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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Endymion and Diana... or Selene... or just the moon

Francesco Solimena, 1705-10. (Detail.)

Thumbing through Classical mythology, when we get to Endymion, the story gets a little muddled. Depending on whose version you read, he was a handsome Aeolian shepherd or hunter said to reside on Mount Latmus in Caria, on the west coast of Asia Minor. Or he was a king who lived and ruled at Olympia in Elis. In some stories he's the son - or grandson - of Zeus. Pliny the Elder says that Endymion was the first human to observe the movements of the moon, which would account for Endymion's narrative connection to that celestial orb. At any rate his story is always tied to the very female moon.

Francesco Solimena, 1705-10. (Detail.)

First, he was teamed up with Selene, the Titan goddess of the moon who, falling in love with his extremely beautiful sleeping figure, arranged - one way or another - for him to be granted eternal youth and equally eternal sleep. What he thought about sleeping away eternity isn't recorded, but he somehow still managed while unconscious to have fifty - fifty - daughters with Selene. (It seems he also fathered some sons as well - by a nymph or just a regular human, depending on the narrator - who went on to cause trouble in the Ancient Greek neighborhood. Since no more was said of him, I'm just going to assume that Endymion was also asleep during this round of begetting and the subsequent filial shenanigans.) Then, during the Renaissance, when there was a renewed interest in Greek and Roman mythology, the identity of Endymion's inamorata was transferred to Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon. Thereafter, artists portraying the story usually identified the moony - and moon-y - goddess hovering over a handsome and rarely overdressed Endymion as Diana. But whether they called her Selene or Diana, it was always the enamored moon.

Francesco Solimena, 1705-10.
Stefano Torelli, circa 1765.
Benedetto Gennari, circa 1672-74.
John Wood, 1832.
Johann Michael Rottmayr, circa 1690-95.
"Diana and Endymion Surprised by The Satyr", Karl Bryullov, 1849.
Same as above - a preliminary sketch?
Domingo Alvarez Enciso, 1780.
Sebastiano Ricci, circa late 1600s-early 1700s.
Pierre Subleyras, 1740.
George Frederic Watts, 1869-72.
Luca Giordano, circa 1675-1680.
Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée, 1776.
Nicolas Poussin, circa 1628-30.
Jérôme-Martin Langlois, circa 1822.

Of course, sometimes artists didn't even bother with the lady and her moon; the "Sleeping Endymion", drowsing and undraped was, for centuries, a favorite conceit for the portrayal of a sensuous - sometimes downright sexual - male nude.

Pietro Liberi, circa 1660s.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Russian ladies, portraits by Serov

Henrietta Girshman, 1907. (Detail.)

Valentin Alexandrovich Serov (19 January 1865, St. Petersburg – 5 December 1911, Moscow), Russian painter, one of the finest portrait artists of his day. The son of two composers, he showed early promise as an artist and studied in Paris and Moscow, and at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts from 1880 to 1885. He was strongly influenced by his study with the great Russian Realist Ilya Repin. Early on, he was one of the artists that formed the Abramtsevo Colony, while late in his career he was associated with the Mir iskusstva ("World of Art") artists. He is known for his portraits - his subjects ranged from those in the Arts and literature to the aristocracy and the Imperial family - but he also did genre paintings on historical and mythological themes and designs for the theater. Over time, his work developed from a recognizably Russian Impressionism to an individual style that was increasingly pared-down, rather graphic, and in some ways presaged Modernism.

Married at twenty-two, he and his wife had two sons; his family features in much of his work. He died of a heart attack at the age of forty-six, at the very height of his career.

Henrietta Girshman, 1907.

I've always loved Serov's work. He's probably my favorite of the portrait painters - most of them associated with the Mir iskusstva group - who made art during that remarkable late blossoming of Imperial Russia. His work manages to be pictorially decorative, graphically vigorous and, above all, psychologically insightful. Sometimes shockingly so. The fact that most of his portraits were well-compensated commissions, that his subjects were often very important personages, indeed, didn't seem to temper Serov's rigorous truthfulness. If his honest, characteristic portrayals of his sitters sometimes bordered on the unflattering, his very great artistry ensured that he got away with it.

Henrietta Girshman, 1907. (Detail.) The artist at work is seen reflected in the mirror at right.
Yevdokia Loseva, 1903.
Princess Zenaïda Yusupova, 1900-02.
Model, 1899.
Princess Olga Orlova, 1911.
Maria Akimova, 1908.
Maria Morozova, 1897.
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, 1893.
Maria Yermolova, 1905.
Maria Yermolova, 1905. (Detail.)
Yevdokia Morozova, 1908.
Model, 1905.
Sophia Botkina, 1899.
Sophia Lukomskaya, 1900.
Yelena Oliv, 1909.
Mara Oliv, 1895.
Henrietta Girshman, circa 1904-06.
Maria Zetlin, 1910.
Princess Olga Orlova, 1911.
Princess Olga Orlova, 1911. (Detail.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Madame Riesener and her son, Léon, by Delacroix, 1835

Madame Riesener (née Félicité Longrois, 1786-1847), known as a beauty in her youth, had served as lady-in-waiting to the Empress Joséphine. (And is thought to have had a brief liaison with the Emperor, as well.) In 1807 she married the painter Henri-François Riesener (1767-1828), himself the son of the famous cabinet maker, Jean-Henri Riesener. The painter Delacroix was a nephew of Henri-François, and therefore a cousin of the latter's son, Léon (1808–1878), who would also become a well-known artist. Delacroix was the elder by a decade, and did much to further the career of Léon, and the two were very close.

Madame Riesener was forty-nine and seven years a widow when she sat for her nephew.
The details of Madame Riesener's toilette are very artfully chosen and suavely rendered.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, publicity for "Love on the Run", 1936

Two of MGM's brightest stars of the Thirties, Gable and Crawford made eight films together; "Love on the Run", their seventh, probably wasn't one of the better ones. Between - and sometimes during - their respective marriages, the two carried on a passionate on-again, off-again romance, an affair that sometimes garnered more publicity than they - or the studio - would have wished for. It began with their first pairing in 1931 and would frequently be rekindled until a few years after WWII. Crawford later stated that Gable was the great love of her life: "Clark Gable was the only man I ever loved.".