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, November 27, 2016

Riding the false horse - preparatory photographs by Jacques de Lalaing

The model is posed in front of a large oil painting, Les luteurs, a preparatory sketch for the La Lutte équestre sculptural group. (See below.)
Here, the model is also posed in front of a large painting, apparently on the same subject, though it looks slightly different.


Jacques de Lalaing (4 November 1858, London – 10 October 1917, Brussels), Anglo-Belgian painter and sculptor, specializing in animals. Born the son of a Belgian diplomat and an English aristocrat, he was raised in England until 1875, when he moved to Brussels. He trained as an artist under Jean-François Portaels and Louis Gallait at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, showing first as a painter. But he began to sculpt in 1884. As a painter he continued to work in a realistic, naturalistic style, as a portrait painter and producing historical scenes. As a sculptor he produced allegorical bronzes and memorial art. In 1896 he became a member of the Académie Royale where he'd studied, and from 1904 through 1913 he served as its director. He died in the midst of World War I a month before his fifty-ninth birthday.

The artist.


Perhaps his best known work, La Lutte équestre or Le combat des cavaliers (1899-1908), at the entrance to the Bois de la Cambre, Brussels.

Two vintage photographs.
Three contemporary images.
Les lutteurs, a large scale preparatory oil sketch for the sculpture, 1884.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Unbecomingly capped

Madame Récamier, by Antoine-Jean Gros, circa 1825.

Fashion is very often - has always been, always will be - a mercurial and cruel mistress. Aside from any question of taste or practicality or expense, there is the very simple fact that one mode isn't equally congenial to all women, of all ages, of all sizes; what flatters one, disfigures another. The high-waisted silhouette - sometimes known as Empire, because it mostly coincided with the reign of Napoléon - is one of countless examples. The waistline started its ascent in the 1790s and didn't resume a more natural placement until toward the end of the 1820s. Generally speaking, the silhouette can be seen as a relaxation and relief from the two periods that bracket it, the weighty, paniered expanse of the the late 1700s and the riotous poofy-ness of the 1830s. But one must remember that, in spite of all the apparent freedom of movement, the youthful grace of the style, the corset still held sway. In fact, the uncomfortable item's territory grew, expanding both North and South; viewing the portraits of the day, it's easy to forget that underneath all that satiny, sylph-like glamour, ladies were usually well-trussed from their hips to their shoved-up bosoms. Also easy to forget is that the gowns portrayed by Baron Gérard and the like are usually little more than silken nightgowns; what happens when one lives in a cold climate, or when Winter comes...? The truth is that there were all sorts of other coverings and accessories, most of them rather silly looking and at odds with the silhouette; all the decorative "action" happened between the bosom and the close-dressed head, and the traditional laces and trimmings clashed with the otherwise still-Neoclassical line. But it's mostly only the portraits of mature and older women that feature this awkward, though more practical, clothing. And while a girl or a very young woman might look something like "cute" dressed in his manner - fichus, pelerines, chin-grazing ruffs, and (probably least graceful of all) lacy, ribboned, and face-scrunching caps - this did little to enhance the charms of the matron of any proportion.

Nadezhda Ivanovna Dubovitskaya, by Vladimir Borovikovsky, 1809.
Suzanna Maria Crommelin, wife of Egbert Johannes Koch, by Charles Howard Hodges, before 1820.
Countess - formerly Baroness, soon to be Princess - Charlotte von Lieven née von Gaugreben, by George Dawe, 1821.
Unidentified sitter, unknown artist, circa 1810-20.
Mrs. Brak-Haskenhoff, by Cornelis Kruseman, 1818.
Ida Louise Frederike Engels née Noot, by Heinrich Christoph Kolbe, circa 1815.
Princess Natalya Petrovna Golitsyna née Chernysheva, by Vladimir Borovikovsky, circa 1790s.
Unknown lady, by James Ward, 1811.
Portrait of a lady, by Charles Howard Hodges, circa 1820.
Mrs. Thomas Linley, by James Lonsdale, 1820.
Yekaterina Alexandrovna Arkharova, by Vladimir Borovikovsky, 1820.
Elisabeth Gertrud de Weerth née Wülfing, by Heinrich Christoph Kolbe, 1825.
Portrait of the Mother of the Captain of Stierle-Holzmeister, by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, 1819.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Sepia Valentino - Paul Meeres, photographs by Carl van Vechten, 1932

Preston Paul Meeres (13 August 1902, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas - 13 September 1962, Nassau), Bahamian dancer and club owner. The grandson of an English minister, Charles Edwin Meeres, rector of the Christ Church Cathedral in Nassau, he grew up in Grant's Town. His father, Paul Aitken Meeres, had six children; four of them were illegitimate, the younger Paul among them. Like many young Bahamian men during the early decades of the twentieth century, Meeres came to the United States as a farm worker on what was called "the contract," an employment agreement between the two countries to meet the United States' demand for farm workers. Soon enough, though with no formal training, he embarked on a dancing career. Strikingly handsome - he would be nicknamed "The Brown Valentino" or "The Sepia Valentino" - and rumored to be gay or bisexual, after a brief first marriage, he married for the second time in 1925; Thelma Dorsette, born in Brooklyn to Bahamian and Jamaican parents, was around fifteen at the time. As pretty as her husband, she became his dance partner, their act consisting mostly of ballroom dancing, but also ballet and West Indian numbers. Billed as "Meeres & Meeres", "the Negro Astaires", they became stars of the Harlem Renaissance, performing at the Cotton Club and Con­nie’s Inn. They also appeared on Broadway in the production of “Hot Chocolates” with Cab Calloway. The couple had two children - their son would also go on to success as a dancer, billed as Paul Meeres, Jr. - but they divorced in 1930. (He must have married again, as it appears he had a second daughter, born in 1931.) 

Costumed for an unknown dance number.

Meeres went on to tour much of America, as well as Cuba, the Far East, and Canada. He gained further success in Europe as a solo act; among other engagements, he performed at the Folies Bergère, working with Joséphine Baker whom he'd known in the Harlem days. (It's even said that he gave a command performance at Buckingham Palace, but that sounds perhaps a bit far fetched to me.) In 1939 he returned to the Bahamas and opened his own nightclub, theatre, and hotel. The Chez Paul Meeres Club turned out a great success, very popular with international travelers and big name celebrities; Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner are said to have been among the guests. He brought in the very best bands and performers, and having himself appeared in all the best and most famous clubs in Paris, London, New York, and Cuba, he was able to replicate much of that atmosphere. Things turned very sour in the late Fifties, though. When a nephew escaped from prison and hid in his mother's house, Meeres took the rap for housing a fugitive. He was arrested, convicted, and spent six months in prison for the offense. He was never the same after that. He fell into a deep depression and started drinking heavily; he still had the club, but "he just walked the street drunk". In 1957 a couple from Sweden, took over the club and renamed it "The Tropicana"; it burned down the following year under suspicious circumstances. Four years later, a drunken Meeres staggered into the path of an oncoming bus. He was pronounced dead hours later at the Princess Margaret Hospital. He was sixty years and one month old, exactly.


With Joséphine Baker, performing at the Folies Bergère. Inscribed:
"To my old Pal Jimmie, so good to meet in Paris all my
very best ever, Paul Meeres and Josephine Baker."
A rather more private image, "Venice" in the background.


(Additional information provided by Phil Austin Roberts of the Bahamas.)