L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Marie Antoinette's cabinet doré at Versailles

The fully restored/refurbished cabinet doré.  (The other images show the work in progress.)

At Versailles, behind the state rooms of the queen of France, lie several very small private rooms ranged around two dark interior courtyards.  The most important room of the petit appartement de la reine is the grand cabinet intérieur.  In 1783 Marie Antoinette ordered a complete redecoration of this small salon.  The décor was the design of the queen's architect Richard Mique, and the new carved and gilded boiseries, in a beautifully severe neoclassical style - the work of the Rousseau brothers - caused the room to be renamed the cabinet doré.

Toward the end of the Revolution, most of the furniture at Versailles was sold off, starting in August of 1793.  In the modern refurnishing of the palace, it is fairly rare that a room will accommodate its original furnishings; the museum has often been unable to acquire the original furniture and, in many cases, the rooms that once housed much of the fine pieces they have acquired no longer exist.  (Also, before the Revolution, furniture was often replaced and/or moved to another residence, which makes it hard to know to what state a room should be restored.)   In the cabinet doré, the paneling, mantlepiece, and chandelier are all original to the room.  Of the furniture - by the likes of Riesener and Jacob and Weisweiler - most was owned by the queen, but made for other settings.

At great cost, this salon has recently been very much restored/refurbished;
the desk, alone, was purchased by the state in 2011 for 6.75 million euros.
(In these last two images, the embellishments to the the divan and screen
have not been added, and the drapery above the alcove is not in place.)
A fauteuil from the suite of seat furniture by
Georges Jacob, originally in the Tuileries.
The queen's desk, made in 1783 by Riesener for the salon of the maison de la Reine of the Hameau at Trianon.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Paintings of mythological statues by Charles Meynier

Charles Meynier (November 25, 1763 or 8, Paris - September 6, 1832, Paris), a French painter.

Apollo Belvedere
Diana the Huntress

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The young boxer, Max Schmeling

Maximillian Adolph Otto Siegfried "Max" Schmeling (September 28, 1905, Klein Luckow – February 2, 2005, Wenzendorf), German boxer who was heavyweight champion of the world between 1930 and 1932.  His fights with Joe Louis in 1936 and 1938 garnered worldwide attention because of the nations they represented, the United States of the Depression years and Nazi Germany.  When he returned to Germany after winning the first fight, Schmeling was seen as a hero and became the darling of the Nazi propaganda machine, seeming to exemplify Germanic strength and prowess.  The government held parades and rallies in his honor but, having already angered the authorities for refusing to join the Party or fire his Jewish-American manager, after his loss to Louis in 1938 he was shunned by the Nazis.  In later years he expressed gratitude for this turn of events:  "Looking back, I'm almost happy I lost that fight.  Just imagine if I would have come back to Germany with a victory.  I had nothing to do with the Nazis, but they would have given me a medal.  After the war I might have been considered a war criminal."

(Actually, Schmeling had often done what he could to help German Jews, though little of it was known about, then or later.  One such brave act:  Several months after his loss to Louis, on the night of November 9-10, 1938 - the night of the infamous nation-wide pogrom known as Kristallnacht - and for several days after, Schmeling hid two Jewish boys, sons of his friend David Lewin, in his suite at the Excelsior Hotel in Berlin, telling the staff he was ill and not to be disturbed.  He later helped them to escape the country.  This only came to light in 1989, when he was publicly thanked by San Francisco hotelier Henri Lewin, one of the brothers, a man whose life he had almost certainly saved.) 

In 1940 he was drafted into the military, severely wounded and, at the end of the war, was nearly destitute.  Coming out of retirement in 1947-8, he took on five more fights, using the proceeds to buy a Coca-Cola franchise - which made him a very wealthy man.  He also became known as one of Germany's great philanthropists.  In later years, he and Joe Louis became close friends, Schmeling helping his old rival financially; when Louis died in 1981, he paid for his funeral.  Schmeling outlived his wife of fifty-four years and died at the age of ninety-nine.


I admit I often have a fondness for the wounded beauty of the young boxer, le jeune pugiliste.  The actual idea of boxing is fairly incomprehensible, but there's something about the broken, flattened nose, the thickened brow, combined with an almost childlike innocence that I frequently find quite attractive.  And there's a stirring contrast between the intent of the sport and the physical and psychological vulnerability of the young man.  He stands there in his corner in the seconds before the start of the bout, nearly naked, gathering rage in his muscles and tendons, in his blood.  But so often, beneath the warrior mask, one can clearly see the young boy, tenderness and uncertainty flashing in his eyes.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

La divine comtesse - the contessa di Castiglione

Virginie, contessa di Castiglione (March 22, 1837, Florence – November 28, 1899, Paris), born Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Carlotta Antonietta Teresa Maria Oldoïni, was an Italian aristocrat.  Intelligent and multilingual, celebrated for her beauty, her vanity, and her flamboyant dress, she became notorious as a mistress of the French Emperor Napoleon III.  (She had been instructed by her cousin, Count Cavour, to plead the case of a unified Italy with the erotically susceptible emperor.) When their affair ended, she went home to Italy, but returned to Paris four years later, where she lived for the remainder of her life. 

Voilée (Veiled).  The countess often posed standing on a low stool or platform in such a way as to make her figure
 seem taller, more statuesque, her trailing skirts hiding the fact.  This is an example.  Also, this shows the sometimes
quite makeshift nature of her costumes; her veil is actually just an unfinished length of chiffon yardage.
Detail of Vert (Green).
Elvira.  An allusion to a character in the Verdi opera Ernani.  One of the best known images of the countess.
This and the next three images are also from the Elvira series.

She was also an important figure in the early history of photography.  During her first sojourn to Paris in 1856, she began a close working relationship with the photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson; when she returned to Paris in 1861, the two worked together again.  She created dramatic and sometimes bizarre tableaux, often dressed in gowns or costumes she'd worn at important  moments while at the height of her fame.  Pierson took hundreds of images of the countess.  Her artistic motivation seemed to be little more than the memorialization of her famous beauty, but her work has had a great influence on many artists since.  Including this artist; my first show at Froelick Gallery, in 2002, was largely inspired by images of the countess.

L'Amoureux argenté, recently acquired
by the Portland Art Museum.


Une dimanche (One Sunday).
L'Ermite de Passy (The hermit of Passy).  In her one appearance in a tableau vivant, the
countess surprised the audience with this costume; they were, understandably, expecting
something really quite different.
As the Queen of the Night.
Beatrix.  Inspired by a play of the same name by Ernest Legouvé.
L'Assassinat (Assassination).
Photographed several years later, the countess first wore the costume seen
in this image and in the two following to a Mardi Gras ball in 1857.

The countess spent much time embellishing and modifying her photographs; they were often partly colored.  A few favorite images were given to a professional artist, Aquilin Schad, who painted in gouache directly on the photographic print, creating works of art that are charming in their own right.

La marquise Mathilde.
Again, photographed several years after the fact, the countess first wore this costume to a
masked ball in 1857; the "subject matter" of her toilette was an unveiled allusion to her
current status as the Emperor's mistress.
La reine des coeurs (Queen of Hearts).
Album page using photographs from the Elvira series..

After the fall of the Second Empire, increasingly preoccupied with her fading beauty, she had her apartment in the Place Vendôme draped in black, the blinds drawn, the mirrors covered; time stopped.  In the 1890s, not long before her death, having been forced to move to a three room apartment on the rue Cambon, she recommenced work with Pierson.  The images of the rheumatic, heavily made-up, bewigged countess, while showing little trace of her famed beauty, clearly indicate her poignant self-delusion that she is still as she once was; her last unrealized scheme, conjured only a few months before her death, was an exhibition of her photographs - five hundred photographs, covering almost forty years - at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, to be titled "The Most Beautiful Woman of the Century".

It was the countess, herself, who pinned these strips of paper to the print,
indicating how she wanted the image altered, her figure improved.
Alma.  Alma refers to the Hôtel de l'Alma, a former residence.
Rachel.  Titled in memory of the great French actress.


One of a number of images that include her son, Giorgio (1855-1879),
usually only a peripheral feature of the composition.
Scherzo di Follia (Game of Madness).  Probably the most famous image of the countess; it has become an icon of photography.