Dream Makers

In an Artist’s Studio – Christina Rossetti

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel – every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Seated Model in the Artist’s Studio, by Paul-Gustave Fischer:

Cantrix

Portrait commissions may have allowed John Singer Sargent to make a name for himself, but we know that he eventually grew tired of that work despite being in great demand as a portraitist for upper crust aristocrats. If you do a Google Image Search of John Singer Sargent you’re bombarded with painting after painting of affluent men and women posing stiffly in their elegant clothes, gazing straight at the viewer, their airs of superiority wafting off the canvases.

Recently I came across a Sargent portrait that stood out from the others and I suspected that it wasn’t a commissioned work. After a few minutes of research I discovered that it was, in fact, not a commission. Sargent created it purely from the inspiration he felt from the subject, not because he was contracted to do so. She was Mabel Batten, born Mabel Veronica Hatch in Great Britain in 1856. Like most of Sargent’s circle, Mabel was a member of the high society class but she was also an accomplished mezzo-soprano, composer, trained musician and patroness of the arts. Sargent painted this portrait depicting her in the euphoric throes of singing, with eyes closed, mouth open, and those trademark Sargent painterly brushstrokes on the dress. Mabel is in a full blown musical trance here:

And no that’s not some sloppy cropping on my part. Sargent deliberately cut off the arms in an ingenious composition choice which creates greater intimacy and intensity. Also, I like the gesture of her left hand on her hip. Nice touch.

This Music Monday post continues with more female songstress exultation. The word ‘cantrix’, by the way, means a female singer, as my Latin language obsession pokes through from time to time. I posted back in December about my niece Olivia’s original music and I’m thrilled to report that she continues to kick ass 🙂 Her latest single is Sapphire and I would be honored if my readers had a listen to this outstanding song. Really, it’s outstanding! This girl is on a roll. Ms Mabel would love this, and you will too. Here’s Olivia Paris:

Countenances

Helllooooooooooo friends!! How is everyone? 2017 is barely two weeks old and I’ve already had my bout with the flu! Ugh. I was in bed for a few days feeling pretty lousy, but I’m recovered now (mostly) and ready to return to work. First booking on my schedule is the two week Drawing Marathon at the New York Studio School again. I modeled for it at the start of the fall 2016 semester – posted here – and am honored to have been asked back.

Also, an update about the “Portraits and Pets” Museworthy Art Show. I’ve decided that it will happen in the spring – either late March or early April. So anyone who has not yet submitted something and would like to, you still have plenty of time! I encourage you to do so. Skill level is totally unimportant. All that matters is sharing, expression, and participation 🙂

Speaking of portraits, I’ve been looking at them a lot lately. More than nudes even. Something about the varied countenances and bearings of individuals, and how artists manage to capture those distinct airs through portraiture, is fascinating to me. Two in particular made an impression on me recently and I decided to share on the blog. Interestingly, both of them were painted by artists who are well-known mostly for their landscapes. The two men were not contemporaries (born 60 years apart), hailed from different parts of Europe and were raised in different socio-economic backgrounds. One was reared in a comfortable, middle class Parisian lifestyle, the other in a poverty-stricken, rootless existence in northern Italy.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, the Parisian, painted this work, The Greek Girl, in 1870. The girl is not Greek at all. She is Emma Dobigny, a popular French artist’s model at the time and a particular favorite of Edgar Degas. The warm, honeyed tones and harmonious palette work extremely well, as does the composition. She is dainty and winsome. We look at her, but her gaze and attention are directed elsewhere. I also see the vertical shape of her long jacket contrasting with the roundness of her cherubic face.

corot-greekgirl

The next portrait is by the the Italian painter Giovanni Segantini who, as a young boy, was homeless for a time, living in the streets of Milan and placed in a reform school. I’ve always found him to be a very interesting artist. The bulk of Segantini’s work are scenes of Alpine pastoral life – sheep herders and peasant folk in the Swiss mountains. This is his 1881 portrait of Leopoldina Grubicy who I’m assuming was probably the wife of Vittore Grubicy, an art gallery owner, painter, friend and supporter of Segantini. Again, marvelous shapes. A mature woman. Luminosity on the skin, the fluffy white collar, and the gold hair clip are details which draw the eye.

segantini-portraitleopoldina

Veronica of Venice

Throughout junior high and high school, I was quite the vocabulary geek. When I wasn’t cutting chemistry class and doodling “I ❤ Paul” in my spiral notebook, I was compiling word lists on my own time for my own personal study. I used to scribble stars next to the ones I had trouble remembering. But once in a while I’d gloss over a word I encountered and just presumed to know what it meant by its written context; something like “18th century courtesans enjoyed lives of social freedom and financial stability”. So a courtesan is just a high class society woman, right? Not exactly.

When I eventually looked up the word “courtesan” I was a little taken aback by its straightforward definition: “a woman who has sex with rich or important men in exchange for money”. So in other words, a prostitute. Wait, what? I was confused. Courtesans were written about in a way that conveyed glamour and high repute. Keep in mind that I grew up in New York City – pre-Guiliani New York City that is – and my understanding of prostitutes was the short-skirted women with bad skin who loitered on street corners on the west side, soliciting men with “you lookin’ for a date?” and leaning into open car windows.

Naturally, I came to learn that some words are history-specific, and that New York City circa 1982 was a world apart from Venice circa 1570. (Or was it? Hmm…) No one uses the word “courtesan” in ordinary conversation anymore, but it came back to me recently when I started to research this extraordinary portrait by either Jacopo Tintoretto or one of his protégés:

Tintoretto-VeronicaFranco

The woman in this painting, with red hair and peek-a-boo nipple, is Veronica Franco, one of the most celebrated and respected courtesans in Venice during the 16th century, a time when that city was a thriving, cosmopolitan commercial and cultural center. Franco was a member of the cortigiane oneste class of courtesans: educated, sophisticated women who provided companionship, sexual or otherwise, to wealthy men who served as benefactors. These courtesans hobnobbed with the elite and often had careers of their own in fields like the arts, even business. Interestingly, they enjoyed social and professional freedoms that were not as easily available to traditional wives.

Veronica Franco was born 1546 into a family of native Venetians – a class of people who were referred to as cittadini originari or “original citizens”. This stratum of society was bestowed with certain rights and privileges and only ranked below the nobility in terms of social standing. Franco’s mother was a courtesan herself and provided all her children, Veronica and her three brothers, with private tutors and a well-rounded education. After a failed marriage to a physician at an early age, Veronica Franco embarked on her career as a courtesan and, more impressively, a published poet and literary editor.

From the collection of Museo del Prado  this is another portrait believed to be of Veronica Franco, this time by Jacopo Tintoretto’s son, Domenico. It’s appropriately titled Lady Baring her Breast. Veronica liked showing those off it seems. And the pearl necklace is a nice touch 🙂

Tintoretto-VFranco

Franco collaborated with her male counterparts to compile poetry anthologies. She forged an especially close relationship with Domenico Venier, poet and head of a prominent literary academy in Venice. “Terze Rime”, Veronica Franco’s volume of poetry, was published in 1575. Her voice is frank, insightful, passionate, often defiant. In this excerpt of her verse, Franco challenges the misbehaving men of her day with the spirit of a feisty early feminist:

Look with the eyes of your good sense
and see for yourself how unworthy of you
it is to insult and injure women.
Unfortunate sex, always led about
by cruel fortune, because you are always
subjected and without freedom!
But this has certainly been no fault of ours,
because, if we are not as strong as men,
like men we have a mind and intellect.
And virtue does not lie in bodily strength
but in the vigor of the soul and mind,
through which all things come to be known;
and I am certain that in this respect
women lack nothing, but, rather, have given
more than one sign of being greater than men.
But if you think us inferior to you,
perhaps it’s because in modesty and wisdom
we are more adept and better than you.
And do you want to know what the truth is?
That the wisest person should be the most patient
squares with reason and with what is right;
insolence is the mark of the madman,
but the stone that the wise man draws from the well
was thrown in by a foolish, imprudent man…….

Not long after the the publication of Franco’s poetry, Venice was hit with a devastating outbreak of the plague. A port city with a mercantile economy, Venice was particularly vulnerable due to infected rats and other disease-carrying vermin entering the city via trade ships. Veronica Franco, like thousands of others, fled Venice to escape the Black Death. The city was ravaged, and its strict caste system now meant nothing as rich and poor alike, nobleman and laborer, succumbed equally under the outbreak. Epidemic disease doesn’t care who you are or who your parents were.

The Grand Canal, Venice, by Franz Richard Unterberger:

Unterberger-the-grand-canal-venice

When Franco returned to Venice, her home and possessions had been looted, and her life entered a second chapter marked by poverty and other difficulties. In 1580 she was brought up on bogus charges of witchcraft. An inquisition was held and she was exonerated. But the damage done to her reputation was irreparable. Then in 1582, her dear and loyal friend Domenico Venier died which left Veronica with no significant ally in Venetian social circles.

Franco was a prolific letter-writer, and her surviving correspondence provides compelling insight into her values and attitudes. In one letter, she strongly discourages an advice-seeking mother from allowing her daughter to become a courtesan. Using blunt language, Franco warns the woman that the life of a courtesan is not glamorous but tainted with degradation and stigma, and that she, as the girl’s mother, should be more protective of her daughter’s welfare and well-being. Franco urged her not to “slaughter in one stroke [her] soul and [her] reputation, along with [her] daughter’s”. So the life of a “courtesan” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And my vocabulary confusion over that word wasn’t so crazy after all.

In her last years, Veronica Franco tried to establish a shelter for the destitute women of Venice and former prostitutes. At the time of her death in 1591 at the age of 45 (younger than I am now) she was not intestate. Franco had left a detailed will that demonstrates thoughtful instructions for the distribution of her limited assets and custodial care for her children. Though she ended up falling into obscurity, Veronica Franco’s fascinating life is worthy of a revival for anyone interested in topics of Venetian history, poetry, or women’s rights. The 1998 film “Dangerous Beauty” was based on Veronica Franco from Margaret Rosenthal’s biography The Honest Courtesan

Yearning for Maud

Am I too late for Saint Patrick’s Day? Not according to my clock. It’s almost 9PM New York City time so I’m right in there! Would have posted earlier today but I was busy taking Mom to the doctor’s. I’m sure the patron saint of Ireland would understand 🙂

I will seize any occasion to post poetry by William Butler Yeats – a longtime favorite of mine – and this day of celebrating all things Irish will do just fine. The maestro of symbolism and verse had me hooked since the first time I read the sea voyage of “Sailing to Byzantium” and its “no country for old men”, “tattered coat upon a stick”, “singing-masters of my soul”, monuments, mosaics, and “Grecian goldsmiths”. The Dublin-born Yeats is also responsible for what is probably my favorite short lyrical poem ever, “Cloths of Heaven”. I memorized it many years ago and it continues to move me … “tread softly”.

The inspiration behind that poem was Maud Gonne, Yeats’ muse and love of his life – a love that was unrequited. He proposed marriage four times .. and was rejected four times. Though she was born in England in 1866, Maud became an active revolutionary and fervent supporter of the Irish Nationalist movement, having been spurred on by the Land War and the attending civil unrest. She was also an actress and organizer of feminist causes. Of the tumultuous political climate in which she lived Maud wrote, “it is the English who are forcing war on us”.

Photo of Maud Gonne:

MaudGonne

The intuitive Yeats sensed right away that Maud was a force to be reckoned with, and described the moment he first met her as the day “the troubling of my life began”. Gonne, a convert to Catholicism, and Yeats, a Protestant, shared an intensely strong emotional bond and had a common fascination with the occult. But Maud simply could not conceive of marrying the moody poet. Instead, she married fellow Irish Nationalist John MacBride. Yeats was crushed. The union, however, was unhappy and acrimonious. Maud and John had one son, Sean MacBride born 1904, who became a prominent figure in the IRA and later a founding member of Amnesty International.

For decades, Yeats carried a torch for Maud and agonized over her involvements with other men. His continued pain over her having escaped him is manifest in his poetry. But Maud had his number and expressed this alternate view about their relationship:

“You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.”

Maud telling it like it is! Damn girl. She certainly has point. Here’s an example of that beautiful, lovelorn-inspired poetry Yeats composed from of his heartache over Maud. We may not like to admit it, but loss, regret, and grief really do inspire poignant and powerful artistic expressions.

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Charcoal drawing of W.B. Yeats by John Singer Sargent, 1908:

Sargent-william-butler-yeats-1908

Crimes and Misdemeanors

If for nothing else, social media interactions can spur discoveries and offer interesting shares that one might have been unfamiliar with. Block out the irritations of the Internet and some cool stuff can come your way. The Ashmolean Museum recently posted an image to Twitter that caught my attention. It was this self-portrait by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the celebrated sculptor of the Baroque era. I’ve seen most of his self-portraits – he did quite a few – but I’d never seen this one before. He created it in black, red, and white chalk, circa 1635:

BerniniSelfPortrait

The drawing has a strange intimacy to it that intrigues me. His gaze is hard to pinpoint. Oddly, it is direct but a little preoccupied. Engaged but a little jaded. Cool but a little confused. I honestly can’t decide if he’s saying “You lookin’ at me, pal?” or “Whatever, dude”. His overall appearance is informal, with unkempt hair and a five o’clock shadow. He could almost be a young hipster barista making cappuccinos at a coffee bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn instead of the 17th century artistic wunderkind.

Bernini, the uniquely gifted sculptor who could turn marble into flesh and render stone creations with stunning action and theatricality, is a compelling and charismatic figure in art history. One cannot imagine a survey of Western art without his Ecstasy of St Teresa or Apollo and Daphne. The man himself possessed a personality which matched the intensity of his art. His notoriously hot temper was offset by his gregarious, outgoing disposition, well-roundedness (he was also an architect, poet, writer, and stage designer) and dedicated work ethic. It’s been said that he would chatter up a storm while he worked, telling jokes and sharing gossip with his assistants as he chiseled away in his studio. Like many sculptors he was physically strong and agile. And because his astonishing talents were evident to all, Bernini enjoyed a largely easy ride in terms of his career. He was showered with praise and recognition from his early years and it never waned. This, as I’m sure you all know, can be both a blessing and a curse.

Bernini was neither a sweetheart nor a monster. At only one point in his life did he go completely batshit crazy. And that one time sure was a doozy. A disturbing, mad, jealousy-infused doozy. Are you ready for the twisted soap opera? Fasten your seat belts.

In 1636 Bernini began an affair with Costanza Bonarelli, the wife of Bernini’s assistant Matteo Bonarelli. To describe it as “hot and heavy” would be an understatement. Bernini’s sculpture of her will tell us everything we need to know. She is tousled. She is lusty. She seems to be in some ravished stage of pre or post coitus. Her lips are parted, her blouse is undone. She is fleshy and earthy. She is not a proper aristocratic lady sitting decorously for a commissioned sculpture bust. She is, quite clearly, Bernini’s lover and object of his infatuation.

Bernini-Costanza

At the height of the torrid affair, Bernini was tipped off that Costanza was possibly sleeping with another man – not her husband but yet another lover. The lady got around apparently. The other man turned out to be none other than Bernini’s brother Luigi who was a rather unsavory character. Bernini, in the throes of unhinged jealousy, went ballistic. He spied on Costanza to confirm the rumor and, sure enough, spotted his brother emerging from her house. What ensued was pure madness. Bernini chased down Luigi and attacked him with an iron crowbar, breaking his ribs. He chased him again, this time with a sword, threatening to kill him. When his brother sought refuge in a church, the raging Bernini attempted to kick down the doors. But he wasn’t done with his vengeful impulses. Bernini ordered one of his servants to go to Costanza’s house and slash her face, which the man did, with a razor blade.

As for the fallout of this gruesome incident, Luigi fled to Bologna, fearing for his safety. Costanza, disfigured for life, was imprisoned for adultery. The servant who did the slashing was also sent to prison. And Bernini was issued a fine – a fine – which was eventually waived by his benefactor Pope Urban VIII, under the agreement that Bernini would marry, get his shit together, and live a respectable life. It pays to have friends in high places.

Another Bernini self-portrait:

GianLorenzo-Bernini-Autoritratto-1630ca-665x848

So Bernini went unpunished for his behavior, and Costanza paid the criminal price for adultery which the men eluded. This was, of course, 17th century Europe and a society structured in ways that baffle us. On the other hand, it’s not so baffling in that some aspects remain constant and are unlikely to ever change. Esteemed and advantaged people, like Bernini was then, receive special treatment, much like they do today. But for what it’s worth, Bernini did go on to marry, father eleven children, and live a pious life as a devout Catholic attending mass regularly. It appears he learned his lesson. Bernini suffered a stroke in his elderly years and died at the age of 82.

Miss Demarsy Does LA

Helloooo hellooooooooo!!!! How are my dear Museworthy friends? I’m here. I’m alive! Just had a busy week of art modeling for which I am grateful. Now gratitude has turned into relief that my schedule is quieting down until after Thanksgiving. Whew! I hope none of you are suffering with foot pain like I am. Between standing poses and walking the city streets, my feet take a beating. Any reflexologists out there? 😉

Some of you may have heard about the art auction fever of recent weeks. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s held thrilling blockbuster sales. Among the lots up for purchase was an enchanting 1881 Manet painting called Le Printemps (“Spring”), which exceeded expectations and sold for $65 million at the Christie’s auction. That is a record high price tag for a Manet. So who is the new owner of this fetching work? The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which announced the new acquisition in an excellent press release and a very delighted tweet. It was especially nice to see an art institution obtain the work instead of, say, another hedge fund manager. Congratulations Getty! She’s a beauty 🙂

Manet-Le-Printemps

The model for Le Printemps is Jeanne Demarsy, a popular Parisian actress during the 1880s and 1890s who served as an art muse for both Manet and Renoir. She was born Anne Darlaud in 1865 in Limoges, and her sister Eugénie-Marie also worked as an artist’s model and actress. Jeanne made her stage debut in 1887 in Jacques Offenbach’s operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld” in the role of Venus. In Le Printemps Manet painted Demarsy in a most charming arrangement; holding a parasol with gloved hand and wearing an adorable bonnet. What’s impressive to me is that Manet managed to depict the lush verdant colors of spring without allowing them to overwhelm or compete with the subject. Jeanne is still front and center. The black bow breaks up the profusion of colors very nicely. Visualize the work for a moment without the black bow. Very different, yes? Well done Monsieur Manet.

In this vintage of photo of Jeanne Demarsy we can see that she has soft, expressive eyes and a gentle countenance:

De_Marsy_vers_1890

Manet made this lovely pastel sketch of Jeanne the same year he painted Le Printemps. While this wouldn’t sell for $65 million at auction, heck I’d be more than happy to own it. Christie’s, let’s start the bidding! 😆

Édouard_Manet_-_Jeunne_Femme_(Jeanne_de_Marsy)