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So I bitched all summer over not having enough work and now as the summer comes to an end, and art modeling will soon kick into high gear, I’m like NOOOO!! NOT YET!! Okay, I’m a pain in the ass :lol:

I suppose since last spring brought a good share of professional aggravation and frustration, I’m feeling some ambivalence about facing the art scene full throttle. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to seeing certain people again that I’m fond of, and faithfully serving in my role as muse. I just hope my middle-aged body cooperates! I did a lot of running, biking, and exercising this summer, but I still could have done more.

I came across this video that I really enjoyed, “Sculpting the Female Torso” by Peter Rubino. Sculpture is amazing in that it begins as amorphous slabs and gradually transforms into a replica of the human form through molding, carving, scooping, and all those wonderful tactile sensations. Once when posing for a sculpture class I saw an artist get fed up with his tools and take out his plastic credit card, which he then used to scrape ridges in the clay with better precision. Sculptors get it done, one way or another. Beautiful final result in this video:

 

Not to be outdone by the three dimensional molders, artists who use pencil have to “mold” in their own way as well. Lights and darks, as we all know, are the keys to creating form on a piece of paper. This is my torso drawn by my dear friend Daniel daSilva.

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Have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone! Peace and blessings. See you soon :-)

Love, Claudia

Chasing Isabel – Gaston Lachaise and his Muse

So fellas, how far would you travel to be with the woman you love? The woman who inspires you? For French-born sculptor Gaston Lachaise the distance was 3,400 miles, though we can presume he would have traveled a lot farther than that for his muse, the person who set afire both his artistic imagination and erotic passions. For an attraction that powerful, a trip across the Atlantic is a mere walk down the block.

She was Isabel Dutaud Nagle, an American woman vacationing in Paris during the early 1900s. Gaston Lachaise was still a young 20 year old art student at the Académie Nationale des Beaux-Arts when he first caught sight of her walking along the Seine. He was instantaneously captivated. There was only one problem; Isabel was married. She was also ten years his senior.

Isabel Nagle photographed in Paris, 1904:

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The son of a skilled woodcarver and cabinetmaker, Gaston Lachaise received training in the decorative arts from the age of 13. Immersed in apprenticeships and a supportive family, Gaston Lachaise was on a solid path to a life of creating art. But then, with a promising career in sculpture ready to break out, Lachaise did the unthinkable. At a time when artists from all over the world came TO Paris, often without a dollar to their name, to study and create and live in the city that was the happening, stimulating hub of vitality for artists during the 1900s  – Gaston Lachaise did the opposite. He made plans to leave Paris and follow Isabel to her home in Boston. On the surface it seemed he was going in the wrong direction. For an up and coming artist in 1904, Paris was the place to be, the heart, the “scene”. But in a choice between hobnobbing with Picasso, Modigliani, and art dealers in Montparnasse, or packing up and relocating to America to be with the woman he loved, Lachaise chose the latter.

But the logistics of such a move were not without snags. In 1903, the year Lachaise turned 21, he was was drafted into the French Army. He served an uneventful 12 months during which he could not see his beloved Isabel. It was also during this time that Isabel had to return to Boston. Her husband was a wealthy businessman who refused to grant her a divorce until their son Edward was grown and enrolled in Harvard. Isabel accepted those conditions. In the meantime, Gaston Lachaise was discharged from the army and, instead of returning to formal study, secured a steady job in the studios of René Lalique where he cast jewelry, modeled vases and other art nouveau objects that were all the rage of the day. Before long he had earned enough money to pay for his passage across the Atlantic plus $60. His girl was waiting for him.

Isabel doing a nice nude twist on the rocks:

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On December 5, 1905, Gaston Lachaise set sail for America. He arrived in Boston one month later and was reunited with his muse. He would never return to France again. Lachaise found work in the atelier of sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson and enjoyed the time he and Isabel were able to spend together. They listened to music, discussed art and books, and attended concerts. When Kitson moved to New York City, to a studio on MacDougal Street, Lachaise followed him. Isabel came soon after. By 1912, Lachaise was assistant to Paul Manship and about to enter the period of formidable personal expression in his own work, driven of course by his enchanting and inspiring muse. Of Isabel he wrote, “through her the splendor of life was uncovered for me and the road of wonder began widening.”.

Gaston Lachaise’s figurative sculptures are known for their Junoesque stature and voluptuous dimensions. Certainly Isabel was no skinny waif, but she was not quite the imposing figure of Gaston’s work either. In reality she was only 5’2″ tall and weighed around 110 pounds. But like many artists are inclined to do, Lachaise exaggerated for artistic effect, amplifying the sensuousness, strength, and vigorous force of the human form. This is one of Lachaise’s most famous works of Isabel, “Elevation”, in bronze. A fascinating sculpture that presents a full-figured torso and thick thighs in an active gesture balancing effortlessly on the tiptoes of tiny delicate feet. It looks as if she could lift off and float away, light as a feather.

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It’s hard to miss the influences of Rodin and Maillol. They along with Lachaise exalted the human form to archetypes of potency, energy, and forces of nature. Committed to his vision of “Woman” as he felt it and experienced it through Isabel, Gaston Lachaise remained faithful to his passions and his artistic vocabulary.

This is Gaston Lachaise’s “Floating Figure” at the National Gallery of Australia, also inspired by Isabel. Completed in plaster in 1927, there are seven bronze casts in existence altogether. At first glance we see an almost caricature-like exaggeration. But Lachaise is presenting us with curvaceous lines and shapes, which are inherently womanly and feminine, a disproportionately small head, and a cross-legged seated pose with outstretched arms that communicates a peculiar mixture of control, tranquility, expansiveness. An odd, original, memorable work of modern figurative sculpture:

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1917 was a banner year for Gaston Lachaise. He became a United States citizen, finally married the now-divorced Isabel, and was preparing for his solo show of sculpture and drawing at Stephan Bourgeois Galleries in New York. The next seventeen years brought more exhibitions, commissions, great success and critical acclaim, and the purchase of a summer home in Maine. In retrospect, Lachaise’s infatuation-induced decision to leave Paris for America was a wise one, however impulsive it may have been. His union with Isabel was happily made official, and his career flourished in his adopted homeland. He called America “The New World” and added that “The American soil is fresh. It is fertile. Flowers and fruit of new species will come forth from it to lighten the world.” The old adage about following your heart is exemplified by the journey of Gaston Lachaise.

And then, in 1935, Lachaise’s life and career were cut short by the sudden onset of acute leukemia. He died just months after a triumphant retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art. Isabel Nagle, who left her previous husband to be with Gaston Lachaise, was now his widow. He had written 567 love letters to her and credited her as his “primary inspiration”. Isabel lived for another 25 years after Gaston’s death.

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An invaluable source of images and information for this post came from the Lachaise Foundation . Definitely check them out to learn more. Also of interest, an old art review from the New York Times

Doughboys on Fifth

I should probably regard it as a positive sign that the museums of New York City are inundated with people these days, locals and tourists alike. Flocking to see art is clearly a wonderful thing, except when it screws up your plans! Yesterday, I attempted to see the Dutch Masterpieces exhibit at the Frick. But when I arrived, the line went around the block and the wait was estimated at an hour. I stood on the line for a while, but when we hadn’t moved an inch in 15 minutes, I realized I wouldn’t have enough time to see the show and still make it to midtown in time to meet my niece and my mother as planned. So I bid farewell to the Frick and busted out of the line. But I shall return. I’m not done with you yet Frick! Vermeer ain’t leaving this city before I can take in his magnificence, that’s a promise :-)

New York City being New York City, passing through the doors of a museum and paying an admission fee is not required to view art or objects of interest. Such things are all around us. Museum plans scrapped, I strolled down Fifth Avenue on that sunny Saturday afternoon. Within three blocks I was met by the 107th Infantry Memorial at 67th Street. Erected in honor of New York’s Seventh Regiment which fought valiantly in France during World War I and saw heavy casualties, the bronze sculpture sits a top a huge 25 foot wide granite base.

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The designer and sculptor of the piece, Karl Illava, served in the 107th as a sergeant and was able to draw from his own firsthand experience with the horrors of war and the brotherhood of an infantry division. The inscription is prominent and very nicely done.

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This powerful war memorial rightly draws stops from passersby. With art museums to the north and high end department stores to the south, the 107th Infantry Memorial stands tall along Fifth Avenue, a formidable presence of courage and sacrifice.

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See you all in 2014!

Stand Up Guys

In academic art settings, models are often asked to do standing poses. Why? Because standing poses are considered “classical” and are well-suited to traditional study. While both male and female models are asked to do standing poses in such environments, the dreaded task of long pose standing seems to fall more heavily on male models. During art’s golden ages of the past, the academic male nude was the epitome of the idealized human form. Browse through galleries of  Renaissance art, Old Masters drawings, Greek and Roman sculpture, etc. and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Of course female models pose standing for academic work. I’ve done a ton of it. This one was memorable. But the standing male nude has been, and continues to be, the exemplar of formal life study. And my male counterparts answer the call with poise, resilience, and professionalism.

A wonderful back view of a strong, muscular model, Standing Male Nude by William Etty:

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I hesitate to say that standing poses are “easier” for men, as I’m sure my model friends – male and female alike – would argue that there is nothing “easy” about a long, all-day standing pose. The discomfort we feel in those situations involves fatigue more than pain, although pain can be an issue as well. I’ve read that women’s muscles are actually slower to fatigue than men’s – that while men have more raw strength, women have greater endurance. I’m a tad skeptical of that, but perhaps it’s true. What I do know from my years of experience is that male models handle standing poses extremely well. If they feel discomfort they tend to keep it to themselves and soldier on. Also, let’s face basic facts about male vs female physiques. Men are stronger. They have stronger muscles and more muscle mass. That’s just the way it is. Testosterone, folks. Now we can quibble about the body varieties which exist among individuals of both genders. But broadly and generally speaking, these innate characteristics apply.

In life modeling, strength matters, especially for standing. Strong quads and hamstrings sure are helpful. Toss in some active gestures on top of the standing and you have quite a posing challenge. Let’s take a look at a few more examples of the fellas doing their thing.

It takes a great deal of physical strength – in the legs, torso, and back – to pull off a standing pose like the one in this drawing by Prud’hon. It’s a good example of the kind of thing asked more often of male models than female models:

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A beautiful contrapposto pose that projects both strength and elegance, Male Torso by Ingres, year 1800. The pole is a common prop in in art studios and a favorite in academic settings. I consider it best utilized by male models. Personally I never use the pole unless I’m asked. I see it as a guy thing.

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The pole again, assisting this male model in creating a great action pose which enhances the musculature, twist, and movement of the figure. Standing Male Nude, 1898, by British artist Harold Knight:

(c) John Croft; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

All art models everywhere should bow down in respect to the guy posing in this work, Study of a Man by Theodore Gericault, 1812. What you see here is pure torture. Just looking at it is giving me muscle spasms!

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On this holiday weekend I hope my male model peers relax and sprawl out on chaise lounges, the beach, in jacuzzis and whatnot. You deserve it. The new art school semesters are upon us, and you know what that will bring. Get your standing legs ready boys ;-)

The Age of Bronze, Auguste Rodin:

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Stopping by Bethesda

Central Park is home to numerous charming and exquisite spots. One of its most well-known and most visited gems is Bethesda Terrace and the “Angel of the Waters” fountain. Saturday, after modeling at the National Academy, I decided to take a stroll over to Bethesda via the 72nd Street walkway. The earlier overcast sky from the morning had cleared to bright summer blue with white puffs of clouds. Bethesda, with its gently spilling water, winged angel, and majestic staircases, attracted tourists and New Yorkers alike. The layout and setting of Bethesda is incredibly inviting, as it was intended to be.

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The vision of Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux is represented magnificently at Bethesda Terrace, a spot they expected to serve as the heart of the park and was inspired more by the essence of nature than by architecture. This can be seen in the detailed carvings which flank the steps from the top level of the Terrace to the bottom.

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These enchanting birds and plants are the work of Jacob Wrey Mould. I love them. Here’s a closeup:

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The fountain was commissioned as part of the park’s original design plan, and the bronze angel sculpture is the work of Emma Stebbins, a well-connected native New Yorker. The piece was created to honor the successful Croton Aqueduct, a notable achievement in civil engineering, which went into operation in 1842 and was responsible for delivering a reliable supply of clean water to city residents. Although the old Croton Aqueduct is no longer in use, it set the standard for New York City’s famously excellent tap water. We’ve got good tasting water, folks :-)

Here she is, the Bethesda angel atop the fountain, soaring tall against the summer sky:

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In keeping with the theme of healthy, nourishing water, the name “Bethesda” was chosen after the Biblical reference to the healing pool in Jerusalem where the sick and infirm went to be cured. From the book of John: “and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water … for an angel went down … and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” (NKJV)

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The ripples and splashes of the fountain’s water streams are indeed calming, and the restorative effects are felt however you wish to receive them, whether in spiritual or earthly manner. Although the site is secular and civic in nature, the Bethesda fountain holds a celestial aura that seems to communicate healing, hope, and rebirth. The final scene of Angels in America features the spot quite beautifully and effectively because of these qualities.

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I took all the photos in this post and if the quality of them seems irregular it’s because my camera battery died after I took only a few pictures! So I had to default into Blackberry cam. I wanted to capture Bethesda any way I could and share it with all of you. Here’s one more for the road:

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David Times Three

Artists assume a big responsibility when they choose a legendary figure as their subject. The movers and shakers of history, mythology, and the Bible are universally known, and with these figures comes the import of their momentous actions and the attached symbolism. It’s one thing to paint an anonymous female nude in the studio. It’s quite another to paint Venus or Mary Magdalene.

I thought it would be fun to compare the works of three sculptors and their versions of David, the young Israelite who bravely stepped up to challenge Goliath, the nine foot tall Philistine warrior, at the Valley of Elah. Without armor or training, David placed a stone in his slingshot and let it fly. He knocked down Goliath and then beheaded him. The story of David and Goliath is immortal, and the phrase “David versus Goliath” has become a metaphor – an apt, effective one at that – to describe any situation of an underdog taking on a stronger, more powerful opponent. The little guy versus the big guy. Think George Bailey standing up to Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Or the “Miracle on Ice” USA hockey team defeating the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympic games.

We’ll start with the obvious, Michelangelo’s David. The standard-bearer. The epitome of Renaissance sculpture. A work that could very well have led to the invention of the term “masterpiece”. This is a strong, beautiful, idealized David, thoroughly heroic, standing in an elegant contrapposto, resting his slingshot on his left shoulder. His physique is fit and his handsome face holds an intense gaze. It’s been over 20 years since I saw this David “in the flesh” so to speak.

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Next we have Donatello’s David, in bronze, and at first glance you wouldn’t even know that this is supposed to be the same David as Michelangelo’s. More like the hipster David. He is, well, kind of girly. Unlike Michelangelo’s work, Donatello’s David stands atop the severed head of Goliath. But still his portrayal of David himself seems callow and effete. It’s true that David was a very young man, but it’s hard to picture this pre-pubescent kid taking down a giant with a slingshot. I find the hat silly and distracting, and the hand on hip gesture looks like immature swagger.

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Donatello did create a marble David before the bronze, but that one also leaves me cold.

Lastly, we have Bernini’s David. Now folks, this is what I’m talkin’ about. Yeah baby! This is some kick-ass sculpture right here. Bernini had an exceptional gift for capturing dramatic action in his sculptures, pivotal narrative moments frozen in marble, replete with movement and torsion. His David is a prime example of this talent. Unlike Michelangelo and Donatello, Bernini chose to depict David not before or after his triumph, but at the climactic instant when he launches his slingshot and sends the projectile that will take down Goliath. Exciting, in-your-face stuff.

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Busty Lady

First they took measurements of my head with a sculptor’s caliper. Then they slapped slabs of water-based clay on their armatures. Then they began the process of creating portrait sculptures of yours truly. When Mario D’Urso asked me to pose for his private sculpture class in his Queens studio I jumped at the chance. I haven’t modeled for sculpture in quite a while, and Mario is a delightful, wonderful guy, so it was a no-brainer. Here’s Mario showing Lara some modeling techniques:

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My booking with Mario’s group is open-ended. We’ve agreed to continue with the portrait sculptures until they are finished, with no fixed timetable. So as far as planning sessions is concerned we’re winging it from week to week, scheduling the nights according to my modeling calendar, which is very considerate of them.

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Still a work-in-progress, this piece is coming along nicely. And I’m really enjoying watching the class work as I sit for them. They mold, carve, add clay, take clay away, and try to achieve a likeness in terms of features, proportions, and character.

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A sculpture “bust”, by the way, usually refers to a sculpture of the subject’s head, shoulders, and upper torso. What we’re doing in Mario’s class is more accurately a “portrait sculpture” of just the head. But I couldn’t resist using “busty lady” for the post title. I thought it was funny. Or wishful thinking. Or maybe it was just a cheap ploy to get more search engine traffic :lol: