Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Swedish Venuses: Dalecarlian girls having a sauna by Anders Zorn

Dalecarlian girls having a sauna 1906

Anders Zorn was almost certainly the finest painter that Sweden has ever produced and although he is not very well known in the UK he has a stronger following in the United States, where he painted three presidents and many society portraits. But it is for his splendid nudes of local girls from in and around his hometown of Mora that we include him here.

Reflections 1889

Anders Leonardsson (he didn't take his father's name of Zorn until later) was born in Yvraden, Mora in Dalecarlia on February 16th 1860. His father was a German brewer helping to set up a brewery in Uppsala which is where he met Ander's mother (they never married). His father died when he was 12 and Zorn inherited some money which helped pay for his education.

Helga 1917

From the age of 15 until he was 21 he studied art in Stockholm. Initially he concentrated on watercolours but having found fame by winning a prize at a student show in 1881 he travelled to London the following year. For the next five years he spent a lot of time in Britain, although he travelled to Spain and Portugal too. In 1885 he stayed in St Ives and came under the influence of a number of artists there, including the American Edward Simmons who helped him learn more about oil painting. From this time he painted almost exclusively in oils.

Frileuse 1894

By the end of the 1880s he was successfully exhibiting in Paris and moved in a social circle which included Prinz Eugen. He was based in Paris until 1886 but always spent some of the year back in Mora where he built a home. He travelled to New York and found a number of wealthy patrons for many of whom he painted portraits. He continued to visit the US and many other places, including Poland, Russia and Turkey, but always returning regularly to Sweden, spending the summers sailing the Swedish archipelago in his yacht.

Le tub 1888

When in Sweden he actively encouraged the Swedish folk movement transforming the simplicity of Dalecarlian life into a Swedish national self-image which persists to this day. His watercolour Le tub really defines tha palate of the simple Swedish folk interior.

Latterly he produced more and more etchings which show enormous skill in depicting light and shade with relatively few lines. Having been in ill health some time Anders Zorn died on 22nd August 1922.

In Werner's rowing boat 1917

Zorn produced many fine nudes of the strapping local girls in Dalecarlia even gaining some notoriety for frequently taking women out in boats so he could pose them by Lake Siljan.

Zorn had a wonderful ability to render water, even in etchings, and it is no surprise that many of his girls are depicted by the shore.

We think Zorn deserves to be better known and what better advertisement for his skill than his lush Swedish girls. His Dalecarlian girls having a sauna (1906) catches the heat of the environment perfectly and the warm glow of the (invisible) brazier. We saw this painting on a visit to the National Gallery in Stockholm last year and was immediately impressed by it. Although we have to admit that although there is a great mythology about the erotic appeal of the sauna (especially from non sauna nations!) in Agent Triple P's limited experience they are just far too hot to enjoy; much better to enjoy them vicariously through Anders Zorn's sensitive brush.
Thanks to A for some of the background in this piece (and indeed showing Agent Triple P the painting in the first place).

Self portrait with a model 1896

Monday, September 29, 2008

Draped Venus: Pomegranates and others by Albert Moore


Albert Moore (4 September 1841 – 25 September 1893) was a lesser known Victorian classicist painter whose work largely featured draped women in classical or medieval settings.

He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857 but his major paintings started around ten years later. He was skilled in the decorative arts designing tiles, wallpaper and stained glass. Moore produced many murals, notably at Coombe Abbey which saw the beginning of his classical style. His love for decoration is evident from the busy backgrounds of his paintings which dominate in such a way that his paintings can seem claustrophobic as the pictures often just contain figures against a wall who blend into the background.

The Dreamers

Many of his women lounge around langourously but his use of colour, which tends to cover a fairly narrow palate, never suggests the bright light and Mediterranean heat the poses seem to suggest (cf JW Godward). In his picture The Dreamers the cream colours and soft tones never seem to capture the eye, the effect being to induce the same sort of ennui that the three girls (actually one model in three poses- there is no attempt to differentiate them) display. Unlike Alma-Tadema or Lord Leighton there is never a story behind his paintings they are pictures for their own sake, not much more than the wallpaper he designed for William Morris.

The White Symphony: Three Girls 1867 by JM Whistler

Moore was a great influence on James McNeill Whistler who was initially much influenced by his classicism. Whistler's painting, The White Symphony: Three Girls follows the composition of Moore's 1866 painting Pomegranates very closely.

Pomegranates 1866

Moore's greates talent was in painting drapery and he spent long hours practising his skills in this area.

Silver 1886

As a result he produced some splendid peek-a-boo maidens in see through clothes but all within the realms of respectability because of their classical settings.

A Workbasket 1879

Because of the prevalence of drapery in his paintings his nudes look even more naked, as if they are, indeed, missing something.

A Venus 1869

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Franco-Irish Venus: Marie-Louise O' Murphy de Boisfaily by François Boucher

This is very, very close to being our favourite nude representation of a girl (she was fourteen when this picture was painted) in any medium.

Mary-Louise O'Murphy de Boisfaily was the fifth daughter of an army officer of Irish extraction, Daniel O' Murphy de Boisfaily, who had taken to shoemaking after his retirement. She was born in Rouen on October 21st 1737. After her father died her mother took her to Paris where she traded in second hand clothes whilst finding work for her daughters. Mary-Louise became a dancer at L'Opera and a model. Casanova knew her (she is mentioned in his diaries) and she may have been his mistress briefly. Casanova certainly introduced her to Boucher who painted this picture of her in 1752.

It has been argued that the picture was a direct invitation to Louis XV showing that she was available to be his mistress. Rather like leaving a photographic postcard of yourself in a phone box outside a Park Lane hotel, we suppose.

Louis XV knew a fine piece when he saw it (he liked the painting too) and she quickly became one of his second tier mistresses and stayed so for two years. Louis had an official mistress, of course, Madame de Pompadour, who may have been happy at first for the king to entertain this plump little distraction as she was increasingly exhausted by Louis voracious sexual demands, to the extent that she was taking the feminine, eighteenth century version of Viagra to keep up with him. Mary-Louise bore the king an illegitimate daughter, Agathe Louise de Saint-Antoine (1754-1774), but she tried to oust Madame de Pompadour from top mistress spot and was soon kicked out of the court and married off to Comte de Beaufranchet, who must have been very cheered by this development, as Mary-Louise was still only 17. He didn't get to enjoy her for very long, though, as he was killed at the Battle of Rossbach in 1757, where Frederick the Great smashed a combined Franco-Austrian army. Mary-Louise subsequently had two more husbands, including one who was thirty years younger than her who she married at the age of 61! Although she was imprisoned for a time during the French Revolution she survived The Terror and died in 1814 at the age of 77.

The painting now hangs in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. We were lucky enough to see it displayed in an exhibition in Berlin a couple of years ago (and purchased a very splendid mousemat of the picture which we use to this day) and it is a comparatively small picture: about 24" by 29". Just the sort of sized picture Boucher would turn out for the Cabinets of his wealthy gentleman collectors.

Boucher also painted another version of the painting, which is in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, but it doesn't quite have the plump pliancy of the original.

Victoire O'Murphy

There is another very similar picture (in the Louvre) which is believed to be Mary-Louise's older sister Victoire.

Miss Victoire O'Murphy in Turkish costume

This latter painting also exists in a clothed version, which is in a private collection, hence we only have a black and white scan from a fifty year old book in Triple P's library.

Boucher (1703-1770) was a prolific artist and at the time was criticised for churning paintings out for the money. A more telling criticism came from the philosopher Diderot who accused Boucher of "prostituting his own wife" as he had her pose for erotic pictures which he sold to collectors.

This led to increasing notoriety and his art was criticised more and more towards the end of his life, as neo-classicism ousted his Rococo style.

Triple P also presents Miss Ulla Lindstrom from Penthouse Magazine, November 1969. The pose was an unusual one for the time and we would like to think it was a deliberate echo of Boucher's work; the position of the arms and head is almost identical to the work in the Louvre. The photographer, Bob Guccione, was an artist first and a photographer second. He lived and painted in Paris during the early sixties and would certainly have seen the painting of Victoire O'Murphy in the Louvre. So perhaps a touch of Miss Lindstrom's allure is due to Boucher and his young model of over 200 years previously.

Finally, we have to include Pop Art painter Mel Ramos' (1935-) wonderful Touche Boucher (1972) in which he recreates the famous painting but adds tan lines!

Mel Ramos does Boucher by way of Ursula Andress

Friday, September 19, 2008

Czech Venus: by Jan Saudek

Czech photographer Jan Saudek (born 1935) hand tints his originally black and white pictures for a very painterly effect.

He uses a Rolleiflex and a FLEXARET 6x6 cameras.

For much of his early life he was persecuted, by the Germans for being Jewish and then by the Communist Czech government from whom he had to hide his work because of its erotic nature and the use of political themes. Even in the nineties he found some of his work banned, but this time in the west, for some of its religious motifs.

Some of his work harks back to nineteenth century erotic photography which was carefully posed in the studio (outdoor shots were almost impossible at this time) with formal props such as pillars or flower arrangements in order to give the impression of a classical, painterly tradition and hopefull avoid the attention of the authorities!

Many of Saudek's pictures of women also evoke the aesthetic of the Dolní Věstonice Venus, we feel.

Czech Venus: Veronika Zemanová

30,000 years after the Venus of Dolní Věstonice the Czech Republic produced Veronika Zemanová who shows that the country can still produce Earth Mother sized breasts.

Veronika was born only 25 miles north of Dolní Věstonice so may well share some genetic material with those who carved the Venus.

Veronika delightfully demonstrates the effect of gravity on a natural bust

Veronika was originally a photographer until her equipment was stolen and she had to utilise her other equipment to pay her debts and so became a model.

Veronika gets all paleolithic by the sea

We would like to think that the paleolithic people of Dolní Věstonice would feel a strong affinity to her very ripe form. Although they would probably prefer her pregnant. Volunteers?

I'm an Earth Mother, me

Czech Venus: The Venus of Dolní Věstonice

Where to start but with this, the oldest known ceramic in the world; discovered on July 13th 1925 in the paleolithic settlement of Dolní Věstonice, Moravia in what is now the Czech Republic.

This figurine is 4 1/2 inches tall and about 1 3/4 inches wide and is made from fired clay. The original is now too fragile to be exhibited full time (she was in two halves when excavated) and was last on display in September 2007 as part of an exhibition entitled the Mammoth Hunters at the Prague National Museum.

Like many of these prehistoric Venus figures she is not designed to stand up so may have been designed to be held, perhaps as part of a ceremony. The truth is that we have no idea about her purpose, just that many other similar statues have been found across Europe from a similar period (although there is a strange lack of proven examples from the Iberian Peninsula).

These figures, as they are some of the earliest representations of the naked female form, have attracted a lot (some would say a disproportionate) amount of study. It is generally agreed that they are supposed to represent a pregnant figure and therfore may have something to do with fertility. It is also theorised that pre-Christianity the earliest religions were female-centric with the concept of the Earth Mother as supreme being and that these figures represent the Earth Mother herself. There is no evidence for this, however, but certain writers have been known to use this theory to decry the crushing of female power by the early Christian church.

The Laugerie-Basse figure

The use of the Roman name for Aphrodite, Venus, for these figures as a type was initiated by the Marquis de Vibraye, who discovered the first of these figures to be excavated at Laugerie-Basse in the Dordogne in 1864. He named his find Vénus impudique (immodest Venus), as an academic word play on the term Venus pudica (modest Venus) used to describe the particular coy pose seen in the Botticelli picture at the top right of this page. The French figure has a clear representation of the vulva, hence his name for her.

The use of the word Venus stuck and has since been used for all such figures, even if they have nothing to do with Venus or, indeed, any particular Goddess as far as is known.