Category Archives: Art

Through the Fish Bowl: A Girl at a Window

The fish bowl within a fish bowl feel; the drapery flowing out the girl’s window, mirroring the sinuous cloth depicted in the stonework below the ledge; the bird in a cage canopied with greenery–what mysteries are embodied in this grisaille by Louis-Leopold Boilly?

20130226-202513.jpg

The ribald scene forbidden to the viewer is exposed to the young girl and a companionable boy. They spy through their binoculars activities curiouser to the boy than the girl, but does their observation signify a loss of innocence? A commonplace distraction to relieve their boredom?

I find a striking sense of innocence and depravity in the work. The engraving beneath the ledge (where the girl rests in pale splendor) is an indication of passions but not ecstasies: A young maiden, swooning and looking scarcely conscious in the arms of a brutish man, their party of many joined by an opportunist (yet another?) The girl looks cleverly acquainted with the situation.

What do you see, readers? Have any thoughts on what root vegetable hangs above the fish bowl? Or what’s in the stoppered bottle? Tell me all about it!

Dueling Fashionistas: Lady Jane Harrington v. Jane Halliday

The latest edition of Dueling Fashionistas is fresh from the press, and ready for a vote.  First though, let’s see where the ladies who bear confusingly similar names stand in Reynolds’s portraiture:

The two Janes before you are painted in a pastoral style by the great Sir Joshua Reynolds.  In both portraits one hand is outstretched, as if directing the viewer toward the majesty she alone has seen.  Their flowing gowns are reminiscent of their muses.  Whereas Halliday’s whips on a violent breeze, Harrington’s seems composed, an extension of her easefulness.  The scenery around Harrington is also less elemental than her opponent’s disturbed backdrop of air and shadowed land.

In terms of movement, I find Halliday’s portrait irresistible.  A pale wrapper streams across her arm; her coiffure is romantically askew.  The wind is an influence she cannot control, and in rippling with it she becomes sylph-like.

Harrington’s portrait possesses more restraint.  Her hair is partially undone where it grazes over her shoulder and her gown puddles where she stands, but her general appearance recollects sublimity.  Overall, her tableau is gentler and dignified, the urn and Grecian style robes a nod to classicism over naturalism.

Lady Jane Halliday, 1779 | SIr Joshua Reynolds
Lady Jane Halliday, 1779 | Sir Joshua Reynolds
Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington. 1778-79 | Sir Joshua Reynolds
Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington. 1778-79 | Sir Joshua Reynolds

Which style do you prefer, and, moreover, does the triumph go to Lady Harrington or Jane Halliday? Which Jane is fairer and why? And do you think Reynolds did the ladies justice?

I’d love to hear your opinion! (Especially regarding Lady Halliday’s shoes — they’re sandals, right?)

A Beautiful Anatomy: Gautier d’Agoty’s Mezzotints

Jacques Fabian Gautier d’Agoty was an 18th century French anatomist and engraver, a Marseille native, and a painter of Court ladies including Marie Antoinette.  For his anatomical and naturalist art he worked with colored mezzotints, using red, yellow and blue impressions on copper plates, a method he’d learned during his brief six-week employment under Jacob Christoph Le Blon.

After leaving his post over a low wage dispute, he shed the role of assistant and, immediately upon Le Blon’s death in 1741, assumed that of principal inventor, but his assertions were part fiction.  He’d added black or brown to make a four-plate mezzotint, “perfecting” Le Blon’s method, but this was not considered revolutionary by his peers.   He was nevertheless awarded a patent by Louis XV to continue making his art–a patent that remained in his family throughout the 18th century.

‘Anatomical Angel’ is his most well-known anatomical print.  The female depicted is eroticized, young and refined despite her presumed death.  She’s morbidly beautiful, the skin on her back splayed into red angel wings, her coiffure curled and pinned, her hips and upper buttocks exposed.

Jacques-Fabien Gautier-d'agoty (Back of Female) 1746
Jacques-Fabien Gautier-d’agoty (Back of Female) 1746

Aside from the fact his models are stripped to their flesh, his mezzotints are similar to 18th century portraiture in posture and graceful expression.  It’s disarming, to say the least.

Pregnant Woman | 1773
Pregnant Woman | 1773

 

And lastly, the Queen whose tragic anatomy was exposed by the guillotine:

Marie Antoinette | 1775
Marie Antoinette | 1775

‘La Rose Mal Défendue’: Debucourt’s Reply to Garnier

I owe this post in its entirety to the kindly gentleman @Dezilvereneeuw who sent Philibert-Louis Debucourt’s reproduction work of  ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ my way.  This version, ‘La Rose Mal Défendue’, dates from 1791, the year Michel Garnier painted ‘The Letter’, his follow-up work to ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’.

Philibert-Louis Debucourt | La Rose Mal Defendue | 1791
Reproduction work of Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’

The fantastic thing about Debucourt’s ‘Rose’ is the spin he’s put on the vignette.  What’s different?  First off, the lovers have been transported to the bedroom.  The seduction appears to have been a fevered pursuit–our (anti) gentleman is practically yanking off the lady’s shawl.  But–and this is so lovely–the lady is in possession of the rose.  Is she going to give it away freely?  Or will the gentleman overcome her?  I do wonder; she has a coy expression.  Methinks this lady doth not protest enough!

Debucourt’s foreground also mirrors Garnier’s.  Almost every prop is in disarray, from the tipped chair and hat to the rumpled bedding and ribbon/sash spilling from a drawer.  Interestingly, the book in Debucourt’s version is closed.  @Dezilvereneeuw has pointed out that Garnier’s book is believed to be a songbook, which makes sense given the caged bird (does it sing?) and the lovers who will soon sing a song together.   All and all I think I prefer the theme of Debucourt’s over Garnier’s.  The 18th century was rife with depictions of women being taken advantage of, and it’s refreshing to see a lady with a bit more agency than a Pamela or a Clarissa.

What do my readers think?  I’d love to hear it.

If you missed the post on Michel Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ and ‘The Letter’, find it here.

For more information:

Before & After Lovers: Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ & ‘The Letter’

Michel Garnier (1753-1819)

Garnier was court painter to the Duc de Chartes, later Phillipe Egalité, and was afterwards a pupil of premier peinture du roi, Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre.  His scenes are taken from aristocratic Parisian life and show up-to-date period fashion. Many of his vignettes, like the scenes below, focus on erotic and romantic sensibilities.

The Poorly Defended Rose | 1789
The Poorly Defended Rose | 1789

‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ is a companion piece to ‘The Letter’.  One is executed in the moments prior to full seduction, just when the gentleman has been assured of his conquest.  The background symbols in the ‘Rose’ indicate her impending loss of virtue.  The vase on the floor is shattered. a book is splayed wide open, and a bird resides safely in its cage high up on the wall.  The gentleman reaches the single blooming rose before she can demur, but her posture remains retractable.  She not sure of what she’s doing, but the result is inevitable.

In ‘The Letter’, the gentleman has sent his lover a miniature portrait to gaze at in his absence.  The letter, presumably, is full of excuses, as the young lady looks unimpressed by his offering.  A posy of roses are set in a gilded vase, indicating multiple rendezvous between the lovers, but the lady’s dress is more somber, her hair grayer and tied with a yellow ribbon, no longer pinned with the blossoms of youth .  Upon the young lady’s prompting, the older woman hunches over for a closer look and in the process knocks over an object on the tea service.

The Letter | 1791close-up
The Letter | 1791
close-up – full size here

Garnier’s work has been compared with Louis-Léopold Boilly’s and Marguerite Gérard’s.  Beyond being a genre painter, very little is known about his life.

The Constant Lover
The Constant Lover  | Louis-Leopold Boilly
Le Petit Messager
Le Petit Messager – Marguerite Gerard

Historical Geekery Gift Guide 2012

A selection for bookish, historically-minded folks (and yes, gentlemen, there’s something for you, too!)

Anne Boleyn blank journal from Immortal Longings, perfect for those especially moody days.  You may also choose from the Katherine of Aragon and the Henry VIII versions.  I’d personally like to have Anne’s and Henry’s side by side for a bit of dark romance.  (They also have beautiful Shakespeare journals.)

Sweet Marie before she became headless . . . These earrings have everything she would approve of: bows, French blue swarovski crystal, and her youthful portrait set in a cabachon.  Secret Jewellz also has a pair of sparkling pink bow earrings that are very pretty.

Inspiration from the grave.  Unisex perfume/cologne from Sweet Tea Apothecary which (unlike what the macabre name evokes) will come up smelling of heliotrope, vetiver, black tea, clove, tobacco, musk, and vanilla.  “This blend evokes the feeling of sitting in an old library chair paging through yellowed copies of Hemingway, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Poe, and more.  The Dead Writers blend makes you want to put on a kettle of black tea and curl up with your favorite book.”

 

Damn French Desserts has the loveliest skeleton cards.  They’d look great as a framed collection, especially for those unwilling to part with all of them via post.  Choose from the ‘Victorian Goth Queen To the Bones’ and ‘Skeleton Horse Lady Godiva’ (and more)

What you can’t wash off, wash on.  Straight from the Bearded Proprietor’s shop, ‘Ill Repute’ shaving soap for the ladies and the gents.  The whole store is packed with delights to improve your morning ablutions: Madame Scodioli’s Hand-Made Soaps, Perfumes, Whisker Wax & Lovely Curiosities for One And All

Made of etched semi-gloss stainless steel, these hardcover optical illusion earrings are fantastic for any bookish lady on your list.

For those who like to play with the digital side of art, a collage sheet of hairstyles from the 15th to 20th centuries with Marie Antoinette’s belle poule at center.  FrenchFrouFrou Antiques also offers a collage sheet of French costumes and others for your enjoyment.

Because one hand-painted teacup and saucer is never enough . . .  Burke Hare Co, Victorian teacups, candles, and curiosities for peculiar people.

The Mindful Mushroom Artisan body oils are 100% vegan, cruelty free, and use a house base of hemp seed, grapeseed, sunflower, and rice bran oil.  She goes wild with her perfuming and the options are nearly endless from sweetly inspired like Faery Queen to darkling scents like Unseelie Court.  From one perfume lover to another, I am in love. Choose from a sample vials/packs, 5 ml or 10 ml roll-on.


An 8×10 inch print that’s a cute take on the song.  I would buy this for myself in a hot minute, but my darling, devilish husband would surely amend the -OOKS part. Either way, smiles all around!

Hope you guys enjoyed the gift guide.  All products are on Etsy and support independent artists.

Lady Elizabeth Foster v. Lady Elizabeth Seymour Conway v. Countess of Lincoln

Another Round of Dueling Fashionistas Begins With . . . 

Source: Gibe, Wikipedia
Source: Gibe | ‘A Young Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)’

The 18th century was a glorious time for coiffures.  They were absurdly tall, sausage and pin curled, stuck with feathers and baubles and ribbons.  They housed ships and birdcages, were tools for storytelling or political/personal commemoration.  In short, they were EPIC.  Arrive at the 1780s, however, and ladies’ hairstyles fell flat.

I blame it on the hedgehog wig.   Compared with the glamorous, albeit headache inducing pouf, I’d slap the style with an ‘uninspired’ stamp, but they must have held some charm.  They were widely favored for almost two decades, from the 1780s to the 1790s.  Early adoptees touted them as a return to a more natural, effortless appearance, and they kind of are.  Maybe it’s the color–dishwater grey, like a wig that’s been trampled on in the street–or the fact that, as the name suggests, they resemble a hedgehog placed atop one’s head with a dignified curl underneath.  American Duchess replicates it with her own hair, and I must say, it’s attractive.  But the 18th century versions are frowsy.

The Analysis

If we pick the hairstyles below to pieces, Lady hedgehog #1 separates herself from #2 and#3 by wearing crown frizz.  Yes, the nemesis of modern curls was fashionable in the 1700s.  For all that I’ve lambasted this hairstyle, I believe #1’s wig is slightly more becoming.  Ladies Hedgehog #2 and #3 have smoothed their coiffures from the crown, coiled half the hair into a top knot, and curled the bottom.  The style is neater but looks like it would require a can of Elnett to keep it in place.  Hardly natural.

The Verdict

I bear a strong dislike for one and all, but I’m wondering if I’m alone here.  What do you think?  Thumbs up?  Thumbs down?  And what about the clothes? They’re pale affairs, ruffled and feminine down to the empire waist (#1 and #2) or past the fichu on #3, but not objectionable in and of themselves, right?

Lady Elizabeth Foster | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1787
Lady Elizabeth Foster | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1787
Lady Elizabeth Seymour Conway | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781
Lady Elizabeth Seymour Conway | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781
Frances, Countess of Lincoln | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781
Frances, Countess of Lincoln | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781

Let your vote be heard!  Who wins this edition of Dueling Fashionistas and why?

The Splendiferous Konstantin Somov

Konstantin Somov’s style was conceived during his study at the Academy of Arts.  His was a departure from the fashionable movements of the period, for he was an enthusiast of an earlier age.  As the child of the senior curator at The Hermitage and a musician mother, Somov was exposed to artistic living early on, and thus experienced a wealth of impressions without much external seeking on his part.  Hung on the walls of his St. Petersburg childhood home was a substantial private collection, attracting artists and admirers from all across Russia.  A nurturing environment, certainly, as Konstantin must have first seen the world through the eyes of imagination instead of stark realism. He was, after all, surrounded by it.

Unlike many of his fellow artists, Somov was an admirer of Rococo when it seemed fusty and irrelevant.  1896 marks the years when he started painting his 18th century works but he continued attending to them long into his career.  Over the span of his life, he would go on to complete portraits, still lifes, and landscapes from the 18th century and beyond, favoring watercolor mixed with whitewash, gouache, and bronze.  He also illustrated books, including the cheeky Book of Marquise, and had a flair for capturing women.  Whimsy and merrymaking pervade his earliest work, and his admiration of Watteau and Fragonard is manifest.   I would consider him their lovechild, displaced in the 20th century, and with a bit of childlike delight thrown in.

Tell me what you think.  Like, love, or maybe just ambivalence?

Somov’s Inspiration

Left: Blind Man’s Bluff by Jean-Honore Fragonard (1769-1770)
Right: Two Cousins by Antoine Watteau (1716)

      Somov’s Works – 1896 to 1930

Lady by the pool (1896)
Rest After a Walk (1896)
Evening Rides (1897)
Evening Rendezvous
Evening (1902)
Masquerade
Lady and Cavalier (1903)
Fireworks (1906)
Fireworks in the Park (1907)
The Laughed Kiss (1909)
In Love with a Harlequin (1912)
Young Woman Asleep on the Grass (1913)
Book of Marquise Illustrations
Lady and Harlequin (1921)
Design of Costume for Awnings T. Karsavina (to Dance to Music by Mozart) (1924)
Holiday near Venice (1930)

Characters of Nations: Stereotypes in 1794

As Halloween is a day for mastering stereotypes and flaunting them before the world, I thought it appropriate to share some from the late 18th century.  These come from a letter to The Lady’s Magazine from Volume XXV 1794, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, appropriated solely to their use and amusement.  Do take them as such.

Stereotypes of the French, German, Italian, Spanish and English Characters

In Their Manners

  • The Frenchman is more than civil; he is courtly
  • The German benevolent
  • The Italian civil
  • The Spaniard disdainful and thinks too little of others
  • The Englishman haughty and thinks too much of himself

With Respect to Stature

  • The Frenchman is of a good size
  • The German tall
  • The Italian middling
  • The Spaniard short
  • The Englishman portly

In Apparel

  • The Frenchman is an innovator
  • The German an imitator
  • The Italian stingy
  • The Spaniard thrifty
  • The Englishman sumptuous

In Their Feasts

  • The Frenchman is delicate
  • The German a drunkard
  • The Italian sober
  • The Spaniard penurious
  • The Englishman prodigal
Germans Eating Sour Krout – James Gillray (1803)

In Their Tempers

  • The Frenchman is a sneerer
  • The German affable
  • The Italian complaisant
  • The Spaniard grave
  • The Englishman changeable

With Regard to Beauty

  • The Frenchman is handsome
  • The German not inferior to him
  • The Italian neither handsome nor ugly
  • The Spaniard rather ugly than handsome
  • The Englishman resembling angels

In Council

  • The Frenchman is not slow
  • The German more slow
  • The Italian subtle
  • The Spaniard cautious
  • The Englishman resolute
French Liberty, British Slavery – James Gillray (1792)

In Their Writings

  • The Frenchman speaks well, writes better
  • The German writes much
  • The Italian with solidity
  • The Spaniard little and well
  • The Englishman learnedly

In Their Knowledge

  • The Frenchman knows something of every thing
  • The German is a pedant
  • The Italian is learned
  • The Spaniard is profound
  • The Englishman is a philosopher

In Religion

  • The Frenchman is zealous
  • The German religious
  • The Italian fond of ceremonies
  • The Spaniard tainted with superstition
  • The Englishman with bigotry

In Their Undertakings

  • The Frenchman is like an eagle
  • The German like a bear
  • The Italian like a fox
  • The Spaniard like an elephant
  • The Englishman like a lion
The Times – James Gillray (1783)
Dutch: “Der Donder, take you monsieur.  I think I have paid the Piper.”                                           Spanish:  “See Gibralter!  See Don Langara! by St. Anthony you have made me the Laughing Stock of Europe.”

In the Office of Friendship

  • The Frenchman is faithful
  • The German good company
  • The Italian respectful
  • The Spaniard submissive
  • The Englishman a slave

In Marriage

  • The Frenchman is free
  • The German a patron
  • The Italian a gaoler
  • The Spaniard a tyrant
  • The Englishman a servant and a drudge

Their Women

  • In France they are full of quality and pride
  • In Germany economists and cold
  • In Italy prisoners and wicked
  • In Spain slaves and amorous
  • In England queens and libertines

Their Languages

  • Charles V said that he would speak French to his friend
  • High Dutch to his horse
  • Italian to his mistress
  • Spanish to God
  • English to birds
An Italian Family – Samuel Alken after Thomas Rowlandson (1785) 

A Seriously Naughty Portrait: Countess of Lichtenau

At first there’s so much pink you almost don’t see it.  But then, yep, nipple.  The nubble detail on her collar is throwing–a cheeky addition.  Save for the aforementioned exposure and her bared hand, the countess is entirely clothed. She’s out hunting with her very eager dog but the chase is over.  The bird has been bagged, and love is on the mind.  Peppered throughout are elements of an inevitably amorous scene: the kissing doves, the gushing water pipe, the splayed gun case.  Very naughty indeed.

Countess of Lichtenau, Wilhelmine Encke by Anna Dorothea Therbusch (1776)

If you’re inclined to read about the life of our nipple bearer, she wrote The Confessions of the Celebrated Countess of Lichtenau, late Mrs. Reitz, now confined in the fortress of Glogau as a state prisoner.  I’ll be adding it to my TBR list.  Fair warning: if you’re allergic to f-type characters masquerading as s’s (It confifts chiefly of the confeffions of a woman), it’s riddled with these.  Also, as editors relished doing in the 18th and 19th centuries, many good bits have been deleted: “The language, however, was so gross and indelicate, that, out of respect to religion and morality, it was necessary to omit them.”  Too bad.