Icarus Descending

Dust jacket illustrated by George Underwood

 
 

The Man Who Fell to Earth is a 1963 science fiction novel by American author Walter Tevis, about an extraterrestrial who lands on Earth seeking a way to ferry his people to Earth from his home planet, which is suffering from a severe drought. The novel served as the basis for the 1976 film by Nicolas Roeg, The Man Who Fell to Earth, as well as a 1987 television adaptation.

 
 

Illustration by George Underwood

 
 

The original novel opened with the section Icarus Descending 1972, the revised version opens with Icarus Descending 1985. The second section of book is Rumplestiltskin, 1975, in the revised version this is 1988. The final section of the book is Icarus Drowning, 1976, and 1990 in the revised edition novel.

 
 

William Carlos Williams’ poem and the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus appear side-by-side 22 minutes into the 1976 film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie.

 
 

The painting seen early on in the film is Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, which (as we stated in a previous post) was long thought to be by Pieter Brueghel. In Greek mythology, Icarus succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father Daedalus, using feathers secured with wax. Ignoring his father’s warnings, Icarus chose to fly too close to the sun, melting the wax, and fell into the sea and drowned. His legs can be seen in the water just below the ship.

The film depicts the arrival of an alien, Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), who has travelled to the Earth on a rescue mission to aid his dying planet (a prescient theme tapping into our ever growing concerns about global warming). His superior technology, and the unique patents it offers, allows him to play and control the markets and create a vast conglomerate. Amassing the financial benefits of the consumer products he has introduced, he sets out to create a space programme that will enable him to return to his world and bring his family back to Earth.

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Bestiary or The Parade of Orpheus

Apollinaire’s first book of poems has charmed readers with its brief celebrations of animals, birds, fish, insects, and the mythical poet Orpheus since it was first published.

 

Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée is a poetic album of 30 short poems by Guillaume Apollinaire with woodcuts by Raoul Dufy, published in 1911.

Though Apollinaire would go on to longer and more ambitious work, his Bestiary reveals key elements of his later poetry, among them surprising images, wit, formal mastery, and wry irony. X. J. Kennedy’s fresh translation follows Apollinaire in casting the poems into rhymed stanzas, suggesting music and sudden closures while remaining faithful to their sense. Kennedy provides the English alongside the original French, inviting readers to compare the two and appreciate the fidelity of the former to the latter. He includes a critical and historical essay that relates the Bestiary to its sources in medieval “creature books,” provides a brief biography and summation of the troubled circumstances surrounding the book’s initial publication, and places the poems in the context of Apollinaire’s work as a poet and as a champion of avant garde art.

Guillaume Apollinaire, was a bibliophile and a specialist in medieval bestiaries. In 1906 Pablo Picasso, a friend of Apollinaire’s had made some experimental woodcuts of animals. Apollinaire published eighteen poems figuring all kinds of semi-mythical animals in 1908 in La phalange, an experimental journal and promised his readers an illustrated edition. Picasso was not willing to cooperate and the poet persuaded Raoul Dufy, an engraver, to provide the woodcuts. Orpheus is present in four of the 30 poems.

Several composers were inspired by these poems to set them to music: Francis Poulenc (1919), Louis Durey (1919), Jean Absil (1944) and others. Francis Poulenc originally selected twelve poems, but only published six. His friend Louis Durey composed a complete cycle (26 short songs; he omitted the poems about Orpheus). Both wrote for baritone solo accompanied by piano.

A Geometric Garden for Orpheus

“This woman who was loved so much, that from
one lyre
more mourning came than from women in mourning;
that a whole world was made from mourning, where
everything was present once again: forest and valley
and road and village, field, river, and animal;
and that around this mourning-world, just as
around the other earth, a sun
and a silent star-filled sky wheeled,
a mourning-sky with displaced constellations–:”

Rainer Maria Rilke

From Orpheus, Eudydice, Hermes

 

A Garden for Orpheus, Paul Klee, 1926

 

A rhythmic relation with the universe, like that expressed by Rilke, finds expression in Paul Klee’s series of garden pictures dating from 1926, which includes A Garden for Orpheus and Classical Garden. In these works a system of horizontal lines interwoven with ornamental arrangements of interlocking parallell bands is united in space by overlappings and interpenetrations.

Like his other garden and park pictures, Klee’s drawing A Garden for Orpheus reflects his search for rythmically coherent formal structure inspired by the orderly divisions inherent in the garden, as well as his attempt to reduce the plant kingdom to archetypal forms and recurring patterns that demonstrate the inner laws of nature, itself a skillful geometrician. Drawings such as A Garden for Orpheus demonstrate Klee’s sense of the interrelationship of nature, music and art.

On Abandoment and Disappointed Love

d4051821r(c) Watts Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

George Frederic Watts first painted the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in the late 1860s. This decade saw a revival of classical subject matter in British art. It is a measure of Watts’s flexibility as an artist that, in the middle of his career aged about fifty, he should become deeply involved in a new movement in art, sharing the aims of much younger painters such as Frederic Leighton and Edward Burne-Jones. His Orpheus and Eurydice paintings are among the most powerful early masterpieces of this ‘aesthetic classicism.’ As with most subjects that gripped his imagination, Watts treated it several times, refining the composition until it fully realised his ideal.

The story of Orpheus is recounted in many ancient sources. The most accessible account, and probably the one used by Watts, is found in Ovid‘s Metamorphoses (book X).

Three subjects from the story were particularly attractive to artists:

Orpheus playing in hell;
Orpheus’s loss of Eurydice’; and
Orpheus’s head and lyre, which continued to sing after his own death.

In the 1860s Watts treated many themes of abandonment and disappointed love. Clytie whose yearning for the sun god Apollo turned her into a sunflower and Ariadne deserted by Theseus, share similar themes with Orpheus and Eurydice. Watts probably exposed deep personal emotions in such subjects, for his first marriage, to the young actress Ellen Terry, ended in separation in 1865, after they had been together for only eleven months.

But Watts’s impetus was not simply personal for the Orpheus and Eurydice theme was also popular with his closest artistic friends in the 1860s. In Victorian High Renaissance, Allan Staley suggests that Watts took it up in direct response to Frederic Leighton‘s 1864 Royal Academy picture (Leighton House). This is a distinctly odd treatment of the theme in which Orpheus pushes Eurydice away. Watts’s painting may be intended to criticise this version. Leighton became Watts’s near neighbour in Kensington in 1866, and the two men exerted a strong influence on each other for the next six years. In the late 1860s Burne-Jones produced illustrations to William Morris’s unpublished Orpheus and Eurydice poem. (He later re-used them for the 1880 Graham piano, the designs for which inspired John Singer Sargent‘s portrait of Comyns Carr. Watts painted portraits of his friends Burne-Jones and Morris in 1870 (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery and National Portrait Gallery).

There are many studies for the various versions of the work. Most appear to date from the late 1860s when Watts conceived and developed the subject. Two drawings are in the Royal Academy, London, among the collection selected by Edward John Poynter, as President, under the terms of Watts’s will. A head study for Orpheus is in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s collection (Cecil French Bequest). A drawing for one of the horizontal format compositions is in the collection of David Loshak. Most interesting among the drawn studies is that in the collection of Sir Brinsley Ford. The upper half is very close to the composition of the present picture, but the figures are full length and a third figure (omitted from all known painted versions) appears in the bottom right corner. This emphasises the placing of this version in the sequence of Watts’s paintings between his abandonment of the horizontal format and his development of an upright one. Watts also produced sculptured studies for the figure and head of Orpheus to help him realise the difficult pose of the figure and the tormented expression, both hard for a model to hold. (Two studies, plaster casts from clay or wax originals are in the Watts Gallery, Compton.) Watts’s interest in sculpture developed in the 1860s, when he made both finished works (such as the bust of Clytie) and such studies. The production of sculptural studies for paintings was a Renaissance practice and passed into the academic tradition. The studies and the finished painting reveal Watts’s fascination with dynamic twisting poses and especially with the stretch and turn of the neck. This seems to have been a personal idiosyncracy. Found in many other works of this time (such as Clytie), it should be seen as an aspect of Watts’s enthusiasm for the Renaissance artist that earned him the nickname of ‘England’s Michelangelo.’

Ode on Melancholy

Melencholia I, Albrecht Dürer, 1514

 

NO, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kist
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globèd peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight 25
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

John Keats

 

Ode on Melancholy is one of five odes composed by John Keats in the spring of 1819, along with Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on Indolence, and Ode to Psyche. The narrative of the poem describes the poet’s perception of melancholy through a lyric discourse between the poet and the reader, along with the introduction to Ancient Grecian characters and ideals.

While studying at Enfield, Keats attempted to gain a knowledge of Grecian art from translations of Tooke’s Pantheon, Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary and Spence’s Polymetis. Although Keats attempted to learn Ancient Greek, the majority of his understanding of Grecian mythology came from the translations into English. Ode on Melancholy contains references to classical themes, characters, and places such as Psyche, Lethe, and Prosperine in its description of melancholy, as allusions to Grecian art and literature were common among the “five great odes”.

Return to Earth

“…His first touch of the earth went nigh to kill.
«Alas!» said he, «were I but always borne
Through dangerous winds, had but my footsteps worn
A path in hell, for ever would I bless
Horrors which nourish an uneasiness
For my own sullen conquering: to him
Who lives beyond earth’s boundary, grief is dim,
Sorrow is but a shadow: now I see
The grass; I feel the solid ground – Ah, me!
It is thy voice – divinest! Where? – who? who
Left thee so quiet on this bed of dew?
Behold upon this happy earth we are;
Let us ay love each other; let us fare
On forest-fruits, and never, never go
Among the abodes of mortals here below,
Or be by phantoms duped. O destiny!
Into a labyrinth now my soul would fly,
But with thy beauty will I deaden it.
Where didst thou melt too? By thee will I sit
For ever: let our fate stop here – a kid
I on this spot will offer: Pan will bid
Us live in peace, in love and peace among
His forest wildernesses. I have clung
To nothing, lov’d a nothing, nothing seen
Or felt but a great dream! O I have been
Presumptuous against love, against the sky,
Against all elements, against the tie
Of mortals each to each, against the blooms
Of flowers, rush of rivers, and the tombs
Of heroes gone! Against his proper glory
Has my own soul conspired: so my story
Will I to children utter, and repent.
There never liv’d a mortal man, who bent
His appetite beyond his natural sphere,
But starv’d and died…”

John Keats

Endymion (Book IV)

Excerpt

 

Orpheus series, Return to Earth, Fred Holland Day, 1907

Arcadian Painters

“I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time.”
Cy Twombly

 

Study of The Triumph of Pan, Nicolas Poussin, c. 1636

 

The Triumph of Pan, Nicolas Poussin, 1636

 

This depiction of a mythical celebration shows nymphs and satyrs revelling before a statue of Pan, the god of woods and fields. Pan’s identity in this work may have been combined with that of Priapus, a deity of gardens. Both are associated with fertility and Bacchic ritual. The painting contains a number of literary and visual references; the instruments being played, the sacrificial deer and the props in the foreground are all either attributes of Pan and Priapus, or are linked with such rites. These include panpipes, theatrical masks (comedy, tragedy and satire), and a shepherd’s staff.

This painting is a milestone in Nicolas Poussin‘s career, and shows him with characteristic rigour reforming his style by turning to the examples of classical antiquity and the early Renaissance. For his contemporaries it must have seemed like a reversion to primitivism, but it nevertheless established the basis of the style which was to serve him for the rest of his career.

This picture was commissioned by Cardinal de Richelieu and dispatched from Rome to Paris in May 1636. With its companion, The Triumph of Bacchus (Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), it was designed to form part of the decoration of the Cabinet du Roi in the Château de Richelieu. There are a number of preparatory drawings by Poussin for this painting, including some in the collection of H.M. The Queen at Windsor Castle.

 

The Triumph of Bacchus, Nicolas Poussin, c. 1636

 

In 2011, Dulwich Picture Gallery (London) organised a revelatory exhibition of the work of Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly. This major show explored, for the first time, the unexpected yet numerous parallels and affinities between the two artists.

In 1624 and 1957, The two artists, aged around thirty, moved to Rome (in 1624 and 1957 respectively). Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly spent the majority of their lives in the Eternal City, and went on to become the pre-eminent painters of their day. Rather than recent exhibitions that have sought to compare and contrast old masters with contemporary artists through superficial visual appearances, this groundbreaking show instead juxtaposed works which may seem radically disparate in terms of style, yet ones that share deep and timeless interests. Both Poussin and Twombly were artists of prodigious talent who found in the classical heritage of Rome a life-long subject. Both spent their lives studying, revivifying and making newly relevant for their own eras antiquity, ancient history, classical mythology, Renaissance painting, poetry and the imaginary, idealized realm of Arcadia.

Curated by Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, Curator of International Modern Art at Tate Modern, the exhibition examined how Twombly and Poussin, although separated by three centuries, nonetheless engaged with the same sources and explored the overlapping subjects that the two artists have shared.

 

Pan, Cy Twombly, 1975

 

Bacchanalia-Fall (5 Days in November) Blatt 4, InvNr. UAB 457, Cy Twombly, 1977

 

Pan II, Cy Twombly, 1980

An Ambiguous Shade of Something Else

Photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe from 1983 to circa 1986

 

“Robert was not a literal person.
Everything he saw was an ambiguous shade of something else.
He was a metaphorical person. The irony was he took photography, which is a literal person’s perfect way to show life in snapshots, and raised the single frame to a metaphor.
A Mapplethorpe lily is not a lily is not a lily*.
This is trick photography shot by a trickster.
Now you see it.
Now you don’t.
Now, if you’re lucky, you do.
Senator Jesse Helms never got it.
Helms probably thought that Robert’s drop-dead flowers, always actually more explicit than his human nudes, were, uh, flowers.
And not the sex organs of plants or, omigod, phallic and vaginal symbols!
Metaphor is a problem for fundamentalists clamming up the hard shell.
Robert captured the essence of flowers, figures, faces, and fetishes so resonantly on the literal level that the very perfection of the moment frozen in the single frame caused the very being of the object to suggest its own becoming… other.
That capturing of the suggestive instant of becoming ambiguous was his existential magic.
Elegant flowers become sexual organs,
The shadow of a flower becomes the horned god.
Sexuality becomes theology.
Face becomes mask.
The mirror becomes window.
Life becomes death.
The cross becomes the crown.
Light becomes dark.
The looking glass makes the way out become the way in: the anal insertions.
This spinning ambiguity causes fear in the literal-minded who look at his single-shot metaphors…

…He intended his stills to be “moving” pictures, photographs that “moved” the viewer, through assault if necessary, for the viewer’s own good, the way one slaps someone who is hysterical.
Every Mapplethorpe photograph is a single frame in a movie, which, if it existed, would be a series of dissolves:
The lily dissolves to the genitalia,
The face to the skull,
The skull to the lily.
Although versed in film and video, Robert consciously kept with the discipline of the single-frame still camera.
Robert was a Platonist: he saw the real and he saw the ideal.”

Mapplethorpe: Assault With a Deadly Camera
Jack Fritscher

 

*Praraphrase of Gertrude Stein’s sentence “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

The Supposed Sexual Meaning of a Flower

Zantedeschia albomaculata, from L’Illustration Horticole v.7 (1860), by Charles Antoine Lemaire (1801-1871), and Ambroise Verschaffelt (1825-1886)

 

Zantedeschia is a genus of eight species of herbaceous perennial flowering plants in the family Araceae, native to southern Africa from South Africa north to Malawi. The genus has been introduced on all continents except Antarctica. Common names include arum lily for Z. aethiopica, calla, and calla lily for Z. elliottiana and Z. rehmannii although it is neither a true lily (Liliaceae), nor an Arum or a Calla (related genera in Araceae). The colourful flowers and leaves are highly valued, and both species and cultivars are widely used as ornamental plants.

The name of the calla lily is not only just a common name that never is used professionally, it is also totally misinformative since the calla lily is neither a calla nor a lily. Once it was considered to be a calla and the discoverer, famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, actually categorized all similar plants under the calla genus. When further testing proved that not all callas were not closely related enough to be considered as one genus it was split up by the German botanist Karl Koch and the calla lily genus became known as the zantedeschia genus. The name of the genus was given as a tribute to Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773–1846) by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766–1833).

Zantedeschia is monoecious in which separate male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers (imperfect or unisexual flowers) are carried on the spadix. The flowers are small and non-blooming with an absent perianth. The male flowers contain two to three stamens fused to form a synandrium, and the female flowers have a single compound pistil with three fused carpels and three locules. Zantedeschia shares the general properties of the Araceae family in causing contact irritation. Zantedeschia species are also poisonous due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals in the form of raphides.

It is not really clear when this genus showed up in Europe, but based on an illustration from the Royal Garden in Paris in 1664, it is safe to say that it was grown in Europe at that time. Zantedeschia became a very popular flower after that, showing up at funerals, weddings and practically any festivity in Europe. It was especially popular since it could be made to bloom all year around in the southern to centre parts of Europe using simple greenhouses. It was a flower that could be grown even when the sky seemed dark.

Zantedeschia or Calla lily is a very beautiful flower. During the flower language boom in the Victorian period of the 19th century, there were strict social codes and if one had to express ones feelings, flowers were the best medium. Flowers delivered the feelings subtly and every part of gifting a flower, carried secret flower meanings. The person who made the offer to the way the flowers were arranged, all had a specific meaning. Thus passionate messages were delivered to the recipient, without the use of words through flowers. During this time, calla lily was used to express many such hidden symbols. Calla lily due to its physical resemblance to female genitalia was called an overtly sexual one. This sexual calla lily meaning was brought forward to admirers by Sigmund Freud and  it was the favorite subject of artists like Diego Rivera and Georgia O’Keeffe.

 

Callas, Imogen Cunningham, 1925

 

Two Callas, Imogen Cunningham, c. 1926

 

Black and White Lilies, Imogen Cunningham, 1928

 

Calla Lily with Roses,Georgia O’Keeffe, 1926

 

White Calla Lilly, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1927

 

Two Calla Lilies on Pink, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1928

 

Caricature of Georgia O’Keeffe as “The Lady of the Lily”, Miguel Covarrubias, 1929

 

The Great Masturbator, Salvador Dalí, (1929)

 

Flower Vendor (Girl with Lilies), Diego Rivera, 1941

 

Portrait of Natasha Gelman, Diego Rivera, 1943

 

Nude with Calla Lillies, Diego Rivera, 1944

 

The Flower Carrier, Diego Rivera, 1953

 

Prehistory of Desire, Marc Quinn, 2010

The Lost Desire

Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed), Frida Kahlo, 1932. It was Kahlo’s first painting on tin

 

On July 4th, 1932, Frida Kahlo suffered a miscarriage in the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. In this disturbing work, Kahlo paints herself lying on her back in a hospital bed after a miscarriage. The figure in the painting is unclothed, the sheets beneath her are bloody, and a large tear falls from her left eye. The bed and its sad inhabitant float in an abstract space circled by six images relating to the miscarriage. All of the images are tied to blood-red filaments that she holds against her stomach as if they were umbilical cords. The main image is a perfectly formed male fetus, little “Dieguito”, she had longed to have. The orchid was a gift from Diego Rivera. “When I painted I had the idea of a sexual thing mixed with the sentimental” Frida said. The snail she said alludes to the slow paced miscarriage. The salmon pink plaster female torso she said was her “idea of explaining the insides of a woman”. The cruel looking machine she invented “to explain the mechanical part of the whole business”. Finally, in the lower right corner is her fractured pelvis that made it impossible for her to have children.

In November 1938, this painting was shown at Kahlo’s first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City. It was shown with the title: The Lost desire.

Orchids and Etymology of Desire

‘The overwhelming sensuality of the natural world, whose life force is one of pure desire”

Marc Quinn

 

Etymology of Desire, Marc Quinn, 2010. Quinn began his first series of orchids in 2008

 

Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton, Spring/Summer 2015 collection

 

Etymology Of Desire and Prehistory Of Desire (2010) were the centerpiece of the Alexander McQueen women’s ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2015 show in Paris Fashion Week. Cast from real flowers and parading, the orchids meditate on the human obsession of ideal beauty, achieved through the manipulation, modification and control of nature.

They were gargantuan, even dwarfing the typically attenuated McQueen models, hiked up on platform boots with a curving calligraphic heel. And they got the point across concisely – exotic, oriental, feminine. All pointers Sarah Burton wanted you to pick up in the clothes.

Maybe Burton was juxtaposing her fashion with art to assert the difference between the two. McQueen is one label that’s often lumped into that “art” category, and her last collection provoked criticism from some quarters for a degree of preciousness that pushed it beyond the realm of ready-to-wear.

 

The Diary of a Dress: Alexander McQueen Shares the Saga of How One of His Inspirations – A Peter Arnold’s Orchid Photograph – Evolved from Simple Sketch to Production Nightmare to a Stunning Gown Fit for Supermodel Naomi Campbell. Writer: Lisa Armstrong, Harper’s Bazaar, 2004

 

Kate Moss wearing an orchid printed Cheongsan by unidentified brand. Vogue USA, January 1997

A Floral Sex Symbol

Signatura rerum (The Theory of signature), orchids images from G.B. Della Porta (1588)

 

The Ara Pacis, an altar erected in Rome by the emperor Augustus in 9 B.C.E., includes one of the earliest documented depictions of an orchid (inset) in Western art. Credit: Bernd Haynold

 

Orchidaceae is a diverse and widespread family of flowering plants, with blooms that are often colourful and often fragrant. The type genus (i.e. the genus after which the family is named) is Orchis. The genus name comes from the Ancient Greek ὄρχις (órkhis), literally meaning “testicle”, because of the shape of the twin tubers in some species of Orchis. The term “orchid” was introduced in 1845 by John Lindley in School Botany, as a shortened form of Orchidaceae. All orchids are perennial herbs that lack any permanent woody structure.

The depictions of Italian orchids showed up much earlier than expected. Previously they were spotted in paintings in the 1400s, but Caneva’s team discovered them as early as 46 B.C.E, when Julius Caesar erected the Temple of Venus Genetrix in Rome. There are at least three orchids appearing in dozens of other plants on the Ara Pacis. Artists chose the flowers to emphasize a theme of civic rebirth, fertility and prosperity following a long period of conflict.

As Christianity began to influence art in the 3rd and 4th centuries, orchids and other plants began to fade from public art. This was probably due to an effort to eliminate pagan symbols and those related to sexuality. With the arrival of the Renaissance, orchids arrive back in art, but now mostly as a symbol of beauty and elegance.

 

Photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe, circa 1986

 

Orchid, Patti Smith, 1998

The Sleeper in the Valley

L’Homme Blessé, (The Wounded Man), a self-portrait by Gustave Courbet, 1844-1854

 

LE DORMEUR DU VAL

C’est un trou de verdure, où chante une rivière
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D’argent; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit: c’est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort; il est étendu dans l’herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme:
Nature, berce-le chaudement: il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

Arthur Rimbaud

 

______________________________________________

 

“It is a green hollow where a stream gurgles,
Crazily catching silver rags of itself on the grasses;
Where the sun shines from the proud mountain:
It is a little valley bubbling over with light.

A young soldier, open-mouthed, bare-headed,
With the nape of his neck bathed in cool blue cresses,
Sleeps; he is stretched out on the grass, under the sky,
Pale on his green bed where the light falls like rain.

His feet in the yellow flags, he lies sleeping. Smiling as
A sick child might smile, he is having a nap:
Cradle him warmly, Nature: it is cold.

No odour makes his nostrils quiver;
He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast
At peace. There are two red holes in his right side.”

 

This poem, written in 1870 by the 16-year old Rimbaud, is partially in the classic form but already announces his future avant-garde poems. When he wrote this piece, France was at war with Prussia, and Rimbaud was frequently running away from home and traveling by foot.

The Ghost of the Rose

“Soulève ta paupière close
Qu’effleure un songe virginal ;
Je suis le spectre d’une rose
Que tu portais hier au bal.
Tu me pris encore emperlée
Des pleurs d’argent de l’arrosoir,
Et parmi la fête étoilée
Tu me promenas tout le soir.

Ô toi qui de ma mort fus cause,
Sans que tu puisses le chasser
Toute la nuit mon spectre rose
A ton chevet viendra danser.
Mais ne crains rien, je ne réclame
Ni messe, ni De Profundis ;
Ce léger parfum est mon âme
Et j’arrive du paradis.

Mon destin fut digne d’envie :
Pour avoir un trépas si beau,
Plus d’un aurait donné sa vie,
Car j’ai ta gorge pour tombeau,
Et sur l’albâtre où je repose
Un poète avec un baiser
Ecrivit : Ci-gît une rose
Que tous les rois vont jalouser”

Théophile Gautier

 

_____________________________

 

“Open your closed eyelid
Which is gently brushed by a virginal dream!
I am the ghost of the rose
That you wore last night at the ball.
You took me when I was still sprinkled with pearls
Of silvery tears from the watering-can,
And, among the sparkling festivities,
You carried me the entire night.

O you, who caused my death:
Without the power to chase it away,
You will be visited every night by my ghost,
Which will dance at your bedside.
But fear nothing; I demand
Neither Mass nor De Profundis;
This mild perfume is my soul,
And I’ve come from Paradise.

My destiny is worthy of envy;
And to have a fate so fine,
More than one would give his life
For on your breast I have my tomb,
And on the alabaster where I rest,
A poet with a kiss
Wrote: “Here lies a rose,
Of which all kings may be jealous.”

 

Illustrations by Jean Cocteau, 1912.Le Spectre de la rose is a short ballet about a young girl who dreams of dancing with the spirit of a souvenir rose from her first ball.

 

In 1911, Ballet Russes producer Sergei Diaghilev hoped to present Vaslav Nijinsky‘s ballet L’Après-midi d’un faune. It was not ready for the stage, so he needed another ballet to take its place. That ballet was the idea of writer Jean-Louis Vaudoyer. In 1910, he had sent an idea for a ballet to Ballets Russes set and costume designer Léon Bakst. His idea was based on Le Spectre de la rose, a verse by Théophile Gautier, and Afforderung zum Tanz (Invitation to the Dance), a work for piano by Carl Maria von Weber. Diaghilev liked Vaudoyer’s idea. He thought it could easily take the place of Faune. He put Vaudoyer’s idea into development at once. Diaghilev liked the idea of a ballet based on Gautier’s Spectre because it could be tied to the centennial of Gautier’s birth. Michel Fokine choreographed the ballet to the music of Carl Maria von Weber’s piano piece as orchestrated by Hector Berlioz in 1841. The little ballet became one of the most loved productions of the Ballets Russes.

 

 

Nijinsky’s silk elastic costume was covered with silk rose petals. Nijinsky was stitched into the costume for every show. After every show, the wardrobe mistress would touch up the petals with her curling iron.

Nijinsky’s make-up was an important part of the costume design. Romula de Pulszky, later to be his wife, wrote that he looked like “a celestial insect, his eyebrows suggesting some beautiful beetle”. Peter Ostwald writes that Nijinsky’s costume was like a ballerina’s.

Sometimes, petals would become loose and fall to the stage floor. Nijinsky’s servant Vasili would collect the petals and sell them as souvenirs. It was said that he built a large house called Le Château du Spectre de la Rose with the profits from the sale of the petals.

 

 

The ballet was first presented in Monte Carlo on 19 April 1911. Nijinsky danced The Rose and Tamara Karsavina danced The Young Girl. It was a great success. Spectre became internationally famous for the spectacular leap Nijinsky made through a window at the ballet’s end.

Many dancers have attempted to match Nijinsky as The Rose, but have failed. After all, the ballet had been designed for Nijinsky’s very special talents.

 

 

It was one of the first ballets Rudolph Nureyev danced in the West after leaving Russia. This was for German television in 1961. He first danced The Rose on stage (24 times) in New York City for the Joffrey Ballet’s Diaghilev program in 1979. Spectre de la Rose was the last ballet Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn danced together. That was in June 1979, when the ballerina was 60. He danced The Rose in Paris in 1981 and 1982, and last danced the part in August 1987 at the London Coliseum with the Nancy Ballet.

Absorbing Images

“Robert absorbed every image he ever saw. The Baron de Meyer’s famous image of the flower became Robert’s flower. Robert also nicked something from de Meyer’s sequence of photographs showing Nijinsky in L’Après-midi d’un faune

Edward Lucie-Smith

(As quoted in Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera, by Jack Fritscher)

 

Photographs by Adolph de Meyer