Sunday, November 9, 2014

Illustrations from Point de lendemain by Leo Fontan (1884-1965)

We've just posted a number of elegant illustrations of women's be-stockinged legs by French illustrator Leo Fontan on our Venus Observations blog.  Coincidentally, he also produced a number of illustrations that fit with our current eighteenth century theme here on The Seduction of Venus. 

They are from  a 1935 limited edition of Point de Lendemain (no tomorrow) by Vivant Denon (1747-1825).  First published in 1777 it tells the story of the amorous adventures a young man in an initially, to him, baffling aristocratic society.  

Denon was originally a diplomat but fled Paris at the outset of the French Revolotions.  He returned, to ensure his property in Paris wasn't confiscated, and was soon back working under the new government.  He was appointed to accompany Napoleon to Egypt and produced his illustrated Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt in 1802.  

He then became director of the Louvre Museum and then travelled Europe, at the behest of Napoleon, acquiring art for it.  After Napoleon's defeat in 1815 the allies insisted that much of the art collected by Denon from conquered territories had to be returned to its rightful owners and he, unwillingly, oversaw the repatriation of over 5,000 works of art in the months after Waterloo. 

Fontan's watercolour illustrations for Point de Lendemain have the requisite powdered wigs and stockings of the period in question.  On the whole they feature figures and one piece of furniture with plain backgrounds.

One of the illustrations, however, has a fully rendered background, featuring a copulating couple admiring themselves in a mirrored wall, which is completely charming.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Illustrations from Le Livre de la Marquise by Konstantin Somov (1869-1939)

Konstantin Somov was one of Russia's greatest painters, equally at home with portraits, illustrations and landscapes.  His landscape, The Rainbow (1927) set   the record for the price at auction for a piece of Russian art when it was sold in 2007 for $7.33 million.

He was a founder member of the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) movement along with the likes of Leon Bakst.  Set up in 1898, the following year they published a magazine with the same name.

Somov was the son of the curator of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and studied at the Academy of Arts there from 1888 until 1897.  From 1897 until 1899 he lived in Paris.

Somov was fascinated, not just be eighteenth century painting, but also the music of the time so it is no surprise to see him producing illustrations set in the period.

The influence of Watteau and Fragonard is evident in these illustrations, especially in this amusing picture of a lady using a chamber pot.

These illustrations are from a book of erotic short stories published in St Petersburg in 1918 called Le Livre de la Marquise at a time when the Russian Revolution had resulted in a temporary end to censorship in the country.

Somov had been working on these illustrations since the turn of the century.  Interestingly, a later edition contained more explicit pictures including different versions of some of the originals, as can be seen above.

In the nineteen twenties Somov moved, briefly, to the United States but was not happy there and returned to Paris where he lived for the rest of his life.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Aux Charmes Citoyens by Byron Newman

We continue our eighteenth century theme with a trip back to the days of the French Revolution in 1789.  For the two hundredth anniversary of the American Revolution many of the men's magazines had an appropriately themed pictorial, as exemplified by the Penthouse spread 1776.

Lui, as the principal men's magazine in France, was not going to let the occasion of the bicentenary of their revolution in 1789 go without tribute either but the extraordinary pictorial which appeared in their July 1989 issue made Penthouse's look rather cut rate.

Shot by British photographer Byron Newman the set presented a mixture of under-dressed aristocrats and equally under-dressed revolutionaries, posed in a series of tableaux that aped paintings of the period.  The particular young lady in this shot is really quite magnificent!

Our aristocrats consist of two gentlemen and three ladies, one of whom is supposed to be the Queen's favourite, the Duchess of Polignac.  Many pamphlets were distributed at the time alleging that she was the Queen's lesbian lover (although there is no evidence of this) although it does gives Newman the excuse to present this friendly looking group.

The costumes, wigs, makeup and set for this pictorial is a wonder and is in stark contrast to the barren and unimaginative pictorials in today's magazines.  It must have cost a fortune!

The aristocrats' decadent reverie is rudely interrupted by representatives of the unwashed (and undressed) masses as the citizens of Paris take them prisoner.   Amusingly,  while the men cower, the women hurl brioches at the revolutionaries.  The quotation almost certainly erroneously attributed to Marie-Antoinette of "let them eat cake" was is in fact, in French, Qu'ils mangent de la brioche.   

Unceremoniously put into a tumbrel, they are led off to the Bastille, the anniversary of the storming of which, on July 14th 1789, was the reason for this pictorial, of course.   In fact, the text, by eminent French historian Pierre Miquel, points out that there were prisons and prisons and decribes the maison de santé of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, a nursing home turned into an upmarket prison for aristocrats, provided they paid the exorbitant fees. 

The prison our aristocrats appear in does not look too salubrious, however.  We have seven lady revolutionaries and just one man but a pictorial with no less than ten attractive lady models is a splendid achievement in itself. 

The second half of the pictorial abandons the aristocrats and concentrates instead on the lovely revolutionary ladies who are nearly all, quite literally sans-culottes.  Here is their splendid leader.

This young lady carries a period accurate musket.

Several of the ladies sport the bonnet rouge, a form of Phrygian cap (identified in ancient times with Illyria in the western Balkans) which was adopted by many of the revolutionaries, often with, as here, the addition of a tricolour cockade. In fact, they are slightly anachronistic here, as the first recorded display of one in this context wasn't until 1790.  

A cockade was very common on military head gear in this period and the one of the Paris militia, who were prominent in the storming of the Bastille, was red and blue.  This lady is supposed to represent one of the guards at the Conciergerie, the prison that was the holding area for those guillotined during the reign of terror in the early 1790s.

White was added to the cockade shortly after the Bastille was stormed in July 1789, as that was the colour of the national flag of France until the tricolour was adopted in October 1790.  So, again, the flag in this shot is anachronistic.

Job done for the day our revolutionaries celebrate by drinking and eating brioches!  The little people are playing at being the aristocrats!

Really, this isn't a Seduction of Venus type pictorial proper as, apart from, some implied intimacy between the aristocratic ladies, the tableaux aren't really sexual.  It is such a splendid production, however, that we couldn't leave it out from our look at the eighteenth century!

If only today's Lui photo features demonstrated a fraction of the style of this pictorial!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Casanova: illustrated by Umberto Brunelleschi

Umberto Brunelleschi was an Italian born, French-based artist who was one of the great illustrators of the female figure in the first half of the twentieth century.

His women were always sinuously sensual but towards the end of his life he did some more overtly erotic works including this superb set of illustrations for the story of Casanova.  This limited edition was published in two volumes in 1955, after Brunelleschi's death. 

Although we have identified most of these pictures as coming from the Gibert Jeune edition there is a chance some of them, although being eighteenth century in setting, are not from this edition.  At least one picture was from a planned later edition that was never published.

Gently erotic, rather than explicit, they nevertheless contain all the powdered wigs, heaving bosoms, ornate dresses and stockings you could wish for in a set of eighteenth century-set illustrations.

The fact that the book was published over five years after Brunelleschi's death might explain the variety of styles shown, in that they may well have been done over an extended period of time and, possibly, not all may have been drawn specifically for the book.

Umberto Brunelleschi was born in Montemurlo in Tuscany on June 21st 1879, the son of an insurance agent and went on to study at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence.  In 1900, unimpressed by the formal academic artistic world in Florence, he moved to Paris and, essentially, lived and worked there until his death.

He did spend some time back in Italy and in Germany and America but it was essentially Paris that was his home.

Shortly after arriving in Paris, and being a talented but impecunious artist, he found illustration was a good way to make money. He found work providing illustrations for the weekly satirical and gossip newspaper Le Rire which was published from 1894 until 1950.

In 1902 he started producing illustrations for the weekly French satirical magazine L'assiette au beurre which had been founded by French publisher Samuel Schwarz-Sigismund the previous year. A left wing, even anarchist, publication it had a large group of artists producing its mainly graphic content of drawings, caricatures (which Brunelleschi specialised in) and cartoons.  Perhaps because of the nature of the magazine, Brunelleschi often used the pseudonym Harun-al-Rashid.

From 1906 to 1910 he also started exhibiting in the Salon des Indépendants which had been set up in 1884 by  a group of artists (including Georges Seurat) who did not want to have to accede to the taste of the jury used by the Paris Salon.  Many impressionists exhibited there.

Brunelleschi contributed to many other publications including: Journal des Dames et Des Modes, La Vie Parisienne, Femina, La Caricature, Journal des Dames et des Modes, Le Monde Illustré and Les Feuillets d'Art.  He was also a regular contributor to the  Gazette du Bon Ton which was an influential early fashion magazine.  It was certainly an influence on Condé Montrose Nast who transformed the minor society magazine Vogue into the major fashion magazine it became and for which Brunelleschi provided illustrations in due course.

Brunelleschi, who was very much part of the poetic milieu found in the Latin Quarter, eventually became artistic director of the short-lived  La Guirlande de l'art et de la littérature (1919-1920).

He also did illustrations for Italian, Spanish, English and American magazines, including Il Giornalino della Domenica, Harper’s Bazaar, The Tatler and Vanity Fair.

By 1912 Brunelleschi was largely devoting himself to book illustration, having developed a clean, graphic style influenced by a number of sources including Whistler and Japanese prints.

AN important event occurred in his life when he was contacted by Madame Rasimi, a leading actress-manager, to create the costumes for a revue she was organising at the Bouffes Parisiens theatre.  Brunelleschi had been influenced by the designers Serge Diaghilev had been using, particularly Léon Bakst, although Brunelleschi's colours were less strident.

In 1914, shortly before the Great War began, Brunelleschi expanded his theatrical horizons by designing the set for the first act of Rasimi's revue Y'a d'Jolies Femmes.

The same year, and apposite to this post, he exhibited at the Venice Biennale with a series of illustrations on eighteenth century Venetian subjects.

Brunelleschi volunteered for military service and served in the Italian Third Army for the duration of the war but continued to produce artworks and even took commissions, including an album of illustrations of the costumes and characters of the Commedia dell'Arte.

Brunelleschi returned to Paris after the war and carried on working on costume and set designs for the theatre in France, Germany, Italy and America; including La Scala, the Théâtre du Châtelet, the Casino de Paris and even the Folies Bergère.

In fact, the composer Giacomo Puccini wrote to him in 1924 begging him to produce the costumes for his new opera Turandot.  In the end, internal politics played their part and Turandot was premiered with more conventional costumes by La Scala's in-house designer.

He did work for La Scale, though, producing designs for a production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers in 1938.  He eventually got his shot at Turandot with a production in Florence in 1940.

The Florentine newspaper, La Nazione, wrote: "Umberto Brunelleschi has conjured up a dazzling Turandot: his fantastical ingenuity. marked by an elegant richness of form and colour. has been allowed to fulfill itself in the portrayal of the Chinese surroundings...this is a dream China, a phantasmogoric fairy tale vision, with elements of the Commedia dell'Arte."

He also designed many of the costumes for the famous America dancer Josephine Baker, who first led the review at the Folies Bergère in 1927.

Later in his life, as well as his stage work, he was kept busy on book illustration, however, and provided the illustrations for over thirty books by a wide range of authors such Hans Christian Andersen, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Charles Perrault, Jean de La Fontaine, and Goethe.  He illustrated Boccaccio's  Decameron and Voltaire's  Candide, as well as Casanova.

After the second world war Brunelleschi's style was seen as old fashioned and he dropped out of the limelight. His fantastic and dream-like pictures chiming a dissonant chord with a post war Europe in ruins.  He continued to do some book illustration and we suspect these pictures are from that period.  He died on 16th February, 1949.

The book in which these pictures appeared wasn't published until six years after his death and so it seems unlikely that they were done specifically for this project.

Also, as can be seen, there are several different styles in evidence so perhaps the publisher just collected a series of pictures done by Brunelleschi over time for his edition.

Whatever their history they present a beautiful evocation of the sensual delights of a past world, drawing on Brunelleschi's deep interest in Venetian history and style.

Self-portrait (1904)

We'll look at more of Brunelleschi's elegant women another time.