From the Remaining Chord

Hope, George Frederic Watts, 1886

 

Hope is a Symbolist oil painting by George Frederic Watts, two versions of which were completed in 1886. The painting was intended to form part of a series of allegorical paintings by Watts entitled the House of Life. The painting shows a female allegorical figure of Hope. Hope is traditionally identifiable through the attribute of an anchor, but Watts took a more original approach. In his painting, she is depicted sitting on a globe, blindfolded, clutching a wooden lyre with only one string left intact. She sits in a hunched position, with her head leaning towards the instrument, perhaps so she can hear the faint music she can make with the sole remaining string. According to Watts, “Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord”. The desolate atmosphere is emphasised by Watts’s soft brushwork, creating a misty, ethereal scene, in tones of green, brown and grey. Watts’s melancholy depiction of hope was criticised, and G. K. Chesterton suggested that a better title would be Despair.

 

A Sea Spell (1877)

 

Dreamers (1882)

 

The Wheel of Fortune (1871)

 

Watts may have been inspired by the pose of the siren in Dante Gabriel Rossetti‘s  painting A Sea Spell, or the sleeping women in Albert Joseph Moore‘s painting Dreamers. Watts may have taken inspiration for the blindfold from the allegorical figure of Fortune in Edward Burne-Jones‘s  painting The Wheel of Fortune, which Watts owned. The painting was displayed at the 1897 Manchester Jubilee Exhibition, alongside other works by Watts including Love and Death, The Court of Death, Psyche, and Mount Ararat.

Hope inspired a scene from a 1922 film of the same name by Herbert Blaché and Lejaren à Hiller, featuring Mary Astor as Hope. It has been suggested as an influence on Pablo Picasso‘s early Blue Period paintings, especially the hunched musician in The Old Guitarist. Martin Luther King Jr referenced Hope in his sermon Shattered Dreams in his collection of sermons, Strength to Love. Nelson Mandela reportedly had a print of the painting on the wall of his prison cell on Robben Island. After Egypt was defeated by Israel during the Six-Day War the Egyptian government issued copies of it to its troops.

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Kafka and Capote Side-by-Side

“The prefect evening…lying down on the couch beside the bookcase and reading himself sleepy…Jim lying opposite him at the other end of the couch, also reading; the two of them absorbed in their books yet so completely aware of each other’s presence.”

Christopher Isherwood
A Single Man

 
 

Colin Firth and Matthew Goode in A Single Man (Tom Ford, 2009)

 
 

What would it be like, the main character in Christopher Isherwood’s novel A Single Man wonders, if the dead could come back and visit the living? “At best, surely, it would be like the brief visit of an observer from another country who is permitted to peep in for a moment from the vast outdoors of his freedom and see, at a distance, through glass, this figure who sits solitary at the small table in the narrow room, eating his poached eggs humbly and dully, a prisoner for life.”

In Tom Ford‘s lovely, tragic movie version of Isherwood’s book, Colin Firth plays that “prisoner for life” — a middle-age professor who lives in a glass house near the California coast, and is yet invisible. It is 1962 and he is gay; his lover Jim (played, in flashbacks, by Matthew Goode) has died, but he may not mourn. We see glimpses of the couple in happier times — laughing on the beach, lounging companionably side-by-side on a sofa (George reading Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Jim reading Truman Capote‘s Breakfast at Tiffany’s) — in comparison with George’s stark, lonely existence now. He goes quietly through the motions of his life; it’s as if he’s fading away.

 

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Illustrated Masterpiece of Pastiche

 
 

Kafka’s Soup is a literary pastiche in the form of a cookbook. It contains 14 recipes each written in the style of a famous author from history. As of 2007 it had been translated into 18 languages and published in 27 countries. Excerpts from the book have appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and the New York Times. Theatrical performances of the recipes have taken place in France and Canada. Kafka’s Soup is Mark Crick‘s first book. He has subsequently written two other books with similar themes; Sartre’s Sink and Machiavelli’s Lawn which are literary pastiches in the form of a DIY handbook and a gardening book respectively. Anybody who prefers their recipes to be a simple list of foolproof instructions should stay away.

Recipes include: tiramisu as made by Marcel Proust, cheese on toast by Harold Pinter, clafoutis grandmere by Virginia Woolf, chocolate cake prepared by Irvine Welsh, lamb with dill sauce by Raymond Chandler, onion tart by Geoffrey Chaucer, fenkata (rabbit stew) by Homer, boned stuffed poussins by the Marquis de Sade, mushroom risotto by John Steinbeck, tarragon eggs by Jane Austen, Vietnamese chicken by Graham Greene and Franz Kafka‘s Miso soup. Also included are recipes in the style of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez.

Among the recipes that did not make the original edition of the book was “plum pudding à la Charles Dickens” which was written but rejected by Mark Crick for being “too long-winded”. It was, however, included in a subsequent paperback edition of the book along with two recipes, Rösti à la Thomas Mann and moules marinieres à la Italo Calvino, originally created for the German and Italian translations respectively.

Kafka’s Soup has become a cult hit. Andy Miller of The Telegraph called the recipes “note-perfect parodies of literary greats”. Emily Stokes of The Observer called it an “illustrated masterpiece of pastiche” citing the lamb with dill sauce as “particularly good”. C J Schüler wrote that Virginia Woolf’s clafoutis grandmere is the “pièce de resistance” and called the collection “irresistibly moreish”. He later called the book “a little gem of literary impersonation”. Schüler believes that “part of the book’s appeal lies in the fact that the recipes…actually work.”

 
 

 
 

Kafka’s Soup is illustrated with paintings by the author in the style of a number of famous artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, William Hogarth, Giorgio De Chirico, Henry Moore, Egon Schiele and Andy Warhol.

The idea for Kafka’s Soup arose during a conversation between Crick and a publisher. Crick noted his dislike for cookbooks saying that he enjoyed looking at the pictures but found the accompanying text dull. When asked what would it take for him to read beyond the ingredients list he replied “if [the text] was written by the world’s greatest authors.” The publisher liked the idea and, in Crick’s words, “she said that if I wrote it she’d publish it.”

Most of the recipes in the book are Crick’s own, although some, such as the chocolate cake, came from his friends. Crick notes the implausibility of some of his authors cooking their stated dishes (for example he states that John Steinbeck “would never have eaten [mushroom risotto]” and “I certainly accept any challenge that Kafka would not have eaten miso soup”). He says that he selected the recipes based on the ability of each dish to allow him to use the language he wished to use. Chocolate cake was selected for Irvine Welsh because “people become terribly selfish when there’s chocolate cake around, just as they do with drugs. It’s the closest many get to taking heroin.”

Crick says that he found Virginia Woolf the most difficult of the authors to write while Raymond Chandler was the easiest.

Raggedy Andy and the Cockroach

“Andy Warhol was reasonably well-known by the time he came to see me, although he was still being called Raggedy Andy, not because his work was sloppy, but because of his appearance. He’d had success with book-jacket designs for such publishers as New Directions and with his drawings and paintings for I. Miller shoe ads – and I knew I. Miller – but stories about his mishaps were making the rounds. When he’d zipped open his portfolio to show his work to the art director at Harper’s Bazaar, a cockroach had crawled out. Poor boy, that Raggedy Andy. But Harper’s had given him assignments. He won awards for his work, for his ‘commercial’ art, and he never pretended a difference between what he did to survive and what he called his art. To his credit, I think it was all the same to him. He was a very busy young man. I used Warhol’s art in several of my perfume windows at Bonwit’s. In July 1955, just before my work began at Tiffany’s, I made some wooden fences, and he covered them with graffiti for a series of windows. They were fun, full of a childish playfulness.”

Gene Moore

 
 

Photo by Leila Davies Singelis, 1950

 
 

In the summer of 1955 Andy Warhol‘s career as a commercial artist took a new turn when Gene Moore hired him to provide artwork for the windows of the Bonwit Teller department store. Moore had arrived in New York in 1935, hoping to become a fine artist, and had ended up a window dresser. One of the jobs Moore took to support himself in New York was making paper mache flowers for the Bob Smith Display Company. When one of Smith’s customers, Jim Buckley, was made the display director of I. Miller Shoes in approximately 1937, he hired Moore to be his assistant. By the following year, Moore was also doing window dressing for Bergdorf Goodman’s and Delman’s department stores. In 1945 he was appointed the display director for Bonwit Teller. Moore often modeled his mannequins on Hollywood stars like Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn, and was responsible for introducing the belly button on mannequins.

The cockroach story became part of Warhol’s legend. It was repeated in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). However, according to the painter Philip Pearlstein, the incident had actually happened to him, not to Warhol.

Warhol wasn’t the only artist working for Moore. He was also using Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, who were window dressing under the combined pseudonym, Matson Jones. According to Moore, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns all worked with him during the same period. Rauschenberg and Johns continued to do windows for him when, in July 1956, Moore also started doing windows for Tiffany’s in addition to his continued involvement with Bonwit Teller.

A Behind-the-Seams Look at the World of High Fashion

 
 

Isaac Mizrahi can make things out of tulle or nubuck, but his most fabulous creation is the one he has made of flesh and blood. It is Mr. Mizrahi’s hilarious, happily Napoleonic personality that makes such a treat of Unzipped, Douglas Keeve‘s crafty valentine to the fashion world in general and this irrepressible designer in particular.

And intimacy with his subject — as both a fashion photographer and Mr. Mizrahi’s former lover — only heightens Mr. Keeve’s acuity rather than compromising his perspective. Of course in terms of objectivity, it helps that Unzipped has nothing to do with state secrets and everything to do with fake fur.

A smart, spiky documentary with just the right running time (76 minutes), Unzipped appreciates not only the loony excess that makes fashion such a high-stakes adventure, but also the monomania of Mr. Mizrahi’s creative process. Who else watches The Call of the Wild (William A. Wellman, 1935) and obsesses about the lip-liner on Loretta Young? As Mr. Mizrahi explains to the camera, if you’re going to freeze on the tundra, you might as well do it with your makeup un smudged.

A little while later, he is skillfully trying out the same anecdote on Polly Allen Mellen, a fashion arbiter who is enough to out-doyenne any and all of the characters in Robert Altman‘s Ready-to-Wear. (Comparisons between the two films are invidious but unavoidable. For electricity and fun, not to mention fashion sense, this one comes out miles ahead.) Ms. Mellen listens to Mr. Mizrahi in ways that make it clear his charm is working, and that charm counts for everything in this universe. For her part, Ms. Mellen advises him to “Be careful of makeup; be careful!” She sounds solemn enough to be warning Caesar about the ides of March.

Unzipped is filled with such telling moments and lively walk-ons, not only by power-brokers and Mr. Mizrahi’s business associates, but also by the celebrities who give the designer’s world its spark. It’s no small measure of Mr. Mizrahi’s talents as a born entertainer that he can chitchat easily with gorgeous, scene-stealing supermodels (Cindy Crawford talks about her pores, Naomi Campbell about her navel ring, Kate Moss about appearing in her underwear, etc.) and leave no doubt about who is the star of this show.

Unzipped is neatly structured to follow Mr. Mizrahi through the creation of a single collection, which begins in disaster. When first seen, he is crushed by reviews of his last designs (“Certainly his sense of how a modern woman dresses after 8 P.M. failed him”) and is about to start again at square one. The film understands that this process can look silly while being deadly serious. And it enjoys watching while a man who loves his work and lives vividly in his imagination — a fun place to be — tries out ideas. He’s not even really kidding when he daydreams about a fake-fur jumpsuit, perfect for dog-walking, that could work in one of two environments: Alaska or the Upper East Side.

Mr. Mizrahi is seen auditioning models, talking fabrics, working on sketches and gossiping madly about everyone he meets. (He does a dandy impersonation of Eartha Kitt, whose real presence is smoothly intercut with the Mizrahi version.) Throughout all of this, it’s also clear that he is driven rather than frivolous, controlling his employees and the camera crew with equal precision. When one scene finds him ambushed by upsetting news — Jean-Paul Gaultier has done a Nanook look before the completion of the Mizrahi version — he simply puts his face in his hands and refuses to move. That’s not as good as yelling “Cut!,” but it’s the next best thing.

The candor of Unzipped may be as contrived as the pouf skirts, but that doesn’t lessen its appeal. After all, in what other culture can you overhear people saying “punk and Hasidic” and have the slightest idea what they mean? (They mean a fashion gaffe by Jean-Paul Gaultier.) Even the film’s carefully controlled scenes can be revealing, as in its glimpses of Sarah Mizrahi, who beams at her boy and says “My Isaac made this” with motherly pride. She is all maternal encouragement until, when teased by Isaac, she insists: “That’s not funny at all. I have a very good eye.”

(Only Mary Tyler Moore in her Mary Richards days seems to rival Isaac’s mother as a feminine influence on him. Whatever that means, this film knows enough to leave it unexplained.)

Edited to capture the mounting drama of staging a collection, and filmed by Ellen Kuras in a fluent variety of camera styles (grainy black and white to accentuate the workaday fashion world, exuberant color for the finished clothes), Unzipped builds its tension until it reaches the big day. It looks on as Mr. Mizrahi changes from life of the party into drill sergeant, frantically finishing the clothes and insisting on a see-through ballet scrim to partly shield the models who are backstage. That idea itself becomes a theatrical triumph.

Then the crowd gathers and the show begins. It is alluringly “insane with color” (as Women’s Wear Daily will later gush), and yes, it is exciting enough to make sense of this whole enterprise. You may recall that Ready-to-Wear tried to lend thrills and meaning to this crowning moment by sending models down the runway stark naked. But Unzipped doesn’t have to be that unzipped. It knows why clothes work better.

A Life of Its Own

“I have no regrets. I feel beautiful when I’m pregnant. I look at stretch marks as something I’ve earned, not as something that wrecks my appearance,” Demi told the Los Angeles Times soon after the issue came out. “I was trying to tell people I feel it’s possible to do all those things — to have a career, be a mother, still be beautiful and sexy. … I mean even on a sexual level, I’ve never felt more beautiful or sexy or more appreciated by my husband [Bruce Willis] than when I’ve been pregnant.”

Demi Moore

 
 

Demi Moore, Culver City, California, 1991. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz. The photo went on to become one of the most iconic photographs of the past two decades.

 
 

Vanity Fair, August 1991 issue

 
 

“It’s hard to imagine now, but the portrait of Demi Moore nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair was truly scandalous in 1991. Scandalous in the sense of shocking and morally offensive to some people. The first day the issue was available, it sold out on newsstands at Grand Central Station during the morning rush hour. Newsstands in other parts of the country displayed it in a white paper wrapper, as if it were a porn magazine. Several supermarket chains refused to sell it even with the wrapper. Television crews were parked outside the Vanity Fair office for days. Editorialists and pundits weighed in. A few years later, the picture was held responsible for the rise of body-hugging maternity fashions.

 
 

 
 

None of this was my intention, although it’s gratifying to think that the picture helped make pregnant women feel less awkward or embarrassed about their bodies. It began as a shoot with a specific problem. Demi had a new movie coming out, and Tina Brown, who was the editor of the magazine then, wanted to put her on the cover, but Demi was seven months pregnant with her second child. Tina and I talked about how to handle this, and we decided to go for a glamorous, sexy look. Lori Goldstein, the stylist, brought diamond earrings and a 30-carat-diamond ring to the studio in Los Angeles where we were shooting. We had long gowns, including a green satin robe by Isaac Mizrahi.

Demi and I had worked together several times before, and I’d taken her wedding pictures when she married Bruce Willis, in 1987. I had said to her then that I was interested in photographing a pregnant woman, which at that point I never had. Demi called me when she was going to have their first child. Bruce was working on location in Kentucky and she had gone there to have the baby. I stopped off in Kentucky on the way back to New York from Los Angeles and took a few rolls of black-and-white film. Just for them. Demi and Bruce were not shy about documenting the pregnancy. Several friends and a man with three video cameras were in the room when their daughter was born a few weeks later.

At the cover sitting in 1991, I shot a few close-ups and some full-length portraits. Demi was by no means camouflaged for any of them. In the standing portrait published inside the magazine the green satin robe is pulled off her shoulders and it falls open to expose her belly and leg. In another picture she’s wearing a black lace bra and panties. But the fully nude picture was not taken until toward the end of the shoot and was intended just for Demi. I was taking some companion photographs to the ones I had made during Demi’s first pregnancy. As I was shooting, I said, “You know, this would be a great cover.” It wasn’t until I got back to New York and looked at the proofs that I realized that there really was a great cover photograph there. Tina agreed, although she thought that Demi would be furious if we ran it. She was surprised when Demi said yes right away. We all knew what we were doing up to a point, but none of us completely understood the ramifications.

A few months after the Demi Moore picture was published, an exhibition of my work from 1970 to 1990 opened at the International Center of Photography, in New York. The director of the center, Cornell Capa, wanted to blow the picture up and hang it in the stairwell. I wouldn’t let him. It was a popular picture and it broke ground, but I don’t think it’s a good photograph per se. It’s a magazine cover. If it were a great portrait, she wouldn’t be covering her breasts. She wouldn’t necessarily be looking at the camera. There are different criteria for magazine covers. They’re simple. The addition of type doesn’t destroy them. Sometimes they even need type. My best photographs are inside the magazine.”

 

Excerpted from Annie Leibovitz at Work, by Annie Leibovitz, Random House, 2008

 
 

 
 

Speaking in an interview with Vanity Fair – the magazine that placed the image its front cover – Leibovitz says the photograph was not one of her best.

‘It was a popular picture and it broke ground, but I don’t think it’s a good photograph per se,’ Leibovitz said in an interview with Vanity Fair. ‘It’s a magazine cover. If it were a great portrait, she wouldn’t be covering her breasts. She wouldn’t necessarily be looking at the camera.’

Ms Leibovitz has talked in the past of the genesis of the photograph, which came about quite by accident. The photographer tells how she got together with the star to shoot the Vanity Fair cover, but given that Demi was seven months pregnant, Vanity Fair was nervous about the result. The consensus was that Leibovitz would somehow disguise the pregancy, or just shoot a head portrait. But on the day, after a series of shots in various outfits, Leibovitz suggested the nudes.

‘She dropped her clothing and I started to shoot. I said, “well this looks really, I mean… maybe we should make this the cover. Why not?” And she said yes, maybe.’ ‘So we tried to hide everything the best we could. Tina Brown in New York made a decision to go ahead with it. And this is one of those things, it had a life of its own.’

 
 

Leibovitz’s naked self-portrait taken when pregnant at age 51

Transported by a Dream

“Hearing Ryan Adams’ album Heartbreaker was a seminal point for this part of my career. I just fell in love with him and that record. And I had the great fortune of doing Songs From the West Coast with producer Pat Leonard. He got my idea and simplified the record, and made me work with other musicians. I have to say that one of the biggest regrets of my life is that I’ve not fallen out, but I’ve drifted away from Pat. I feel very ungrateful to Pat that I didn’t make another record with him. We were so close on that record, he shifted me so much in the direction that I wanted to go. Original Sin is one of the best songs I’ve ever written.”

Elton John

 
 

 
 

The music video for the song Original Sin (David LaChapelle, 2001) featured Elizabeth Taylor and Mandy Moore. It also featured John playing the father of Moore’s character and the husband of Taylor’s character. Moore was the centre of the video, who plays a huge Elton John fan from the 1970s who is transported by a dream (à la The Wizard of Oz) to one of his concerts, where she socializes with various celebrities of the period (Bette Midler, Sonny Bono and Cher, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, etc.) played by look-alikes. Then at the end she wakes up and Elton’s character asks, “Who is this Elton John, anyway?” It also has more of an upbeat dance mix to the music.

 
 

 
 

It is the third and last single extracted from the album Songs from the West Coast (reported back to the origins of the musical career of Elton and the period of the seventies). This is a slow song with the melody sweet and melancholy and based on Elton’s piano playing, as well as Rusty Anderson on guitars and keyboards producer Patrick Leonard.

 
 

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A Shift Toward Exotic Romanticism

La Grande Odalisque, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1814

 
 

This painting depicts  an odalisque, or concubine. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres‘ contemporaries considered the work to signify his break from Neoclassicism, indicating a shift toward exotic Romanticism.

 
 

PRECEDENT:

 
 

Dresden Venus or Sleeping Venus, Giorgione, 1508-10

 
 

Venere di Urbino (Venus of Urbino), Titian, 1538

 
 

Portrait of Madame Récamier,  Jacques-Louis David, c. 1800

 
 

The painting was commissioned by Napoleon’s sister, Queen Caroline Murat of Naples, and finished in 1814. Ingres drew upon works such as Dresden Venus by Giorgione, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino as inspiration for his reclining nude figure, though the actual pose of a reclining figure looking back over her shoulder is directly drawn from the 1809 Portrait of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David.

Ingres portrays a concubine in languid pose as seen from behind with distorted proportions. The small head, elongated limbs, and cool color scheme all reveal influences from Mannerists such as Parmigianino, whose Madonna with the Long Neck was also famous for anatomical distortion.

This eclectic mix of styles, combining classical form with Romantic themes, prompted harsh criticism when it was first shown in 1814. Critics viewed Ingres as a rebel against the contemporary style of form and content. When the painting was first shown in the Salon of 1819, one critic remarked that the work had “neither bones nor muscle, neither blood, nor life, nor relief, indeed nothing that constitutes imitation”. This echoed the general view that Ingres had disregarded anatomical realism. Ingres instead favored long lines to convey curvature and sensuality, as well as abundant, even light to tone down the volume. Ingres continued to be criticized for his work until the mid-1820s.

 
 

SUCCESSOR:

 
 

Julianne Moore, after Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque. By Michael Thompson, 2000; Vanity Fair, April 2000

Bringing Vermeer’s Paintings to Life

“There are two types of celebrities: one who looks at photography as an art form and another who sees it as a way to promote their next film. Julianne understands the art part of it. I asked her to put on a bonnet, and she said, ‘Of course.’ “

Michael Thompson

About the photo shoot for Interview Magazine, circa 2001

 
 

 
 

Sint Praxedis (Saint Praxedis), attributed to Johannes Vermeer, 1655

 
 

It is generally believed to be a copy of a work by Felice Ficherelli, and depicts the early Roman martyr, Saint Praxedis or Praxedes. If the piece is indeed by Johannes Vermeer, it may be his earliest surviving work.

The painting shows the saint squeezing a martyr’s blood from a sponge into an ornate vessel. It is closely related to a work by Ficherelli from 1640–45, now in the Collection Fergmani in Ferrara, and is generally assumed to be a copy of it (though see below for an alternative interpretation). The most obvious difference between the two is that there is no crucifix in the Ferrara work.

 
 

 
 

Het Melkmeisje (The Milkmaid), Johannes Vermeer, c. 1657–1658

 
 

Sometimes called The Kitchen Maid, is an oil-on-canvas painting of a “milkmaid”, in fact a domestic kitchen maid. The exact year of the painting’s completion is unknown, with estimates varying by source.

Despite its traditional title, the picture clearly shows a kitchen or housemaid, a low-ranking indoor servant, rather than a milkmaid who actually milks the cow, in a plain room carefully pouring milk into a squat earthenware container (now commonly known as a “Dutch oven”) on a table. Also on the table are various types of bread. She is a young, sturdily built woman wearing a crisp linen cap, a blue apron and work sleeves pushed up from thick forearms. A foot warmer is on the floor behind her, near Delft wall tiles depicting Cupid (to the viewer’s left) and a figure with a pole (to the right). Intense light streams from the window on the left side of the canvas.

 
 

 
 

Het Meisje met de Parel (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Johannes Vermeer, 1655

 
 

The painting is signed “IVMeer” but not dated. It is unclear whether this work was commissioned, and, if so, by whom. In any case, it is probably not meant as a conventional portrait.

The image is a tronie, the Dutch 17th-century description of a ‘head’ that was not meant to be a portrait. After the most recent restoration of the painting in 1994, the subtle color scheme and the intimacy of the girl’s gaze toward the viewer have been greatly enhanced. During the restoration, it was discovered that the dark background, today somewhat mottled, was initially intended by the painter to be a deep enamel-like green. This effect was produced by applying a thick transparent layer of paint, called a glaze, over the present-day black background. However, the two organic pigments of the green glaze, indigo and weld, have faded.

 
 

 
 

Staande virginaalspeelster (Young woman standing at a virginal),Johannes Vermeer, circa 1670-1673

 
 

Lady Standing at a Virginal is a genre painting created by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in about 1670-1672 and now in the National Gallery, London.

The oil painting depicts a richly dressed woman playing a virginal in a home with a tiled floor, paintings on the wall and some of the locally manufactured Delftware blue and white tiles of a type that appear in other Vermeer works.

The identities of the paintings on the wall are not certain, according to the National Gallery, but the landscape on the left may be by either Jan Wijnants or Allart van Everdingen. The second painting, showing Cupid holding a card, is attributed to Caesar van Everdingen, Allart’s brother. This motif originated in a contemporary emblem and may either represent the idea of faithfulness to a single lover or perhaps, reflecting the presence of the virginal, the traditional association of music and love.

Portraits of a Red Haired Lady

Hand-painted dress and platforms by special order, Dior Haute Couture

 
 

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Gustav Klimt, 1907

 
 

 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

 
 

Woman with a Fan (Madame Lunia Czechowska), Amedeo Modigliani, 1919

 
 

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

 
 

The Cripple, John Currin, 1997

 
 

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.

 
 

Sheer dress, slip-dress, hat, mask and belt, Louis Vuitton

 
 

Man-Crazy Nurse, № 2, Richard Prince, 2003

 
 

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

The Unpaintable Beauty

John Singer Sargent in his studio with his painting Portrait of Madame X, photographer unknown, 1884

 
 

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X, John Singer Sargent, 1884

 
 

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.”

 
 

Nicole in Oscar de la Renta photographed by Steven Meisel, 1999

 
 

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.

An Intimate Moment with Onlookers

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.”

 
 

Julianne Moore photographed by Peter Lindbergh, 2008. Dress, Lanvin by Alber Elbaz