“The sunflower is mine, in a way.”
Vincent Van Gogh
“The sunflower is mine, in a way.”
Vincent Van Gogh
“Don’t let yourself die without knowing the wonder of fucking with love.”
Gabriel García Márquez
Memories of My Melancholy Whores
House of the Sleeping Beauties is a 1961 novella by the Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. A story about a lonely man, Old Eguchi, who continuously visits the House of the Sleeping Beauties in hope of something more. As the great Japanese writer Yukio Mishima expresses it perfectly in his introduction, this book is a pregnant reflection on ‘the terror of lust by the approach of death.’
Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s last written work, has some similarities to Kawabata’s short novel, which Marquez even quotes in the epigraph:
“He was not to do anything in bad taste, the woman of the house warned old Eguchi. He was not to put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything else of that sort.”
Kawabata’s book is about an old man who watches sleeping young women and feels himself overwhelmed by desire for them. Marquez’s book is about an even older man who first desires a sleeping young woman, and then feels himself overwhelmed by platonic love. Thus, Marquez inverts Kawabata’s painful yearning into a sentimental fantasy.
And of course he replaces Kawabata’s old man with the typical Marquez protagonist. Marquez protagonists are men who invariably possess amazing virility, miraculous longevity, and larger-than-life charisma. They are never good-looking, but they can always get any woman they want. In this book, the protagonist explains that he had been with 514 different women by the age of fifty. It is also typical for Marquez to give the exact number. It’s not enough for his character to have had great success with the ladies, he has to have had exactly 514 of them. Marquez did this exact thing in Love In The Time Of Cholera, where Florentino Ariza filled some similarly huge number of notebooks with descriptions of his romantic conquests.
In 1982 Gabriel García Márquez wrote a story, Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane, in which Kawabata is specifically alluded to. Seated in the first-class cabin of an airplane crossing the Atlantic beside a young woman of extraordinary beauty who sleeps throughout the flight, García Márquez’s narrator is reminded of Kawabata’s novel. As a work of fiction the “Sleeping Beauty” story is undeveloped, no more than a sketch. Perhaps for this reason, García Márquez feels free to reuse its basic situation —the no longer young admirer side by side with the sleeping girl— in Memories of My Melancholy Whores.
House of the Sleeping Beauties is a study of the activities of eros in the mind of a sensualist of an intensive and self-aware kind, acutely—perhaps morbidly—sensitive to odors and fragrances and nuances of touch, absorbed by the physical uniqueness of the women he is intimate with, prone to brood on images from his sexual past, not afraid to confront the possibility that his attraction toward young women may screen desire for his own daughters, or that his obsession with women’s breasts may originate in infantile memories.
Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, 2011). The film is based in part on the novel House of the Sleeping Beauties. In writing the script, Leigh drew from several literary inspirations— Yasunari Kawabata’s novella; Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; a story in The Bible in which King David as an old man spends the evening alongside sleeping virgins; and the eponymous fairytales by Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm. She also noted the phenomenon of images of sleeping girls on the internet, presumably in somnophilia pornography. Mia Wasikowska was originally cast as Lucy but she dropped out when offered the title role in the adaption of Jane Eyre.
Bedroom in Arles (La Chambre à Arles) is the title given to each of three similar paintings by 19th-century Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh.
Van Gogh’s own title for this composition was simply The Bedroom (La Chambre à coucher). There are three authentic versions described in his letters, easily discernible from one another by the pictures on the wall to the right.
The painting depicts Van Gogh’s bedroom at 2, Place Lamartine in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, France, known as his Yellow House. The door to the right was opening to the upper floor and the staircase; the door to the left served the guest room he held prepared for Gauguin. The window in the front wall was looking to Place Lamartine and its public gardens. This room was not rectangular but trapezoid with an obtuse angle in the left hand corner of the front wall and an acute angle at the right. Van Gogh evidently did not spend much time on this problem, he simply indicated that there was a corner, somehow.
Van Gogh started the first version during mid October 1888 while staying in Arles, and explained his aims and means to his brother Theo:
This time it simply reproduces my bedroom; but colour must be abundant in this part, its simplification adding a rank of grandee to the style applied to the objects, getting to suggest a certain rest or dream. Well, I have thought that on watching the composition we stop thinking and imagining. I have painted the walls pale violet. The ground with checked material. The wooden bed and the chairs, yellow like fresh butter; the sheet and the pillows, lemon light green. The bedspread, scarlet coloured. The window, green. The washbasin, orangey; the tank, blue. The doors, lilac. And, that is all. There is not anything else in this room with closed shutters. The square pieces of furniture must express unswerving rest; also the portraits on the wall, the mirror, the bottle, and some costumes. The white colour has not been applied to the picture, so its frame will be white, aimed to get me even with the compulsory rest recommended for me. I have depicted no type of shade or shadow; I have only applied simple plain colours, like those in crêpes.
Van Gogh included sketches of the composition in this letter as well as in a letter to Gauguin, written slightly later. In the letter, Van Gogh explained that the painting had come out of a sickness that left him bedridden for days. This version has on the wall to the right miniatures of Van Gogh’s portraits of his friends Eugène Boch and Paul-Eugène Milliet. The portrait of Eugène Boch is called The Poet and the portrait of Paul Eugène Milliet is called The Lover.
In April 1889, Van Gogh sent the initial version to his brother regretting that it was damaged by the flood of the Rhône while he was interned at the Old Hospital in Arles. Theo proposed to have it relined and sent back to him in order to copy it. This “repetition” in original scale (Van Gogh’s term was “répetition”) was executed in September 1889. Both paintings were then sent back to Theo.
In his early years, Egon Schiele was strongly influenced by Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka. Although imitations of their styles, particularly with the former, are noticeably visible in Schiele’s first works, he soon evolved into his own distinctive style. He also painted tributes to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers as well as landscapes and still lifes.
“Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather
Whiplash girl child in the dark
Comes in bells, your servant, don’t forsake him
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart
Downy sins of streetlight fancies
Chase the costumes she shall wear
Ermine furs adorn the imperious
Severin, Severin awaits you there
I am tired, I am weary
I could sleep for a thousand years
A thousand dreams that would awake me
Different colors made of tears
Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather
Shiny leather in the dark
Tongue of thongs, the belt that does await you
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart
Severin, Severin, speak so slightly
Severin, down on your bended knee
Taste the whip, in love not given lightly
Taste the whip, now plead for me
I am tired, I am weary
I could sleep for a thousand years
A thousand dreams that would awake me
Different colors made of tears
Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather
Whiplash girl child in the dark
Severin, your servant comes in bells, please don’t forsake him
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart”
Venus in Furs
The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
Fanny Pistor (in furs, with whip) and Sacher-Masoch
On 9 December 1869, Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch and his mistress Baroness Fanny Pistor signed a contract making him her slave for a period of six months, with the stipulation that the Baroness wear furs as often as possible, especially when she was in a cruel mood. Sacher-Masoch took the alias of “Gregor”, a stereotypical male servant’s name, and assumed a disguise as the servant of the Baroness. The two traveled by train to Italy. As in Venus in Furs, he traveled in the third-class compartment, while she had a seat in first-class, arriving in Venice (Florence, in the novel), where they were not known, and would not arouse suspicion.
The novel Venus in Furs was to be part of an epic series that Sacher-Masoch envisioned called Legacy of Cain. Venus in Furs was also part of Love, the first volume of the series. It was published in 1870
The framing story concerns a man who dreams of speaking to Venus about love while she wears furs. The unnamed narrator tells his dreams to a friend, Severin, who tells him how to break him of his fascination with cruel women by reading a manuscript, Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man.
This manuscript tells of a man, Severin von Kusiemski, who is so infatuated with a woman, Wanda von Dunajew, that he asks to be her slave, and encourages her to treat him in progressively more degrading ways. At first Wanda does not understand or accede to the request, but after humouring Severin a bit she finds the advantages of the method to be interesting and enthusiastically embraces the idea, although at the same time she disdains Severin for allowing her to do so.
Severin describes his feelings during these experiences as suprasensuality. Severin and Wanda travel to Florence. Along the way, Severin takes the generic Russian servant’s name of “Gregor” and the role of Wanda’s servant. In Florence, Wanda treats him brutally as a servant, and recruits a trio of African women to dominate him.
The relationship arrives at a crisis when Wanda herself meets a man to whom she would like to submit, a Byronic hero known as Alexis Papadopolis. At the end of the book, Severin, humiliated by Wanda’s new lover, loses the desire to submit. He says of Wanda:
That woman, as nature has created her, and man at present is educating her, is man’s enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work.
The book inspired Venus in Fur, a 2010 play set in the modern day by David Ives, which had its Off-Broadway premiere at the Classic Stage Company in New York City starring Nina Arianda and Wes Bentley. In February 2012, a new Broadway production of this play premiered at the Lyceum Theatre starring Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy. In late 2012, Roman Polanski directed a film adaptation of the play starring Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric.
The name of Catherine Deneuve’s character, Séverine, is a femininization of the name of the male protagonist of Baron von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, Severin. As the literary origin of the term masochism, Sacher-Masoch, along with his 1870 novel, no doubt presented an irresistible reference point for Joseph Kessel, the author of the 1928 novel Belle de Jour, on which the film is based.
Gustav Klimt‘s ‘Golden Phase’ was marked by positive critical reaction and financial success. Many of his paintings from this period include gold leaf. Klimt had previously used gold in his Pallas Athene (1898) and Judith I (1901), although the works most popularly associated with this period are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907–08).
Klimt travelled little, but trips to Venice and Ravenna, both famous for their beautiful mosaics, most likely inspired his gold technique and his Byzantine imagery. In 1904, he collaborated with other artists on the lavish Palais Stoclet, the home of a wealthy Belgian industrialist that was one of the grandest monuments of the Art Nouveau age. Klimt’s contributions to the dining room, including both Fulfillment and Expectation, were some of his finest decorative works, and as he publicly stated, “probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament.”
The painting is a study for a series of three mosaics created by Klimt for a 1905-1911 commissioned work at the Palais Stoclet in Brussels, Belgium.The mosaics were created in the artist’s Late Works period, and depict swirling Trees of Life, a standing female figure and an embracing couple. The mosaics are spread across three walls of the Palais’ dining room, along with two figural sections set opposite each other.
The mosaics form a part of a larger commission by Belgian financier Adolphe Stoclet and his wife Suzanne. The Stoclets hired architect Josef Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstätte artistic collective to design, decorate and furnish a spacious mansion with formal gardens. The pair were avid art collectors with wide-ranging and eclectic tastes: their collection included work from a range of periods and cultures, from the Far East to the New World and included Egyptian sculpture, Chinese ceramics and jades, Byzantine icons and jewelry, miniatures from Persia and Armenia, as well as numerous Western mediaeval paintings. The diverse tastes of his patrons corresponded well with Klimt’s own. Art historian M.E. Warlick notes that he “must have been delighted to find that their eclectic collection so matched many of his own recent interests”.
The panels were commissioned and placed along three walls of the Palais’ dining room, with the two larger, figural sections set across from each other along the longer walls of the room. A smaller, geometric panel occupies the short wall separating them. The designs are decorated with a variety of luxury materials, including marble, ceramic, gilded tiles and enamel along with pearls and other semi-precious stones.
Hand-painted dress and platforms by special order, Dior Haute Couture
The first of two portraits Gustav Klimt painted of Bloch-Bauer, it has been referred to as the final and most fully representative work of his golden phase. Klimt took three years to complete the painting; preliminary drawings for it date from 1903/4. It is made of oil and gold on canvas, showing elaborate and complex ornamentation as seen in the Jugendstil style. Klimt was a member of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that broke away from the traditional way of painting. The picture was painted in Vienna and commissioned by Adele’s husband Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. As a wealthy industrialist who had made his fortune in the sugar industry, he sponsored the arts and favored and supported Gustav Klimt. Adele Bloch-Bauer became the only model who was painted twice by Klimt when he completed a second picture of her, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, in 1912.
Sweater and skirt, Calvin Klein
Amedeo Modigliani painted this–one of ten portraits he did of this sitter–one year before his death and three years after he’d met the lovely Lunia Czechowska (1895-after 1970). The Polish woman and her husband, Casimir, were old friends of Modigliani’s patron/dealer Leopold Zborowski. Despite the facts that Lunia was very much married in 1916 and “Modi” would shortly become involved with Jeanne Hébuterne, or that the two women became so friendly that one took care of the other’s out-of-wedlock daughter, only his death caused the artist to cease attempting to seduce Lunia.
Here he shows his firm friend posed gracefully, her seated body in its yellow dress forming lithe curves against the scarlet background. Later in life, Czechowska vividly recalled sitting for Modi as he drank cheap brandy, sang, lapsed into Italian and, eventually, fell so far into the act of painting that he became oblivious to the presence of another human being. And then, there she was on canvas, left with ” … the impression of having the soul laid bare and of being in the strange position of being able to do nothing to disguise her feelings.” In hindsight, it all sounds rather more seductive than a physical seduction.
Corset, Bottega Veneta
Norman Bryson opens the brilliant, anxious essay he wrote for the lavish book on John Currin with an admission: ‘When I first saw Currin’s The Cripple, what I sensed was not only the cruelty that lay within the construction of the image, but a nasty stickiness in that cruelty, a way it had of making you connive in its own malevolence.’ He goes on to explain that the ‘figure’s misshapen and twisted body evidently originates with the painter, whose attitude towards the deformation he inflicts seems to include enjoyment.’
Silk-organza petal dress with jewel brooch, by special order, Armani Privé
Ballerinas, Edgar Degas, 1884
In this pastel, Edgar Degas revisited a theme he had already tackled in his work in the 1870s – ballerinas resting. He also went back to his regular studies on the effects of contre-jour, lighting which “reduces to silhouette”, suppressing details, erasing the distinctive features of a face or a body, making them anonymous.
But while still employing the old formulae, Dancers was innovative in its size and composition, and without doubt, is the best example of what has been called Degas’ “classical period”. Around 1884, the painter, in fact, simplified his compositions, reduced the depth of his pictorial space, lowered the viewpoint to make it more natural and concentrated on one, single character or group of figures. At the same time, he abandoned the often caricatural approach of his previous works. In doing this, he was responding to a desire expressed by critics and the public: to protest “against the confused mass of colours and the jumble of indecipherable lines that are destroying contemporary painting”. From this point of view, Dancers is effectively a manifesto.
Man-Crazy Nurse #2 plays the role of the ultimate femme fatale in Richard Prince‘s celebrated series of nurse paintings. Her full-blooded lust barely concealed by her primly buttoned and starched white uniform, she clutches a standard-issue hospital clipboard as if checking off the names of the men she has devoured. Casting a side-long glance, this libidinous nurse seems to have her next patient/victim in sight. Prince’s lushly expressive brushwork, which floods the canvas in shades of fleshy pink and blood red, serves as both a come-on and a warning.
Prince painted Man-Crazy Nurse #2 in 2002, the year he started working on his nurse series, and it was included in his first exhibition of these works at Barbara Gladstone Gallery the following year. In this body of work, Prince appropriated the covers of pulp romance novels from his collection of vintage books and transferred them onto canvas using an ink-jet printer, which he then layered with vigorous skeins of color. He veils his nurses with surgical masks that both add an element of mysterious allure, and turn them into potentially menacing masked bandits. In some cases he retains the original title, while in others he substitutes another novel’s title, and heightens ambiguity by blocking out the elements that provide any narrative mooring for his protagonists. The original covers often included handsome doctors or patients, or scenes of lovers caught in rapt embraces, which Prince subsums into a hazy fog of luridly colored paint.
A voracious bibliophile — an obsession which he has documented in various artist’s books such as American English (2003) — Prince has for years amassed an extensive collection of secondhand books and memorabilia, ranging from titles on film noir and trash literature to letters, manuscripts, publicity pictures, and first editions of favorites such as Lolita.
Photographs by Peter Lindbergh, Harper’s Bazaar, May 2008
Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.
Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent. It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.
For Sargent, the scandal resulting from the painting’s controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to the failure of a strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France, though it may have helped him establish a successful career in Britain and America.
Renowned for her beauty, Gautreau represented the parisienne, a new type of Frenchwoman recognized for her sophistication. The English-language term “professional beauty”, referring to a woman who uses personal skills to advance to elite status, was also used to describe her. Her unconventional beauty made her an object of fascination for artists; the American painter Edward Simmons claimed that he “could not stop stalking her as one does a deer.” Sargent was also impressed, and anticipated that a portrait of Gautreau would garner much attention at the upcoming Paris Salon, and increase interest in portrait commissions. He wrote to a friend:
“I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent.”
Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists, Gautreau accepted Sargent’s offer in February 1883.Sargent was an expatriate like Gautreau, and their collaboration has been interpreted as motivated by a shared desire to attain high status in French society.
A figure study of Madame Gautreau in watercolor and graphite, John Singer Sargent, circa 1883
Little progress was made during the winter of 1883, as Gautreau was distracted by social engagements, and was not by nature inclined to the discipline of sitting for a portrait. At her suggestion, Sargent traveled to her estate in Brittany in June, where he commenced a series of preparatory works in pencil, watercolors, and oils. About thirty drawings resulted from these sessions, in which many poses were attempted.
Gautreau was bored by the process of sitting; here, too, there were social engagements, as well as the responsibilities of tending to her four-year-old daughter, her mother, house guests, and a full domestic staff. Sargent complained of “the unpaintable beauty and hopeless laziness of Madame Gautreau.”
Julianne Moore photographed by Peter Lindbergh, 2008
For Spring 2008 Christian Dior Haute couture collection, John Galliano’s primrose path of inspiration had, he said, wended its way from John Singer Sargent’s Madame X through to the gilded swirls and bejeweled geometrics of Gustav Klimt.
Sitzende Frau mit hochgezogenem linken Bein (Seated Woman With Bent Knee), Egon Schiele, 1917
In 1917, Egon Schiele painted his wife Edith Harms, and titled his creation Sitting Woman with Legs Drawn Up. The portrait displays Edith sitting on the floor, resting her cheek on her left knee. The fiery red tones of her carefree hair produce a striking contrast with the vibrant greens of her loosely fitted shirt. Her look is bold and intense as she appears to be staring directly at the viewer. Her casual pose and attire create an intimate moment with onlookers.
The suggestive nature of this portrait was not an uncommon trait in Egon Schiele’s work, as he admired the controversial artistic manner of his mentor, Gustav Klimt. However, making eroticism the major theme in most of his artwork got Schiele in trouble with the law. He was imprisoned in 1912 for obscenity in his paintings, an incident that did not deter him from his erotic artwork, (although it may have motivated him to put clothes on Edith in Sitting Woman with Legs Drawn Up). Schiele created approximately 300 paintings and more than 3000 works on paper during his career. His life was cut short when he died of the Spanish Influenza at just 28 years old; his pregnant wife died of the same illness a mere three days later.
In a review of a 1997 Schiele Exhibition, the Museum of Modern Art in New York wrote: “Egon Schiele invested his art with an emotional intensity that, coupled with his radical formal innovations, characterized the Austrian contribution to Expressionism.” The review further added: “His preoccupation with sexuality and existential explorations of the human condition convey him both as a product of his time and an artist who achieved aesthetic maturation when he was barely post-adolescent. The very aspects of Schiele’s art that precluded its popularity during much of his lifetime–ugly distortion in place of accepted notions of beauty, unveiled eroticism, and personal angst–are those for which it is considered most compelling today.”
Leda and the Swan is a story and subject in art from Greek mythology in which the god Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes, Leda. According to later Greek mythology, Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus, while at the same time bearing Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. In the W.B. Yeats version, it is subtly suggested that Clytemnestra, although being the daughter of Tyndareus, has somehow been traumatized by what the swan has done to her mother. According to many versions of the story, Zeus took the form of a swan and raped or seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. In some versions, she laid two eggs from which the children hatched.In other versions, Helen is a daughter of Nemesis, the goddess who personified the disaster that awaited those suffering from the pride of Hubris.
(atributed to) Leonardo da Vinci
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