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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

On the subject of Bette Davis and lace

In one of my favorite of her roles, that of the icily greedy Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes, 1941.  Her beautifully feminine exterior hides a fierce ambition.

Bette Davis was a fairly ferocious character - both on-screen and off - and not the sort that one would expect to find lavishly swathed in lace, that most delicately feminine and ephemeral of materials. And yet, in some of her best, most memorable roles, she was costumed in lavish amounts of the stuff - always to dramatic effect.  Sometimes the lace signals the fragile nature of the part she was playing but, most often, I find it's employed to make an ironic visual contrast with the steely drive of those most iconic of the Davis roles.

In Juarez, 1939, Davis played the neurotic, unstable Empress Carlotta of Mexico.  (With Brian Aherne as the Emperor Maximilian.)
In most of her scenes, she wears a trailing veil of some sort, alone or attached to a hat.  Often lace - both light
and dark -they seem to indicate both her emotional delicacy and her increasing detachment from reality.

By her frilly, sequined lace dress - not to mention the feather aigrette and fan - her Fanny Trellis
in Mr. Skeffington, 1944, is shown to be the silly, vain and thoughtless woman she is.

In The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, 1939, the heavy, stiffened lace is used not only to exemplify the extravagant
display of Davis' Elizabeth I, but to give us an idea of the vanity and insecurity of the aging, unbeautiful queen.

In two of her best known films, the material in question becomes an actual plot device.  On a whim, her fiery, contrary Julie Marsden in Jezebel, 1938, refuses to wear this beautiful, frothy white lace gown to the Olympus Ball.  She wears a red satin one instead, causing a scandal and in the process losing her fiancé, played by Henry Fonda.  Later in the film, she tries to win him back by wearing the abandoned gown and throwing herself at him; she finds his new wife a major stumbling block to the planned reunion.

Uh, but no, this is not how it turned out for Julie and her "Pres"; only in the happy world of the publicity photograph.

And in The Letter, 1940, both the light-filtering properties of lace and its intricately patterned and web-like nature seem to indicate the flawed psychological restraint of the film's protagonist.  The self-contained, ladylike murderess Leslie Crosbie actually makes lace and, after her death, a shot of her abandoned lacework is one of the last images in the film.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Un Yucca gloriosa dans le parc de Neuilly by Antoine Chazal, 1845

Antoine Chazal (November 8, 1793, Paris - August 12, 1854, Paris), was a French painter of flowers and portraits.  He showed at the Salon from 1822 until his death, and was made a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur in 1838.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Morris Clothier Maxwell by William McGregor Paxton, 1924

William McGregor Paxton (June 22, 1869, Baltimore – 1941, Newton Centre) was an American painter best known for his portraits and for paintings of women in interiors.  The model, Morris Clothier Maxwell (April 29, 1907 – December, 1983), would have been about seventeen at the time of the portrait.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

La belle Joséphine

Josephine Baker (June 3, 1906, St. Louis – April 12, 1975, Paris), the legendary American-born singer, dancer, and actress.  She took French citizenship in 1937, worked for the Résistance during WWII, and was subsequently awarded the Croix de guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by the French government.  She was also an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement.  Beloved in her adopted country, she was the only American-born woman to receive full French military honors when her funeral was held at L'Église de la Madeleine in 1975.

From the film "Zouzou", 1934.
With dancer Serge Lifar.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Second Empress of the French - The Empress Marie-Louise with her son, the roi de Rome, by Baron Gérard

Portrait by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard (March 12, 1770, Rome – January 11, 1837, Paris), 1813.
Marie Louise of Austria (December 12, 1791, Vienna – December 17, 1847, Parma), born Maria Ludovica Leopoldina Franziska Therese Josepha Lucia von Habsburg-Lothringen, was the second wife Napoléon I.  The daughter of Emperor Francis I of Austria, her marriage was arranged, after Napoléon's divorce from Joséphine, for strictly political reasons and so that her husband might have an heir.  Their son, Napoléon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, prince impérial, roi de Rome (after 1818 known as Franz, Duke of Reichstadt), was born at the Tuilleries Palace in Paris on March 20, 1811.  After the fall of the empire, the Congress of Vienna recognized her as ruler of the Italian duchy of Parma, but her son was not allowed to accompany her.  After Napoléon's death in 1821, she contracted a morganantic marriage with Count Adam Albert von Neipperg.  And after his death, she married Count Charles-René de Bombelles, who survived her.  Her son, the Duke of Reichstadt - the titular Napoléon II - died of tuberculosis in Vienna at the age of twenty-one, on July 22, 1832.

A daguerreotype of the Duchess of Parma, the former Empress Marie Louise, taken the year of her death.

Gérard's oil sketch for the portrait.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

First Empress of the French - Official state portrait of the Empress Joséphine by Baron Gérard

Portrait by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard (March 12, 1770, Rome – January 11, 1837, Paris), circa 1808

Joséphine de Beauharnais (June 23, 1763, Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique – May 29, 1814, Rueil-Malmaison), born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, was the first wife of Napoléon I.  Married previously to Alexandre de Beauharnais, who was executed during the French Revolution, she and Napoléon were wed in 1796.  She had two children from her first marriage, but was unable to provide Napoléon - now emperor and anxious to found a dynasty - with an heir.  In 1810, she reluctantly agreed to a divorce so that he might remarry.  He insisted that she retain the title of empress, and they remained close until her death.

I've always loved how Gérard painted the emerald jewelry, particularly the central stone in her tiara;
the hints of other color in the green and the reflection on the flat of the stone's face are perfection.

Gérard's oil sketch for the portrait; many of his preparatory oils sketches have survived.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lucille Ball - the glamour years

Starting out in Hollywood as a barely clad Goldwyn Girl in 1933, she worked her way up to wise-cracking bit parts, then wise-cracking second bananas, and by the late Thirties held the title of "Queen of the B's".  Her work in the Fifties would make her a legend, but by the time she'd signed with MGM in 1942, at the age of thirty-one, she had blossomed into one of classic Hollywood's great beauties.

Lover Come Back, 1946.
Easy to Wed, 1946.
Ziegfeld Follies, 1945.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jared French by Paul Cadmus - "Jerry", 1931

Paul Cadmus (December 17, 1904, New York City – December 12, 1999, Weston, Connecticut), American painter, best known for paintings that combined eroticism and and social commentary, and for his drawings of the male nude.  Jared French (1905–1988), Cadmus' great friend and onetime lover, was another of the American artists who, along with Cadmus and George Tooker, worked in a style often described as magic realism.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Michel Fokine and Vera Fokina in costume for Shéhérazade, Les Ballets Russes, 1914

The French language programme for the 1914 season, artwork by Valentine Gross.

Mikhail Mikhailovich Fokin (April 23, 1880, St. Petersburg – August 22, 1942, New York City) - most commonly, the French version of his name, Michel Fokine, is used - was a Russian dancer, and one of dance history's most important and most innovative choreographers.  He is best known for his work during the early, pre-war seasons of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.  Vera Fokina, born Vera Petrovna Antonova (August 3, 1886 – July 29, 1958, New York City), married Fokine in 1905 and, later, also danced with the Ballets Russes, frequently as a partner to her husband.

Diaghilev and Fokine had quarreled in 1912 over the seeming preference given by Diaghilev to the nascent choreographic efforts of his protégé, the great Nijinsky.  After Nijinsky's marriage late the next year, and his subsequent dismissal from the company, Diaghilev, with much effort, convinced Fokine to return for the 1914 season.  Along with creating three new ballets, he and his wife danced the roles of the Golden Slave and Zobéide in Shéhérazade, one of Fokine's greatest choreographic successes.  Having premiered in 1910, with music by Rimsky-Korsakov and costumes and décor by Léon Bakst, this ballet had an almost incalculable influence on the world of fashion and of the arts, and is still studied as an important turning point in the development of modern ballet.

The London programme for 1914.
This particular photograph in the series was obviously the model for the season's progamme.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Toweled off and frisky - Gene Raymond in Flying Down to Rio, 1933

I always squirm a bit when, in Flying down to Rio, an immaculate, glowingly blond and freshly washed Gene Raymond suddenly appears toweled, then untoweled, and proceeds to dress himself, all in full view of his best pal, the droopy, rather matronly Raul Roulien.  Throughout the floor show, Raymond rhapsodizes about the young lady he's just met, neither of the men realizing that the young lady, Belinha - Dolores del Rio, to be exact - is in fact the fiancée of Roulien's character. 

It's actually a shot of the tightly towel-clad bottom of the very animated Mr. Raymond that launches the scene:

"Old man Cupid didn't fire an arrow, this time."
 "No sir!
"He sunk a harpoon!"
The towel comes off.
Yes, I might need a drink at this point, too.
The towel is still off.
Some dressing begins.
Seems a shame, but pants might be a wise choice right now.
"She's like an orchid, a white orchid... Every time I think about her, I wanna bite myself - and that's news!"
Raymond searches for a shirt stud, Roulien polishes the bed post.
Safely dressed, with a little help from a friend.


Spoiler alert:  Raymond gets the girl. 
And Roulien parachutes out of a plane, landing point unknown.


(I'd like to thank and give credit to the blogger who originally posted all these screen captures (and many more from the film), but I've forgotten where I got them.  Very sorry, energetic blogger - and thank you!)