Sunday, October 31, 2010

Horst P. Horst - Electric Beauty

George Hoyningen-Huene, Portrait of Horst, 1931
The son of a well-to-do hardware merchant, Horst Paul Bohrmann (1906-1999) was born in the eastern German town of Weißennfels-an-der-Saale. Although he seldom bothered to use his surname, he formally dropped it in 1943, after he had become an American citizen, so as not to be confused with the Nazi official Martin Bormann. He legally changed his name to Horst P. Horst. 

Horst P. Horst, Odalisque I, 1943

A mild case of tuberculosis brought Horst's public school days to an end. He spent a year in a sanatorium in Switzerland in the early 1920s. After briefly studying Chinese in Frankfurt am Main, he worked in an import-export firm as a file clerk. Introduced to the arts by his paternal aunt, Horst longed to find a way into that world. He was particularly fascinated by the Bauhaus. Initially interested in architecture, Horst entered the Kunstgewerbeschule in Hamburg to design furniture. In 1930, he moved to Paris where was accepted by Le Corbusier as an apprentice in the Bauhaus architect's studio

Horst P. Horst, Dali Costumes, 1939

While at a Parisian café, Horst met Baron George von Hoyningen-Huene, a Russian emigrant and photographer for Vogue magazine. Influenced by Huene, who became his lover, Horst abandoned architecture in favor of photography. He worked as an assistant and occasional model for Huene. Through him, Horst met fashion photographer Cecil Beaton and Vogue art director Mehemed Agha. In 1931 Agha invited Horst to the Vogue studio in Paris to learn how to photograph fashion models. Initially, Horst's work echoed the cool classicism of Huene, with plain or geometric backgrounds, artificial lights that emphasized chiaroscuro, and an occasional reference to ancient Greek or Roman sculpture.

Horst P. Horst, Coco Chanel, 1937

Horst's first pictures appeared in the December 1931 issue of French Vogue. It was a full-page advertisement showing a model in black velvet holding a Klytia scent bottle in one hand with the other hand raised elegantly above it. Horst's real breakthrough as a published fashion and portrait photographer was in the pages of British Vogue starting with the 30 March 1932 issue showing three fashion studies and a full-page portrait of the daughter of Sir James Dunn, the art patron and supporter of Surrealism.

  Horst P. Horst, Bending Nude, 1941

In 1932, Horst held his first exhibition in Paris. After a brief period of freelancing, he was hired by Vogue in 1935 after the temperamental Huene quit the magazine. His affair with Huene over, Horst became involved with Luchino Visconti, the Italian aristocrat who was to become an important filmmaker. In 1938, Horst met British diplomat Valentine Lawford, who became his longtime companion and biographer. The two remained together until Horst's death. The 1930's were an exciting time for Horst. His work was published and exhibited in both America and France. His circle of influential friends grew to include artists such as Jean Cocteau, and fashion designer Coco Chanel whom he called "the queen of the whole thing". He would photograph her fashions for three decades. 

 Horst P. Horst, Electric Beauty, 1939

Electric Beauty (above) dates from 1939, the year in which Europe entered the Second World War. With its backdrop relating to Hieronymus Bosch's Temptation of Saint Anthony, it goes beyond a depiction of the more surreal aspects of the fashion industry to communicate a sense of impending menace. Horst left for America in late summer of 1939, shortly after taking what would be one of his most enduring images - of a model, bathed in deep shadows, wearing an unraveling corset. He said the Mainbocher Corset summed up his feelings about an era's end. ''While I was taking it,'' he said, ''I was thinking of all that I was leaving behind.'' 

Horst P. Horst, Mainbocher Corset, 1939

When war was declared between America and Germany on 7 December 1941, Horst was called up for service, though he was not officially enrolled until July 1943. The late 1930s and early 1940s were his most productive years. As a typical example of wartime escapism, the Rita Hayworth film Cover Girl (1944) provided Horst with the opportunity to produce one of his most sumptuous film-star covers in a montage of seven different portraits of the cover girl Susann Shaw set against a silk design. His picture of Loretta Young became an almost immediate classic when it was featured in a special edition of Vogue which included masterpieces of photography selected by Edward Steichen to show off the first hundred years of the medium.

Horst P. Horst, Round the Clock I, 1987

He went on to have a successful career as a photographer for American Vogue, though, in the 1960's, when editors demanded more lifelike shots of models running and skipping, he fell out of favor. In the 1980s, the dramatic pre-war photographic style became popular again, and Horst enjoyed a rejuvenation of his career. Synonymous with the creation of images of elegance, style, and glamour, he was sought out by such stars of the 1980s as pop group Duran Duran. Horst' career can be said to have reached Old Master status when pop goddess Madonna created her celebrated hymn to classic fashion photography with her single Vogue in 1990. In the video directed by David Fincher, she posed as a recreation of Horst's most iconic fashion image, a model seen from behind, wearing a partially tied, back-laced corset made by Detolle.

Horst P. Horst, Edith Sitwell (profile, close-up), 1948

Failing eyesight and poor health marred Horst's last years. He died at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on November 18, 1999. You can see more works of him on his official website.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Alberto Savinio

The whole of the modern myth still in process of formation is founded on two bodies of work - Alberto Savinio's and his brother Giorgio de Chirico's - that are almost indistinguishable in spirit and that reached their zenith on the eve of the war of 1914. (André Breton, Anthology of Black Humour, 1937)

Alberto Savinio, Self Portrait in the Form of an Owl, c. 1930

Andrea Alberto de Chirico (1891-1952) - who in 1914 adopted the pseudonym Alberto Savinio - was born in Athens to an Italian-speaking family from Dalmatia. He was the younger brother of Giorgio de Chirico. Andrea was homeschooled by his mother, while living in Greece. At a young age he became enthralled by ancient Greek culture, which was conducive to creativity and fantasy during his childhood. As a result, Andrea would later often credit Greece for his love of critical thinking and irony. When he was just 12 years old he earned his diploma in piano at the Athens conservatory. Following his father's death in 1906, he moved to Munich with his mother and brother. There he studied with the renowned composer Max Reger and wrote an opera entitled Carmela.

Alberto Savinio, Objets dans la forêt, 1928

In 1907, the Savinio family moved to Milan. Together the brothers studied ancient languages, literature, music and philosophy, and practised painting and drawing. In 1910, they moved to Florence. Alberto would remain there for one year, working with his brother and helping him lay the foundations of the new Metaphysical art. The first public performance of Savinio's music, which he presented in Munich in 1911, was a failure and he moved to Paris, where he was joined by his mother and brother. He now separated his activity from his brother's - Savinio writing music and De Chirico painting. In 1914, he met Guillaume Apollinaire. The two became friends and collaborators, and Savinio participated briefly in the activities of the avant-garde artistic circles that gravitated around the poet.

Alberto Savinio, Attente d'Egée, 1930

Savinio's first literary production developed in this milieu. He collaborated with Les Soirées de Paris, the journal directed by Apollinaire, and in May 1914 he held a concert at its headquarters, presenting Les Chants de la mi-mort, a mixed work of  dramatic scenes, in which music, literature, theatre and set design blended together, taking up the aspiration of Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art. Les Chants de la mi-mort dealt largely with the concept of sleep (referred to as "Half Death") and was filled with odd, mechanical toy-like characters. This poem is considered one of the most important of the 1910's surrealist movement.

Alberto Savinio, Le Depart de la Colombe, 1930

When Italy entered the First World War in May 1915, the brothers returned to Florence, as they were enlisted with the city military district, and then were sent to Ferrara as part of the infantry reserves. Here they met Filippo de Pisis and Carlo Carrà, forming a short-lived alliance, the Metaphysical School. In Ferrara Savinio abandoned music and devoted himself to literature, although he never stopped drawing.

Alberto Savinio, La cité des promesses, 1928

In 1918, Savinio was sent to the Macedonian front as an interpreter and wrote a series of stories and lyrical prose; these works were released in instalments in La Voce and later published as a book entitled Hermaphrodito. From 1919 to 1923, Savinio, his brother and Carrà, living now in Rome, were part of the driving force behind the literary and artistic group surrounding the magazine Valori Plastici.

Alberto Savinio, Fighting Angels, 1930

In the early 1920s Savinio collaborated with all of the leading literary reviews in Italy. He wrote Tragedia del l’infanzia (Tragedy of Childhood), an autobiographical collection of episodes in which the world of adults and artistic creativity is contrasted with the world of childhood imaginations. In 1924, the Metropolitan Opera of New York performed his ballet Perseus. 1925 saw the publication of his second novel, La Casa Ispirata (The Haunted House). During this period he also collaborated with Luigi Pirandello's Teatro d'Arte, which in 1925 staged the ballet La morte di Niobe in Rome, with music and lyrics by Savinio, and set design and costumes by De Chirico.
Alberto Savinio, Niobe, n.d.

In 1926, Savinio moved to Paris, and began to paint seriously, gaining both critical and public acclaim. His first solo show, held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1927, was presented by Jean Cocteau. Savinio continued to cultivate the contacts he had made in 1920 with André Breton and the Surrealists. In 1933, Savinio returned to Rome. Starting in the mid-1930s and throughout the 1940s, he devoted his time exclusively to literary activities and journalism. During this period Savinio virtually abandoned painting, practising it only occasionally, and devoted his time to graphics, often illustrating his own publications and those of other authors.

Alberto Savinio, Souvenir d'un monde disparu, 1928

Following World War II Savinio took up music again, composing the ballet Vita dell'uomo. At the same time, he also directed plays and designed sets, collaborating with the Scala in Milan. Savinio died in Florence in1952.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pierre Roy - Danger on the Stairs

Pierre Roy, Danger on the Stairs, 1927

Pierre Roy (1880-1950) was born in Nantes, France, to a cultured middle-class family, related to that of Jules Verne. He was deeply impressed as a child by Verne's stories, which were told to him by the writer's brother. His repressed ambition was to become a sailor. Instead, his secondary studies finished, he entered an architect's office. From this period, he retained a taste for precise draughtsmanship and materials like stone, wood, rope, and metal. 

 Pierre Roy, A Naturalist's Study, 1928

In 1910, Roy entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and enrolled at the École des Arts Décoratifs and the Académie Julian a short time later. He participated - unsuccessfully - in the Salon des Indépendants in 1907 and 1908. Around 1910, he came into contact with the Fauves and the circle of intellectuals who supported them, notably André Salmon and Max Jacob. In 1913, Guillaume Apollinaire noticed Roy's work at the Salon des Indépendants and asked him to pay him a visit. The two instantly understood, each other and this encounter introduced Roy to the circle of artists gravitating around the poet. During this period, Roy met Alberto Savinio and, through him, Alberto's elder brother, Giorgio de Chirico. Roy and De Chirico exhibited their works together at the 1914 Salon des Indépendants establishing a rapport of mutual esteem that continued into the 1920s.

Pierre Roy, The Shoe, c. 1930

In 1914, Roy abandoned painting almost entirely and began to work on a collection of counting songs illustrated by a series of woodcuts. He was forced to interrupt this work, which was backed by his friend Apollinaire, when he was conscripted to serve in the First World War. Entitled Cent comptines, it was not completed and published until 1926. Following the war, in 1919, Roy began to paint his first object combinations, inspired by his personal interpretation of De Chirico's metaphysical compositions.

Pierre Roy, Le chou-fleur, 1931

In the mid-1920s, Roy joined the Surrealist movement and participated in La Peinture Surréaliste exhibition held at the Galerie Pierre Loeb in November 1925, which showcased works by Giorgio De Chirico, Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Man Ray, André Masson, Joan Miró and Picasso. The event marked Roy's first true success, underscored by the critic André Salmon in the article he published in Revue de France.

 Pierre Roy, Boris Anrep in his Studio,1949

During the 1930s, Roy visited the United States every year, where he had exhibitions at the Brummer Galery in 1930 and 1933, at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1932, and at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936. Roy also worked as a stage designer for the Ballets Suédois of Rolf de Maré, and as an illustrator he produced a series of lithographs for The Child of the High Sea of Jules Supervielle (1946). On his way to an exhibition in Bergamo, where he was showing some of his work, Roy died in Milan on September 26th, 1950.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Paul Cadmus - Beauty's all Things B

Cadmus, to our enormous benefit, understands that beauty is bodies, brains, buttocks, bathtubs, bicycles, Bach, bravado and bad behaviour; beauty's all things B. (Steven Jenkins)

Luigi Lucioni, Portrait of Paul Cadmus, 1928

Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) was born in New York City into a family of commercial artists. (NYC isn't exactly located in Central Europe - which is, more or less, the gravity center of this blog - but I feel free to shift focus once in a while). Cadmus' father, who had little money, was a commercial lithographer who had studied with Robert Henri, and his mother was an illustrator of children's books. At 15, before he finished high school, he was enrolled in art classes at the National Academy of Design. 

 Paul Cadmus, Jerry, 1931. "I've never had a good chest. My chest has always been rather weak. It's one reason why I think I draw such beautiful chests on other people", Cadmus observed in 1988.

Within two years Cadmus was admitted to the life drawing classes and by 1926 had completed his course work, having won numerous prizes and scholarships. Cadmus did advertising jobs until 1931 and studied at the Art Students League. There he met the painter Jared French, who became his lover and urged him to quit commercial art. In 1931, Cadmus made one of his first paintings depicting French. The painting, Jerry (above), remained in the French family until recently, when it was acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art. The small painting - it's just 20-by-24 inches - is strikingly intimate. French is holding James Joyce's Ulysses, then banned in the United States for being obscene. (According to Richard Meyer's Outlaw Representation, a friend of Cadmus had smuggled the book into the US from Europe and had given it to him as a gift).

Paul Cadmus, Byciclists, 1933

After hopping on an oil tanker to Europe and cycling through France and Spain, Cadmus and French stayed on the island of Majorca (1931-1933), where Cadmus painted two of his best-known early works, YMCA Locker Room and the above Bicyclists (later bought by Cole Porter). After his return to New York in 1933, Cadmus became the center of a circle of gay artists including his brother-in-law, Lincoln Kirstein, who helped found the American School of Ballet, Pavel Tchelitchew, and the photographer George Platt Lynes, for whom Cadmus frequently modeled. 

Paul Cadmus,  Self Portrait, Mallorca, c. 1932

Along with Bernard Perlin, Jared French, and George Tooker, Cadmus became known as a "Magical Realist", though none of the artists truly accepted the term. At the time, he worked for the Public Works of Art Project, which was later incorporated into the WPA. This experience was to help shape his style for the rest of his long career. Nearly illustrative, his paintings remained linked to a realist style found in many WPA works of the 1930s.   

Paul Cadmus, The Fleet’s In, 1934

In 1934, Cadmus' above painting The Fleet's In, depicting the pleasures of uniformed sailors, was removed from an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington (at the same venue and in similar circumstances fifty years later, Robert Mapplethorpe's pictures were to suffer a similar fate). Outraged Navy officials saw a newspaper reproduction of the painting and pulled the work from the show. This "disreputable drunken brawl" came from "the sordid, depraved imagination of someone who has no conception of actual conditions in our service", fumed Secretary of Navy Claude Swanson. Like a stealth cruiser, The Fleet was kept from public view until 1981 and is now temporarily displayed at the Navy Art Gallery in Washington.

Paul Cadmus, Coney Island, 1935

Cadmus' painting Coney Island (above) also became the subject of controversy. Its portrayal of local residents enraged Brooklyn realtors, who threatened to file a civil suit against the Whitney Museum of American Art. Similarly, his commission for the Port Washington post office, Pocahontas and John Smith (1938) was also regarded as scandalous and cancelled. As a result of Cadmus' notoriety, his 1937 exhibition at Midtown Galleries in New York attracted more than 7.000 visitors.

Paul Cadmus, Aviator, 1941

After yet another successful show in 1937, Time magazine reported of the paintings on display: "Around the walls sailors tousled their trollops, perverts beckoned from a cafeteria washroom, and slatterns rioted on public beaches. These are the principal aspects of US life that attract Cadmus' attention, and he shrewdly draws and crudely colours them." 1937 was also a significant year in Cadmus’s private life - his lover Jared left him and married a mutual friend, Margaret Hoening. The three of them remained close friends, however, and worked together on a number of photography projects.

Paul Cadmus, Aspects of Suburban Life, 1935

Throughout the late 1930s Cadmus continued to shock. His Aspects of Suburban Life series (above) commissioned as murals for a post office were rejected as "unsuitable for a public building" and in 1938 he showed once again what can be done with a drunken sailor in Sailors and Floozies (below), this one temporarily removed from the Golden Gate International Exhibition in San Francisco in 1939. Putting it back on the wall, the director of the Palace of Fine Arts said: "If every picture to which some may object is removed, none would remain."

Paul Cadmus, Sailors and Floosies, 1938

In 1940 came another rejection, this time from Life magazine, which had commissioned 16 artists to paint significant events in American history after 1915. Cadmus chose to depict the tragic Herrin massacre (shown below), a labor contract dispute which occurred in the mining town of Herrin, Illinois in 1925. The bloody riot resulted in twenty-six dead strikebreakers, slain by labor union members. Some were hanged, others lined up against a fence and shot, and in some cases, some were forced to dig their own graves. Cadmus' painting was never published by Life, most likely because the magazine did not wish to offend organized labor just as the nation was gearing up for war production.

Paul Cadmus, Herrin Massacre, 1940

Despite the stream of rejections, the 1930s and 1940s were Cadmus' most successful years. Professionally, he was at his peak and his social life was an endless whirl of glamorous Manhattan parties where he was feted by friends including W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Edith Sitwell,  George Platt Lynes, and  E.M. Forster ("I do not believe in belief"). Cadmus' painting What I Believe was inspired by Forster's essay of the same name, in which he expressed his faith in personal relations: "Love and loyalty to an individual can run counter to the claims of the state. When they do - down with the state, say I, which means that the state will down me." Forster, the story goes, read his homoerotic novel Maurice aloud while Cadmus was painting his portrait.

Paul Cadmus, Fences, 1946

Cadmus' own favourite work dates from 1958. Once asked which painting he would save from the flames in the event of a fire, he responded quickly, "Night in Bologna is the summa of my career" (G.B. Shaw once had responded to the same silly question: "The one next to the emergency exit"). Night in Bologna depicts a farce of miscalculated seductions. An Italian soldier yearns for a curvaceous female hooker; she, in turn, tries to seduce a crewcut American tourist, while he gazes back at the Italian man with envy and lust.

Paul Cadmus, Night in Bologna, 1958

In real life, meanwhile, Cadmus spent much of this period in a triangle of his own. In the post-war 1940s he had been involved with artist George Tooker but the pair broke up in 1949. Said Tooker: "I was looking for a relationship and my relationship with Paul always included Jared and Margaret French." But Cadmus was once again to find love in 1964 when he met Jon Andersson, a singer and actor who became his boyfriend for the next 35 years. The young man inspired a series of exquisite nude drawings and the striking Study for a David and Goliath, a homage to Caravaggio, in which Jon brandishes a T square above Cadmus' head, the painter's red scarf marking the point of decapitation. Cadmus also explored his relationship with Andersson.  in later works, such as The Haircut:

Paul Cadmus, The Haircut, 1986

Cadmus' narrative style - he referred to himself as a ''literary painter'' - fell out of favor with the art establishment after the rise of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940's. But by that time he had already achieved more than one widely publicized succès de scandale. Near the end of his life there was a renewed interest in his work, sparked at least in part by the success of the gay and lesbian liberation movement, as well as by a resurgence of interest in representational art. The revival of interest in Cadmus was given impetus by the first edition of Lincoln Kirstein's illustrated biography

Paul Cadmus, Finistère, 1952

Cadmus was a slow, meticulous worker who favored the complicated, time-consuming medium of egg tempera. He finished an average of only two paintings a year. He was, however, more prolific in other forms, including drawing, printmaking and, early on, photography. Although Cadmus stopped painting towards the end of his life, he continued to draw at his home in Weston, Connecticut, particularly portraits and figure studies of Jon Andersson. Paul Cadmus died in his home in Weston in 1999, just five days short of his 95th birthday. The Smithonian Archives have published online an excellent 1988 interview with Paul Cadmus.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Romaine Brooks

Romaine Brooks at 34 in 1908

Beatrice Romaine Goddard (1874-1970) was born while her mother was traveling in Rome. She was the newest addition to a wealthy but severely dysfunctional family from Philadelphia. Her maternal grandfather was the multimillionaire Isaac S. Waterman. Romaine's father abandoned the family shortly after her birth. Her mother left her infant daughter with a family laundress in the United States while she traveled throughout Europe with her other children. Romaine was finally allowed to join her mother in Europe when she was twelve years old. She was, however, educated in private girls' schools while her mother continued her travels. Later, Brooks referred to herself as having been a "child-martyr".

Romaine Brooks, Le Trajet, c. 1900

Brooks traveled to Rome in 1898 and began to take painting classes at the La Scuola Nazionale. During the following year, she continued to study painting at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. Brook's mother died of diabetes in 1902. Much to her surprise, she inherited, at the age of twenty-eight, the entire family fortune. The same year, Brooks moved to London and agreed to a marriage of convenience with John Ellingham Brooks, an impoverished, but socially prominent, gay pianist. They quarrelled almost immediately when she cut her hair and ordered men's clothes for a planned walking tour of England; he refused to be seen in public with her dressed that way. They separated after three months, but Brooks continued to support him the rest of his life.

Romaine Brooks, The Huntress, 1920

Brooks reinvented her identity by dropping the feminine name Beatrice and keeping her married surname. She was now known by the androgynous name of Romaine Brooks. Brooks rented a studio in Chelsea across from the studio in which James McNeil Whistler had worked. Whistler's subdued palette would soon influence her work. By 1905, when she was thirty-one, Brooks resettled in Paris. She took an apartment in the fashionable 16th arrondissement, mingled in elite social circles, and painted portraits of wealthy and titled women, including her lover at the time, the Princess de Polignac. During 1910 Brooks began to paint the works for which she became renowned. Her first female nude was The Red Jacket, soon followed by an erotic odalisque entitled White Azaleas

 Romaine Brooks, White Azaleas, 1910

Brooks's first one-woman exhibition was shown in May of 1910 at the prestigious Galeries Durand-Ruel in Paris. It was a breakthrough exhibition in which she exhibited thirteen portraits and nudes that made her lesbian identity public. She received critical acclaim from Robert de Montesquiou, the aristocratic dandy on whom Proust based the character of the homosexual Baron de Charlus in Remembrance of Things Past. He served as Brook's principal mentor, calling her "the thief of souls".

Romaine Brooks, Miss Natalie Barney, L'Amazone, 1920

In 1911, Brooks met Ida Rubenstein who performed with the Ballets Russes in Paris. Rubinstein was deeply in love with Brooks; she wanted to buy a farm in the country where they could live alone together- a mode of life in which Brooks had no interest. For Brooks, Rubinstein's "fragile and androgynous beauty" represented an aesthetic ideal. The dancer quickly became the subject of her most important early portraits.

Romaine Brooks, The Cross of France, 1914

Brooks soon earned a reputation as an accomplished portraitist. She first painted the Italian writer Gabriele D'Annunzio in 1912. She also painted a portrait of Jean Cocteau (below) before his rise to fame. The Cross of France (above), a portrait of Ida Rubenstein with a resolute expression while Ypres burns in the distance behind her, was executed shortly after the beginning of World War I and exhibited in 1915 as part of a benefit that D'Annunzio and Brooks organized for the Red Cross. In 1920, Brooks received the Chevalier medal from the French Legion of Honor for this and other efforts on behalf of France.

Romaine Brooks, Jean Cocteau à l'époque de la grande rue, 1912

Brooks met the woman who would soon become most important in her life in 1915 when she was forty-one. Natalie Barney, an American expatriate writer who had moved to Paris in 1902, was thirty-nine when the two women met. Their relationship lasted for nearly fifty years. Brooks benefited from Barney's literary salons in that she painted many of the illustrious people who frequented them. Truman Capote, who toured Brooks's studio in the late 1940s, may have been exaggerating when he called it "the all-time ultimate gallery of all the famous dykes from 1880 to 1935 or thereabouts".

Romaine Brooks, Self-Portrait, 1923

In 1923, Brooks painted her two most famous works. In Self-Portrait (above) she wears a top hat that is too large and equestrian attire, with the emblem of the Legion of Honor flashing on her lapel. She blatantly and subversively appears as an aristocratic male dandy.  Her Self-Portrait was followed in the same year by her portrait entitled Una, Lady Troubridge (below). Troubridge had recently left her husband for Radclyffe Hall, who was to become the author of the most famous lesbian novel of the twentieth century, The Well of Loneliness (1928). Unas's pose and eye-piece offer a humorous commentary on gender roles and also alludes to a lesbian bar in Paris named L'Monocle.

Romaine Brooks, Una, Lady Troubridge, 1924

In 1924, Brooks built a house with Natalie Barney at Beauvallon, France, near St. Tropez. To preserve their independence, the structure consisted of two wings that were united by a dining room. They called it Villa Trait d'Union, the "hyphenated villa". Brooks's career reached its zenith in 1925 with three exhibitions of her work in Paris, London and New York. In 1936, Brooks moved to New York City where she rented a studio in Carnegie Hall. In 1939, as World War II began in Europe, Brooks returned to France to live with Barney in Villa Beauvallon. When the house burned in 1940, Brooks retreated to Italy, where she purchased a villa outside Florence.

Romaine Brooks, Emile d'Erlanger, 1924

After World War II, Brooks faded from public life. Her artistic output ceased and she lived in isolation. In 1967, Brooks left Italy and took a studio apartment in Nice. Two years later, Brooks and Barney separated. Having grown increasingly eccentric while living in isolation, Brooks died alone at the age of ninety-six on December 7, 1970. Natalie Barney died two years later in Paris, having also reached the age of ninety-six.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grethe Jürgens

It appears to me to be a barbarian view of art not to consider it to be an obligation, but rather merely a means to greater comfort and greater pleasure. Art, a kind of intellectual whipped cream, is plopped onto the cultural pudding. Art is the coat one adorns and warms oneself with, or it is only a decorative splodge of color on the wall. In reality, one would gain much more if one could decide on a completely different view of art - namely taking an active part instead of only enjoying it. (Grethe Jürgens)

Grethe Jürgens, Self-Portrait, 1928

Grethe Jürgens (1899-1981), the daughter of a school teacher, was born in Holzhausen near Osnabrück in northern Germany and brought up in Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea. In 1919, she went to the Hannover School for Artisans and Crafts to study for three years. There, she and fellow-students Gerta Overbeck, Erich Wegner, Ernst Thoms and others formed a closely-knit, politically left-wing group. In this circle of like-minded artists, she began to capture her impressions of student life and the petty bourgeois milieu in quickly dashed off sketches. Jürgens was so impoverished that during her studies she lived in what she referred to as a "dog kennel" - before she moved in, her lodging housed purebred dogs.

Grethe Jürgens, Ill Girl, 1926

She once commented on these early years: "We worked, we painted. We were often together. I am not a woman of the world, I did not travel much. We sat in Hannover and did not feel like we were 'innovators', only that we were different than the Expressionists, who belonged to a 'higher art movement'. We were simple, we had almost no money, but we were together and rode our bicycles out into the countryside."

Grethe Jürgens, Drapery Dealers, 1932

For financial reasons, until the end of the 1920s Jürgens worked as a commercial artist at the Hacketal Wire and Cable Works in Hannover. This was not exactly what a painter dreamed of doing. It was during these years that she produced those paintings that would gain her notoriety: cool, realistic portraits of her fellow artists, stern depictions of the social environment and people from the "backyards of life". Her most well known work is People at the Unemployment Office

Grethe Jürgens, People at the Unemployment Office, 1929

In 1931, Jürgens, Overbeck, Thoms and Wegner founded the short-lived publication Der Wachsbogen (The Wax Sheet), on which Jürgens served as editor and distributor (mostly by bicycle). It was a forum not only for artists but for musicians, architects and writers to express their ideas concerning the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), in opposition to the prior or current trends of Expressionism, Surrealism and Abstraction.

Grethe Jürgens, Flower Girl, 1931

After 1961, Jürgen's works were included in most German shows featuring Neue Sachlichkeit. She remained in Hannover all her life.