Portrait of Duncan

“He (Duncan Grant) is so incredibly full of charm, his genius as an artist seems to overflow so into his life and character & he is so amusing too and odd and unaccountable that lots of people I think don’t see clearly what to me is really his most adorable quality – his honesty – disinterestedness absolute sincerity & simplicity of character which make me depend upon him always.”

Letter from Vanessa Bell to his son Julian Bell, 7 Mar 1937

 

Portrait of Duncan Grant,  Vanessa Bell, c. 1917

 

Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell worked closely on artistic projects and, though Grant would have many parallel relationships with men, they remained close companions for the rest of their lives. In 1918 Vanessa gave birth to Duncan’s child, Angelica.

Advertisements

By Personal Choice

“The portraits he (Robert Mapplethorpe) shot by personal choice are a different take from the commercial portraits he did for cash. Let’s say Robert was good at perfecting people in the way that a good courtier perfects his patron, all the while keeping his cynicism cleverly coded even within the art piece.”

Edward Lucie-Smith

 

Patti Smith

 

William S. Burroughs

 

Keith Haring

 

Andy Warhol

 

Willem de Kooning

 

Robert Rauschenberg

 

Carolina Herrera

Art Will Take Care of Itself

“I don’t care about making photography an art. I want to make good photographs. I’d like to know who first got it into his head that dreaminess and mist is an art. Take things as they are; take good photographs and the art will take care of itself.”

Edward Steichen

(1923)

 

Portrait of a Young Man (Self-Portrait), Edward Steichen, 1905

The Most Complicated Thing On Earth

“When I first became interested in photography… my idea was to have it recognized as one of the fine arts. Today I don’t give a hoot in hell about that. The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each man to himself. And that is the most complicated thing on earth and also as naïve as a tender plant.”

Edward Steichen

 

Experiment in Three Color Photography, by Edward Steichen. Camera Work No 15, 1906

Idiom of Improbability

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves”
Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet

 

La semaine des quatre jeudis (The Week with Four Thursdays), Balthus, 1949

There are many idioms of improbability, used to denote that something is impossible or unlikely to occur. In French the expression “La semaine des quatre jeudis” is traditionally used to mean that the specified even “will happen (or not) during the week of the four Thursdays”, since thursday was the break in the school’s week.

From Sappho Onwards

Couple saphique allongé, Auguste Rodin, c. 1897

Rodin’s fascination for Sapphic couples, which he shared with Toulouse-Lautrec, Charles Baudelaire, Pierre Louÿs, Paul Verlaine and his predecessor Gustave Courbet, was evident in several of his drawings.

 

“I am sorry to have to ask you to allow me to mention what everybody declares unmentionable. My justification shall be that we may presently be saddled with the moral responsibility for monstrously severe punishments inflicted not only on persons who have corrupted children, but on others whose conduct, however nasty and ridiculous, has been perfectly within their admitted rights as individuals. To a fully occupied person in normal health, with due opportunities for a healthy social enjoyment, the mere idea of the subject of the threatened prosecutions is so expressively disagreeable as to appear unnatural. But everybody does not find it so. There are among us highly respected citizens who have been expelled from public schools for giving effect to the contrary opinion; and there are hundreds of others who might have been expelled on the same ground had they been found out. Greek philosophers, otherwise of unquestioned virtue, have differed with us on the point. So have soldiers, sailors, convicts, and in fact members of all communities deprived of intercourse with women. A whole series of Balzac’s novels turns upon attachments formed by galley slaves for one another – attachments which are represented as redeeming them from utter savagery. Women, from Sappho onwards, have shown that this appetite is not confined to one sex. Now, I do not believe myself to be the only man in England acquainted with these facts. I strongly protest against any journalist writing, as nine out of ten are at this moment dipping their pens to write, as if he had never heard of such things except as vague and sinister rumors concerning the most corrupt phases in the decadence of Babylon, Greece & Rome. I appeal now to the champions of individual rights to join me in a protest against a law by which two adult men can be sentenced to twenty years penal servitude for a private act, freely consented to & desired by both, which concerns themselves alone. There is absolutely no justification for the law except the old theological one of making the secular arm the instrument of God’s vengeance. It is a survival from that discarded system with its stonings and burnings; and it survives because it is so unpleasant that men are loath to meddle with it even with the object of getting rid of it, lest they should be suspected of acting in their personal interest. We are now free to face with the evil of our relic of Inquisition law, and of the moral cowardice, which prevents our getting rid of it. For my own part, I protest against the principle of the law under which the warrants have been issued; and I hope that no attempt will be made to enforce its outrageous penalties in the case of adult men.”

 

George Bernard Shaw

Letter sent  to an editor of a Newspaper

1889

 

The Original Poet

 

In the Garden of Eden Adam’s first task was to give everything a name. Whenever God created a new animal or plant, he showed it to Adam and, according to the Book of Genesis, “whatever he called each living creature, that was its name.” In the variant version of the Koran, God “taught Adam all the names.” The biblical Adam is the original poet, capturing the essence of a thing in words. His Koranic counterpart is more of a decipherer, discerning the secret nature of things through the word hidden inside them. In both instances, the conferral of names is a human prerogative; a thing remains unknowable until a human voice sounds out its distinctive moniker. Even God needs Adam to give names the breath of life.

Until recently that Edenic innocence still existed between things and their names. In the ninth Duino Elegy, Rainer Maria Rilke could ask:

“Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: House,Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Fruit tree, Window—possibly: Pillar, Tower?”

Of course for Rilke this isn’t just mouthing names but involves “such saying as never the things themselves / hoped so intensely to be.” In his view, things, when invoked, if not conjured, become more fully themselves. This is a magical notion, and a deeply appealing one, but can anyone still believe in it?

This observation about Rilke suggests something of his complex nature, since he was a great realist. He wrote, “How good life is. How fair, how incorruptible, how impossible to deceive: not even by strength, not even by willpower, and not even by courage. How everything remains what it is and has only this choice: to come true, or to exaggerate and push too far.”

His realist approach to life and his artistic temperament contributed to his non-conventional approach to the Bible.

Rilke wasn’t a practitioner of Christianity, (he preferred Islam) yet much of his work deals with religion. He wrote: “Religion is something infinitely simple, ingenuous. It is not knowledge, not content of feeling (for all content is admitted from the start, where a man comes to terms with life), it is not duty and not renunciation, it is not restriction: but in the infinite extent of the universe it is a direction of the heart.” (Selected Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke)

The Symbol of All Creation

“The hand of Rodin worked not as the hand of a sculptor works, but as the work of Elan Vital. The Hand of God is his own hand.”
George Bernard Shaw

 

Pierre and Jacques de Wissant, Right Hand, Auguste Rodin, 1885-86

 

Rodin worked on the hands of certain Burghers of Calais separately so as to heighten their power of expression. Although he used the same left and right hands for the two brothers, Pierre and Jacques de Wissant, the effect obtained on each figure was very different. Pierre de Wissant’s right hand sweeps the gesture upwards, as a sign of abnegation. Jacques de Wissant’s hand is drawn back towards his face, implying doubt and questioning. Isolated from the figure, the hand forms a work in its own right, not just a mere study or fragment.

 

The Hand of God, designed in 1898

 

When Rodin decided to show it standing upright on a wooden plinth, he turned it into an independent exhibit, with a value all of its own. This is also the hand Rodin would use in The Hand of God , placing inside it the tiny figures of Adam and Eve who seem to emerge out of the dust. This work became the symbol of all creation.

Pushing the Button

“I always wanted to draw and paint. I had no literary ambition: I aspired to be a Michael Angelo, not a Shakespear (sic). But I could not draw well enough to satisfy myself; and the instruction I could get was worse than useless. So when dry plates and push buttons came into the market I bought a box camera and began pushing the button”

George Bernard Shaw
(Reply to Helmut Gernsheim as to why he had taken up photography)

 

Self-portrait (young man) in Chair, George Bernard Shaw, c. 1904

A Number of Miracles

“While he (Rodin) worked, he achieved a number of miracles. At the end of the first fifteen minutes, after having given a simple idea of the human form to the block of clay, he produced by the action of his thumb a bust so living that I would have taken it away with me to relieve the sculptor of any further work.”

George Bernard Shaw

 

Crowds queue in Paris to see Rodin's sculpture The Thinker in 1904 in another snap from Shaw's private photo collectionCrowds queue in Paris to see Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker in 1904. Photo by George Bernard Shaw