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.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Eighteenth Century scenes by Anonymous (Paul-Émile Bécat?)

We have seen this collection of pictures, which look like book illustrations, described in several places as the work of French artist Gabriel Ferrier (1847-1914).  However the style is all wrong for him and his period of activity and they look later (nineteen forties?).  We would be interested to hear from anyone who can positively identify the artist.

Here we have a typical eighteenth century meal with big wigs, big dresses and passionate bosom clasping.  The Champagne ice bucket looks more modern than the ornate ones seen in the eighteenth century.

A common mistake in illustrations set in the past are the length of stockings.  In the eighteenth century they would have only been just above the knee as until elastic fabric was invented they wouldn't have stayed up if they finished higher up the thigh.  Even into the nineteen twenties stockings were shorter than they are today.  This lady's elegantly displayed leg shows a stocking far too long for the period but what a lovely slice of naked upper thigh/

The same is true of this Venetian masquerade lady.  The stockings would also have been much looser above the garters.

It is the look of this lady which dates her as (much) later than Ferrier.  She has something of Gone with the Wind about her hairstyle although she is nicely unveiled here.

Very much of her time, too, is madame here, who looks like a nineteen thirties ofrforties Hollywood portrait.  It reminds us of a photograph we have seen somewhere.

You can't possibly have a set of illustrations like this without a gratuitous lesbian picture.  The ladies here appear to be in considerable less splendour than the other denizens of this world.  Milady slumming it with a servant girl again, perhaps.

Here is an enticingly diaphanous gown with which to tempt the master of the house.  Or perhaps he is just a special guest who needs "looking after".  

In this one we aren't sure if the passionate scene in the background is  a painting, a mirror or a dream of what is to come. The Champagne flutes are unlikely to have been used in the eighteenth century.  In fact they would have been unusual up until the seventies.  Are these pictures even more recent?

Some rather more passionate embracing here as the young lady gets her perky nipple nibbled.

Finally, what is this naked nymph thinking?  Somehow we thing that the gentleman is the innocent here!

So, this a nice set of drawing but obviously not contemporary, not late nineteenth or early twentieth century like Ferrier and possibly even quite recent.  Does anyone have any information?

Someone has said that they look very much like the work of Paul-Émile Bécat, which seems plausible although we can't locate the work they are illustrating. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

La Toilette Intime by Antoine Watteau

This erotic confection is by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) and was believed to have been painted some time between 1715 and his death, at the age of just 36, in 1721.  Although his work was hugely influential on eighteenth century art he was not that well known during his life, lacking in aristocratic patrons and producing works for a comparatively small group of middle class enthusiasts.

Agent Triple P first became aware of this painting at about the age of 12 from a black and white illustration in a book of his father's The Female Nude in European Painting by the French art historian Jean-Louis Vaudoyer (1883-1963).  The painting was called The Secret Toilet in that book (it does not seem to have an official name bestowed upon it by Watteau), which added to its allure to a young Triple P.

A maid offers her mistress a bowl containing a sponge for washing her intimate areas.  The whole picture is erotically charged; with the mistress brazenly presenting her groin between elegantly spread thighs, whilst her servant gazes raptly upon the forbidden area.   Some critics have decided that it is almost a parody of a religious scene with the maid kneeling before the white altar of the bed and worshipping her mistress' sex.   Certainly Watteau's implication here is not that the haughty woman would wash herself but that her maid will soon be rubbing her sponge deliciously over her mistresses loins.

There are at least two painting based on Watteau's original by some of his followers.  Interestingly they are both mirror images of the original and they may be based on some of the many prints of Watteau's work which were issued after his death and which increased his popularity enormously.  They both use the same colour scheme for the maid's clothes so may have been been based on a viewing of the original painting.  Both mistress figures wear very much more clothes than  in Watteau's version and, in the second one, the maid is black.  Neither give the erotic frisson of Watteau's original, however.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Les Deux Amies by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Here, as part of eighteenth century month, we have a rather saucy painting of two girls kissing, by that master of eighteenth century playful sensuality, Fragonard (1732-1806).  To add to the frisson, one is naked and one is fully dressed.  Interestingly, the clothed girl has much darker skin than the naked one.  At a time when a pale complexion was fashionable could this mean that the darker skinned girl is, perhaps, a servant of her mistress.  Perhaps she was selected from the women working in the fields on madame's estate for some indoor recreation.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Soldier and the Squaw by James Baes

Eighteenth century month continues on The Seduction of Venus with this pictorial from November 1981's Hustler magazine, photographed by James Baes.  In reality, as we started this theme mid-way through the month it will really be eighteenth century four weeks rather than a calendar month.

Although most of our material will originate from or be set in eighteenth century Europe we cannot forget the New World, of course.  We have featured an eighteenth century-set magazine pictorial before, of course: Jeff Dunas' 1776 which appeared in Penthouse's July 1976 issue as part of its bicentennial celebrations.

Although he could be a soldier his costume is more likely to make him a militiaman or even just a backwoodsman, although the wig adds a certain formal touch.  We are less certain about the authenticity of our squaw whose ornaments seem rather too brightly coloured for the period.  Still, she has an authentically bushy pussy!  She seems very pleased to see our soldier in this one, anyway.  Maybe it's the prospect of some spit-roasted fowl.  Turkey or duck?

Here, he  is starting to look like he's pleased to see her too.  Hustler was going back and forth (or, more properly, up and down) as to what extent it showed its male models with erections at this time.  This was at the softer end, so to speak.

Much less prominent in this shot it is, nonetheless, engagingly suggestive as our squaw demonstrates that she simply can't wait for a lovely duck.

Finally, just as he is getting down to business it looks like the squaw's husband (or brother) has spotted them and lets loose a flurry of arrows, one of which appears to have hit our soldier in his rear.  The success of this short pictorial is largely down to the girl whose manages to play sensuous, playful and alarmed very nicely.

Paula for Penthouse in 1984

One of our readers has identified the lady as Paula Ann Wood, who become Penthouse Pet of the Month in March 1984,  We will look at her in more detail when we do the relevant Pubic Wars post on Venus Observations.