Posts Tagged ‘Edgar Allan Poe

10
May
20

Exhibition: ‘Aubrey Beardsley’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 4 March – 25 May 2020

The Tate, London has temporarily closed until further notice due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

 

Frederick Evans (British, 1853-1943) 'Aubrey Beardsley [with hands]' 1893

 

Frederick Evans (British, 1853-1943)
Aubrey Beardsley [with hands]
1893
Platinum print and photogravure, mounted on opposing pages of a paper folio
Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

While working as a clerk, Beardsley spent his lunchtimes browsing in Frederick Evans’s nearby second-hand bookshop. This had an important impact on his developing artistic and literary tastes. Beardsley became close friends with Evans, who was also a talented amateur photographer. The image on the left has become known as the ‘gargoyle portrait’ because Beardsley’s pose echoes the famous carved figure on Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. This portrait was used in early editions of Beardsley’s work and has become the defining image of the artist.

 

 

There he is

There he is, all aquiline nose, patrician air; thin wrists and hands that infinity strengthens,

Mannerist hands, hands like the buttresses of some great cathedral, supporting that noble face.

There he is, this genius of invention, this suave sophisticate, this pervader of decadent beauty,

this grotesque who produced a thousand drawings in seven years, who lived a thousand lives in just seven years.

There he is, this son of Blake, this offspring of Lautrec and japonaiserie,

all primed in subtle sexualities, shocking, fame, subversion… strange.

There he is, love of yellow, flowering enormous genitalia, erotic illustrations of distorting scale, women ambiguity,

as bold as life, diseased as death, driving his body on while his mind accretes mythologies.

Now he stands, a fantastical visionary, existing as product of unchecked imagination.

An illusion, a fabrication of the mind; an unrealisable dream, a fancy,

his utopia a grotesque, chimerical beauty.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Tate Britain’s major new exhibition celebrates the brief but astonishing career of Aubrey Beardsley. Although he died tragically young at the age of just 25, Beardsley’s strange, sinuous black-and-white images have continued to shock and delight for over a century. Bringing together 200 spectacular works, this is the largest display of his original drawings in over 50 years and the first exhibition of his work at Tate since 1923.

Beardsley (1872-98) became one of the enfants terribles of fin-de-siècle London, best remembered for illustrating Oscar Wilde’s controversial play Salomé. His opulent imagery anticipated the elegance of Art Nouveau but also alighted on the subversive and erotic aspects of life and legend, shocking audiences with a bizarre sense of humour and fascination with the grotesque. Beardsley was prolific, producing hundreds of illustrations for books, periodicals and posters in a career spanning just under seven years. Line block printing enabled his distinct black-and-white works to be easily reproduced and widely circulated, winning notoriety and admirers around the world, but the original pen and ink drawings are rarely seen. Tate Britain exhibits a huge array of these drawings, revealing his unrivalled skill as a draughtsman in exquisite detail.

The exhibition highlights each of the key commissions that defined Beardsley’s career as an illustrator, notably Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur 1893-4, Wilde’s Salomé 1893 and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock 1896, of which five of the original drawings are shown together for the first time. As art director of the daring literary quarterly The Yellow Book, the artist also created seminal graphic works that came to define the decadence of the era and scandalised public opinion. Bound editions and plates are displayed alongside subsequent works from The Savoy and illustrations for Volpone 1898 and Lysistrata 1896, in which Beardsley further explored his fascination with eroticism and the absurd.

Beardsley’s imagination was fuelled by diverse cultural influences, from ancient Greek vases and Japanese woodblock prints, to illicit French literature and the Rococo. He also responded to his contemporaries such as Gustave Moreau, Edward Burne-Jones and Toulouse Lautrec, whose works are shown at Tate Britain to provide context for Beardsley’s individual mode of expression. A room in the exhibition is dedicated to portraits of Beardsley and the artist’s wider circle, presenting him at the heart of the arts scene in London in the 1890’s despite the frequent confinement of his rapidly declining health. As notorious for his complex persona as he was for his work, the artist had a preoccupation with his own image, relayed throughout the exhibition by striking self-portraits and depictions by the likes of Walter Sickert and Jacques-Emile Blanche.

Additional highlights include a selection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs and his only oil painting. Charles Bryant and Alla Nazimova’s remarkable 1923 film Salomé is also screened in a gallery adjacent to Beardsley’s illustrations, showcasing the costume and set designs they inspired. The exhibition closes with an overview of Beardsley’s legacy from Art Nouveau to the present day, including Picasso’s Portrait of Marie Derval 1901 and Klaus Voormann’s iconic artwork for the cover of Revolver 1966 by the Beatles.

Aubrey Beardsley is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, with the generous support of the V&A, private lenders and other public institutions. It is curated by Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, Curator of British Art 1850-1915, and Stephen Calloway with Alice Insley, Assistant Curator, Historic British Art.

Press release from the Tate Britain website

 

 

 

Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain – Exhibition Tour | Tate

Join Tate curators Caroline Corbeau-Parsons and Alice Insley as they discuss the iconic illustrator’s short and scandalous career.

Before his untimely death aged twenty-five, Beardsley produced over a thousand illustrations. He drew everything from legendary tales featuring dragons and knights, to explicit scenes of sex and debauchery. His fearless attitude to art continues to inspire creatives more than a century after his death.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Withered Spring' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Withered Spring
1891
Graphite, ink and gouache on paper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection

 

 

The framing of the main image by ornamental panels and lettering shows the influence of aesthetic movement illustrators, as well as that of Burne-Jones. The inscription on the gate behind the figure is partly obscured. In full it would read ‘Ars Longa Vita Brevis’ (‘art is long-lasting, life is short’). As Beardsley was diagnosed with tuberculosis aged seven, this Latin saying must have had personal resonance.

 

 

Introduction

Few artists have stamped their personality so indelibly on their era as Aubrey Beardsley. He died in 1898 at the age of just 25 but had already become one of the most discussed and celebrated artists in Europe. His extraordinary black-and-white drawings were instantly recognisable. Then, as now, he seemed the quintessential figure of 1890s decadence.

At the end of the 19th century, a period that had seen vast social and technological changes, many began to fear that civilisation had reached its peak and was doomed to crumble. ‘Decadent’ artists and writers retreated into the imagination. Severing the link between art and nature, they created a new sensibility based upon self-indulgence, refinement and often a love of the bizarre. No other artist captured the danger and the beauty, the cynicism and brilliance of the age as Beardsley did with pen and ink.

Beardsley was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of seven. The disease was then incurable, so he knew from childhood that his life would be a brief one. This led him to work at a hectic pace. One contemporary described his determination ‘to fill his few working years with the immediate echo of a great notoriety’. Moving rapidly from style to style, he created well over a thousand illustrations and designs in just five years. Beardsley was catapulted to fame in 1893 by an article about his work in The Studio magazine. He went on to illustrate Oscar Wilde’s play Salome and become art editor of The Yellow Book, a periodical that came to define the era.

Beardsley’s illustrations displayed remarkable skill and versatility, but few people ever saw his actual drawings. He always drew for publication and his work was seen primarily in books and magazines. He was one of the first artists whose fame came through the easy dissemination of images, his reputation growing day by day as his sensational designs appeared.

This exhibition offers a rare chance to see many of Beardsley’s original drawings. It also sets Beardsley in his social and artistic context. Works by other artists punctuate the exhibition, showing how he absorbed diverse artistic influences but always retained his own style.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Incipit Vita Nova' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Incipit Vita Nova
1892
Graphite, ink and gouache on paper
Linda Gertner Zatlin

 

 

The title of this drawing refers to Dante Alighieri’s 1294 text La Vita Nuova and translates as ‘New Life Begins’. Some have seen the foetus as a potent symbol for Beardsley. Its significance is unclear beyond linking sexuality, life and death, all key themes in Beardsley’s work. It also reflects his fascination with shocking imagery and the grotesque, the term used traditionally to describe deliberate distortions and exaggerations of forms to create an effect of fantasy or strangeness. He once said, ‘if I am not grotesque I am nothing’.

 

 

Beginnings

Beardsley’s artistic career spanned just under seven years, between 1891 and 1898. When he was 18 he met the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, an artist he deeply admired. Having seen Beardsley’s portfolio, Burne-Jones responded: ‘I seldom or never advise anyone to take up art as a profession, but in your case I can do nothing else.’ On his recommendation, for a short time Beardsley attended classes at Westminster School of Art.

Beardsley longed for fame and recognition. This went hand in hand with an intensely cultivated self-image and pose as a dandy-aesthete. This important aspect of his identity is illuminated through self-portraits and portraits by his contemporaries throughout the exhibition.

Witty, tall, ‘spotlessly clean & well-groomed’, Beardsley was soon noted for his dandyism. A delight in refinement and artificiality in both dress and manner, dandyism was integral to the decadent creed. Some contemporaries related the artist’s extreme thinness and fragile physical appearance to ideas of morbidity also associated with decadence.

While Beardsley rejected the label of decadence, his work explores many aspects of it, such as a fascination with the ‘anti-natural’ and the bizarre, with sexual freedom and gender fluidity. What present-day society refers to as LGBTQIA+ identities were only just beginning to be formulated and articulated during his lifetime. Beardsley was attracted to women, but he was a pioneer in representing what we might now call queer desires and identities. Though fascinated by all aspects of sexuality, it seems likely that his explorations of these interests were primarily through literature and art.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Self-portrait' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Self-portrait
1892
Ink on paper
British Museum
Presented by Robert Ross in 1906

 

 

Apart from a few childish sketches, this is Beardsley’s first recorded self-portrait, made at the age of about 19. His newly adopted centre-parted fringe, fashionable high collar and large bow tie show that he had already formed a distinctive self-image. A few months earlier, he had described himself as having ‘a vile constitution, a sallow face and sunken eyes’.

 

Russell & Sons. 'Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley' c. 1893?

 

Russell & Sons (Photographers)
Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley
c. 1893?
Cartes de visite / cabinet card
Albumen print

Please note: This photograph is not in the exhibition

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Finding of Medusa; The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor); Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Finding of Medusa; The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor); Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

This design forms part of Burne-Jones’s ambitious scheme for a series of large wall decorations on the theme of Perseus. Although the work was never completed as he intended, Burne-Jones still proudly displayed ten full-scale preparatory drawings for the panels in his garden studio. They must have made a strong impression on Beardsley when he visited Burne-Jones in August 1891.

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Finding of Medusa' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Finding of Medusa
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor)' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor)
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Perseus eventually discovers Medusa with her sisters, the Gorgons. Unlike her they are all immortal. Using Athena’s mirror to defend himself, Perseus beheads Medusa, at which point the winged horse Pegasus and the warrior Chrysaor spring from her decapitated body. When the Gorgons attempt to punish Perseus for killing their sister, he evades them by using the helmet given to him by the sea nymphs, thus becoming invisible.

Gallery label, June 1993

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'The Litany of Mary Magdalen' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
The Litany of Mary Magdalen
1891
Graphite on cream wove paper laid down on board
227 × 169 mm
The Art Institute of Chicago, The Charles Deering Collection
Public domain

 

 

The Italian painter Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506) was a key reference for both Burne-Jones and Beardsley. At Burne-Jones’s suggestion, Beardsley particularly studied the early engravings after Mantegna’s designs. Throughout his life Beardsley kept a set of reproductions of these prints pinned to his wall. In this subject of his own invention, he freely borrows details of costume, pose and gesture from figures in various of Mantegna’s works, particularly The Entombment (c. 1465-70).

 

Andrea Mantegna (Italian, c.  1431-1506) 'The Entombment of Christ' c. 1465-75

 

Andrea Mantegna (Italian, c.  1431-1506)
The Entombment of Christ
c. 1465-75
Engraving and drypoint; second state of two
11 7/16 × 16 3/8 in. (29 × 41.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937
Public domain

Please note: This engraving is not in the exhibition

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Tannhäuser' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Tannhäuser
1891
Ink, wash and gouache on paper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection
Public domain

 

 

Beardsley was an avid opera-goer. He attended several performances of Wagner’s works at this time, including Tannhäuser at Covent Garden in April or May 1891. He would return to Wagnerian subjects many times in his art and writings. The story of Tannhäuser was a particular favourite. He later made it the subject of his own erotic novella The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser. Here he shows the knight in pilgrim’s robes, among trees that appear like prison bars, trying to find his way back to the goddess’s enchanted realm, the Venusberg.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Die Götterdämmerung' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Die Götterdämmerung
1892
Ink, wash and gouache on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University

 

 

Beardsley took this subject from Wagner’s opera, the title of which translates as ‘The Twilight of the Gods’. It has been suggested that the frieze-like composition depicts three different moments of the story. According to this interpretation, the scene to the right refers to the prologue, showing the Fates, with the bearded Wotan holding his magic spear. He also appears seated at the centre of the composition with Siegfried standing by him to tell his story to a group of hunters. Finally, Wotan may be represented again seated, in profile, wearing his Wanderer’s hat.

 

Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), is the last in Richard Wagner’s cycle of four music dramas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung, or The Ring for short). It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 17 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of the Ring.

Die Götterdämmerung,” notes Emma Sutton in Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s (2002), “Beardsley’s only drawing of the concluding part of the Ring cycle, was probably prompted by the first performance for a decade of the Ring in London in June and July 1892. It is extremely likely that he attended a performance of the drama; he certainly attended Siegfried, and produced drawings on Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, and of the principle singers, in this year.

No interpretation of the drawing has, to my knowledge, ever been offered, perhaps because its stylistics might suggest that it is an incomplete or experimental, Impressionistic work. The drawing is, however, an intricate and highly knowledgeable representation of Wagner’s work, demonstrating Beardsley’s comprehensive knowledge of Die Götterdämmerung (and, indeed, of the whole cycle) from the very start of the decade. Beardsley presents the gods shrouded in long drapes in a bleak forest setting; with their elongated limbs and enveloping robes they appear androgynous figures, listless and melancholy, entrapped by the sharp bare stems that rise from the border and ground around them.

Despite the undulating lines of the landscape, Die Gotterdammerung is a scene of desolate stasis, bleakly portraying Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods. A compression of several scenes from Wagner’s drama, the drawing is, I would suggest, an extraordinarily innovative and ambitious attempt to evoke concisely the narrative events and cumulative tone of the entire drama.”

~ Emma Sutton, Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s (2002)

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Anonymous. “Aubrey Beardsley’s “Die Götterdämmerung”,” on the Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton website [Online] Cited 02/03/2020

 

Le Morte Darthur

In early 1892, Beardsley received his first major commission. His friend, the photographer and bookseller Frederick H. Evans, introduced him to J.M. Dent. The energetic and enterprising publisher was looking for an illustrator for Le Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century version of the legends of King Arthur. Dent planned a substantial edition in the style of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press books. Between autumn 1892 and June 1894 Beardsley produced 353 drawings, including full and double-page illustrations, elaborate border designs and numerous small-scale ornamental chapter headings. He received £250 over the course of this commission. This freed him to leave his hated job as a clerk and focus on art-making.

Beardsley gradually grew weary of this colossal undertaking and went off-brief. Subversive details started to appear in his drawings. He also introduced incongruous characters such as mermaids and satyrs, goat-legged hybrid creatures from classical mythology.

His illustrations were reproduced using the relatively new and economical line block printing process in which drawings are transferred onto printing plates photographically. Beardsley was at first disappointed with the printing of his drawings, but he quickly adapted his style to suit the line block process. Uniquely, this could reproduce both the finest of lines and large, flat areas of black.

The works in this room demonstrate the development of Beardsley’s art over two years, and how he combined many different sources to create his own visual language.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'The Achieving of the Sangreal' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
The Achieving of the Sangreal
1892
Ink and wash on paper
Private collection

 

 

This is the sample drawing that secured Beardsley the Morte Darthur commission. Dent declared it ‘a masterpiece’, and it was used as the frontispiece for Volume II. It seems to refer to the crucial episode of the book, in Chapter XIV, where Sir Percival kneels to make a prayer to Jesus in the presence of Sir Ector, and the Sangreal (popularly called the Holy Grail) appears to him, ‘borne by a maiden’.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How Morgan Le Fay Gave a Shield to Sir Tristram' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How Morgan Le Fay Gave a Shield to Sir Tristram
1893
Ink on paper
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

(Illustration from: Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur. London: Dent, 1894)

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How la Beale Isoud Wrote to Sir Tristram' c. 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How la Beale Isoud Wrote to Sir Tristram
c. 1893
Ink over graphite on paper
Alessandra and Simon Wilson

 

 

This drawing brings to mind the comment by the art historian John Rothenstein that ‘the greatest among Beardsley’s gifts was his power of assimilating every influence and yet retaining, nay developing, his own peculiar individuality’.

Isoud (Isolde) here resembles the Pre-Raphaelite figure Jane Morris. The German Renaissance form of her desk is borrowed from Albrecht Dürer’s engraving St Jerome in his Study (1513-14). The simple, flattened construction of the space reflects Beardsley’s interest in Japanese prints. These contrast with the flowing lines of the sunflower border, a typical aesthetic motif.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink
1893
Ink on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

 

This is one of Beardsley’s boldest and most rhythmic drawings. Tristram’s outstretched arm follows the movement of the hybrid flower. The flat outline of Isolde’s recoiling body parallels that of Tristram’s cloak, all against the strong vertical and horizontal lines formed by the curtains with their stylised rose border. Isolde’s long cape, seen from the back, is a forerunner of Beardsley’s famous Peacock Skirt in his Salome illustrations (on display later in this exhibition).

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How La Beale Isoud Nursed Sir Tristram' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How La Beale Isoud Nursed Sir Tristram
1893
Ink over graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How King Arthur saw the Questing Beast, and thereof had great marvel' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How King Arthur saw the Questing Beast, and thereof had great marvel
1893
Ink and wash on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Together with Siegfried Act II (shown nearby), this drawing reflects the height of Beardsley’s fine ‘hair-line manner’. The drawing has great variety of treatment, showing that Beardsley’s style evolved while working on the commission. To alleviate boredom, he took great liberties with Malory’s text. He introduced mythological characters with little to do with the Arthurian legend, such as Pan, here. There are also discreet additions, including a treble clef top right, and even a phallus on the far left of the bank.

 

 

Something suggestive of Japan

The European craze for Japanese visual culture had begun in the 1860s after trade links were re-established. Beardsley grew up surrounded by western interpretations of Japanese art. In the summer of 1891, together with his sister Mabel, he visited the London mansion of the shipping magnate Frederick Leyland. There he saw the ‘Peacock Room’ created 15 years earlier by the expatriate North American artist James McNeill Whistler. Decorated with borrowed and reworked Japanese motifs, this masterpiece of the aesthetic movement had become one of the most celebrated interiors in London. Mesmerised by his visit, Beardsley began to introduce such details into his own drawings.

Japanese woodblock prints (Ukiyo-e) were also an important influence. Beardsley adopted their graphic conventions. His new style included areas of flat pattern contrasted with precisely drawn figures against abstracted or empty backgrounds. Like several artists at this time, he also favoured the distinctive, tall and narrow format of traditional Japanese kakemono scrolls.

In a letter to a friend, Beardsley bragged, ‘I struck for myself an entirely new method of drawing and composition, something suggestive of Japan… The subjects were quite mad and a little indecent.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) Design for a Frontispiece to 'Virgilius the Sorcerer' c. 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Design for a Frontispiece to Virgilius the Sorcerer
c. 1893
Ink over graphite on paper laid down on board
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Robert Allerton

 

 

Following the glowing article in The Studio, many publishers approached Beardsley with commissions for illustrations and book covers. David Nutt, an old established publishing firm, generally specialised in early texts and folklore. Although made for Nutt’s ‘medieval legends’ series, Beardsley’s design is, somewhat incongruously, in the style of a Japanese print.

 

 

A New Illustrator

Beardsley first came to public notice in April 1893. He was the subject of the lead article, ‘A New Illustrator’, in the first issue of the new art magazine The Studio. In it, the graphic art expert Joseph Pennell praised Beardsley’s work as ‘quite as remarkable in its execution as in its invention: a very rare combination.’

Pennell welcomed Beardsley’s use of ‘mechanical reproduction for the publication of his drawings’. The article highlighted how photographic line block printing showed the true quality of an artist’s line.

The reproductions in The Studio article included both medieval and Pre-Raphaelite style illustrations for the forthcoming Le Morte Darthur and examples of Beardsley’s work inspired by Japanese woodblock prints. This displayed his versatility and led to further commissions for books and popular journals, such as the Pall Mall Magazine. J.M. Dent, the publisher of Le Morte Darthur, rightly worried Beardsley would get bored of that long-term project. To keep him interested, he invited him to create hundreds of tiny ‘grotesque’ illustrations for the Bon-Mots series, three miniature books of witty sayings. In this context, the term grotesque relates to distortion or exaggeration of form to create an effect of fantasy or strangeness. For Beardsley the idea was central to his way of seeing the world. Summing up his own art, he later said, ‘I am nothing if I am not grotesque.’

 

Grotesque

In art history, the grotesque – which originally referred to the decoration of grottoes – has come to denote a strand of Renaissance art composed of deliberately weird elements, often including imaginary hybrid forms. These often combine parts of human heads and bodies, animals and plants. Mermaids, satyrs, fauns and other mythical figures frequently appear in Beardsley’s art. But he also added foetuses, often with adult bodies, and other distorted figures to his grotesque repertoire. The resulting imagery is playful, irreverent and fantastical, but also has dark undertones. The grotesque lies at the heart of Beardsley’s art. He explained: ‘I see everything in a grotesque way. When I go to the theatre, for example, things shape themselves before my eyes just as a I draw them… They all seem weird and strange to me. Things have always impressed me in this way.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Kiss of Judas' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Kiss of Judas
1893
Ink on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This drawing illustrates a short story by ‘X.L’ (the North American writer of horror fiction Julian Osgood Field). The macabre tale tells of a legend of the descendants of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus in the Christian New Testament. It is written with the arch tone of much 1890s fiction:

‘They say that the children of Judas, lineal descendants of the arch traitor, are prowling about the world, seeking to do harm, and that they will kill you with a kiss.’ ‘Oh, how delightful!’ murmured the Dowager Duchess.

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Smaller figures appear in many of Beardsley’s works, such as the nude in The Kiss of Judas. Some viewers have read these as representations of people with dwarfism. In most cases we do not know if this was Beardsley’s intention. He never strived for realism in his work. He played with scale, exaggerating and distorting lines and shapes, including in self-portraits. But the cultural stereotyping of people with dwarfism was prevalent in Beardsley’s lifetime. In the late 19th and early 20th century, they were predominantly seen as sources of entertainment in ‘freak shows’ and carnivals. These offensive attitudes almost certainly influenced Beardsley’s imagery to some extent.

 

 

Salomé

In 1892, Beardsley made a drawing in response to Salomé, Oscar Wilde’s play, originally written in French and based on the biblical story. Salomé falls in love with Iokanaan (John the Baptist). When he rejects her, she demands his head from her step-father, Herod Antipas, as a reward for performing the dance of the seven veils. Beardsley depicts her about to kiss Iokanaan’s severed head. Wilde admired the drawing and he and his publisher, John Lane, chose Beardsley to illustrate the English translation of the play. The illustrations weave together themes of sensuality and death, and explore a wide range of sexual desires. The play’s publication created a sensation, just as Beardsley and Wilde had hoped.

Beardsley delighted in hiding provocative elements in his drawings. Lane recalled, ‘one had, so to speak, to place his drawings under a microscope, and look at them upside down’. Nervously, he censored ‘problematic’ details in Beardsley’s title page and the illustration Enter Herodias and rejected two designs altogether from the first edition. Even so, Lane missed many erotic details and, surprisingly, also allowed publication of Beardsley’s teasing drawings that include caricatures of Wilde.

Beardsley produced 18 designs in total, of which only 10 appeared in the first printing of the play. The impressions exhibited here come from the portfolio which Lane issued in 1907, almost a decade after Beardsley’s death. This was the first edition to contain all the original designs and an additional one, Salome on Settle.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Climax' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Climax
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

The flowing, sinuous lines in this design demonstrate how much art nouveau is indebted to Beardsley. He abandoned the Japanese kakemono format and hairline style of his original version of the image J’ai baisé ta bouche, Iokanaan (also in this room). By simplifying the lines of the design, he creates a more powerful focus on the moment when Salome can finally kiss Jokanaan’s lips – now that he has been beheaded. The stream of blood forms an elegant ribbon, while the lily rising from the pool that the fluid creates symbolises his chastity.

 

 

The Climax

The Climax is an 1893 illustration by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), a leading artist of the Decadent (1880-1900) and Aesthetic movements. It depicts a scene from Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, in which the femme fatale Salome has just kissed the severed head of John the Baptist, which she grasps in her hands. Elements of eroticism, symbolism, and Orientalism are present in the piece. This illustration is one of sixteen Wilde commissioned Beardsley to create for the publication of the play. The series is considered to be Beardsley’s most celebrated work, created at the age of 21. …

First published in 1894, The Climax consists of strong, precise lines, decorative motifs characteristic of the developing Art Nouveau style, and the use of only black ink. Beardsley’s style was influenced by Japanese woodcuts also known as Ukiyo-e, which comes through in the flatness of imagery, compositional arrangement, and the stylistic motifs. Elements of eroticism are also apparent.

The main focus of this illustration, Salome, floats in midair and in her hands she holds the head of John the Baptist just after she kissed it, depicting the final words said by Salome in the play “J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan, j’ai baisé ta bouche” (“I have kissed your mouth, Jokannan, I have kissed your mouth”). Her hair billows in snake-like tendrils above her as she stares powerfully into the eyes of John the Baptist. His severed head drips blood that nourishes the phallic lily. The flower also symbolises purity. Composing the background behind these two figures is a white quarter section of the moon and a stylised depiction of peacock feathers, a signature motif in Beardsley’s illustrations, made of concentric circles.

Beardsley satirised Victorian values regarding sex, that at the time highly valued respectability, and men’s fear of female superiority, as the women’s movement made gains in economic rights and occupational and educational opportunities by the 1880s. Salome’s power over men can be seen in the way that Beardsley presents her as a monster-like figure, reminiscent of Medusa.

 

Reaction

Beardsley said of his drawing that rather than using thicker lines for the foreground than those for the background, he felt that the lines should be the same width. Morgan Meis of The New Yorker states that “his influence on the look of Art Nouveau, and then on early modernism, is hard to overstate. His thick black lines fused the graphical ideas of the past with the techniques and subject matter of a new age just on the horizon.” He was an inspiration to Japanese illustrators, graphic designers, and printmakers of the early 20th century Taishō period.

The Climax is described as among his finest works by Ian Fletcher and established him as one of the “Decadence”. It was not appreciated, though, by mainstream art critics of the time, who found the Salome drawings repulsive and unintelligible. Art historian Kenneth Clark said that it “aroused more horror and indignation than any graphic work hitherto produced in England.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Dancer’s Reward' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Dancer’s Reward
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Salome is contemplating her prize. Gaping, she tilts Jokanaan’s severed and bleeding head towards her. Once again, their expressions mirror each other. The elongated arm of the executioner holds up the platter on which the head rests. This drawing resonates with European symbolist art, in which the contemplation of a severed head is a recurring image.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Toilette of Salome' (second version) 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Toilette of Salome (second version)
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Stomach Dance' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Stomach Dance
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Salome is shown performing her celebrated dance to the sounds produced by an impish musician. Wilde wrote appreciatively to Beardsley after Salome was published: ‘For Aubrey: for the only artist who, besides myself, knows what the dance of the seven veils is, and can see that invisible dance.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Eyes of Herod' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Eyes of Herod
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This illustrates the passage before Salome’s famous dance in exchange for the head of Jokanaan. Talking about Herod, Salome remarks pensively: ‘Why does the Tetrarch look at me all the while with his mole’s eyes under his shaking eyelids? It is strange that the husband of my mother looks at me like that. I know not what it means. Of a truth I know it too well.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Enter Herodias' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Enter Herodias
1893 (published 1907)
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Enter Herodias is named after a stage direction in Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé. Wilde originally wrote the play in French, and he chose Beardsley to illustrate the English translation of the play. Beardsley drew erotic and satirical images, some of which were entirely unrelated to the plot of play.

Enter Herodias shows the moment when Salome’s mother enters the stage. To the bottom right there is a caricature of Oscar Wilde holding a copy of Salome and gesturing up at his own play. It also includes two nude figures. Herodias’s breasts are exposed but she is covered by the large cloak. John Lane, who was Beardsley’s publisher, demanded that Beardsley cover the page on the right’s genitalia with a fig-leaf. But he failed to spot the penis-shaped candles the artist had drawn in the foreground, and the erection of the figure to the left.

Beardsley’s obsession with the erotic played upon Victorian taboos. Beardsley was often deliberately trying to be provocative. Many people at the time thought that Beardsley’s obsession with erotic art came from the fact that he was young and ‘consumptive’. Today we call ‘consumption’ Tuberculosis (or TB). A strange, but frequent 19th century perception of TB was that it went hand in hand with an obsession about sex.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'John and Salome' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
John and Salome
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This depicts a scene of powerful tension between Jokanaan (left) and Salome (right). By the use of mirrored poses and interlocking folds of drapery – like an image of yin and yang – he expresses the characters’ conflicted feelings of attraction and rejection. John Lane refused the design, either because of the partial nudity of Salome, or possibly because of the androgynous appearance of the Baptist who could here be Salome’s twin.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Black Cape' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Black Cape
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Peacock Skirt' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Peacock Skirt
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This is one of Beardsley’s most famous and acclaimed designs. It conflates two scenes from the play. In one, the page of Herodias warns the young Syrian about looking too much at Salome. In the other, Herod promises 50 of his white peacocks in exchange for Salome’s dance and imagines them forming a ‘great white cloud’ around her. The scene was abstracted by Beardsley in a flamboyant demonstration of his calligraphic skills.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan' 1892-3

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan
1892-3
Ink and wash on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University

 

 

This is Beardsley’s first interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s play, before it was translated into English. It was reproduced in the first issue of The Studio, and it is characteristic of Beardsley’s intricate hairline style. It may well have been a bid to illustrate the play. If it was, it paid off, as Wilde did ask John Lane to commission Beardsley. The artist applied some green watercolour to the drawing after it was published.

 

Gustave Moreau. 'The apparition' 1874-76 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Apparition (detail)
1874-6
Watercolour on paper
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, gift of Charles Ayem

 

 

This watercolour made a strong impression on Oscar Wilde at the 1876 Paris Salon exhibition. It represents the bloody vision of John the Baptist’s head appearing while Salomé dances for Herod. It featured in Joris-Karl Huysmans’s 1884 novel À Rebours (Against Nature). In it, the reclusive hero contemplates this watercolour. Wilde could quote at length from this ‘bible’ of decadence. Both the novel and The Apparition played a part in the creation of Wilde’s own Salomé.

 

 

Alla Nazimova (1879-1945)
Charles Bryant (1879-1948)
Salomé
1923
Film, 35 mm, black and white
Running time: 1hr 12mins
Sets and costumes by Natacha Rambova, after Aubrey Beardsley

 

This 1923 silent “Salome” is probably the best filmed version of the scandalous Oscar Wilde one-act play. It’s basically a photographed avant-garde theatre production performed on a single set based on Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for the published play.

 

 

Alla Nazimova’s Salomé

This 1923 silent film is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play. The imaginative set and costumes by Natacha Rambova are directly inspired by Beardsley’s drawings, and credited as such. The project was conceived and led by Alla Nazimova, a famous Hollywood actor during the silent movie era. She was drawn to Salome and financed its screen adaptation herself. Nazimova had relationships with women and her film reflects themes of same-sex desire present in Beardsley’s drawings. Charles Bryant, with whom she pretended to be married, was credited as the director, as women did not have equal status in Hollywood.

This film perpetuates some demeaning stereotypes that were current during Beardsley’s lifetime and beyond. This is reflected particularly in the portrayal of the musicians with dwarfism. At that time people with restricted growth were widely associated with servitude and treated as a source of spectacle.

 

 

Posters

When Beardsley first travelled to Paris in 1892, he was enthralled by the many posters that adorned the city. The French posters showed the possibilities of this new mass-produced outdoor format and the potential of large-scale colour reproduction. Beardsley was quick to embrace this. Understanding that posters would be viewed in passing, often at a distance, his designs experimented with bold, simplified forms and solid blocks of colour. For Beardsley, advertising was central to modern life and an opportunity to integrate art into everyday experience. As he put it, ‘Beauty has laid siege to the city’.

In the autumn of 1894, the first ever English exhibition of posters opened in London. Pictorial posters were enjoying a boom in Britain and were beginning to be recognised as an art form. The exhibition featured work by celebrated French artists such as Jules Chéret and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, known as the ‘fathers’ of the modern poster. Significantly, it also included several works by Beardsley. Not only did this place Beardsley’s posters on a par with the art that had inspired him, it also attested to his importance in the development of British poster design.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901) Divan Japonais 1892

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901)
Divan Japonais
1892
Colour lithograph on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

In Paris, Beardsley would have encountered Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters, including this one, on hoardings across the city. It advertises the popular cabaret nightspot, the Divan Japonais, and depicts two stars of Parisian nightlife, the singer Yvette Guilbert and the dancer Jane Avril. Beardsley was inspired as much by Toulouse-Lautrec’s vivid portrayal of modern life as his striking style, typified by dramatic blocks of colour, silhouettes and bold outlines. The admiration was mutual: Toulouse-Lautrec also expressed the wish to buy a copy of Salome.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Pseudonym and Autonym Libraries' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Pseudonym and Autonym Libraries
1894
Colour lithograph on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This poster shares its title with the series of novels and short story collections it promotes. The name was inspired by the publisher, T. Fisher Unwin’s, recognition that women often wrote under a pseudonym, whereas men used their actual name (autonym). The woman pictured here appears confident as she rushes towards the bookshop, implying that knowledge brings freedom.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Isolde' Printed 1899

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Isolde
Printed 1899
Colour lithograph and line block print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Turning again to Wagner for inspiration, Beardsley depicts the tragic heroine, Isolde, on the brink of drinking the fateful love potion. She stands against a stage curtain, bright red in the original design and equally bold in the orange used for this first printing. Beardsley asserted, ‘I have no great care for colour, but [in posters] colour is essential’. This design was published as a colour lithograph supplement in The Studio in October 1895.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'A Comedy of Sighs' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
A Comedy of Sighs
1894
Colour lithograph on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This was Beardsley’s first poster design. It appeared on walls and hoardings around London shortly after the publication of Salome and introduced his art to an even wider audience. The poster stole the limelight from the performances of the two short plays it advertised. Critics were outraged by the woman’s ‘ugliness’ and the indecency of her plunging neckline. Punch magazine even punned, ‘Let’s “Ave-a-nue” Poster!’

 

 

Beardsley’s Circle

This room introduces the key figures in Beardsley’s life. The glowing article in The Studio and his success with Le Morte Darthur had brought him into the public eye at the age of 20. Following this, a sequence of fortuitous meetings with leading cultural figures of the day led him to the heart of avant-garde literary and artistic circles in 1890s London. Witty, talented and well-read, he was rapidly taken up by a group of young artists and writers who identified as aesthetes, acutely sensitive to art and beauty. These included the portrait painter William Rothenstein; Max Beerbohm, the essayist and caricaturist; and the art critic and dealer Robert Ross, the friend and former lover of Oscar Wilde. Beardsley’s fame grew with the publication of his illustrations to Wilde’s Salome in 1894 and his involvement in the fashionable magazine The Yellow Book, a period addressed in the following room. At this point his group of friends began to expand rapidly. But with the fall of Wilde early in 1895, Beardsley moved first to Dieppe, and thereafter spent little time in England.

In his last years his circle included fellow contributors to The Savoy magazine: the poets W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symons and the painter Charles Conder. The wealthy French-Russian poet and writer Marc-André Raffalovich became an important supporter and patron. His most significant friend in this period was Leonard Smithers, his endearing but unscrupulous publisher.

His mother and sister Mabel were constants throughout his brief life. They were with him when he died at Menton on the French Riviera in 1898.

This room nods at Beardsley’s orange and black decoration scheme in the Pimlico house that he and Mabel owned briefly in 1894. ‘Orangé’ was famously described as the chief decadent colour by Joris-Karl Huysmans in his 1884 novel À rebours (Against Nature), which may have informed Beardsley’s choice.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Professor Fred Brown' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Professor Fred Brown
1892
Graphite and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by Mrs Helen Thorp 1927

 

 

In 1891 Beardsley enrolled at the Westminster School of Art on the advice of Edward Burne-Jones. For just a few months he attended evening classes given by the school’s principal, the painter Fred Brown. Brown was a pillar of the avant-garde exhibiting society, the New English Art Club. Beardsley added the society’s initials to Brown’s name in the title of this drawing.

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942) 'Charles Conder' 1904

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942)
Charles Conder
1904
Oil paint on canvas

Tate, Presented by Georges A. Mevil-Blanche 1947

 

 

Conder specialised in painting fans and small pictures on silk depicting romanticised figures in 18th-century costume. He and Beardsley became close during the planning of The Savoy magazine in the summer of 1895 when many of their circle were gathered in Dieppe.

Jacques-Emile Blanche lived near Dieppe and was a friend of Degas, Manet and Renoir. However, he also made frequent visits to England, where he painted and exhibited and was well known in artistic and society circles. This is a portrait of the British painter Charles Conder (1868-1909), who was greatly interested in contemporary French art. Conder befriended Toulouse-Lautrec who helped him obtain an exhibition in Paris. Blanche first met Conder in Paris, but they became friends in 1895 when they both spent the summer in Dieppe. This portrait, which captures his flamboyant character, was painted in Conder’s house in London.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1895

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942)
Aubrey Beardsley
1895
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

The society painter Blanche welcomed many of the English artists and writers who visited Dieppe to his nearby family home. This portrait, painted during the summer of 1895, shows the extent to which Beardsley had adopted the dress and cultivated the manner of Parisian dandies such as Comte Robert de Montesquiou.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1894

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Aubrey Beardsley
1894
Tempera on canvas
Tate, Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1932

 

 

Sickert observed Beardsley in Hampstead churchyard following a ceremony for the unveiling of a bust commemorating the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821). Though angular and painfully thin, he was elegantly dressed as always. Keats had died young from tuberculosis. The parallel between the poet and the artist cannot have been lost on those friends, like Sickert, who knew of Beardsley’s condition.

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (English, born America 1882-1966) 'W.B. Yeats' 1908

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (English, born America 1882-1966)
W.B. Yeats
1908
Photo-etching on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Yeats was a leading figure of the Irish poetic and nationalist movement, the ‘Celtic Twilight’. He was also central as an activist in London literary circles. The idea of the poets, writers and artists of the 1890s as sensitive, decadent and doomed owes much to Yeats’s myth-making in his later memoirs. In these he painted a compelling picture of ‘The Tragic Generation’.

 

William Rothenstein (British, 1872-1945) 'Robbie Ross' 1895-1930

 

William Rothenstein (British, 1872-1945)
Robbie Ross
1895-1930
Oil on canvas
13 1/8 in. x 10 in. (333 mm x 254 mm)
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 2005
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

The writer and art critic Robert Ross was a pivotal figure in the aesthetic and decadent culture of 1890s London. He was Oscar Wilde’s first male lover and later became his literary executor, working tirelessly to safeguard his works and re-establish his reputation. Ross also used his connections and influence to promote and protect many friends, including Beardsley and his family. His 1909 book on Beardsley was one of the first serious studies and remains a valuable source of insights.

 

Reginald Savage (British, 1886-1932) 'John Gray' c. 1896-7

 

Reginald Savage (British, 1886-1932)
John Gray
c. 1896-7
Lithograph on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

As a young poet John Gray was initially a protégé of Oscar Wilde. He later moved away from the decadents and converted to Catholicism. He was ordained in 1901 and served for many years as the priest at St Peter’s Morningside, Edinburgh. The church was built by his lifelong companion Marc-André Raffalovich, a wealthy writer who provided Beardsley’s principal financial support in his last years.

 

 

The Yellow Book

In 1894, Beardsley became art editor of The Yellow Book, a magazine that would become the most iconic publication of the decade. Its distinctive appearance immediately set the tone. Yellow was fashionable, urban, ironic and risqué, recalling the yellow wrappers of popular French erotic novels. The first volume was an instant and controversial success. Notably, it put art and literature on an equal footing. But it was Beardsley’s drawings that stole the show and gave the magazine its avant-garde reputation. Their bold style and daring modernity received praise and scorn in equal measure. With each new volume, his notoriety increased. To many the publication embodied the decadent spirit, and, as one critic observed, ‘to most, Aubrey Beardsley is The Yellow Book.

However, Beardsley’s meteoric success was short-lived. In 1895, Oscar Wilde was put on trial for sexual relationships with men and prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’. As the scandal tore through London, the backlash turned towards the notorious magazine and its audacious art editor. In the public mind, Beardsley was already connected to Wilde through his Salome illustrations. When Wilde was seen at his arrest carrying a yellow book (in fact a French novel, not The Yellow Book), the link between the author and the artist was damning. Outraged crowds broke the windows of the publishing house. John Lane, the publisher, succumbed to pressure and sacked Beardsley.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Cover Design for 'The Yellow Book'' Vol.I 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Cover Design for The Yellow Book Vol.I
1894
Ink on paper
Tate. Bequeathed by John Lane 1926

 

 

Beardsley instantly set the tone for the magazine with this design for the first volume. His highly stylised manner, dramatically setting pure white against flat black, was completely new. The subject, two masked revellers abandoning themselves to hedonism, was also bold. The overt sensuality of the laughing woman was particularly shocking for the time. Oscar Wilde described her as ‘a terrible naked harlot’.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Yellow Book' Volume I 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Edited by Aubrey Beardsley 1872-1898 (art) and Henry Harland 1861-1905 (literature)
The Yellow Book, Volume I
1894
Elkin Mathews & John Lane, London April 1894
Stephen Calloway

 

 

In 1894 Aubrey Beardsley became the first Art Editor for The Yellow Book, a new literary periodical. There were hostile reactions to The Yellow Book from the wider press, who were alarmed by the shocking and ‘immoral’ illustrations and writing. The Westminster Gazette even commented that the publication should be made illegal. Things only got worse for Beardsley and The Yellow Book in 1895. The trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde for ‘gross indecency’ with men became linked to the publication. The press mistakenly reported seeing Wilde leaving the Cadogan Hotel with a copy of The Yellow Book under his arm. In fact, he was carrying a French erotic novel, which often had yellow covers.

Beardsley, who had collaborated with Wilde on Salome and whose art was strongly linked with The Yellow Book, was caught up in the scandal. He was dismissed as editor for The Yellow Book. Having lost his regular source of income, he was forced to sell his house and he temporarily moved to France.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Slippers of Cinderella' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Slippers of Cinderella
1894
Ink and watercolour on paper
Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press

 

 

This is one of the rare drawings in which Beardsley used colour. It was first printed in black and white as he added the watercolour later. When it was published in the second volume of The Yellow Book, it was accompanied by a caption, probably written by the artist himself. This outlined a darker version of the Cinderella story, in which she is poisoned by powdered glass from her own slippers.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'La Dame aux Camélias' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
La Dame aux Camélias
1894
Ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by Colonel James Lister Melvill at the request of his brother, Harry Edward Melvill 1931

 

 

Beardsley was fascinated with the depiction of women at their dressing-tables. Here, the woman gazing into the mirror is the tragic heroine of the novel La Dame aux Camélias (1848), by French writer Alexandre Dumas. Beardsley may have identified with her because she, like him, had tuberculosis. He added washes of watercolour to the drawing between 1894 and 1897, after it had been published in The Yellow Book.

The title refers to the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils, published in 1852, which tells the tragic story of a courtesan who sacrificed herself for her lover. The picture is part of a group of drawings of a woman at her dressing table and was originally published simply as Girl at Her Toilet. It is not clear whether Beardsley intended it from the outset to be a portrait of Madeleine Gautier, but it appears to relate to an earlier drawing of 1890, which is inscribed with the title of Dumas’s novel and bears some resemblance to this work in the silhouetted figure and treatment of the draperies. Beardsley may have identified with Madeleine Gautier, since, like her, he suffered from tuberculosis and would eventually also die of the disease.

The leitmotif of a woman admiring herself in a mirror recalls the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), which Beardsley would have known. He may also have had in mind the work of Edgar Degas (1834-1917), who devoted much of his later career to pictures of woman at their toilet. Like many of Beardsley’s drawings of this period the picture is highly stylised. A solid black mass envelops the lower half of the room and seems about to consume the figure. Her arms have disappeared altogether, and her face is barely revealed above the extravagant collar of her frilly overcoat. The influence of Japanese woodcuts, which Beardsley collected, is apparent in the broad flat areas of colour and the use of silhouette. The most carefully realised passages in the drawing are the objects on the dressing table and the floral pattern of the wallpaper, which depicts either roses or camellias. The woman’s profile reveals dark shadows under the narrowed eyes and a turned down mouth, giving the impression of either illness or dissipation. However, in general, realism and individuality are suppressed in favour of surface pattern and overall design.

The drawing was first published in the journal St Paul’s on 2 April 1894, and at the time it was one of Beardsley’s most popular works. Six months later it was illustrated with the present title in Volume Three of The Yellow Book, an avant-garde journal of which Beardsley was art editor. Between 1894 and 1897 Beardsley added watercolour washes of pinkish-purple to the drawing, reducing the clarity of the image.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Black Cat' 1894-5

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Black Cat
1894-5
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Commissioned by a North American publisher, Beardsley made four designs for the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). This illustrates Poe’s story of a man who tries to cover up the murder of his wife by concealing her body in the wall. He is betrayed by the shrieks of his black cat, mistakenly enclosed in the wall as well. The fearsome cat appears out of the darkness, its form outlined in white and starkly contrasting with the white of the dead woman’s face.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Frontispiece to Chopin’s Third Ballade' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Frontispiece to Chopin’s Third Ballade
1895
Ink and wash on paper
Tate. Presented by the Patrons of British Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1999
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

The Polish composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) was one of Beardsley’s musical heroes. Beardsley emphasises his delicately pointed fingers here. This relates to Chopin’s reputation as a powerful and subtle pianist. Beardsley’s setting is not historically accurate. Instead it is reminiscent of 1870s aesthetic movement interiors. The position of the figure and the curtain recall Whistler’s celebrated portrait of his mother, copied by Beardsley in the letter nearby.

Private collection, Maas Gallery

The Third Ballade was one of the greatest compositions by the Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin who died in 1849 at the age of thirty nine. While an initial viewing might suggest a simple equestrian portrait, there is an implicit subtext of female domination in the woman’s mastery of the horse. Her determined expression, and the disparity between the horse and rider, reinforce this. Although never published in his lifetime, this design was used to illustrate Beardsley’s obituary in The Studio in 1898.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Fat Woman' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Fat Woman
1894
Ink on paper
Tate. Presented by Colonel James Lister Melvill at the request of his brother, Harry Edward Melvill 1931

 

 

John Lane refused to publish this drawing in The Yellow Book. The most likely reason is because it is an unflattering caricature of the artist Beatrice Whistler, James McNeill Whistler’s wife. Seated in the Café Royal, she is depicted as a domineering member of the demi-monde. Beardsley’s alternative title for the drawing – A Study in Major Lines – emphasises its artistic qualities but also jibes at Whistler’s musical titles.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) Title page to 'The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Title page to The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser
1895
Line block and letterpress print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This design was planned as the frontispiece for Beardsley’s own novel. The story was an erotic and humorous version of the Tannhäuser legend, in which the poet discovers the home of Venus and becomes one of her worshippers. Beardsley had ambitions to be a writer and he continued to obsess over the ultimately unfinished novel until his death. He admitted early on that it progressed ‘tortoise fashion but admirably’. Initially Lane agreed to publish the novel, but in the aftermath of Wilde’s trial he did not dare.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Mirror of Love' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Mirror of Love
1895
Ink over traces of graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley first met Marc-André Raffalovich, a poet and writer, in April 1895. It was not long afterwards that he drew this frontispiece for his collection of poems, The Thread and the Path. The figure in the mirror expresses the theme of the first poem: the quest towards a new ideal that transcended traditional definitions of gender and sexuality. However, the publisher, David Nutt, was shocked by the figure which he believed had both female and male attributes and refused to print it.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Venus between Terminal Gods' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Venus between Terminal Gods
1895
Ink on paper
Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

 

 

This drawing was also intended as an illustration for Beardsley’s unrealised novel for John Lane. It depicts Venus framed by two statues of male gods in the form of herms. Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), then President of the Royal Academy, was interested in the rising generation of artists and often commissioned drawings from them. Beardsley recorded that Leighton was encouraging about his work and greatly admired this design.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Caprice' c. 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Caprice
Verso: Masked Woman with a White Mouse
c. 1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1923

 

 

This is Beardsley’s only known oil painting. Unusually, it is double-sided. He began it in Walter Sickert’s studio, under his guidance. The subject on the front, Caprice, was painted first and relates closely to The Comedy Ballet of Marionettes I, displayed nearby. It shows a young woman being led through a doorway by an unfinished figure in a fanciful 18th-century costume. In the late-17th and 18th centuries, servants in European noble households included people of colour who were often enslaved and people with dwarfism. They were considered as ‘trophies’, demonstrating the power and status of those they served. Servants with dwarfism were often treated as ‘pets’, expected to amuse and entertain.

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This is the only known oil painting by the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and was painted in the studio of Walter Sickert. It comprises two pictures on one canvas. Caprice, in which a woman is invited through a doorway by a dwarf, and on the back, Woman with a White Mouse. Both are ambiguous scenes that appear to represent carnival. Caprice derives from the drawing Comedy Ballet of Marionettes I which appeared in The Yellow Book in 1894. Like Beardsley’s drawings, Caprice simplifies shape and colour to strengthen the effect.

Gallery label, February 2016

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This is the only known oil painting by Beardsley and, unusually, it comprises two pictures on the one canvas. The first painting to be completed appears to have been A Caprice, a fanciful yet sinister work, depicting a woman in a black dress with green trimmings and a black dwarf in a red costume. On the other side, painted between the stretchers, is an almost surreal image of a masked woman with a white mouse. Both works are unfinished, and should be regarded as experimental

A Caprice appears to derive from the drawing Comedy Ballet of Marionettes I, one of a series of three which appeared in the avant-garde journal, The Yellow Book, in July 1894. In both drawing and painting the woman is being invited by the sinister dwarf to pass through a doorway. The sexual connotations of this gesture are made more overt in the drawing, where the phallic form of the door is emphasised. Beardsley was constantly challenging the conventional view of male-female relations and in the second drawing in the series the woman approaches a door symbolising the female sexual organs.

The symbolism of Woman with a White Mouse also appears to be sexual, and Wilson refers to Freud’s theory that in dreams such things as mice become a substitute for the penis. Nevertheless, although Reade, too, describes the symbolism in this picture as ‘Freudian’, he also points out that Freud’s work was unknown in England in 1894.

Aware of the dramatic potential of black and shadowed areas, Beardsley contrasts areas of dark and light to great effect in both works. He also employs his favourite complementaries, red and green, to provide a stronger colour note in A Caprice. Stylistically he may have been influenced in these paintings by the early work of William Rothenstein (1872-1945), with whom he shared a studio, and whose pictures are inhabited by similarly bold and gloomy saturated forms. He may also have had in mind the work of the Venetian artist Pietro Longhi (1702-1783).

The title A Caprice was invented by the Beardsley scholar R.A. Walker who was the picture’s first owner. The name invites associations with the work of the fin-de-siècle poet Théodore Wratislaw (1871-1933), who published a selection of poems entitled Caprices in 1893.

Frances Fowle
December 2000

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Masked Woman with a White Mouse' c. 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Masked Woman with a White Mouse
c. 1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1923

 

 

Masked Woman with a White Mouse was painted second. Beardsley seems to have preferred this side and hung it on the wall in the house he bought in Pimlico.

 

 

The Savoy

Dismissed from The Yellow Book, Beardsley faced the loss of his income and a newly hostile atmosphere in London. Despite his international fame, his financial situation was precarious, and he was forced to sell his house. Beardsley left England for Dieppe, the favourite French seaside resort of English writers and artists. There he encountered Leonard Smithers, an enterprising publisher (and occasional pornographer). Smithers proposed starting a new magazine to rival The Yellow Book.

With Beardsley as art editor and the poet Arthur Symons in charge of literature, The Savoy was launched in 1896, at first as a quarterly. After two issues, Smithers – perhaps unwisely – decided to publish monthly. The consequent strain on his resources meant The Savoy folded after just a year. However, over just eight numbers it became one of the most significant and most beautifully produced ‘little magazines’ of the period.

The Savoy was published in Britain, but social and artistic conservatism were on the rise there following Wilde’s trial. Smithers was the only publisher who would print work by Wilde or Beardsley at this time. Some booksellers, like W.H. Smith, refused to display works by Beardsley in their windows. W.B. Yeats famously declared that The Savoy had valiantly waged ‘warfare on the British public at a time when we had all against us’.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Savoy', Number 1 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Savoy, Number 1
1896
Edited by Aubrey Beardsley 1872-1898 (art) and Arthur Symons 1865-1945 (literature)
Leonard Smithers, London, January 1896
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Third Tableau of Das Rheingold' c. 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Third Tableau of Das Rheingold
c. 1896
Ink on paper
Lent by Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Museum Appropriation Fund

 

 

This drawing, like a play-within-a-play, illustrates an episode in Under the Hill in which the Abbé is ‘ravished with the wit and beauty’ of a performance of Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Savoy', Number 2 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Savoy, Number 2
1896
Edited by Aubrey Beardsley 1872-1898 (art) and Arthur Symons 1865-1945 (literature)
Leonard Smithers, London, April 1896
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Ave Atque Vale' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Ave Atque Vale
1896
Ink on paper
Private collection

 

 

This drawing accompanies Beardsley’s translation of the Hail and Farewell poem (Carmen CI) by Catullus (c. 84 – c. 54 BCE). In it, the Roman poet addresses his dead brother. Beardsley’s spare and beautiful composition captures the moving spirit of the poem. It attracted considerable praise when it appeared in the seventh number of The Savoy. Max Beerbohm wrote that ‘Catullus could not have craved a more finely emotional picture for his elegy’.

 

 

The Rape of Lock

Beardsley was a great admirer of the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744). Oscar Wilde had ridiculed his poetic taste, claiming ‘there are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to like Pope’.

Yet in 1896 Beardsley embarked on the illustration of his mock-epic poem, The Rape of the Lock (1712). In Pope’s title, the word ‘rape’ is used in its original sense of theft or abduction, rather than referring to sexual assault. The poem makes fun of a real incident during which Lord Petre (renamed ‘the Baron’) cut off a lock of the hair of Arabella Fermor (‘Belinda’ in the poem) without her permission, causing a feud between their families.

Inspired by the linear intricacies of French 18th-century copper-plate engravings, which he admired and collected, Beardsley developed a new, highly decorative style. The title page amusingly credits him as having ‘embroidered’ the illustrations.

This is the first time that so many of the original drawings for the book have been exhibited together.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Dream' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Dream
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Beardsley drew this as the frontispiece for Pope’s poem. It illustrates Ariel, Belinda’s guardian sylph (a spirit of the air), by her bed, while she is still dreaming. Beardsley used his new ‘stippled manner’ or use of dots, to render the intricate patterns on the bed curtains.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898 'The Baron’s Prayer' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Baron’s Prayer
1896
Ink and graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

 

The Baron is depicted kneeling at an altar made from a pile of books of love stories. He prays to the God of Love for help to obtain the prize of a lock of Belinda’s hair.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898 'The Rape of the Lock' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Rape of the Lock
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Private collection

 

 

The drawing illustrates the fateful moment when the Baron approaches to cut a lock of Belinda’s hair. She is unaware, her back turned to him. The fancifully dressed pageboy in the foreground (who may be a person with dwarfism) seems to reference a similar character in The Toilette scene in the Marriage A-la-mode series by William Hogarth (1697-1764). This adds an 18th-century connection to the work. He is the only figure to engage with the viewer, as if to point knowingly to the Baron’s mischief.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Cave of Spleen' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Cave of Spleen
1896
Ink on paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

 

 

Belinda, sitting to the right, across the drawing, has sought refuge in the Cave of Spleen. Umbriel, a gnome, is addressing her. Beardsley interpreted the author’s fantastical description of the cave and creatures within. This unleashed his delight in grotesque forms:

Unnumbered throngs on every side are seen
of bodies changed to various forms by Spleen.
Here living teapots stand, one arm held out,
One bent; the handle this, and that the spout…
Men prove with child, a powerful fancy works,
And maids, turned bottles, cry aloud for corks.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Battle of the Beaux and the Belles' c. 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Battle of the Beaux and the Belles
c. 1896
Ink on paper
The Henry Barber Trust, the Barber Institute of Fine Art, The University of Birmingham

 

 

Belinda, furious at the theft of the lock of her hair, faces her attacker the baron. Beardsley chose to depict the moment in the poem just before she throws a pinch of snuff in his face and overpowers him. This drawing was praised for its dramatic action. Beardsley’s virtuosity as a draughtsman is seen in the close-laid lines of his Rape of the Lock illustrations which were particularly admired by his contemporaries. Many thought this series of designs his best work.

 

 

Mademoiselle de Maupin

Beardsley worked on illustrating Théophile Gautier’s novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) for Leonard Smithers between February and October 1897. The hero of the story, D’Albert, searches for the ‘perfect’ woman. Instead he becomes overwhelmingly drawn to a young man. The object of his desire is eventually revealed to be Madelaine de Maupin, a woman who does not conform to gender expectations of the day, particularly through dress, and is attracted to both men and women. The plot reflects on an ideal unification of male and female attributes, a widely discussed idea in literary and artistic circles in 19th-century Europe.

In his preface, Gautier promoted ‘art for art’s sake’. This would become the doctrine of the aesthetic movement, which developed in the late 19th century to promote beauty over meaning or morality in art. D’Albert and de Maupin’s sexual encounter is described in terms of aesthetic perfection. However, de Maupin leaves D’Albert immediately afterwards.

Beardsley used watercolour in his drawings to create a new softer decorative style. His friend Robert Ross suggested that this technique was ‘less demanding’ at a time when his health was in rapid decline. But Beardsley later reverted to a more detailed approach, showing that he was simply exploring new modes of expression.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Mademoiselle de Maupin' 1898

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Mademoiselle de Maupin
1898
Photo-etching on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This is Beardsley’s frontispiece for Mademoiselle de Maupin. It shows the heroine dressed in her preferred outfit, men’s clothes as imagined by Beardsley. This is the first illustration of just six that Beardsley completed for Smithers’s planned edition of Gautier’s novel. He had optimistically intended to draw 32 but was too unwell to fulfil this ambition.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Lady with the Rose' 1897

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Lady with the Rose
1897
Ink, wash and graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

 

D’Albert does not find Madelaine de Maupin straight away. He first embarks on an affair with a woman he calls Rosette, the subject of this illustration. Beardsley developed different ‘types’ of women in his work, defined by particular features. Here, Rosette, sultry with large, heavy-lidded eyes, conforms to Beardsley’s late ‘type’. The striped walls of the room recall the style of interior decoration that Beardsley had favoured in his own house at 114 Cambridge Street, Pimlico.

 

 

Curiosa

While recuperating in the south of England during the summer of 1896, Beardsley began his two most explicit series of drawings yet. These were both inspired by classical sources. The first was a set of eight designs for the Ancient Greek comedy, Lysistrata, by Aristophanes. In this famous satirical play, Athenian and Spartan women bring an end to conflict by refusing to have sex with their warring menfolk until there is peace between their two cities. Beardsley’s other, equally outrageous set of drawings was made for Juvenal’s Sixth Satire, a misogynistic attack on the morals and sexual habits of the women of Ancient Rome.

These subjects chimed with Beardsley’s own irreverent humour and fascination with all aspects of sexuality – and, perhaps, his own sexual frustrations. Smithers, who prided himself that he would ‘publish what all the others are afraid to touch’, no doubt encouraged him. Matching the exuberant eroticism of the texts, Beardsley adopted a starkly linear style for these drawings. This bold new direction was inspired by his knowledge of Ancient Greek vase painting and Japanese erotic prints.

Very few of Beardsley’s contemporaries would have known of these drawings. Their ‘indecency’ meant they could not be published and advertised in the usual way. Instead they were only made available by Smithers to a select group of like-minded collectors through private subscription. Even so, Beardsley seems to have had second thoughts, perhaps prompted by his growing Catholic faith. On his deathbed, he wrote to Smithers imploring him to destroy all his ‘obscene drawings’, a request that Smithers ignored.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Lysistrata Shielding her Coynte' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Lysistrata Shielding her Coynte
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley made this as the frontispiece image for the book. It introduces the key themes of the play. Lysistrata, the women’s leader, turns her back on a statue of an aroused male deity, usually a symbol of fertility and virility. With one hand she seems to bar sexual relations or, perhaps, pleasure herself. With the other she holds an olive branch and delicately touches the top of an enormous phallus. The implication is that peace will bring an end to war and male sexual frustration. Her knowing smile reveals her control. Her sexual empowerment disrupts traditional Victorian views of male power and of female ignorance about sex.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Two Athenian Women in Distress' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Two Athenian Women in Distress
1896
Collotype print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley referred to this scene as ‘the rampant women’. The play describes the women deserting Athens as abstinence begins to take its toll. One woman even tries to escape by flying on the back of a sparrow. The bird was used as a symbol for male virility and dominance in contemporary pornography, as Beardsley would have known. He subverts that association here by making the sparrow a symbol of female sexual liberation. The drawing for this illustration was destroyed in a fire in 1929. Fortunately, a set of full-size collotype photographic reproductions had been made shortly before.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Cinesias Entreating Myrrhina to Coition' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Cinesias Entreating Myrrhina to Coition
1896
Line block printed in purple on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum
Wikipedia Commons Public domain

 

 

Originally Beardsley wanted to print the Lysistrata series in purple ink, but Smithers abandoned this idea, probably for financial reasons. This is one of a few coloured proofs that survive. It depicts Myrrhina dashing away after teasing her husband, Cinesias. Myrrhina has provoked him to the point that he will do anything in return for sex. She has all the power while her husband is incapacitated by desire. Her clothes, particularly the thigh-high black stockings, suggest Beardsley was influenced by 18th-century pornography and more recent erotic works such as those of the Belgian artist Félicien Rops (1833-1898).

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Examination of the Herald' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Examination of the Herald
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley was greatly inspired by Japanese shunga (erotic) prints. He even hung a series by Utamaro (c. 1753-1806) on the walls of his house in Pimlico, London – to the shock of those that visited. His study of such art is apparent in his adoption of exaggeratedly large phalluses to dramatise the extent of the men’s sexual frustration. In this illustration, the herald’s arrival in Athens to announce that Sparta is prepared to make peace becomes a bawdy joke. The young Spartan is conspicuously vigorous and virile. In contrast, the Athenian is elderly and shrivelled. His close inspection could be read as desire for the younger man or an interest in restoring his own virility.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

The success of the women’s sex strike is apparent in this drawing. The Lacedaemonian (or Spartan) ambassadors arrive in Athens to make peace, their frustrated sexual desires evident in their absurdly enlarged erections. Beardsley subverts this symbol of male virility and power as it incapacitates the Spartans and makes them ridiculous. The drawing also reveals Beardsley’s knowledge of classical culture. In Ancient Greek comic stage performances, actors sometimes wore large stage-prop phalluses to signal aspects of their character to the more distant sections of the audience.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Impatient Adulterer' 1896-7

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Impatient Adulterer
1896-7
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley described this drawing as ‘the adulterer fiddling with his foreskin in impatient expectation’. It illustrates Juvenal’s warning against Roman women who pretend to be ill, only so they can stay in bed and await their lovers. The man’s intention is clear, his toes are curled in desire and echo his insulting hand gesture, making the horns of a cuckold (a man whose wife is unfaithful). Contemporary viewers would also have identified his low brow as an indicator of an unintelligent and brutish character – perhaps a subtle signal that this is not his plot, but that of his scheming lover.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Messalina and her Companion' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Messalina and her Companion
1895
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by A.L. Assheton 1928

 

 

Messalina was the third wife of the Roman Emperor, Claudius I, and a shrewd political strategist. Yet historically she has been portrayed entirely in terms of her sexuality, either as a woman with no control over her desires or as a ruthless courtier using sex to achieve her goals. In his Sixth Satire, Juvenal perpetuated the myth that she secretly volunteered in a brothel. In this, Beardsley’s first depiction of the empress, he shows her disguised in a blonde wig and hooded cloak as she goes on one of her nightly visits. It was rejected from The Yellow Book as too daring.

 

 

Epilogue

After a wild spur-of-the-moment trip to Brussels in the spring of 1896, Beardsley suffered a much more severe haemorrhage of the lung from which he never fully recovered. Painfully aware of his own mortality, he moved from place to place in search of the ‘healthier’ air his doctors advised. Though the advance of his condition was relentless, with each change of location came new inspiration. His final years are characterised by a pattern of enthusiastically taking up new projects only to grow tired and abandon them. While his focus and energy gradually diminished, his late works show that his ambition, intellect, imagination and technical power did not.

Beardsley died in Menton in the south of France on 16 March 1898. He was 25 years old. As his friend Robert Ross commented: ‘there need be no sorrow for an “inheritor of unfulfilled renown.” Old age is no more a necessary complement to the realisation of genius than premature death. Within six years… he produced masterpieces he might have repeated but never surpassed.’

 

William Rothenstein (English, 1872-1945) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1897

 

William Rothenstein (English, 1872-1945)
Aubrey Beardsley
1897 (published 1899)
Lithograph on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

This sensitive portrait of Beardsley was drawn by Rothenstein, one of his closest friends. It was probably done while Beardsley was in Paris in April 1897. The city – with its promenades, shops and cafés – raised his spirits and temporarily revived his health.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Volpone Adoring his Treasure' 1898

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Volpone Adoring his Treasure
1898
Ink over graphite on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

 

 

Beardsley’s final project was to illustrate Ben Jonson’s 17th-century play, Volpone or the Foxe. He had originally planned a sequence of 24 illustrations but died before the project was completed. This picture of Volpone worshipping at the altar of his wealth is a testament to Beardsley’s technical skill. Evoking 17th-century engravings, the drawing balances intricate linework with curving forms and blocks of white space. This was to be his last great drawing. It poignantly shows that Beardsley’s imagination and stylistic development continued even as his health was declining.

 

Monsieur Abel. 'Aubrey Beardsley in the room in which he died, Hôtel Cosmopolitain, Menton' 1897

 

Monsieur Abel
Aubrey Beardsley in the room in which he died, Hôtel Cosmopolitain, Menton
1897
Photograph, collodion printing-out paper print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

This photograph is the last portrait of Beardsley before his death. Despite his poor health, he is still dressed elegantly and languorously posed. The walls are covered with his cherished prints by Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506). The bookshelf is lined with photographs of those he loved and admired: his mother and sister, Raffalovich and a likeness of Wagner. On his desk stands a crucifix, reflecting his recent conversion to Catholicism.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Ali Baba' 1897

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Ali Baba
1897
Line block print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This is Beardsley’s only other completed design for Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. It was made almost a year after his first drawing (shown nearby) and intended as the cover of the book. Ali Baba is shown, having discovered the cave of treasures, dripping in jewels and grown fat.

 

 

After Beardsley – The Early Years

The fall of Oscar Wilde was a blow from which the decadent artistic and literary world of the fin de siècle (‘end of century’) never fully recovered. But it was Beardsley’s death in 1898 that truly marked the end of an era. His friend Max Beerbohm caught this mood when he wrote of himself, ‘I belong to the Beardsley period’.

Beardsley’s drawings had been much imitated in his lifetime. Following his death, many young illustrators sought to step into his shoes. They worked in his style or, in some cases, made deliberate forgeries of his work. Few approached his skill as a draftsman or the rich fantasy of his imagination. Gathered here are some notable exceptions.

Collected editions of Beardsley’s drawings published after his death brought his work to an even wider audience. Alongside the illustrations to his most famous books, these included many of his drawings previously printed only in ephemeral publications. His designs proved influential for artists not only in Britain, but also throughout Europe and in Russia and Japan.

 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928) 'Poster for ‘The Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts’' 1894-6

 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928)
Poster for ‘The Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts’
1894-6
© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

 

 

The large stylised flower held by the woman and the bold expressive lines used by Mackintosh in this poster were enough for contemporaries to make a link with Beardsley. The art dealer Alexander Reid exhibited posters and designs by Mackintosh, Beardsley and others together in his Glasgow gallery in 1895. This prompted a comparison between both artists in the press.

 

Harry Clarke 1889-1931 'The Hindu Maid' 1916

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931)
The Hindu Maid
1916
In Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, 1st edition, George Harrap & Co, London 1916
Private collection

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931) '‘Music! Music’ cried the Emperor. ‘You little precious golden bird, sing!’' 1916

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931)
‘Music! Music’ cried the Emperor. ‘You little precious golden bird, sing!’
1916
In Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, 1st edition, George Harrap & Co, London 1916
Private collection

 

 

The Irish artist Harry Clarke became known for his book illustrations and, later in his career, for his stained-glass windows. His illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales were his first to be published, in 1916. They reveal a close observation of Beardsley’s intricate lines, but also of his subjects. ‘Music! Music’ … in particular seems to pay homage to Beardsley’s Self-portrait in Bed, published in The Yellow Book.

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931) '‘I know what you want,’ said the Sea Witch' 1916

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931)
‘I know what you want,’ said the Sea Witch
1916
In Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, 1st edition, George Harrap & Co, London 1916
Private collection
Wikipedia Commons Public domain

 

 

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10
Mar
16

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Daguerreotypes’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 3rd November 2015 – 20th March 2016

 

The last in my trilogy of postings on 19th century photography features a rather uninspiring collection of daguerreotypes. Perhaps there were better ones in the exhibition.

Of most interest to me are two:

Nude Woman in Photographer’s Studio (c. 1850, below) with its almost van Gogh-esque perspective of the figure, chair and rug. The image is also notable for the daguerreotypes of men who stare down on the women from the wall behind: the objectification of the male gaze – of the photographer and of the observers. This daguerreotype also reminds me of the later haunting photographs by E. J. Bellocq (1873-1949) of the prostitutes of Storyville, New Orleans.

Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey’s ghostly, evocative Facade and North Colonnade of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, Athens (1842, below). Can you imagine being shown this full plate, I repeat, full plate daguerreotype of one of the wonders of Ancient Greece just 3 years after the public announcement of the invention of photography. You would have never seen many, if any, images of foreign places in your life before, and that moment of initiation into the magic arts of photography would have taken on the deepest significance. Even now, the effect of this plate on the imagination and consciousness of the viewer is outstanding.

.
The rest of the daguerreotypes in this posting are more prosaic: vaguely interesting still life vanitas or portrait social documentation. If you were not told that these were images of a president of the United States, the inventor of the daguerreotype, or the writer Edgar Allen Poe they could be any “Portrait of a man” or “Portrait of a woman”. It’s amazing how even at this early stage of photography the codification of the image, its semiotic language if you like, was intimately tied up with the caption and text that accompanied it. Of course, unless we know that it’s called the Eiffel Tower then a photograph of the object without that knowledge would mean very little; but as soon as that title is present in collective consciousness, then anywhere an image of that structure is found, it is already known as such.

Now there’s a good idea for an exhibition: the influence of the title on the interpretation of the photographic image. ‘(Un)titled images’ anyone?

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of Young Girl with a Guitar' c. 1850

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of Young Girl with a Guitar
c. 1850
Daguerreotype
1/6 plate
Open: 9.2 x 15.2 cm (3 5/8 x 6 in.)
Graham Nash Collection

 

James Maguire (American, 1816-1851) '[Portrait of Zachary Taylor]' 1847

 

James Maguire (American, 1816-1851)
[Portrait of Zachary Taylor]
1847
Daguerreotype
1/4 plate
Image: 7.9 x 5.4 cm (3 1/8 x 2 1/8 in.)
Mat: 12.7 x 10.8 cm (5 x 4 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

James Maguire (American, 1816-1851) Daguerreotypist, dealer in daguerreian supplies; active Tuscaloosa, Ala., before 1842; New Orleans 1842-50; Natchez, Miss., 184; Vicksburg, Miss., 1842; Plaquemine, La., 1842; Baton rouge, La., 1842; Belfast, Ireland, 1844; London, England, 1844; Paris, France, 1844.

According to his obituary, James Maguire was born in Belfast, Ireland, around 1815. By early 1842 he had learned the daguerreian art from Frederick A. P. Barnard and Dr. William H. Harrington in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Maguire was one of the earliest daguerreians to establish a permanent gallery in New Orleans. In that city on January 28, 1842 he advertised that he had opened a portrait gallery at 31 Canal Street, upstairs, where he would “remind a short time.” …

Maguire’s New orleans gallery flourished during the Mexican War, when the city enjoyed a boom as a key shipping centre and rendezvous for troops bound for Mexico…

When General Zachary Taylor passed through New Orleans in late 1847 on his triumphant return from the Mexican War, he favoured Acquire by sitting for his portrait. The Daily Picayune noted not January 11, 1848, that Macquire’s portrait was ‘the best and most striking likeness of ‘Old Zach’ we have yet seen of him anywhere.”

Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn. Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide: A Biographical Dictionary 1839-1865.  Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, p. 411-412.

 

Zachary Taylor (November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850) was the 12th President of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. Before his presidency, Taylor was a career officer in the United States Army, rising to the rank of major general.

Taylor’s status as a national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican-American War won him election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. His top priority as president was preserving the Union, but he died seventeen months into his term, before making any progress on the status of slavery, which had been inflaming tensions in Congress. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Nude Woman in Photographer's Studio' c. 1850

 

Unknown maker (American)
Nude Woman in Photographer’s Studio
c. 1850
Daguerreotype
1/6 plate
Image: 9.5 x 7.6 cm (3 3/4 x 3 in.)
Graham Nash Collection

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Nude Woman in Photographer's Studio' c. 1850 (detail)

 

Unknown maker (American)
Nude Woman in Photographer’s Studio (detail)
c. 1850
Daguerreotype
1/6 plate
Image: 9.5 x 7.6 cm (3 3/4 x 3 in.)
Graham Nash Collection

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe' late May - early June 1849

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe
late May – early June 1849
Daguerreotype
1/2 plate
Image: 12.2 x 8.9 cm (4 13/16 x 3 1/2 in.)
Mat (and overmat): 15.6 x 12.7 cm (6 1/8 x 5 in.)
Object (whole): 17.9 x 14.9 cm (7 1/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of a Nurse and a Child' c. 1850

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of a Nurse and a Child
c. 1850
Daguerreotype, hand-colored
1/6 plate
Image: 6.2 x 4.8 cm (2 7/16 x 1 7/8 in.)
Mat: 8.3 x 7.1 cm (3 1/4 x 2 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Charles Richard Meade (American, 1826-1858) 'Portrait of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre' 1848

 

Charles Richard Meade (American, 1826-1858)
Portrait of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre
1848
Daguerreotype, hand-colored
1/2 plate
Image: 15.7 x 11.5 cm (6 3/16 x 4 1/2 in.)
Mat: 16 x 12 cm (6 5/16 x 4 13/16 in.)
Object (whole): 22.1 x 17.8 cm (8 11/16 x 7 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Louis Daguerre (1787 – 10 July 1851) was born in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val-d’Oise, France. He was apprenticed in architecture, theatre design, and panoramic painting to Pierre Prévost, the first French panorama painter. Exceedingly adept at his skill of theatrical illusion, he became a celebrated designer for the theatre, and later came to invent the diorama, which opened in Paris in July 1822.

In 1829, Daguerre partnered with Nicéphore Niépce, an inventor who had produced the world’s first heliograph in 1822 and the first permanent camera photograph four years later. Niépce died suddenly in 1833, but Daguerre continued experimenting, and evolved the process which would subsequently be known as the daguerreotype. After efforts to interest private investors proved fruitless, Daguerre went public with his invention in 1839. At a joint meeting of the French Academy of Sciences and the Académie des Beaux Artson 7 January of that year, the invention was announced and described in general terms, but all specific details were withheld. Under assurances of strict confidentiality, Daguerre explained and demonstrated the process only to the Academy’s perpetual secretary François Arago, who proved to be an invaluable advocate. Members of the Academy and other select individuals were allowed to examine specimens at Daguerre’s studio. The images were enthusiastically praised as nearly miraculous, and news of the daguerreotype quickly spread. Arrangements were made for Daguerre’s rights to be acquired by the French Government in exchange for lifetime pensions for himself and Niépce’s son Isidore; then, on 19 August 1839, the French Government presented the invention as a gift from France “free to the world”, and complete working instructions were published. In 1839, he was elected to the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician.

Daguerre died on 10 July 1851 in Bry-sur-Marne, 12 km (7 mi) from Paris. A monument marks his grave there. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

James P. Weston (American, active South America about 1849 and New York 1851-1852 and 1855 -1857) '[Portrait of an Asian Man in Top Hat]' c. 1856

 

James P. Weston (American, active South America about 1849 and New York 1851-1852 and 1855 -1857)
[Portrait of an Asian Man in Top Hat]
c. 1856
Daguerreotype, hand-colored
1/9 plate
Image: 5.4 x 4.3 cm (2 1/8 x 1 11/16 in.)
Mat: 6.4 x 5.1 cm (2 1/2 x 2 in.)
Open: 5.1 x 10.8 cm (2 x 4 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

“A “mirror with a memory,” a daguerreotype is a direct-positive photographic image fixed on a silver-coated metal plate. The earliest form of photography, this revolutionary invention was announced to the public in 1839. In our present image-saturated age, it is difficult to imagine a time before the ability to record the world in the blink of an eye and the touch of a fingertip. This exhibition, drawn from the Getty Museum’s permanent collection with loans from two private collections, presents unique reflections of people, places, and events during the first two decades of the medium.

Popularly described as “a mirror with a memory,” the daguerreotype was the first form of photography to be announced to the world in 1839 and immediately captured the imagination of the public. The “Daguerreotypomania” that followed may seem surprising today, as photographs have become an omnipresent part of contemporary life. In Focus: Daguerreotypes, on view from November 3, 2015 – March 20, 2016 at the Getty Center, offers the photography enthusiast and the general visitor alike a unique opportunity to view rare and beautiful examples of this early photographic process. The works in the exhibition are drawn from the Getty Museum’s exceptional collection of more than two thousand daguerreotypes alongside loans from the outstanding private collections of musician Graham Nash and collector Paul Berg.

“Today, photographs can be taken, edited, and deleted within seconds and are the principal record of our everyday lives,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It takes a leap of the imagination to appreciate what they represented to the pioneer inventors and to the public of the day. This exhibition explores how these first captured images – fragile, one-of-a-kind works – were treasured, not only by those who were just discovering the possibilities of the medium, but by those being photographed as well.”

By the mid-1840s, exposure times and costs had decreased markedly and, as a result, daguerreotypes became more accessible to a broader audience. Over the years, attempts were made to enhance the capabilities of the daguerreotype. To make up for the deficiency of color, many portrait daguerreotypists employed former miniature painters to hand-paint each plate; an example of which is Portrait of a Woman with a Mandolin (1860), where light specks of color enhance the ornamentation on the costume. Daguerreotypes were also nearly impossible to reproduce, though some attempts were made, including making the daguerreotype plate into a printing plate. Examples of this process will be on view in the exhibition.

 

Inside the Portrait Studio

Daguerreotype studios were plentiful by the mid-19th century, and each studio developed novel ways to create distinctive and personal images for its customers. Confined to a well-lit indoor or outdoor location, many daguerreotypists would stage everyday scenes that might include painted backdrops of domestic interiors and subjects posing as if in conversation or seated at tables with everyday props. As it was extremely difficult to capture a smiling face without blurring the features, most sitters wore somber expressions. An unusual exception on view in the exhibition is Portrait of a Father and Smiling Child (about 1855).

Customers remarked on the incredible fidelity of the silver image and praised it as a means of preserving a loved one’s presence. Some family members – often children – passed away before they could pose for the camera, and their likenesses were preserved in post-mortem portraits, as in Carl Durheim’s (Swiss, 1810-1890) Postmortem Portrait of a Child (about 1852), which creates the illusion of quiet slumber rather than death.

Prominent and well-known members of society also had their daguerreotype portraits taken, which made their likenesses more accessible to the public than ever before. “The exhibition will include daguerreotypes of the Duke of Wellington, Edgar Allen Poe, and Queen Kalama of Hawaii,” says Karen Hellman, assistant curator of photographs in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs and curator of the exhibition. “Because of the unique direct positive process, we find ourselves face to face with these historical figures.”

 

Outside the Portrait Studio

Some of the first subjects for the daguerreotype process were ancient monuments and far-off cityscapes that were previously accessible only to a small, educated elite. Some photographers traveled long distances to capture these remote locales; the exhibition includes images of the Parthenon in Athens, the Pantheon in Rome, and the Temple of Seti I in Egypt. Others trained their lenses closer to home, focusing on vernacular architecture or such structures of national significance as John Plumbe Jr.’s (American, born Wales, 1809-1857) 1846 image of the United States Capitol.

Despite its inability to capture fleeting moments, the daguerreotype nevertheless was used to document historical events. The exhibition includes images of parades and military festivals as well as pivotal historical moments, such as Ezra Greenleaf Weld’s (American, 1801-1874) image of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law Convention in Cazenovia, New York.

Because it was perceived as a faithful record, it was difficult to elevate the daguerreotype to the status of an art form. Nevertheless some photographers attempted to expand their studio practice to create more artistic scenes, such as The Sands of Time (1850-52), a still-life by Thomas Richard Williams (English, 1825-1871) that features books, glasses, an hourglass, and a human skull. Daguerreotypes were sometimes used for scientific experimentation, as is the case with Antoine Claudet, who used the medium as an instrument to measure focal distance.

The exhibition also features a selection of distinctive daguerreotype cases – wrapped in leather or decorated with oil painting, shell inlay, and gold foil. These elaborate cases emphasize the care that families took in protecting these treasured images, and the value they held from generation to generation.

In Focus: Daguerreotypes is on view November 3, 2015-March 20, 2016 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. The exhibition is curated by Karen Hellman, assistant curator of photographs in the Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

William Langenheim (American, born Germany, 1807-1874) 'Portrait of Frederick Langenheim' c. 1848

 

William Langenheim (American, born Germany, 1807-1874)
Portrait of Frederick Langenheim
c. 1848
Daguerreotype
1/4 plate
Image: 8.9 x 7 cm (3 1/2 x 2 3/4 in.)
Mat: 10.6 x 8.3 cm (4 3/16 x 3 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Carl Durheim (Swiss, 1810-1890) 'Postmortem of a Child' c. 1852

 

Carl Durheim (Swiss, 1810-1890)
Postmortem of a Child
c. 1852
Daguerreotype, hand-colored
1/4 plate
Image: 6.8 x 9.4 cm (2 11/16 x 3 11/16 in.)
Object (whole): 12.7 x 15.1 cm (5 x 5 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of a Family' c. 1850

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of a Family
c. 1850
Framed: 35.6 x 40.6 cm (14 x 16 in.)
Graham Nash Collection

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of a Family' c. 1850 (detail)

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of a Family (detail)
c. 1850
Framed: 35.6 x 40.6 cm (14 x 16 in.)
Graham Nash Collection

 

Théodore Maurisset (French, active 1834-1859) 'La Daguerreotypomanie (Daguerreotypomania)' December 1839

 

Théodore Maurisset (French, active 1834-1859)
La Daguerreotypomanie (Daguerreotypomania)
December 1839
Lithograph
Image: 26 x 35.7 cm (10 1/4 x 14 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr.

 

Horatio B. King (American, 1820-1889) 'Seth Eastman at Dighton Rock, July 7, 1853' 1853

 

Horatio B. King (American, 1820-1889)
Seth Eastman at Dighton Rock, July 7, 1853
1853

 

 

Dighton Rock

The Dighton Rock is a 40-ton boulder, originally located in the riverbed of the Taunton River at Berkley, Massachusetts (formerly part of the town of Dighton). The rock is noted for its petroglyphs (“primarily lines, geometric shapes, and schematic drawings of people, along with writing, both verified and not.”), carved designs of ancient and uncertain origin, and the controversy about their creators. In 1963, during construction of a coffer dam, state officials removed the rock from the river for preservation. It was installed in a museum in a nearby park, Dighton Rock State Park. In 1980 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

 

Seth Eastman

Seth Eastman (1808-1875) and his second wife Mary Henderson Eastman (1818 – 24 February 1887) were instrumental in recording Native American life. Eastman was an artist and West Point graduate who served in the US Army, first as a mapmaker and illustrator. He had two tours at Fort Snelling, Minnesota Territory; during the second, extended tour he was commanding officer of the fort. During these years, he painted many studies of Native American life. He was notable for the quality of his hundreds of illustrations for Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s six-volume study on Indian Tribes of the United States (1851-1857), commissioned by the US Congress. From their time at Fort Snelling, Mary Henderson Eastman wrote a book about Dakota Sioux life and culture, which Seth Eastman illustrated. In 1838, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician…

Having retired as a Union brigadier general for disability during the American Civil War, Seth Eastman was reactivated when commissioned by Congress to make several paintings for the US Capitol. Between 1867 and 1869, he painted a series of nine scenes of American Indian life for the House Committee on Indian Affairs. In 1870 Congress commissioned Eastman to create a series of 17 paintings of important U.S. forts, to be hung in the meeting rooms of the House Committee on Military Affairs. He completed the paintings in 1875. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Thomas Richard Williams (English, 1825-1871) 'The Sands of Time' 1850-1852

 

Thomas Richard Williams (English, 1825-1871)
The Sands of Time
1850-1852
Stereo-daguerreotype
Two 1/6 plates
Image (each): 7 x 5.9 cm (2 3/4 x 2 5/16 in.)
Object (whole): 8.3 x 17.1 cm (3 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Thomas Richard Williams (English, 1825-1871) 'The Sands of Time' 1850-1852 (detail)

 

Thomas Richard Williams (English, 1825-1871)
The Sands of Time (detail)
1850-1852
Stereo-daguerreotype
Two 1/6 plates
Image (each): 7 x 5.9 cm (2 3/4 x 2 5/16 in.)
Object (whole): 8.3 x 17.1 cm (3 1/4 x 6 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Thomas Richard Williams (5 May 1824 – 5 April 1871) was a British professional photographer and one of the pioneers of stereoscopy.

Williams’s first business was in London around 1850. He is known for his celebrated stereographic daguerreotypes of the Crystal Palace. He also did portrait photography, now in the Getty Museum’s archives, which he regarded as his greatest success…

Williams’ first studio in Lambeth served both as business and home. Here, “Williams rapidly acquired a fine reputation as portraitist. One source describes how the vicinity of the studio was often ‘blocked with a dozen carriages awaiting the visitors at Mr. Williams’ studio.’ His portraits were exquisitely crafted, and displayed a restrained elegance which became his hallmark.”

Soon his success allowed him to open a studio separate from his home, in Regent Street in 1854. With over twenty photography studios nearby competition was keen – and included his former mentor and teacher, Claudet. “Williams, with his characteristic discretion and low-key approach, did not advertise his business or put up large signs to attract clientele. It seems, though, that the gentry beat a path to his door, and his stereoscopic portraits became highly popular.”

While the mainstay of his business was his stereoscopic (3-D) portraits, he was coming into his own with an artistic vision of what photography could and would become. He became one of the first photographers on record to shoot still life and other artistic compositions. These images became popular to the point that they became “part of the birth of a new genre that was to become the stereoscopic boom of the 1850s.” The Victorians loved them; sales boomed.

In the mid-1850s, Williams contracted with the London Stereoscopic Company to publish his images. The LSC published the work of many eminent stereo photographers, including William England, and was able to mass-produce his works, which helped meet growing demand for his prints.

The LSC published three stereoscopic series by Williams.

His “First Series” was made up of portraits, artistic compositions and still life, many taken in his studio. Dr. Brian May and Elena Vidal write: “The still life studies, with their fine detail and careful composition, showed a clear influence from the 17th century Dutch painting tradition, and a profound knowledge of the iconography surrounding this genre. Photographs such as ‘The Old Larder,’ ‘Mortality’ and ‘Hawk and Duckling’ are superb examples of the unique power of stereography, with their superb three-dimensional compositions, and wealth of detail, which, combined with an outstanding artistic sensibility, resulted in images of astonishing finesse. Another remarkable group of images in this series, entitled “The Launching of the Marlborough”, taken on 31 July 1855, was highly praised in the Victorian press, since they embodied the achievement of ‘instantaneous’ photography, executed as they were from a moving boat, and managing to ‘freeze’ the waves on the surface of the sea.”

The second series was “The Crystal Palace,” this time at Sydenham, as the original Palace in Hyde Park had been dismantled. “The quality of Williams’ original daguerreotypes from this event are such that, though they contain images of hundreds of people, individual facial features of Queen Victoria and her party are clearly discernible.” …

May and Vidal write, “Through his work, Williams is now widely recognised as pivotal in the history of stereoscopic photography, since his stereo cards were the first examples of photographic art for its own sake ever to achieve wide commercial success.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (French, 1804-1892) 'Facade and North Colonnade of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, Athens' 1842

 

Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (French, 1804-1892)
Facade and North Colonnade of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, Athens
1842
Daguerreotype
Whole plate
Image: 18.8 x 24 cm (7 3/8 x 9 7/16 in.)
Object (whole): 18.8 x 24 cm (7 3/8 x 9 7/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alphonse-Louis Poitevin (French, 1819-1882) 'The Pantheon, Paris' 1842

 

Alphonse-Louis Poitevin (French, 1819-1882)
The Pantheon, Paris
1842
Daguerreotype
1/2 plate
Image: 15.1 x 10.2 cm (5 15/16 x 4 in.)
Mat: 21.5 x 15.6 cm (8 7/16 x 6 1/8 in.)
Object (whole): 27.9 x 21.9 cm (11 x 8 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of a Young Man in a Top Hat' c. 1850s

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of a Young Man in a Top Hat
c. 1850s
Daguerreotype
1/9 plate
Open: 7.3 x 12.4 cm (2 7/8 x 4 7/8 in.)
Graham Nash Collection

 

Attributed to Dr. Hugo Stangenwald (Austrian, born Germany, 1829-1899) 'Portrait of Queen Kalama of Hawaii' c. 1853-1854

 

Attributed to Dr. Hugo Stangenwald (Austrian, born Germany, 1829-1899)
Portrait of Queen Kalama of Hawaii
c. 1853-1854
Daguerreotype, hand-colored
1/16 plate
Image: 3 x 2.5 cm (1 3/16 x 1 in.)
Mat: 4.1 x 3.5 cm (1 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.)
Open: 5.1 x 8.9 cm (2 x 3 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Kalama Hakaleleponi Kapakuhaili (1817-September 20, 1870) was a Queen consort of the Kingdom of Hawai’i alongside her husband, Kauikeaouli, who reigned as King Kamehameha III. Her second name is Hazelelponi in Hawaiian.

Dr. Hugo Stangenwald was an Austrian physician and pioneer photographer who arrived in Honolulu in 1853.

“In January 1853m Stangenwald landed at Hilo, on the island of Hawaii, aboard a British brig. He was bound for Sydney, Australia, with his partner, Stephen Goodfellow, recently a resident of San Franciso. Together, as Stangenwald and Goodfellow, they found a profitable field of enterprise taking portraits of American missionaries and views of Hawaiian scenery during what was to have been a temporary stay. Missionary titus Coan called Stangenwald “the chief artist” and “a physician (so reported),” and summed him up as “a pleasant and pious young man.” On February 10, Coan wrote that Stangenwald and Goodfellow “are now using up all the faces in Hilo, and they soon with be through.” Can added that their prices were comparatively moderate; they charged “3$ for the smallest plates in a neat case, and a frame in proportion to the size, the amount of gold in ornamentation.” This helpful missionary went so far as to enlist the help of his colleagues in Honolulu to assist Stangenwald and Goodfellow in establishing themselves in that town.

By March 26, Stangenwald and Goodfellow were advertising the imminent opening of the daguerreian rooms next to the shoe store of J. H. Woods in Honolulu. After a week engaged in setting up their equipment and adjusting there work to the light, they were prepared to take portraits and “correct views of gentlemen’ residences, vessels, machinery and parts of the city … without reversing.” When a devastating outbreak of smallpox hit Honolulu in May, Goodfellow elected to dissolve his partnership with Stangenwald and resume his voyage to Australia. Stangenwald decided to remain in Hawaii.”

Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn. Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary 1840-1865.  Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000, p. 515.

 

Unknown maker (American) '[Portrait of an Unidentified Daguerreotypist Displaying a Selection of Daguerreotypes] / Daguerreotypist (?) Displaying Thirteen Daguerreotypes' 1845

 

Unknown maker (American)
[Portrait of an Unidentified Daguerreotypist Displaying a Selection of Daguerreotypes] / Daguerreotypist (?) Displaying Thirteen Daguerreotypes
1845
Daguerreotype, hand-colored
1/6 plate
Image: 6.7 x 5.2 cm (2 5/8 x 2 1/16 in.)
Mat: 8.3 x 7 cm (3 1/4 x 2 3/4 in.)
Open: 8.9 x 15.2 cm (3 1/2 x 6 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker (American) '[Chinese Woman with a Mandolin]' 1860

 

Unknown maker (American)
[Chinese Woman with a Mandolin]
1860
Daguerreotype, hand-colored
1/4 plate
Image: 9 x 6.5 cm (3 9/16 x 2 9/16 in.)
Mat: 10.8 x 8.3 cm (4 1/4 x 3 1/4 in.)
Open: 12.7 x 20.6 cm (5 x 8 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker (American) '[Chinese Woman with a Mandolin]' 1860 (detail)

 

Unknown maker (American)
[Chinese Woman with a Mandolin] (detail)
1860
Daguerreotype, hand-colored
1/4 plate
Image: 9 x 6.5 cm (3 9/16 x 2 9/16 in.)
Mat: 10.8 x 8.3 cm (4 1/4 x 3 1/4 in.)
Open: 12.7 x 20.6 cm (5 x 8 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of a Girl Holding a Doll' c. 1845

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of a Girl Holding a Doll
c. 1845
Daguerreotype
Framed: 24.1 x 19.1 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.)
Graham Nash Collection

 

Auguste Belloc (French, 1800-1867) 'Portrait of a Woman' May 1844

 

Auguste Belloc (French, 1800-1867)
Portrait of a Woman
May 1844
Daguerreotype
Image: 10.2 x 7.6 cm (4 x 3 in.)
Framed: 24.8 x 22.9 cm (9 3/4 x 9 in.)
Graham Nash Collection

 

Auguste Belloc (French, 1800-1867) 'Portrait of a Woman' May 1844 (detail)

 

Auguste Belloc (French, 1800-1867)
Portrait of a Woman (detail)
May 1844
Daguerreotype
Image: 10.2 x 7.6 cm (4 x 3 in.)
Framed: 24.8 x 22.9 cm (9 3/4 x 9 in.)
Graham Nash Collection

 

 

Auguste Belloc (French, 1800-1867) was born in the beginning of the 19th century, in Montrabe, located in the Southwest of France (Haute-Garonne).

He began his career as a painter of miniatures and watercolours. Belloc’s first photographic studio was mentioned in 1851. Practicing daguerreotype, he became involved in wet collodion development and improved the wax coating process, helping the pictures to keep their wet-like luster.

But the most important research he led was about color stereoscopy (3 dimensional photography). Known for his nudes and portraits, he looked for the best way to express the reality and found a new method. This practice considered erotic photography and was declared illegal by the police in 1856 and 1860.”

Marion Perceval “Auguste Belloc,” in John Hannavy (ed.,). Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. Routledge, 2008, p. 146

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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22
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Portraits of Renown: Photography and the Cult of Celebrity’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 3rd April – 26th August 2012

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925) 'Yves Saint Laurent, Paris' 1968

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Yves Saint Laurent, Paris
1968
Dye colour diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

 

 

On the Nature of Photography

 

“To get from the tangible to the intangible (which mature artists in any medium claim as part of their task) a paradox of some kind has frequently been helpful. For the photographer to free himself of the tyranny of the visual facts upon which he is utterly dependent, a paradox is the only possible tool. And the talisman paradox for unique photography is to work “the mirror with a memory” as if it were a mirage, and the camera is a metamorphosing machine, and the photograph as if it were a metaphor… Once freed of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, substance and form [the photographer] can use the same to pursue poetic truth.”

.
Newhall, Beaumont (ed.,). The History of Photography. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1982, p. 281

 

“Carol Jerrems and I taught at the same secondary school in the 1970’s. In a classroom that was unused at that time, I remember having my portrait taken by her. She held her Pentax to her eye. Carols’ portraits all seemed to have been made where the posing of her subjects was balanced by an incisive naturalness (for want of a better description). As a challenge to myself I tried to look “natural”, but kept in my consciousness that I was having my portrait taken. Minutes passed and neither she nor her camera moved at all.

Then the idea slipped from my mind for just a moment, and I was straightaway bought back by the sound of the shutter. What had changed in my face? – probably nothing, or 1 mm of muscle movement. Had she seen it through the shutter? Or something else – I don’t know.”

.
Australian artist Ian Lobb on being photographed by the late Carol Jerrems

 

 

There is always something that you can’t quite put your finger on in an outstanding portrait, some ineffable other that takes the portrait into another space entirely. I still haven’t worked it out but my thoughts are this: forget about the pose of the person. It would seem to me to be both a self conscious awareness by the sitter of the camera and yet at the same time a knowing transcendence of the visibility of the camera itself. In great portrait photography it is almost as though the conversation between the photographer and the person being photographed elides the camera entirely. Minor White, in his three great mantras, the Three Canons, observes:

 

Be still with yourself
Until the object of your attention
Affirms your presence
.

Let the Subject generate its own Composition
.

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

 

Freed from the tyranny of the visual facts something else emerges.

Celebrities know only too well how to “work” the camera but the most profound portraits, even of celebrities, are in those moments when the photographer sees something else in the person being photographed, some unrecognised other that emerges from the shadows – a look, a twist of the head, the poignancy of the mouth, the vibrancy of the dancer Josephine Baker, the sturdiness of the gaze of Walt Whitman with hands in pockets, the presence of the hands (no, not the gaze!) of Picasso. I remember taking a black and white portrait of my partner Paul holding a wooden finial like a baby among some trees, a most beautiful, revealing photograph. He couldn’t bear to look at it, for it stripped him naked before the lens and showed a side of himself that he had never seen before: vulnerable, youthful, beautiful.

Why do great portrait photographers make so many great portraits? Why can’t this skill be shared or taught? Why can’t Herb Ritts (for example) make a portrait that goes beyond a caricature? Why is it that what can be taught is so banal that it has no value?

In photography, maybe we edit out what is expected and then it seems that photography does something that goes beyond language; it goes beyond function that can be described as a part of speech, metonym or metaphor. When this something else takes over I think it is truly “unrecognised” in the best portraits – and it is fantastic and wonderful.

This is the ultimate understanding of perception and vision – when spirit takes over – the ability to see it in the mind, through the viewfinder and be able to reveal it in the physicality of the print. This, I believe, is the reality of photography itself in its absolute essential form – and here I am deliberately forgetting about post-photography, post-modernism, modernism, pictorialism, ism, ism – and getting down to why I really like photography: the BEYOND the visualisation of a world, the transcendence of time and space that leads, in great photographs, to a recognition of the discontinuous nature of life but in the end, to its ultimate persistence.

This is as close as I have got so far…

Dr Marcus Bunyan
August 2012

.
Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photograph for a larger version of the image.

 

Mariana Cook (American, b. 1955) 'Barack and Michelle Obama, Chicago' May 26, 1996

 

Mariana Cook (American, b. 1955)
Barack and Michelle Obama, Chicago
May 26, 1996
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925) 'Andy Warhol' 1966

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Andy Warhol
1966
Dye colour diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925) 'Yves St Laurent' 1968

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Yves St Laurent
1968
Dye colour diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) 'Grace Jones' 1984

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Grace Jones
1984
Polaroid Polacolor print
9.5 x 7.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2011 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Weston (American, 1889-1958) 'Igor Stravinsky' 1935

 

Edward Weston (American, 1889-1958)
Igor Stravinsky
1935
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Coy Watson Jr. (American, 1912–2009) 'Joe Louis – “The Brown Bomber”, Los Angeles, February 1935'

 

Coy Watson Jr. (American, 1912–2009)
Joe Louis – “The Brown Bomber”, Los Angeles, February 1935
1935
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Edward Steichen. 'Gloria Swanson' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Gloria Swanson
1924
Gelatin silver print
27.8 x 21.6 cm (10 15/16 x 8 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Permission Joanna T. Steichen

 

 

Portraits of Renown surveys some of the visual strategies used by photographers to picture famous individuals from the 1840s to the year 2000. “This exhibition offers a brief visual history of famous people in photographs, drawn entirely from the Museum’s rich holdings in this genre,” says Paul Martineau, curator of the exhibition and associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It also provides a broad historical context for the work in the concurrent exhibition Herb Ritts: L.A. Style, which includes a selection of Ritts’s best celebrity portraits.”

Photography’s remarkable propensity to shape identities has made it the leading vehicle for representing the famous. Soon after photography was invented in the 1830s, it was used to capture the likenesses and accomplishments of great men and women, gradually supplanting other forms of commemoration. In the twentieth century, the proliferation of photography and the transformative power of fame have helped to accelerate the desire for photographs of celebrities in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and on the Internet. The exhibition is arranged chronologically to help make visible some of the overarching technical and stylistic developments in photography from the first decade of its invention to the end of the twentieth century.

A wide range of historical figures are portrayed in Portraits of Renown. A photograph by Alexander Gardner of President Lincoln documents his visit to the battlefield of Antietam during the Civil War. Captured by Nadar, a portrait of Alexander Dumas, best known for his novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, shows the author with an energetic expression, illustrating the lively personality that made his writing so popular. Baron Adolf De Meyer’s portrait of Josephine Baker, an American performer who became an international sensation at the Folies Bergère in Paris, showcases her comedic charm, a trait that proved central to her popularity as a performer. An iconic portrait of the silent screen actress, Gloria Swanson, created by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair reveals both the intensity of its sitter and the skill of the artist. A picture of Pablo Picasso by his friend Man Ray portrays the master of Cubism with a penetrating gaze.

Yves St. Laurent, Andy Warhol, and Grace Jones are among the contemporary figures included in the exhibition. Fashion designer Yves St. Laurent was photographed by Marie Cosindas using instant color film by Polaroid. The photograph, made the year his first boutique in New York opened, graced the walls of the store for ten years. A Cosindas portrait of Andy Warhol shows the artist wearing dark sunglasses, which partially conceal his face. Warhol, who was fascinated by celebrity, delighted in posing public personalities like Grace Jones for his camera.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Pablo Picasso' 1934

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Pablo Picasso
1934
Gelatin silver print
25.2 x 20cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'James Joyce' 1928

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
James Joyce
1928
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946) 'Portrait of Josephine Baker' 1925

 

Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946)
Portrait of Josephine Baker
1925
Collotype print
39.1 x 39.7cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1925 Josephine Baker, an American dancer from Saint Louis, Missouri, made her debut on the Paris stage in La Revue nègre (The Black Review) at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, wearing nothing more than a skirt of feathers and performing her danse sauvage (savage dance). She was an immediate sensation in Jazz-Age France, which celebrated her perceived exoticism, quite the opposite of the reception she had received dancing in American choruses. American expatriate novelist Ernest Hemingway called Baker “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw – or ever will.”

Baron Adolf de Meyer, a society and fashion photographer, took this playful portrait in the year of Baker’s debut. Given the highly sexual nature of her stage persona, this portrait is charming and almost innocent; Baker’s personality is suggested by her face rather than her famous body.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'John Barrymore as Hamlet' 1922

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
John Barrymore as Hamlet
1922
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1964-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1964-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait
1918
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Arnold Genthe (American, born Germany, 1869-1942) 'Anna Pavlowa' about 1915

 

Arnold Genthe (American, born Germany, 1869-1942)
Anna Pavlowa
about 1915
Gelatin silver print
33.5 × 25.2cm (13 3/16 × 9 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

The Russian ballerina Anna Pavlowa (or Pavlova) so greatly admired Arnold Genthe’s work that she made the unusual decision to visit his studio, rather than have him come to her rehearsals. The resulting portrait of the prolific dancer, leaping in mid-air, is the only photograph to capture Pavlowa in free movement. Genthe regarded this print as one of the best dance photographs he ever made.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, born United States, 1882-1966) 'Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)' Negative December 21, 1908; print 1913

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, born United States, 1882-1966)
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
Negative December 21, 1908; print 1913
Photogravure
20.6 × 14.8cm (8 1/8 × 5 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) '[Self-Portrait]' Negative 1907; print 1930

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
[Self-Portrait]
Negative 1907; print 1930
Gelatin silver print
24.8 × 18.4cm (9 3/4 × 7 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973) 'Rodin The Thinker' 1902

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Rodin – Le Penseur (The Thinker)
1902
Gelatin-carbon print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858 - 1935) '[Julia Ward Howe]' about 1890

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935)
[Julia Ward Howe]
about 1890
Platinum print
23.5 × 18.6cm (9 1/4 × 7 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Julia Ward Howe (May 27, 1819 – October 17, 1910) was an American poet and author, known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the original 1870 pacifist Mother’s Day Proclamation. She was also an advocate for abolitionism and a social activist, particularly for women’s suffrage.

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935) 'John Singer Sargent' about 1890

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935)
John Singer Sargent
about 1890
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Although John Singer Sargent was the most famous American portrait painter of his time, he apparently did not like to be photographed. The few photographs that exist show him at work, as he is here, sketching and puffing on a cigar. His friend Sarah Choate Sears, herself a painter of some note, drew many of her sitters for photographs from the same aristocratic milieu as Sargent did for his paintings.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) '[Sarah Bernhardt as the Empress Theodora in Sardou's "Theodora"]' Negative 1884; print and mount about 1889

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
[Sarah Bernhardt as the Empress Theodora in Sardou’s “Theodora”]
Negative 1884; print and mount about 1889
Albumen silver print
14.6 × 10.5 cm (5 3/4 × 4 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

J. Wood (American, active New York, New York 1870s-1880s) 'L.P. Federmeyer' 1879

 

J. Wood (American, active New York, New York 1870s-1880s)
L.P. Federmeyer
1879
Albumen silver print
14.8 × 10 cm (5 13/16 × 3 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen
Negative 1864; print about 1875
Carbon print
24.1cm (9 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

This image of Ellen Terry (1847-1928) is one of the few known photographs of a female celebrity by Julia Margaret Cameron. Terry, the popular child actress of the British stage, was sixteen years old when Cameron made this image. This photograph was most likely taken just after she married the eccentric painter, George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), who was thirty years her senior. They spent their honeymoon in the village of Freshwater on the Isle of Wight where Cameron resided.

Cameron’s portrait echoes Watt’s study of Terry titled Choosing (1864, National Portrait Gallery, London). As in the painting, Terry is shown in profile with her eyes closed, an ethereal beauty in a melancholic dream state. In this guise, Terry embodies the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of womanhood rather than appearing as the wild boisterous teenager she was known to be. The round (“tondo”) format of this photograph was popular among Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Cameron titled another print of this image Sadness (see 84.XZ.186.52), which may suggest the realisation of a mismatched marriage. Terry’s anxiety is plainly evident – she leans against an interior wall and tugs nervously at her necklace. The lighting is notably subdued, leaving her face shadowed in doubt. In The Story of My Life (1909), Terry recalls how demanding Watts was, calling upon her to sit for hours as a model and giving her strict orders not to speak in front of distinguished guests in his studio.

This particular version was printed eleven years after Cameron first made the portrait. In order to distribute this image commercially, the Autotype Company of London rephotographed the original negative after the damage had been repaired. The company then made new prints using the durable, non-fading carbon print process. Thus, this version is in reverse compared to Sadness. Terry’s enduring popularity is displayed by the numerous photographs taken of her over the years. Along with the two portraits by Cameron, the Getty owns three more of Terry by other photographers.

Adapted from Julian Cox. Julia Margaret Cameron, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996), 12. ©1996 The J. Paul Getty Museum; with additions by Carolyn Peter, J. Paul Getty Museum, Department of Photographs, 2019.

 

Charles DeForest Fredricks (American, 1823-1894) '[Mlle Pepita]' 1863

 

Charles DeForest Fredricks (American, 1823-1894)
[Mlle Pepita]
1863
Albumen silver print
9 × 5.4 cm (3 9/16 × 2 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (French, 1819-1889) '[Rosa Bonheur]' 1861-1864

 

André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (French, 1819-1889)
[Rosa Bonheur]
1861-1864
Albumen silver print
8.4 × 5.2cm (3 5/16 × 2 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Rosa Bonheur, born Marie-Rosalie Bonheur (16 March 1822 – 25 May 1899), was a French artist, mostly a painter of animals (animalière) but also a sculptor, in a realist style. Her best-known paintings are Ploughing in the Nivernais, first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1848, and now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and The Horse Fair (in French: Le marché aux chevaux), which was exhibited at the Salon of 1853 (finished in 1855) and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. Bonheur was widely considered to be the most famous female painter of the nineteenth century.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896) 'Walt Whitman' about 1870

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896)
Walt Whitman
about 1870
Albumen silver print
14.6 x 10.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896) 'Robert E. Lee' 1865

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896)
Robert E. Lee
1865
Albumen silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

John Robert Parsons (British, about 1826-1909) '[Portrait of Jane Morris (Mrs. William Morris)]' Negative July 1865; print after 1900

 

John Robert Parsons (British, about 1826-1909)
[Portrait of Jane Morris (Mrs. William Morris)]
Negative July 1865; print after 1900
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 19.2cm (9 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) 'George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), Writer' c. 1865

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin)
about 1865
Albumen silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dudevant, née Dupin, took the pseudonym George Sand in 1832. She was a successful Romantic novelist and a close friend of Nadar, and during the 1860s he photographed her frequently. Her writing was celebrated for its frequent depiction of working-class or peasant heroes. She was also a woman as renowned for her romantic liaisons as her writing; here she allowed Nadar to photograph her, devoid of coquettish charms but nevertheless a commanding presence.

This portrait is a riot of textural surfaces. The sumptuous satin of Sand’s gown and silken texture of her hair have a rich tactile presence. Her shimmering skirt melts into the velvet-draped support on which she leans, creating a visual triangle with the careful centre part of her wavy hair. The portrait details the exquisite laces, beads, and buttons of her gown, but her face, the apex of the triangle, is out of focus. Sand was apparently unable to remain perfectly still throughout the exposure, and the slight blurring of her facial features erases the unforgiving details that the years had drawn upon her.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882) 'President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862'

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882)
President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862
1862
Albumen silver print
21.9 x 19.7cm (8 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Twenty-six thousand soldiers were killed or wounded in the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, after which Confederate General Robert E. Lee was forced to retreat to Virginia. Just two weeks after the victory, President and Commander-in-Chief Abraham Lincoln conferred with General McClernand and Allan Pinkerton, Chief of the nascent Secret Service, who had organised espionage missions behind Confederate lines.

Lincoln stands tall, front and centre in his stovepipe hat, his erect and commanding posture emphasised by the tent pole that seems to be an extension of his spine. The other men stand slightly apart in deference to their leader, in postures of allegiance with their hands covering their hearts. The reclining figure of the man at left and the shirt hanging from the tree are a reminder that, although this is a formally posed picture, Lincoln’s presence did not halt the camp’s activity, and no attempts were made to isolate him from the ordinary circumstances surrounding the continuing military conflict.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882) 'President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862' (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882)
President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862 (detail)
1862
Albumen silver print
21.9 x 19.7cm (8 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Pierre Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913) 'Napoleon III and the Prince Imperial' about 1859

 

Pierre Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913)
Napoleon III and the Prince Imperial
about 1859
Albumen silver print from a wet collodion glass negative
21 × 16cm (8 1/4 × 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

The Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III, sits strapped securely into a seat on his horse’s back, a model subject for the camera. An attendant at the left steadies the horse so that the little prince remains picture-perfect in the centre of the backdrop erected for the photograph. The horse stands upon a rug that serves as a formalising element, making the scene appear more regal. The Emperor Napoleon III himself stands off to the right in perfect profile, supervising the scene with his dog and forming a framing mirror-image of the horse and attendant on the other side.

Pierre-Louis Pierson placed his camera far enough back from the Prince to capture the entire scene and all the players, but this was not the version sold as a popular carte-de-visite. The carte-de-visite image was cropped so that only the Prince upon his horse was visible.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) 'Alexander Dumas [père] (1802-1870) / Alexandre Dumas' 1855

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
Alexander Dumas [père] (1802-1870) / Alexandre Dumas
1855
Salted paper print
Image (rounded corners): 23.5 x 18.7cm (9 1/4 x 7 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Public domain

 

 

The writer Alexander Dumas was Nadar’s boyhood idol. Nadar’s father had published Dumas’s first novel and play, and a portrait of Dumas hung in young Nadar’s room. The son of a French revolutionary general and a black mother, Dumas arrived in Paris from the provinces in 1823, poor and barely educated. Working as a clerk, he educated himself in French history and began to write. In 1829 he met with his first success; with credits including The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, published in 1844 and 1845, respectively, his fame and popularity were assured.

Nadar was the first photographer to use photography to enhance the sitter’s reputation. Given Dumas’s popularity, this mounted edition print, signed and dedicated by him, was likely intended for sale.

Dumas is represented as a lively, vibrant man. The self-restraint of his crossed hands, resting on a chair that disappears into the shadows, seems like an attempt to contain an undercurrent of boundless energy that threatened to ruin the necessary stillness of the pose and appears to have found an outlet through Dumas’s hair. Around the time of this sitting, the prolific Dumas and Nadar were planning to collaborate on a theatrical spectacle, which was ultimately never staged.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe' late May - early June 1849

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe
1849
Daguerreotype
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Public domain

 

 

“A noticeable man clad in black, the fashion of the times, close-buttoned, erect, forward looking, something separate in his bearing …a beautifully poetic face.”
Basil L. Gildersleeve to Mary E. Phillips, 1915 (his childhood recollection of Poe)

.
Many of Edgar Allan Poe’s contemporaries described him as he appears in this portrait: a darkly handsome and intelligent man who possessed an unorthodox personality. Despite being acknowledged as one of America’s greatest writers of poetry and short stories, Poe’s life remains shrouded in mystery, with conflicting accounts about poverty, alcoholism, drug use, and the circumstances of his death in 1849. Like his life, Poe’s poems and short stories are infused with a sense of tragedy and mystery. Among his best-known works are: The RavenAnnabel Lee, and The Fall of the House of Usher.

This daguerreotype was made several months before Poe’s death at age 40. After his wife died two years earlier in 1847, Poe turned to two women for support and companionship. He met Annie Richmond at a poetry lecture that he gave when visiting Lowell, Massachusetts. Although she was married, they developed a deep, mutual affection. Richmond is thought to have arranged and paid for this portrait sitting. Poe is so forcibly portrayed that historians have described his appearance as disheveled, brooding, exhausted, haunted, and melancholic.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, relatively few daguerreotypes of notable poets, novelists, or painters have survived from the 1840s, and some of the best we have are by unknown makers. The art of the daguerreotype was one in which the sitter’s face usually took priority over the maker’s name, and many daguerreotypists failed to sign their works. This is the case with the Getty’s portrait of Poe.

Adapted from getty.edu, Interpretive Content Department, 2009; and Weston Naef, The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Photographs Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 35. © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum.

 

Charles Richard Meade (American, 1826-1858) 'Portrait of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre' 1848

 

Charles Richard Meade (American, 1826-1858)
Portrait of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre
1848
Daguerreotype, hand-coloured
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Public domain

 

 

By New Year’s Day of 1840 – little more than one year after William Henry Fox Talbot had first displayed his photogenic drawings in London and just four to five months after the first daguerreotypes had been exhibited in Paris at the Palais d’Orsay in conjunction with a series of public demonstrations of the process – Daguerre’s instruction manual had been translated into at least four languages and printed in at least twenty-one editions. In this way, his well-kept secret formula and list of materials quickly spread to the Americas and to provincial locations all over Europe. Photography became a gold rush-like phenomenon, with as much fiction attached to it as fact.

Nowhere was the daguerreotype more enthusiastically accepted than in the United States. Charles R. Meade was the proprietor of a prominent New York photographic portrait studio. He made a pilgrimage to France in 1848 to meet the founder of his profession and while there became one of the very few people to use the daguerreotype process to photograph the inventor himself.

A daguerreotype was (and is) created by coating a highly polished silver plated sheet of copper with light sensitive chemicals such as chloride of iodine. The plate is then exposed to light in the back of a camera obscura. When first removed from the camera, the image is not immediately visible. The plate must be exposed to mercury vapours to “bring out” the image. The image is then “fixed” (or “made permanent on the plate”) by washing it in a bath of hyposulfite of soda. Finally it is washed in distilled water. Each daguerreotype is a unique image; multiple prints cannot be made from the metal plate.

Adapted from Weston Naef, The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Photographs Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 33, © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum; with additions by Carolyn Peter, J. Paul Getty Museum, Department of Photographs, 2019.

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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11
Aug
10

Review: ‘Night’s Plutonian Shore’ by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond

Exhibition dates: 28th July – 21st August 2010

 

Installation view of 'Night's Plutonian Shore' by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond

 

Installation view of Night’s Plutonian Shore by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond

 

 

This is an excellent exhibition by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond. Compared to last year’s ‘shock and paw’ exhibition Cineraria reviewed on this blog, this exhibition shows a commendable sense of restraint, a beautiful rise and fall in the work as you walk around the gallery space with the exhibits displayed on different types and heights of stand and a greater thematic development of the conceptual ideas within the work. There are some exquisite pieces.

From the bejewelled Golden Gosling (2010), the goose that wears the gold not lays it to the cute stillborn fawn Lenore (2010), named after Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name that discusses “the proper decorum in the wake of the death of a young woman, described as “the queenliest dead that ever died so young”,” (Wikipedia text) there is a delicacy to these sculptures that seemed absent in the last exhibition. The sleeping fawn wears a little golden bridle and is covered in golden hearts, the harness bringing in the element of control (of life, of death, of the body, of identity) into the pieces not seen in the earlier work. This sense of control is reinforced in other pieces in the exhibition including the three pieces Charon (2010), Nevermore (2010) and Kitten drawn hearse (2010, see photographs below).

In Charon the kitten has an amazing beaded saddle and stirrups to allow the occupant to control the dead stead because in Greek mythology Charon is the ferryman who carries the souls of the newly deceased across the river Styx. ‘Nevermore’ also features the saddle and bridle whilst the standout piece of the whole exhibition, Kitten drawn hearse just wows you with it’s delicacy and showmanship – the plume atop the harnessed kitten’s head faithfully replicating the dressage of a Victorian horse drawn funeral cortege.

In these pieces there is a simplification of the noise of the earlier works and in this simplification a conversant intensification of the layering of the conceptual ideas. Playful and witty the layers can be peeled back to reveal the poetry of de Sade, the stories of Greek mythology and the amplification of life force that is at the heart of these works.

Good stuff.

.
Many thankx to Edwin and Sophie Gannon Gallery for allowing me publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Another well considered response to the exhibition can be found on Karen Thompson’s Melbourne Jeweller blog.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Julia deVille. 'Nameless here for evermore' 2010

 

Julia deVille (Australian, b. 1982)
Nameless here for evermore
2010

 

Julia deVille. 'Golden Gosling' 2010

 

Julia deVille (Australian, b. 1982)
Golden Gosling
2010

 

Julia deVille. 'Ghastly grim and ancient raven' 2010

 

Julia deVille (Australian, b. 1982)
Ghastly grim and ancient raven
2010

 

Julia deVille. 'Nevermore' 2010

 

Julia deVille (Australian, b. 1982)
Nevermore
2010

 

Julia deVille. 'Charon' 2010

 

Julia deVille (Australian, b. 1982)
Charon
2010

 

Julia deVille. 'Lenore' 2010

 

Julia deVille (Australian, b. 1982)
Lenore
2010

 

Julia deVille. 'Kitten drawn hearse' 2010

 

Julia deVille (Australian, b. 1982)
Kitten drawn hearse
2010

 

 

Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street, Richmond, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11 – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website

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16
Aug
09

Review: ‘Cineraria’ by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th July  – 22nd August 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'Ruby Heart Starling' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Ruby Heart Starling
2008
Starling, sterling silver, black rhodium & gold plate, rubies, antique frame
30 x 35 x 18 cm

 

 

This is an itsy-bitsy show by Julia deVille at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond, Melbourne. Offering a menagerie of macabre stuffed animals and conceptual ideas the exhibition fails to coalesce into a satisfying vision. It features many ideas that are not fully investigated and incorporated into the corporeal body of the work.

We have, variously, The Funerary Urn/Cinerarium, The Ossuary, Skeletons, Black, Victorian Funerary Customs, Feathers, Taxidermy, Time, Eggs and Religion. We also have stuffed animals, cigar boxes, lace and silver, pelts and columns, jet necklaces and Victorian glass domes, glass eyes and ruby hearts to name but a few. The viewer is overwhelmed by ideas and materials.

When individual pieces excel the work is magical: the delicate and disturbing Stillborn Angel (2009, below) curled in a foetal position with appended sparrows wings is a knockout. The large suspended raven of Night’s Plutonian Shore (2009, above) effectively evinces the feeling of the shores of the underworld that the title, taken from an Edgar Allan Poe poem, reflects on.

Other pieces only half succeed. Piglet (2009, below) is a nice idea with its lace snout and beaded wings sitting on a bed of feathers awaiting judgement but somehow the elements don’t click into place. Further work are just one shot ideas that really lead nowhere. For example Cat Rug (2008, below) features black crystals in the mouth of a taxidermied cat that lies splayed on a plinth on the gallery floor. And, so … Silver Rook (2008, below) is a rook whose bones have been cast in silver, with another ruby heart, suspended in mid-air in the gallery space. Again an interesting idea that really doesn’t translate into any dialogue that is substantial or interesting.

Another problem with the work is the technical proficiency of some of the pieces. The cast silver front legs and ribs of The Anatomy of a Rabbit (2008, below) are of poor quality and detract from what should have been the delicacy of the skeletal bones of the work. The bronze lion cartouche on the egg shaped Lion Urn (2009) fails to fit the curved shape of the egg – it is just attached at the top most point and sits proud of the egg shape beneath. Surely someone with an eye for detail and a sense of context, perfection and pride in the work they make would know that the cartouche should have been made to fit the shape underneath.

Despite its fashionable position hovering between craft, jewellery and installation this is ‘art’ in need of a good reappraisal. My suggestion would be to take one idea, only one, and investigate it fully in a range of work that is thematically linked and beautifully made. Instead of multiplying the ideas and materials that are used, simplify the conceptual theme and at the same time layer the work so it has more complexity, so that it reveals itself over time. You only have to look at the work of Mari Funaki in the previous post or the simple but conceptually complex photographs of Matthias Koch in the German photography review to understand that LESS IS MORE!

There are positive signs here and I look forward to seeing the development of the artist over the next few years.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thankx to Sophie Gannon Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'Night's Plutonian Shore' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Night’s Plutonian Shore
2009
Tasmanian Forest Raven, black garnets, cotton, sterling silver, amethyst

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982) 'L'enfant (Infant Funerary Urn)' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
L’enfant (Infant Funerary Urn)
2009
Ostrich egg, sterling silver, ostrich plumes and black garnet
35 x 12 x 12 cm

 

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Julia deVille Cineraria installation views at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Julia de Ville. 'Piglet' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Piglet
2009
Piglet, antique lace, pins and feathers
25 x 23 x 13 cm

 

Julia de Ville. 'Cat Rug' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Cat Rug
2008
Cat, glitter and fibreglass
100 x 60 x 8 cm

 

Julia de Ville. 'Sympathy' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Sympathy
2008

 

Julia de Ville. 'Silver Rook' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Silver Rook
2008
Sterling silver, rubies
30 x 25 x 35 cm

 

 

Cinerarium

n. pl. Cineraria
A place for keeping the ashes of a cremated body.

Cineraria
n. any of several horticultural varieties of a composite plant, Senecio hybridus, of the Canary Islands, having clusters of flowers with
white, blue, purple, red, or variegated rays.

Origin: 1590-1600; < NL, fem. of cinerarius ashen, equiv. to L ciner- (s. of cinis ashes) + -rius -ary; so named from ash-coloured down on leaves.

CINERARIA is a study of the ritual and sentiment behind funerary customs from various cultures and eras.

 

Notes on inspirations

The Funerary Urn/Cinerarium: Funerary Urns have been used since the times of the ancient Greeks and are still used today. After death, the body is cremated and the ashes are collected in the urn.

The Ossuary: An ossuary is a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is. This was a common practice in post plague Europe in the 14th-16th Centuries.

Skeletons: Human skeletons and sometimes non-human animal skeletons and skulls are often used as blunt images of death. The skull and crossbones (Death’s Head) motif has been used among Europeans as a symbol of piracy, poison and most commonly, human mortality.

Black: In the West, the colour used for death and mourning is black. Black is associated with the underworld and evil. Kali, the Hindu god of destruction, is depicted as black.

Victorian Funerary Customs:

  • A wreath of laurel, yew or boxwood tied with crape or black ribbons would be hung on the front door to alert passers by that a death had occurred
  • The use of flowers and candles helped to mask unpleasant odours in the room before embalming became common
  • White was a popular colour for the funeral of a child. White gloves, ostrich plumes and a white coffin were the standard

Feathers: In Egyptian culture a recently deceased persons soul had to be as light as a feather to pass the judgment of Ma’at. Ma’at (Maet, Mayet) is the Egyptian goddess of truth, justice and the underworld. She is often portrayed as wearing a feather, a symbol of truth, on her head. She passed judgment over the souls of the dead in the Judgment Hall of Osiris. She also weighted up the soul against a feather. The “Law of Ma’at” was the basis of civil laws in ancient Egypt. If it failed, the soul was sent into the underworld. Ma’at’s symbol, an ostrich feather, stands for order and truth.

Taxidermy: Taxidermy to me is a modern form of preservation, a way for life to continue on after death, in a symbolic visual form.

The Raven: In many cultures for thousands of years, the Raven has been seen symbol of death. This is largely due to the Raven feeding on carrion. Edgar Allan Poe has used this symbolism in his poem, “The Raven”.

Time: Less blunt symbols of death frequently allude to the passage of time and the fragility of life. Clocks, hourglasses, sundials, and other timepieces call to mind that time is passing. Similarly, a candle both marks the passage of time, and bears witness that it will eventually burn itself out. These sorts of symbols were often incorporated into vanitas paintings, a variety of early still life.

Eggs: The egg has been a symbol of the start of new life for over 2,500 years, dating back to the ancient Persians. I have chosen egg shapes and even one Ostrich egg to represent the cycle of life, the beginning and the end.

Religion: Religion has played a large part in many funerary customs and beliefs. I am particularly interested in the Memento Mori period of the 16th-18th centuries. In a Calvinistic Europe, when the plague was a not too distant memory, a constant preoccupation with death became a fashionable devotional trend.

Julia deVille

 

Julia de Ville. 'Stillborn Angel' 2009

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
Stillborn Angel
2009
Stillborn puppy, sparrow wings and sterling silver
13 x 10 x 5 cm

 

Julia de Ville. 'The Anatomy of a Rabbit' 2008

 

Julia deVille (New Zealand, b. 1982)
The Anatomy of a Rabbit
2008
Rabbit, sterling silver, rubies, glitter and mahogany
30 x 30 x 30 cm

 

Julia de Ville 'Cineraria' installation views at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

Julia deVille Cineraria installation view at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street, Richmond, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 11 – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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