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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Three portraits of African-American musicians by William Sydney Mount

Right and Left

Right and Left met with great acclaim when it appeared in 1850:  "This latest fruit of the genius of the artist, of whom the country is so justly proud, we confidently predict must make a hit. It is conceived with great spirit and truth of nature....  [The fiddler] is indeed a chef d’oeuvre of Ethiopian portraiture."  Mount himself played the violin and was a great lover of music.

The Banjo Player

The Banjo Player of 1856 has been identified as George Freeman, who was bound to a relative of Mount, and was allowed to go to Stony Brook to sit for the painter.  Mount recorded in his diary that he completed the portrait in sixteen sittings; eight days, two sittings a day.

The Bone Player

Mount also painted The Bone Player in 1856, on a commission from the printers Goupil and Co. for two pictures of African American musicians, to be lithographed for the European market. These became the last in a series of life-size likenesses of musicians that Mount executed between 1849 and 1856.  The "bones" - bars of ivory, wood, or bone clicked together - were an instrument associated with African-American minstrels, and a type recognizable to American and European audiences.

In his portrayal of these three musicians, Mount was walking a fine line between stereotype and individualism, between genre painting and actual portraiture. Yet despite any inherent ambiguity, these paintings, for their time, were unprecedented in the humanity they afforded an African-American subject.  And beyond any questions of intent, these are three exquisitely beautiful paintings.


William Sidney Mount (26 November 1807, Setauket, Long Island – 19 November 1868, Setauket, Long Island), American painter of landscapes and portraits, but best known for his genre paintings. Raised on a farm until the age of seventeen, Mount apprenticed himself to his older brother Henry, a sign painter working in New York City; they were joined by their brother, Shepard Alonzo, who eventually became a portrait painter. When the National Academy of Design began to include drawing classes in 1826, Mount was among its first students. He was elected a full member of the Academy in 1832, but a year later returned to Setauket where he would remain, sending his work for exhibition in New York. Mount's earlier painting were based of historical themes, but after returning to his hometown, his work began to be representations of the manners and celebrations of rural life. His home and studio at Stony Brook is now a National Historic Landmark.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Princess Beatrice - portraits, early and late

Richard Lauchert (1823-1869), 1863.

Princess Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore of the United Kingdom (14 April 1857, Buckingham Palace, London – 26 October 1944, Brantridge Park, Sussex), was the fifth daughter and youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Beatrice was only four years old when her father died and her mother was plunged into a dramatic and famously prolonged mourning. In the ensuing years, the cheerful child would become one of her mother's most important supports. As she grew up and, one by one, her sisters married and left home, she remained as her mother's constant confident and personal secretary.

Franz Winterhalter, 1859.
Annie Dixon (1817-1901), 1861.

And it was expected that her role of attendant would be permanent; Queen Victoria would have no talk of marriage for her youngest daughter. So when, in 1884, she and Prince Henry of Battenberg fell in love and Beatrice told her mother that she planned to marry, the queen stopped speaking to her daughter for seven months. She only acquiesced when Prince Henry agreed to live in England as part of the Queen's household. The couple was married in 1885 and would have four children. (Sadly, Beatrice passed on the haemophilia gene she had inherited from her mother; Beatrice's son Leopold was afflicted with the condition, and her daughter Ena, as Queen Victoria Eugenie, would pass the gene into the Spanish royal family.)

John Philip (1817-1867), 1860.
Edward Tayler (1828-1906), 1864.

The marriage was happy, but Henry chafed at the restrictions of his domestic arrangements. In November of 1895, he persuaded the queen to allow him to go to West Africa and fight in the Fourth Anglo-Ashanti War. But in February he contracted malaria and subsequently died aboard a cruiser off the coast of Sierra Leone. Beatrice was devastated by his death, but after a month away from court, returned to her mother's side where should would remain until the queen's death in 1901.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923), 1908.

Her daughter Ena was considered a great beauty and, after converting to Catholicism - a move which caused much controversy in Britain - married King Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1906.  Her youngest son, Maurice, was killed in action during the third month of World War I, a tragedy from which his mother never fully recovered.  Princess Beatrice and her two remaining sons were also affected by the politically motivated surname changes wrought in the midst of the war by her nephew George V when, in an effort to downplay the British royal family's Germanic origins, Battenberg was anglicized to Mountbatten.  And in 1922, her haemophiliac middle son, Leopold, died during hip surgery at the age of thirty-two.

Arthur Stockdale Cope (1857-1940), 1928.

Princess Beatrice's most important contribution to posterity was as the transcriber and editrix of her mother's journals, which the queen had begun keeping in 1831 and had grown to hundreds of volumes. Before her death, Queen Victoria had set her youngest daughter for the task, and had instructed her to remove anything too personal as well as anything that might be hurtful to living persons. The work would take thirty years, and as a consequence of Beatrice's extreme diligence, the edited journals are a third the length of the originals. She then destroyed the originals, to the great chagrin of historians and to the distress of her own family.

She died in her sleep at the age of eighty-seven.

Philip de László, 1926.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Garbo + Camille + GIFs

With the aid of the very silly internet and the very silly people casting things onto it, hand over fist, it now appears it's even possible to crudely tell the tale of the otherwise sublime film "Camille", just with the use of the "animated GIF".  Probably something that shouldn't really be attempted if one has any respect for this great film... any sensitivity at all... any taste whatsoever... mais voilà!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jamin LeFave, self-portraits

This self-portrait, in particular, is rather extraordinary; a coming together of model, coloration, lighting, and style that is nearly worthy of Sargent.

The work of a contemporary artist makes a rare appearance on my blog!  I can't really find out anything about Jamin LeFave other than that he lives in Utah and, I believe, teaches in the art department at Utah Valley University.  Most of his portrait work is very conservative and, honestly, I don't find it terribly interesting, but I think his self-portraits are really quite wonderful.

On his website, he posted three images that showed the subtle changes in a self-portrait - the one at the beginning of the post - as he was working on it: