I only celebrate the birth of artists who, through the utterly sublime value of their work, make me think of  them as being still alive at the other end of the reader-writer wire, continuing infinitely to transmit a message, an idea, an aesthetic truth beyond a tomb’s earthly limit. Really. And dear boy Oscar Wilde’s just the persona to illustrate my idea of immortal writer.

His “Picture of Dorian Gray”, a flabbergasting compilation of epigrams brilliantly woven with the actual plot, was the object of my first genuine literary infatuation after finishing Homer’s heavy Iliad and has continued inciting my imagination ever since. Needless to confess I can’t eschew reading it least once a year and am actually unable to expel it from my frequent-comparison-terms list (together with David’s Michelangelo and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando).  Its amaranthine aspects keep exerting a seemingly imperishable fascination which I always invariably bite. The wit, the beauty, the whole philosophy of dandyism and vanity in a decadent age: my pronounced affinity for them all has rendered my senses, well, sensible to Oscar’s only novel although I’m perfectly aware plenty other books surpass it in their overall value. Alas (or perhaps not), I am a voluntary victim of Dorian Gray’s witchery.

But enough about the creation: I say happy birthday to the marvelous wordsmith Wilde perfectly embodied and especially to the shrewd observer, the keen intellectual, the lobster-walker, the astute social animal and incorrigible fop coexisting within his fleshly borders. So incredible a man as he deserves the most bona fide greeting on these anniversary days despite being, physically, a mere pile of bones devoid of the possibility of hearing them. However, I wouldn’t refrain from wishing the man a formally expressed “happy birthday” before his tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery (an occasion I’ve simply missed the last time I’ve been to Paris). There’s something very captivating in paying your compliments to a beloved author before their grave and I’m planning on capturing a drop of the respective feeling with the post you’re currently reading.

To commemorate Wilde I’m dedicating today to watching all the ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’ movies ever made and contriving a top of related subjects I could write about here. Nothing grand or equally off-the-wall to his deeds, unfortunately, but rather a good, valid excuse to do what I’ve been yearning to for a while now. What can I say: nice justification, a dead man’s 158th birthday… 🙂

Ah, and furthermore exploiting the occasion, I’d like heading what’s (if any) your relationship with the defunct yet still lively Oscar; associations, opinions, life stories, practically all you’re kind enough to share.

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Voltaire’s Nude

July 6, 2013

Voltaire by Jean Baptiste Pigalle, Louvre

“There was a statue made not long since of Voltaire, which the sculptor, not having that respect for the prejudices of mankind which he ought to have, has made entirely naked and as meagre and emaciated as the original is said to be. The consequence is what might be expected; it has remained in the sculptor’s shop, though it was intended as a public ornament and a public honor to Voltaire, as it was procured at the expense of his contemporary wits and admirers.”

(Reynolds, “Seven Discourses on Art“)

Fortunately, since Pigalle’s Voltaire now neighbors Michelangelo’s Slaves in the Louvre with the blessing of a reputed curator, Reynold’s valuation of the peace doesn’t prove equitable enough to concur immediately. Indeed, the great philosopher’s nude realistically depicts the atrophied, skeletal physique of a septuagenarian crooked by age, secular and spiritual difficulties to an admirably small degree. No attempt to idealization being made, François-Marie Arouet‘s body appears feeble, humane in what may seem a depreciating way, as the English portraitist put it. Besides these features of decay, though, one can find that the sagacious expression on his face, together with a dynamic pose, redeem the decrepit members so as to convey the “triumph of mind over matter”.

And it was this victory Jean Baptiste Pigalle wanted to illustrate when “a literary society whose members included Diderot and d’Alembert (the authors of the Encyclopédie) decided to pay tribute to Voltaire” by commissioning a “marble statue in his likeness”.

Drawing inspiration from the majestic masterpieces of Greek and Roman art, Pigalle’s idea was to sculpt his model “entirely naked except for the flowing drapery that crosses his left shoulder and covers his loins. Such a portrayal, unprecedented in the modern period, caused a scandal and prompted a multitude of sarcastic comments, King Gustavus III of Sweden offering to contribute to the cost of a coat. Fearing ridicule, Voltaire attempted to dissuade the sculptor, but finally agreed to his project in the name of artistic freedom.”

But there’s no surprise such an “overly naturalist portrayal of the patriarch philosopher prompted unanimous disgust and rejection” since only “Jean-Antoine Houdon approach to the problem with a statue of Voltaire Seated, his whole body wrapped in swathes of timeless cloth”  met with general approval and was finally displayed in the foyer of  the Comédie Française.

It remained with the notorious sitter who eventually “bequeathed the work to his grand-nephew”, reaching the Louvre due to a donation at the beginning of the 19th century.

(Incidentally, the Louvre has an extended version of this article on its public site, from which descend all quotes here employed, plus a few more.)

So, what’s your personal opinion of it?

Mere tasteless representation of an old Voltaire or an image that rightfully invites to ponder on the triumph of mind over matter?

Ashamed as I am by the blatant imperfections of this most recent drawing of mine I couldn’t help submitting it here, in the end, all praying the critique will ensue mildly. With studies demanding most of my otherwise highly distributive attention and the perpetual pursuit of one of those whimsical goals (reading over 100 books until the New Year’s Eve) consuming the rest of my remaining time no wonder the above composition is rather hastily made and clearly wronged in several places. Nevertheless, I hope it brings the sense of tension which first fascinated me upon embarking the little project. Shadows are not enough emphasized and one buttock needs urgent repairing but I fancy it decently reassembles Bouguereau‘s men from ‘Dante And Virgil In Hell’. It’s a mere imitation, though; the original’s far more dramatic and infinitely more powerful in its effects on the viewer, there’s no denying that. Yet I seem to helplessly desire molding with my own fingers a character, a movement, a curve, a shade I like gazing. Whenever I recreate one I feel connected to it in a way beyond an observer’s range since, through the process, I come closer to understanding the artist’s vision regarding the work and the many subtleties of the work itself. As a secondary author, my senses indicate, I’m indirectly part of the act of creation which produces the praised masterpiece. But we’re entering tedious territory now.
What do you think about the above charcoal on paper thingy? These two cannibals are sort of alluring, don’t you believe? I remember being intrigued by them when I first saw Bouguereau’s painting at the Orsay Museum… Does it least capture a tint of the original’s appeal?

Editing Salome

June 26, 2012

“Ah! thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now. I will bite it with my teeth as one bites a ripe fruit. Yes, I will kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan. I said it; did I not say it? I said it. Ah! I will kiss it now. But wherefore dost thou not look at me, Iokanaan? Thine eyes that were so terrible, so full of rage and scorn, are shut now. Wherefore are they shut? Open thine eyes! Lift up thine eyelids, Iokanaan! Wherefore dost thou not look at me? Art thou afraid of me, Iokanaan, that thou wilt not look at me? And thy tongue, that was like a red snake darting poison, it moves no more, it speaks no words, Iokanaan, that scarlet viper that spat its venom upon me. It is strange, is it not? How is it that the red viper stirs no longer? Thou wouldst have none of me, Iokanaan. Thou rejectedest me. Thou didst speak evil words against me. Thou didst bear thyself toward me as to a harlot, as to a woman that is a wanton, to me, Salome, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judaea! Well, I still live, but thou art dead, and thy head belongs to me. I can do with it what I will. I can throw it to the dogs and to the birds of the air. That which the dogs leave, the birds of the air shall devour. Ah, Iokanaan, Iokanaan, thou wert the man that I loved alone among men! All other men were hateful to me. But thou wert beautiful! Thy body was a column of ivory set upon feet of silver. It was a garden full of doves and lilies of silver. It was a tower of silver decked with shields of ivory. There was nothing in the world so white as thy body. There was nothing in the world so black as thy hair. In the whole world there was nothing so red as thy mouth. Thy voice was a censer that scattered strange perfumes, and when I looked on thee I heard strange music. Ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me, Iokanaan? With the cloak of thine hands, and with the cloak of thy blasphemies thou didst hide thy face. Thou didst put upon thine eyes the covering of him who would see God. Well, thou hast seen thy God, Iokanaan, but me, me, thou didst never see me. If thou hadst seen me thou hadst loved me. I saw thee, and I loved thee. Oh, how I loved thee! I love thee yet, Iokanaan. I love only thee. I am athirst for thy beauty; I am hungry for thy body; and neither wine nor apples can appease my desire. What shall I do now, Iokanaan? Neither the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion. I was a princess, and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire. Ah! ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me? [She kisses the head.] Ah! I have kissed thy mouth, Iokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth. There was a bitter taste on thy lips. Was it the taste of blood? Nay; but perchance it was the taste of love. They say that love hath a bitter taste. But what matter? what matter? I have kissed thy mouth.” (Salome, Oscar Wilde)

This is the monologue from which I extracted the idea for my newest art work, a Biblical Salome bearing the foxy features of Vivien Leigh, embellished, I hope, with a sort of kokoshnik on top, and sensually holding the decapitated head of John the Baptist (Mathias Lauridsen) as to converge their lips with the smallest turning of the neck.

Alas, the outcome didn’t actually fulfill my enthusiastic expectations and I’ve found myself in the position of editing the original charcoal on paper with a series of programs meant to enhance its artistic quality, the result being the two shown images.

Personally, I find the latter most charming but I’m more interested in your opinion on it.

Which is the winner?

Piety with Sinful Eyes

June 13, 2012

My geography teacher has this very innovative way of slackening the atmosphere with a chiefly related to culture game whose target is to answer the two given questions for “a 10 [highest mark in the register] and a bar of chocolate”. Most amusing, I assure you.

SO, the reason why I informed you about his habit even if today was a stay-home-and-doze day as my high-school was closed, is because…

While I was just hanging around, laying on the sofa and thinking random subjects, one of my teacher’s premium inquiries simply popped up out of the blue and mysteriously contributed to arousing my appetite for drawing the thing implied: a modern, beauteous Pieta. (the question regarded the number of Pietas done by my favorite sculptor Michelangelo during his life, ta-dah!)

Pieta’s fine features and the simple, slightly austere head-piece which graciously covered her hair, trickling over her thin neck and further, had always drawn me to the otherwise too religious for my tastes statue. There was something in the supple waves of her veil that captured my imagination and let it drift on the velvety waters of river Arno or Tiber, by which I assumed the artist himself was inspired.

Implicitly, the dramatically dead Jesus Virgin Mary holds in her lap was definitely (in the detriment of my piety) eclipsed. But that’s a whole other story, more proper for a separate post.

The main point is that talented little me (I do tend to call myself “little”,despite my age, with a satirical tone) urged her pens and markers to set free the form of a young, alluring Snow White (haloed with tons of lace visible in the picture beneath) from the silent blank paper sheet.

Behold the result of a prolific day off:

Impressions anybody?

Souvenir from Rembrandt

February 13, 2012

printing

This is an original printing after Rembrandt van Rijn’s etching my brother made with his own two hands in a visit at the Museum Het Rembrandthuis in old Amsterdam, 2 months ago, when we had the coincidental inspiration of stepping into the painter’s graphic workshop exactly as the doors closed and a demonstration, presented by a nice, middle-aged, historian lady, began. Lucky us!

workshop

Dozens of people were cramped in the square, relatively small chamber  which contained faithful copies of the initial instruments utilized by the 17th century men, listening the guide’s concise information on the subject. She said Rembrandt’s real passion were these printings (exhibited all around the room) that, contradicting what many believe, actually made him famous in the epoch as his pictures were commissioned only by rich art patrons and never revealed to the  larger public. They were small, easily made and cheep, so even a mediocre butcher could afford buying least one, relishing their delicate beauty. The themes he depicted recalled those he usually painted: religious scenes, self-portraits-galore, Saskias (his wife and muse with a rodent’s face), local landscapes and, occasionally, erotic compositions. All were inspired by former masters of diverse conceptions such as Mantegna, Raphael and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione whose printings he had collected avidly along the years.

Rembrandt used both the etching and engraving technique, the lady continued explaining, of which etching represented a chemically based practice and engraving the incising of a design onto a flat copper surface by cutting groves. The latter requested hard work and the result was marked by visible contrasts between shadow and light while the first permitted softer lines similar to a sketch’s, rather fitted for painters. Obviously, he opted for etching and the guide further showed us how it was done step by step.

The museum’s site offers an online demonstration: Etching in 9 Steps

Basically, you take a copper plate, polish it smooth, apply a wax mixture ground, draw what you’ve planned with a special needle, coat it with acid-resistant varnish and leave it a few minutes then clean the plate, ink it using a dabber, wipe it off (a tip: the hands are preferable here) and print it on a damped paper by running it slowly through the wooden-press (my brother kindly volunteered to do this last part, which freely won us the thing you saw above). Voila, you’ve got a tiny work of art!

The originals conventionally bear the stamp of an official institution like the Het Rembrandthuis  museum to prove its authenticity:

stamp

And a final advice: if you ever enter in the possession of a legitimate print by any author, remember to take care and frame it so the protuberances around the margins of the illustration could be observed- they attest it’s not a mere copy reproduced through modern means but the genuine product of etching.

margins

It was in the mid 19th century, when most foreigners would normally yearn for a bottle of classic white wine, a delicious wheel of Brie cheese or least some fiery night with the reputed lorettes who made the prostitutes of the time, that Ottoman diplomat and art collector Khalil Bey (1831-1879) , very respectable man otherwise, commissioned  an erotic painting from libertine Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).

Origin of the World

Roll out the red carpet for “L’Origin e du monde” (“The Origin of the World“), a medium-sized oil-on-canvas naughtily representing the genitals and abdomen of  Whistler’s mistress, Joanna “Jo” Hiffernan, with the cruel realism Courbert was so proud of. Vulgar? Offensive? Gaudy? Maybe, but label it as misunderstood art and here you go! a masterpiece! currently one of Musée d’Orsay’s most appreciated works!

Symphony in White

Only looking at the model, really, you can see she had just one part which truly deserved to be immortalized in Courbert’s picture -and what an inspiring part that was! Visitors today queue to admire and impassionedly comment her precisely drawn fanny, as I observed when I passed through the halls of the museum, few years ago. Can’t blame them, though.

But if nowadays open-minded people curiously gather to watch it, how could such a specific violation of academic canons escape from a scandal while more innocent and traditional portrait like Eduard Manet’s “Olympia” caused a historic outrage?

Olympia

Well, l”L’Origin e du monde” was sheltered by an usually unlucky factor which can be quite merciless with some things- ignorance. For over two decades, after its first pervert owner, Khalil Bey (remember him?), sold it due to financial problems,  our controversial painting was hidden behind a wooden pane depicting a church (ironically…) with a snowy landscape, in a Parisian antique shop. Since then, it went from Hungarian Baron Ferenc Hatvany’s house to the thievish Soviet troops and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s country estate, the Brooklyn Museum, the Met and ultimately, the Orsay Gallery, its present place.

Thus being mostly privately displayed in the period when it wouldn’t have been accepted and unveiled with “Playboy” ‘s apparition, “L’Origin e du monde” ‘s story is a happy one.

Now it’s hanged between the best works of French masters, showing what a Turk wanted from a French.

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