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, May 27, 2018

If the pants fit... - portrait of the singer Jean Elleviou, by Louis-Léopold Boilly

Elleviou in his role in Le Prisonnier or La Ressemblance, circa 1798.

Jean Elleviou (Pierre-Jean-Baptiste-François Elleviou; 14 June 1769, Rennes – 5 May 1842, Paris), French operatic tenor, one of the most celebrated French singers of his time. The son of a surgeon, he rebelled at having to follow in his father's footsteps and fled to Paris, where he fell in with actors and musicians. But just as he was about to make his stage debut, he was apprehended by the police and returned home to Rennes. There he was forced to resume his medical courses but, after only a few months, he convinced his father that he should be allowed to finish his studies back in Paris. Where, once again, he abandoned them. Though he made his debut in 1790 at the Comédie Italienne as a baritone in Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny’s Le Déserteur, a year later he performed in a tenor role in Nicolas Dalayrac’s Philippe et Georgette.

He went on to create forty some roles during the next twenty years, in operas by Grétry, Dalayrac, Monsigny, Boieldieu, Méhul, Isouard, and others. According to contemporaries, he possessed a very sweet and flexible voice, excellent diction, and had a handsome figure and charming stage presence which made him a great favorite with Parisian audiences. He toured in Italy in 1795 and throughout France in 1795-97, returning to Paris to perform at the Opéra-Comique (the newly renamed Comédie Italienne). Of a capricious and irritable nature, he also became more and more financially demanding. Fortunately, he married a very wealthy woman from Lyon. And after he retired in 1813 - at the height of his fame and only forty-four years old - he devoted his time to his properties in Lyon. He was eventually elected mayor of his commune, then general councilor of the Rhône. He died of apoplexy at the age of seventy-three.

Boilly’s portrait of Elleviou depicts the young singer in his role in Le Prisonnier or La Ressemblance, a comic opera in one act with music by Domenico Della-Maria and libretto by Alexandre Duval, which premiered at the Théâtre Feydeau on 29 January 1798.  The painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon in July of 1798 as, “Portrait du C[itoy]en. Elleviou, Artiste du théâtre de L’Opéra-Comique national, représenté dans le costume de son rôle dans la jolie pièce du Prisonnier.” Two years later, at the Salon of 1800, Boilly exhibited a trompe l’oeil painting depicting various drawings and prints including at center an “engraving” that reproduces his earlier portrait of Elleviou.  (The artist also included his own self-portrait in the composition at lower left.)

Trompe l’oeil by Boilly, circa 1800.


Engraving by Pierre Audouin after the portrait by Henri François Riesener, circa 1800.
The original portrait by Henri François Riesener.


As the title role in Jean de Paris, opéra-comique, music by Boieldieu and libretto by Saint-Just, circa 1812. (2 images.)
As Diego in Picaros et Diego ou la Folle Soirée, opéra-comique, music by Dalayrac and libretto by Dupaty, circa 1803.
As the title role in the opera Joseph, music by Méhul and libretto by Duval, circa 1807.
As Richard in Le Roi et le Fermier, opéra-comique, music by Monsigny and libretto by Sedaine, circa 1806.


Two portraits presumed to be of Elleviou. (Which, to me - though both are charming - seems unlikely.)

Portrait by Désiré-Adelaïde-Charles Maignen de Sainte-Marie, 1809.
Miniature de Charles Berny, 1813.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Woman at a Mirror, by Gerard ter Borch, circa 1652

In the collection of the Rijksmuseum, this beautiful, stunningly restrained and elegant painting was new to me.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

East goes west - western dress at the Meiji court in ukiyo-e prints by Toyohara Chikanobu, circa 1887-90

"Illustration of Flowering Cherry Blossoms at Ueno Park." (Right-hand plate.)
"Illustration of Flowering Cherry Blossoms at Ueno Park."

The politics of Japan - both internal and international - were complicated and very troubled at the time of the Meiji Emperor's accession in 1867. According to the Nihon Shoki, the classical history of Japan, the nation has had an emperor since 660 BC, but for almost seven hundred years prior to the Meiji Restoration, Japan was actually controlled by a Shogunate, the emperors revered but virtually powerless. But with the forced opening of trade with the United States in the 1850s, the old systems of government had proved unequal to Western aggression, and the power of the Shogun was under attack. Finally, in 1868, after more than a decade of unrest, the new Emperor - still only fifteen years old - made a formal declaration of the restoration of his power, a restoration of practical imperial rule in Japan. In the following years, he oversaw radical changes in the country's political, military, and social structures, as Japan transformed itself from a feudal and isolationist society into a modern international power.

"A Mirror of Japan’s Nobility - The Emperor Meiji, His Wife, and Prince Haru."

Chikanobu's images of the Emperor, the Empress, and ladies of the Imperial court are a vivid example of the ruler's push to Westernize Japan. Court dress and uniforms for men, based on European models, were decreed only three years after the Restoration. Soon, too, fashionable, upper-class ladies, inspired by the Empress, took up wearing Western dress in public. And in 1886 - just prior to the images here - the court set out rules for ladies' formal wear. (None of these examples are of formal wear.) Ironically, Chikanobu, who so brilliantly described the lavish European fashion in his work here, came to greatly regret the changes in his country, the ever-escalating Westernization, the loss of its traditional culture.

"Blooming Chrysanthemums in an Autumn Garden."
"Excursion to View Cherry Blossoms by the Sumida River."
"Meiji Emperor, Empress, Crown Prince, and Court Attendants in Western Clothing."
"Meiji Emperor Prepares to Leave the Palace in the Phoenix Carriage."
"Meiji Emperor and Empress - Autumn Colors."
"Illustration of the Garden Refreshed after the Rain."
"A Scene of the Japanese Diet."
"A Contest of Elegant Ladies among the Cherry Blossoms."
"Children Playing in the Snow under Plum Trees in Bloom."
"Procession Outside Tokyo Imperial Palace with Meiji Emperor and his Consort."
"Meiji Constitution Promulgation."
"The Emperor, Empress, Crown Prince, and Court Ladies on an Outing to Asuka Park."
"Illustration of Singing by the Plum Garden."
"Visit of the Empress to the Third National Industrial Promotional Exhibition at Ueno Park."
"Meiji Emperor, Empress, Crown Prince, and Court Attendants in Western Clothing/Royal Couple with Chrysanthemums."
"The Emperor Enjoys A Cool Evening."


Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延, better known to his contemporaries as Yōshū Chikanobu 楊洲周延, the name with which he signed his work: 1838–1912), woodblock artist of Japan's Meiji period. Born in Niigata Prefecture as Hashimoto Naoyoshi (橋本直義), he was the eldest of two children, his father a retainer of the powerful Sakakibara clan of samurai in Echigo Province. He showed artistic abilities as a young child and was given lessons with respected teachers. He also trained in the martial arts, and after the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate, he joined the Shōgitai, an elite fighting corps, and became famous for his bravery in battle. In 1871, three years into the Meiji era, he established himself in Tokyo as a professional artist. He had studied several genres of art making, but was most drawn to ukiyo-e. His subject matter displayed great variety, ranging from Japanese mythology to battle scenes to ladies' fashions, from scenes of natural disasters to actor portraits. He illustrated events both contemporary and historical. He was very successful, but by the last decade of the century, he and much of his audience were becoming dismayed by the rapid changes taking place in Tokyo and were increasingly nostalgic about the lost world of the Shogunate, and his later work reflects this nostalgia. His last works featured retrograde images of the brave samurai and heroic women of Japan's past, and by 1905 his production of work had dwindled. He died of stomach cancer at the age of seventy-five.