine years The Chagalls would remain in Russia.

Her wife came to be a subject of many of his paintings. For instance, in the Belle with White Collar (1917) woman figure and her demure face stand over a lush pastoral landscape, larger than life, may have been inspired by the traditional subject, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

This piece, while vibrant and expressive, stands as a lasting example of Chagall’s mastery of more traditional subjects and forms, yet he no less maintains the faintest of sur-naturalist elements throughout.

Few years after the war’s outbreak the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) occurred, an event that obliged Chagall to remain in Russia. He was given the political post of Commissar of Arts for Vitebsk.

In his new post Chagall undertook various projects in the region, including the founding of the Academy of the Fine Arts in 1919. Despite these endeavors, differences among his colleagues eventually disillusioned Chagall.

This teaching position conflicted with his nonpolitical nature; his overall work ethic and pace lessened due to the tense climate. In 1920, he relinquished the position and moved his family to Moscow, the post-revolution capital of Russia.

In Moscow, he was commissioned to create costumes and sets for various productions at the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre, where he would paint a series of murals titled Introduction to the Jewish Theater.

Paris Pt. 2

By the 1922, however, Chagall found that his art had fallen out of favor, and seeking new horizons he left Russia for good. And, the next year, after years of scraping by in Moscow, Vitebsk and other towns, Chagall and Bella moved back to Paris.

In the heart of the Green Violinist (1923-24) is nostalgia for the artist’s rustic village. Fiddlers on rooftops were a popular motif of Chagall’s, stemming from his memories of Vitebsk.

This very motif also reflects the artist’s deep devotion to his Jewish cultural roots; his subject who may represent the prophet Elijah is an extension of the rooftop, indicated by geometric shapes in his pant legs and by windows.

In the coming years of World War II, Europe was occupied; Hitler’s Third Reich reigned over a large portion of the continent, including Vichy France where Chagall and his family were living.

It is said that Joseph Goebbels personally ordered the artist’s paintings to be burned. Singled out during the cultural ‘’cleansing’’, undertaken by the Nazis, Chagall’s work was ordered removed from museums throughout the country.

Several pieces were subsequently burned, and others were featured in a 1937 exhibition of ‘’degenerate art’’ held in Munich.

Chagall is well known for his religious and Biblical motifs and subjects, but Christian symbolism present in White Crucifixion (1938) is surprising given Chagall’s devout Orthodox Jewish background.

In this piece, Jesus wears a Jewish prayer shawl, and whilst he suffers on the cross, Jewish figures on all sides of him suffer as well fleeing from marauding invaders who burn a synagogue.

This work is a clear indication of Chagall’s faith and his response to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe at this time.

In that difficult time in which many artists were forced to seek refuge in the United States, in 1941, thanks to Chagall’s daughter Ida and some people from the art world, Chagall’s name was added to a list of European artists whose lives were at risk and in need of asylum.

In June, 1941 Bella and Chagall arrived in United States.

Just before the war in Europe was about to close, Bella Chagall died from a viral infection, and Chagall’s hometown Vitebsk had been razed during the German invasion of Russia.

Devastated and crippled with grief, Chagall’s work lessened dramatically.

The Real Notebook

After his wife’s death, Chagall kept her notebook, which he illustrated for the next 20 years, sketching on the blank pages and surrounding Bella’s writings with colourful posthumous portraits of her and the two of them together.

In one sketch Bella is depicted in a patterned dress with a bowl of fruit, while another drawing shows her with dark circles around her eyes, possibly depicting her final illness.

In probably the most moving image, Chagall, with a blue face and melancholy expression, is settled at his easel, contemplating a red painting of himself and Bella, on hand reaching out to touch the canvas with his other hand to his heart.

The 85-page notebook, which Chagall illustrated between 1944 and 1965 while he spent time living in New York and the south of France, also includes several self-portraits.

Described as ‘’unique’’ by art experts, the intact collection is extremely rare as Chagall dismantled most of his sketchbooks and sold drawings individually.

Chagall never truly made New York his home, consequently, in 1947 the widower returned to France and settled in the southern city of Vence. After few years, he remarried to Valentine ‘Vava’ Brodsky in 1952.

Later Life

He continued making artworks, but his later canvases are remarkably different than his better-known earlier works.

His subjects and colors appear more melancholy, his brushwork became increasingly lyrical and abstract, almost reverting back in time to Post-Impressionist motifs.

The crowning achievements of the last two decades of his life were a series of large-scale commissions; in 1960, it was stained-glass windows that represented twelve tribes of Israel, these were installed at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem, than memorial window Piece for the United Nations in 1964, The America Windows installed at the Chicago Institute for Art, 1977.

Chagall’s commissions for murals also defined his late career; ceiling of the Paris Opera House in 1963, as well as The Sources of Music and The Triumphs of Music for the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1966.

Marc Chagall passed away on March, 28, 1985 in Saint-Paul, France, at the age of 97.

Chagall’s legacy reveals an artistic style that is both entirely his own and a rich amalgam of prevailing Modern art disciplines.

His repertory of images, including melancholy, clowns, massive bouquets, flying lovers, biblical prophets, fantastic animals and fiddlers on roofs, helped to make him on of the most popular major innovators of the 20th century School of Paris.

He presented dreamlike subject matter in rich colors and in a fluent, painterly style that, while reflecting an awareness of artistic movements such as Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism and even abstraction, remained invariably personal.

Although critics sometimes complained of facile sentiments, uneven quality, and an excessive repetition of motifs in the artist’s total output, there is agreement that at its best it reached a level of visual metaphor seldom attempted in modern art.

 

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Tremblement de Terre

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a painter, illustrator, lithographer, poster artist and illustrator. Born on November 24th,1864, in Albi, France, Henri died on September 9th, 1901, at Malromé Castle, at Saint-André-du-Bois.

Youth

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was the son of Count Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1838-1913) and Adèle Tapié de Céleyran (1841-1930), and was born into one of the oldest noble families in France. He was indeed in line with the great counts of Toulouse, who were, despite their illustrious name, were known to pass on health conditions due to selective inbreeding.

In the 19th century, marriages within the nobility were routinely between cousins, in order to avoid the division of assets and the diminution of fortune. This was the case of Henri’s parents, Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa and Adele Tapie de Céleyran, they were cousins in the first degree.
 
They had two boys, Henri, the eldest and, four years later, his brother Richard-Constantin, who died a year later.

Henri grew up between Albi, the castle of Bosc (home of his grandparents and also of his childhood) and the castle of Celeyran. The incompatibility between his two parents caused their separation and Henri remained in the care of his mother.

Health Problems

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec had a happy childhood until the discovery in 1874 of a disease that affects the development of the bones, pycnodysostosis, a genetic disease caused due to the consanguinity of his parents. His bones were fragile, and on May 30th, 1878, he stumbled and fell.
 
The doctor diagnoses him with a broken left femur.

Between May 1878 and August 1879, he suffered from this fracture of the bilateral femur, which then aggravates his stunting: he will not exceed the size of 1.52 m or 4′ 8″. Doctors tried to cure him by means of electric shock and placing on each foot a large amount of lead.

Due to his various medical conditions, his torso is of normal size, but its legs are short. He has thick lips and a thick nose, and hypertrophied genitals. Henri made himself a provocateur at the salons.
 
He is at some point photographed naked on the beach of Trouville-sur-Mer, as a bearded choir boy, or with the boa Jane Jane (called “Melinite”), while simultaneously being very aware of the discomfort aroused by his exhibitionism.

A student at the Condorcet high school, he failed in 1881 at the baccalaureate in Paris, but he was fortunately received in Toulouse at an October session. That’s when he decided to become an artist.
 
Supported by his uncle Charles and Rene Princeteau, a friend of his father animal painter, he finally convinced his mother it was a good idea.

Back in Paris, he studied painting with René Princeteau, in his studio at 233, Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, then in April 1882 in Leon Bonnat’s studio, and in November 1882 in Fernand’s studio, where he stayed until 1886.
 
He then befriended Vincent Van Gogh, Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Adolphe Albert.

 

Parisian Life

Toulouse-Lautrec lived for his art. Painter in the post-impressionism style, illustrator of the Art Nouveau, and lithographer of remarkable skill, he embraced the lifestyle of Bohemian Paris at the end of the 19th century.
 
In the mid-1890s, he contributed illustrations to the comic weekly Le Rire.

Considered “The Soul of Montmartre “, the Parisian neighbourhood where he lived since his arrival in 1884 at 19 Bis, Rue Fontaine, his paintings describe life at the Moulin Rouge and other cabarets and theaters in Montmartre or Paris.

He paints Aristide Bruant but also in the brothels he frequented and where, perhaps, he contracted syphilis. He had a room in residence at La Fleur blanche. Three of the well-known women he has represented are Jane Avril, singer Yvette Guilbert, and Louise Weber, better known as La Goulue, an eccentric dancer who created the cancan.

Toulouse-Lautrec gave painting classes and encouraged the efforts of Suzanne Valadon, one of his models and probably his mistress.

Alcohol

An alcoholic for most of his adult life, he used to mix cognac with his daily absinthe, in defiance of the conventions of the time. This drink, a favourite of his, was called an “earthquake” or Tremblement de Terre, which was mixed in a wine goblet.
 
He also used subterfuge in the form of a hollowed out cane to hide his alcohol, which he walked around with constantly so as not to ever need to do without his vice.

He was admitted to a sanatorium shortly before his death at Malromé, his mother’s property, following the complications of this alcoholism and also syphilis. Dying at 36, he was buried in the Verdelais ( Gironde ) cemetery a few kilometers from Malromé.

His last words were to his father, present at the time of his death, referring to the likes of this whimsical and hunting enthusiast aristocrat: “I know, Dad, you do not miss the kill.”
 
He also cited his lapidary reaction to seeing his father, a hunter at heart, trying to hit a fly that flies on the deathbed of his son with the elastic of his boots: “The old fart!”

At the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi, reference is made to the last words of the artist addressed to his mother. Lautrec’s relations with his father were subject to many ramblings.

The painter was not an artist cursed by his family, on the contrary. His father wrote to Gabrielle de Toulouse-Lautrec, his mother and thus the paternal grandmother of the painter, on the night of the death of his son: “Malrome, September 9, 1901: Ah dear Mother, that sadness.
 
God did not bless our union. May his will be done, but it is very hard to see the order of nature reversed. I am anxious to join you after the sad spectacle of the long agony of my poor child, so harmless, having never had for his father a bad word.
 
Pity us. – Alphonse”

After the death of Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Joyant, his close friend, protector, and merchant of his paintings wanted to highlight his work with the endorsement of the Countess Adele of Toulouse-Lautrec. They gave the necessary funds for a museum to be created in Albi, the city where the artist was born, and offer their superb collection of paintings.

His Art Works

Despite a short life marked by illness, the painter’s work is very vast: the catalog of his works, published in 1971, lists 737 paintings, 275 watercolors, 369 lithographs (including posters ) and about 5,000 drawings.

In his youth, horses were his usual subject. Since childhood, he loved riding and had to give it up because of his illness. He continued to live in his works with his passion for horses.

At the beginning of his career, he painted some nude men as exercises, but his best nudes are women. In general, he preferred to start with sketches, but many of his nudes must have been made from nature.
 
Usually Henri’s models are not beautiful girls, but women who are starting to grow old. To paint this kind of paintings he was inspired by Edgar Degas.

He kept drawing: some drawings are works in themselves, but many are sketches for paintings or lithographs. Sometimes his drawings resembled caricatures which, in a few lines, rendered a gesture or an expression; to realize them, he used various means (pencil , ink , pastel and charcoal).

Although not practicing photography himself, his friends and fellow entertainers include professional photographer Paul Sescau and amateur photographers Maurice Guibert and François Gauzi. He is photographed regularly by them and liked to dress up.
 
He used pictures of his models or characters as the basis of some works. Spontaneity and the direction of motion of his compositions often come from the photographic instant.

Lithography

He created 325 posters and lithographs, inventing a technique of spray original, consisting scratch a toothbrush charged with ink or paint with a knife. As an illustrator, Toulouse-Lautrec has made famous posters and, less known part of his work, he also illustrated some forty songs, successes mainly interpreted in the two big Parisian cabarets of the time: Le Moulin Rouge, and The Mirliton by Aristide Bruant.

As he did not need to always subject himself to pleasing everyone by focusing on the nobility as past artists needed to to get by. No, Lautrec chose subjects he knew well or faces that were of interest to him, and as he frequently met people of all kinds, his paintings covered a wide range of social classes: nobles and artists, writers and sportsmen, doctors, nurses and picturesque figures of Montmartre.

Many of his paintings (such as the Salon des Moulins street) show prostitutes because he saw them as ideal models for the spontaneity with which they knew how to move, whether they were naked or half-dressed.
 
He painted their lives with curiosity, but without moralism or sentimentality and, above all, without trying to attribute to them any fascination. Going the brothel as much by pleasure than necessity (because of disability, there is true affection, so it stands out by giving to see images without trial and without moralistic voyeurism).
 
Truly a friend to prostitutes, they gave him the nickname “coffee maker” because of his priapism or the proportion of one of his sexual organs.

The Circus

At the end of 19th century, the circus shows were very numerous in France, and Toulouse-Lautrec regularly visited traveling circuses in Paris. In the popular neighbourhoods of Paris, only two circuses were present: the Cirque D’hiver de Paris, and the Cirque Fernando in Montmartre.
 
In the upscale neighbourhoods of Paris, several circuses offered spectacular stagings such as the Hippodrome with its famous chariot races, the Cirque D’été near the Champs-Élysées, the Circus Molier Rue Benouville and the Nouveau Cirque, where Chocolat is produced, on Rue Saint-Honoré.

René Princeteau, deaf-mute painter and friend of the family circle of Toulouse-Lautrec, is charged by the father of the artist to teach him the art of painting and drawing. Indeed, René Princeteau possessed an exceptional gift for painting and drawing horses and dogs.
 
In the early 1880s, he discovered Toulouse-Lautrec circus Fernando, located at the top of the rue des Martyrs in Paris. The father of Toulouse-Lautrec, an aristocrat passionate about the world of horses, had taken his son frequently to the Circus Molier when the family moved to Paris in 1872.

Toulouse-Lautrec was passionate from then on for the circus. This environment reminds him of the unconventionality of his family circle. He is also drawn to these shows by the moving bodies, the athletic performances of the artists and the postures of the animals.
 
The world of the circus was also interesting because of the links that can be made with the ancient circus and its presentation of bruised and tortured bodies in the show.

The other attraction of the circus experienced by Toulouse-Lautrec is the parallelism that can be drawn between the bodies of performing circus artists and his own body. “It is a suffering body, which draws suffering bodies”, as one of the editors of the catalog of the exhibition “Circus in the time of Toulouse-Lautrec”, said, at the Raymond Lafage museum, which took place in Lisle-sur-Tarn from June 18, 2016 to October 31, 2016.
 
“The number imposes its daily pain at the mercy of repetitions: muscular hypertrophy of the arms, legs, arched back, limbs, rickets, on the contrary, bodies dedicated to the aerobatics, with imposed levity. “However, Toulouse-Lautrec does not wish to inspire complacency towards circus artists.
 
“The show must be easy, graceful and happy. ” As noted by one of the editors of the exhibition catalog, “is it for the show to hide … the show, I mean, the intimate, that of his own life?”

Toulouse-Lautrec feels as close to values related to this universe with the notion of freedom.

In early 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec was hospitalized because of several mental disorders related to various ailments including alcoholism. He is interned in the clinic of Dr. Sémelaigne in Neuilly. In February 1899, to prove that he had recovered his mental health and his ability to work, he drew from memory in black pencil and crayons a series of 39 drawings on the circus.
 
There are amazons, trapeze artists, clowns, bear and elephant trainers, horses, and learned dogs. The stands are drawn empty. The audience is absent as if to show that the painter is there against his will.
 
The doctors, dazzled by the coherence of these works and the dynamics of the movements represented, let him out on May 17, 1899, thus recognizing the perfect state of his memory and his remarkable technicality.
 
As Toulouse-Lautrec so poetically said: “I bought my freedom with my drawings.”

From Memory

Federico Fellini, about this set of works, had compared Toulouse-Lautrec to Mozart. Indeed, when Mozart was 14, he once listened Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere” in a the cathedral in Rome, copying it down with only minor corrections when he got home.
 
Later, Mozart was summoned to Rome once he was discovered to have stolen the sacred work, only to be praised and vindicated by the Pope for this apparent miracle.

Other painters became interested in circus as well. The painter Degas made Cirque Fernando famous, with his painting, Miss Lala at Cirque Fernando. Subsequently, several artists will be interested in this Circassian universe, like Chagall, Matisse and Picasso.

The Seaside

Lautrec first stayed in Arcachon in 1872, then aged 8, with his mother Adèle. At this time, his uncle Ernest Pascal being prefect of Gironde, he enjoyed the presence of his three cousins, rented in Arcachon or staying at the Grand Hotel, to play on the beach and swim, despite his disability, especially with his cousin Louis who was the same age as him.

At adulthood, he visited the Bay of Arcachon almost every summer where he devotes himself and his friends to fishing, sailing, swimming, and other seaside pleasures, taking advantage of the healthy air gracing his fragile lungs.

In 1885, he discovered, thanks to the medical officer of health Henri Bourges, who shelters him in Paris, the village of Taussat (commune of Lanton) while this doctor joins a colleague Dr. Robert Wurtz who stays in the vast family property extending between Andernos and Taussat.

While the Pascal family, following a reversal of fortunes in 1892, no longer comes to Arcachon, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, arranged otherwise and enjoyed the same year the hospitality of Louis Fabre (1860-1923), magistrate originally from Agen, whom he met in Paris probably around 1890, and to whom Lautrec bought in Taussat the villa Bagatelle and a sailboat called “Belle Hélène” in tribute to the bride and future wife of Fabre, Hélène Estève (1859-?) .
 
Lautrec will become friends with Fabre until his death in 1901.

His friend and photographer, Maurice Guibert often accompanied him to Arcachon or Taussat. Henri was there in 1896, fishing with cormorants that his father Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec, authentic master falconer, taught him to train in his youth.

Lautrec knew for a long time a shipowner, Paul Viaud (1846-1906), 18 years his elder who will be charged in 1899 by the family Toulouse-Lautrec watch over Henri, become alcoholic, undermined by absinthe, and who has had to be locked in a health house that same year in Neuilly.

It is indeed in the villa Bagatelle, in August 1901, that, strongly emaciated by a tuberculosis contracted a few months before, the painter appears on a last photograph. Victim of nervous attacks that paralyze him progressively, he is taken to Malromé, where his life was extinguished on 9 September 1901.

Away from Parisian places of pleasure, the painter came to perform a kind of cure, forgetting his physical disability and finding another joy of life. The paintings made during his stays are far from the Montmartre subjects that made his fame and were intended to thank his hosts for their hospitality.
 
The reconstituted history of its resorts on the Arcachon Basin gives us a much healthier vision of this character.

 

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Mary Cassatt – Famous Women Artists In History

the childs bath

I think that if you shake the tree, you ought to be around when the fruit falls to pick it up.

One of the leading artists in the Impressionist movement, Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844, in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. She was born and growing up in a comfortably upper-middle-class family: her mother belonged to a prosperous banking family, and her father was well-to-do real estate and stockbroker.
 
Her elementary schooling prepared her to be a proper wife and mother, included such classes like embroidery, music, homemaking, painting and sketching.

what did mary cassatt look like

Not For Girls

Her upbringing reflected her family’s high social standing; Cassatts lived in Germany and France, from 1851 to 1855, giving the young girl an early exposure to European culture and art history. As a child she had learned French and German, and these language skills served her well in her later career.
 
She may also have visited the Paris World’s Fair at 1855, at which she would have viewed the art of Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Auguste-Dominic Ingres among other French artists.

At the age of 16, Mary started studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Not surprisingly, she found the male faculty and her fellow students to be patronizing and resentful of her attendance.
 
She also became frustrated by the inadequate course offerings and curriculum’s slow pace. However, she decided to leave the program and move to Europe, where she could study the works of the Old Masters, firsthand, on her own.

Despite her family strong objections and their initial misgivings; her father declared that he would rather see his daughter dead than living abroad as a ‘bohemian’, Mary Cassatt left for Paris, in 1866.
 
In Paris, she studied with Jean-Leon Gérôme and had the private art lessons in the Louvre, where she copied the great masterpieces of art. This, of course, greatly influenced her own skills as a painter.

cassatt-mary-stevenson-2566

Discovery

Mary continued to paint and study in relative obscurity until 1868, when one of her portraits was selected for the annual exhibition at the prestigious Paris Salon. The well-received piece of her was submitted under the name Mary Stevenson.

In 1870, after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Mary Cassatt returned home to live with her family. Upon her return to the outskirts of Philadelphia, the artistic freedom she enjoyed in Paris, immediately extinguished; she was pretty much frustrated by a lack of artistic resources and opportunities.
 
Not only did she have trouble finding proper supplies, but her father refused to pay for anything connected with her art. In order to raise funds, she tried to sell some of her paintings in New York, but to no avail.
 
She tried to sell them once again, through a dealer in Chicago, but her paintings were tragically destroyed in a fire, in 1871.

mary-stevenson-cassatt-american-1844-1926-family-group-reading-philadelphia-museum-of-art-painting

In the midst of these difficult circumstances, Mary was contacted by the archbishop of Pittsburgh, who wanted to commission her to paint copies of two works by Correggio, an Italian master. She accepted the assignment and left immediately for Europe, where the originals were, in Parma, Italy.
 
With the money she earned from the commission, she was able to sit out again for Paris and resume her career in Europe. In this period, the early 1870s, she also traveled to Spain and Holland, where she familiarized herself with the work of the most famous masters, such as Diego Velásquez, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt van Rijn.

The Paris Salon accepted her paintings for exhibitions in 1872, 1873 and 1874, which helped secure her status as an established artist; she continued to paint and study in Rome, Belgium, and Spain and eventually settling permanently in Paris.

a-goodnight-hug-mary-stevenson-cassatt

Paris

By 1874, she had established herself in a studio in Paris. Three years later, her parents and her sister Lydia joined her in France. They frequently served as models for her work of the late 1870s and 1880s, which included many images of contemporary women at the opera and theatre, in parlors and gardens.
 
Self-reliant and single-minded, Mary had the opportunity to concentrate on her art in a city where, ‘’women did not have to fight for recognition if they did serious work’’.

Though she felt indebted to the Salon for building her career, Mary Cassatt began to feel increasingly constrained by the inflexible guidelines and traditional tastes of Paris’s official art scene. She began to experiment artistically, no longer concerned with what was commercial or fashionable.
 
During this time, she drew courage from painter Edgar Degas, whose pastels inspired her to press on in her own direction; her new work drew criticism for its bright colors and unflattering accuracy of its subjects.

cassatt_mary_4

When Edgar Degas invited her to join the group of independent artist, known as Impressionists, in 1879, she was delighted. The impressionists’ show was a huge success, commercially and critically, and her admiration for Degas and Impressionists would soon blossom into a strong friendship.

Cassatt exhibited her work with the Impressionists in Paris from 1879 onwards; in 1886 she was included in the first major exhibition of Impressionist art in the United States at the Durand-Ruel Galleries in New York.

Honest Portraiture

While many of her fellow Impressionists were focused on landscapes and street scenes, Mary became famous for her portraits. She continued to specialize in scenes of women in domestic interiors, especially mothers and their children, with an Impressionist emphasis on quickly captured moments of contemporary life.
 
Also, she shared with the Impressionists a general conviction that academic art was outdated and a commitment to explore fresh new means of everyday modern life.

mary_cassatt_-the-cup-of-tea

Cassatt’s portraits were unconventional in their direct and honest nature, and her constant objective was to achieve force, not sweetness, truth, but not sentimentality and romance. These works, like all her portrayals of women, may have achieved such a popular success for a specific reason: they filled a societal need to idealize women’s domestic roles at a time when many women were, in fact, beginning to take an interest in voting rights, higher education, dress reform and social equality.
 
Yet, Cassatt’s depictions of her fellow upper-middle-class and upper-class women were never simplistic; they contained layers of meaning behind the airy brushwork and fresh colors of her impressionistic technique.

In her piece The Child’s Bath, from 1893, an intimately observed vignette of a woman bathing her child, Mary combines certain stylistic influences of Japanese art with the subject matter of her own milieu.

the childs bath

The variety of patterns in this composition, including several floral designs and the bold stripes of the woman’s dress is united by a restrained palette of greys and mauves. The soft coloration allows the viewer to concentrate on the subject of the scene- the close relationship between mother and child.
 
Their intimacy is demonstrated by their closely positioned faces and by the circle of touch that extends from the woman’s hand on the child’s foot to the child’s hand to the woman’s knee. In this work, Cassatt evoked the traditional artistic subject matter of the Madonna and Child, making her imagery rather secular then religious.

Regarding her artistic style, she expanded her technique from oil painting and drawing to pastels and printmaking. Japanese wooden prints had been very popular in Paris since it was featured at the 1878 Exposition Universelle, and Cassatt, like many other Impressionist, incorporated its visual devices into her own work.

Experimentation

Mary Cassatt’s painting style continued to evolve away from Impressionism in favor of a simpler, more straightforward approach. Her final exhibition with the Impressionists was in 1886, and she subsequently stopped identifying herself with a particular movement or school.

Her experimentation with a variety of techniques often led her to unexpected places. For instance, her Letter, from 1890/91, shows a woman sealing a letter she has just written at her desk.
 
The composition balances patterns- the wallpaper and the woman dress, against solid areas of color, the vertical back of the desk, the paper of the letter and envelope; brings the viewer close to the room’s shallow space, where forced perspective is evident in the oddly skewed writing panel of the desk.
 
These stylistic choices were influenced by traditional Japanese printmaking- the direct reference to Bijinga Ukiyo-e , the wooden prints of Kitagawa Utamara; yet, the woman’s garments and the other objects are all contemporary details of Cassatt’s world.

the_letter

After 1890, Mary suffered from failing health and deteriorating eyesight, but she maintained close relationship with her artist friends and important art world figures in France and America. Although she and Degas suffered a rift in their friendship during the infamous Dreyfus affair, of the late 1890s, they later made amends.

In 1904, Cassatt was recognized for her cultural contributions by the French government, which awarded her the order of Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur.

Egypt

A 1910 trip to Egypt with her brother, Gardner, and his family, would prove to be a turning point in Mary Cassatt’s life. The Egyptian magnificent ancient art made her question her own talent as an artist.
 
Soon after their return home, Gardner died unexpectedly from an illness he contracted during the journey. These two events deeply affected Cassatt’s physical and emotional health and she was unable to paint again until around 1912.

Three years later, she was forced to give up painting altogether as diabetes slowly stole her vision. For the next 11 years, until her death- on June, 14, 1926, in her country home a chateau located in Le Mesnil- Théribus, fifty miles northwest of Paris- Marry Cassat lived in almost total blindness, bitterly unhappy to be robbed of her greatest source of pleasure.

woman reading and blue armchair

Mary Cassatt had never married nor had children, choosing instead to dedicate her entire life to her artistic profession. By her late years, she was able to witness the emergence of modernism in Europe and the United States, but her signature style remained consistent.
 
The waning critical taste for Impressionism after her death meant that her influence on other artists was limited.

 

Legacy

She is considered one of the most important American expatriate artists of the late 1800s, along with James Mc Neill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. She has also been the focus of influential scholarship on female artists and her work has been discussed by key feminist art historians including Linda Nochlin and Griselda Pollock.

However, Cassatt’s status in art history has been significant and influential in the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She became a key figure in the fin de siècle art world and helped to establish the taste for impressionist art in her native United States.