IotD: An Intimate Glimpse of Francis Rose by Christopher Wood

Nude in a Bedroom Francis Rose by Christopher Wood 1930

Portraits by Sir Francis Rose have been featured previously on this site; here he becomes the subject of an intimate bedroom scene by fellow British painter Christopher “Kit” Wood. The two men were lovers at the time, and the scene is the room they shared at the Hôtel Ty-Mad overlooking the Tréboul Bay in north-western France (it looks like the hotel is still there, but has changed quite a bit over the years!).

I quite like the commentary on the painting Richard Ingleby provides in his 1995 biography of Wood:

Nude Boy in a Bedroom, in keeping with Rose’s tone, was one of Wood’s more overtly erotic paintings, not because the model is a boy and the boy is naked, but because the model is not obviously modelling. He is washing himself, going about his normal, private business in the corner of his bedroom. It is an intimate portrayal of everyday domesticity. This is presumably what Rose would have us believe when he prefaced his description of the picture with the sentiment ‘I loved him deeply” (246).

Referring to several sketches depicting similar scenes, Ingleby notes that they all have “an unmistakably post-coital feel” (246).

Wood’s expressive paintings and fascinating life has recently sparked my interest; this is almost certainly not his first appearance here.

Provenance

Nude Boy in a Bedroom (1930)
Christopher “Kit” Wood
Oil on hardboard
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Works Cited

Ingleby, Richard. Christopher Wood: An English Painter. London: Allison & Busby, 1995. Print.

Radclyffe Hall, Una Troubridge–and Auntie Mame?

In my recent post spotlighting the several lesbian party guests glimpsed in the background of Auntie Mame I mention how for several seconds a tiny little interpersonal drama seems to play out, conveyed through gesture and expression. What I didn’t note was how these women actually brought to mind two specific historical figures: longtime partners Radclyffe Hall and Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge, perhaps the most well known lesbian couple of the early twentieth century. During the last years of the 1920’s, the exact period in which this scene in Auntie Mame takes place, Hall was at the height of her public notoriety due to public outcry against her novel The Well of Loneliness, culminating in an obscenity trial in British courts in late 1928. It’s kind of fun to think of her and Una dropping by one of Mame Dennis’s extravagant evening soirées, an unexpected convergence of queer modernist and mainstream Hollywood aesthetics.

Here is the first glimpse of the women in the tumult of the party:

lesbian party guests Auntie Mame 2

as well as a closer look:

auntie mame lesbian guests closeup detail

Here is Troubridge and Hall in 1933:

In the photo above Hall isn’t wearing her signature hat and it is impossible to make out the details of her jacket and other garments, but there are undeniable similarities between Hall’s distinctive facial features and the woman on the far left, and the hairstyle of the woman on right very much resembles Troubridge’s silver coiffure of this period.

Throughout her adult life Hall almost exclusively wore masculine suits, while Troubridge alternated between masculine and more conventionally feminine clothing. Which is interesting, considering the most well-known image of Troubridge is the striking portrait Romaine Brooks painted in 1924 where she appears as a lesbian dandy with a severe bobbed haircut:

romaine brooks una lady troubridge portrait 1924

Brooks’s portrait has since become an essential image of pre-Stonewall lesbian iconography.

Nearly as well known is this handsome 1928 portrait of Hall in profile:

So did the filmmakers of Auntie Mame, portraying a wild bohemian party from the late 1920’s, intentionally make a sly reference to the period’s most famous lesbian couple? Impossible to say, of course, though it should be noted that it was something of an open secret in Hollywood that Auntie Mame‘s costume designer, the prolific Orry-Kelly, was a gay man, and he would almost certainly have been aware of Hall, and likely Troubridge as well. And it’s not at all a stretch to imagine that as both international celebrities and artistic figures, Hall and Troubridge would have found the oversized doors of Mame Dennis’s penthouse thrown wide open to them, their hostess delighted to have them join her assembly of “eccentrics.”

But whether or not these visual resemblances between these extras and Hall and Troubridge was a deliberate choice is, in the end, somewhat beside the point. By the 1950’s, when Auntie Mame was made, the figures of Hall and Troubridge were so firmly established in the public imagination as archetypes of lesbian identity and sapphic sartorial style that American film audiences would directly link them back to The Well of Loneliness and its famous author anyway–so why not extend them a cinematic invitation to the party?

PROVENANCE:

(Top to Bottom)

Auntie Mame
. Dir. Morton DaCosta. By Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Perf. Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne, Fred Clark, Roger Smith, and Peggy Cass. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1958. DVD.

Troubridge and Hall attending first night of When Ladies Meet (1933)
Credit: Sasha / Stringer
Getty Images

Una, Lady Troubridge (1924)
Romaine Brooks
Oil on canvas
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Radclyffe Hall (1928)
Credit: Russell / Stringer
Getty Images

IotD: The Unexpected Collaboration of Alice B. Toklas and Picasso

Needlepoint might not be what most think of when they think of modernist art, but we’ve actually featured it here before. Below are two examples of Alice B. Toklas’s needlepoint, taken from designs by Pablo Picasso.

alice b toklas picasso needlepoint chairsalice b toklas picasso needlepoint chair 1alice b toklas picasso needlepoint chair 2

Juliet Clark from SFMOMA has a really nice write-up that prominently features these two chairs, including a lengthy excerpt from The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that relates the series of events that led to their creation.

The two chairs, before Toklas transformed them, can actually be glimpsed in the famous Man Ray portrait of the two women in their shared home at 27, rue de Fleurus (Alice is sitting in one of them):

man ray portrait stein toklas

Yet another reason to (re)consider Toklas as an accomplished artist in her own right.

Provenance:

Alice B. Toklas (from a design by Pablo Picasso)
Two armchairs, fabric and wood
Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Man Ray, c. 1922
Gelatin silver print
Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Book Review: UTOPIA PARKWAY: THE LIFE AND WORK OF JOSEPH CORNELL by Deborah Solomon

utopia parkway solomon“Straight” biography (ha, ha) is something I very rarely take up in my reading—I prefer memoirs, personal diaries, and journals whenever possible—and it’s even more rare for me to actually read a bio all the way through, opting instead to read chapters or sections specific to my interests. I had fully expected this to be more or less my experience with Utopia Parkway, currently the only biography available on the life of nonconformist artist Joseph Cornell, but I quickly became so engrossed in the specifics of Cornell’s life that I ended up reading the whole thing. Oddly, it’s probably the closest I’ve experienced to a “page turner” in a good while, and frankly, I could hardly put it down.

Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall), ca. 1945–46

Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall), ca. 1945–46

Art critic and journalist Deborah Solomon certainly had her work cut out for her by taking on this subject. All accounts and analyses of Cornell’s life I’ve otherwise encountered seem to struggle with accounting for his utter unconventionality, and in some accounts he can come off as a whimsical, almost child-like recluse under the domineering thumb of his “dear Mama,” others reify him as a kind of hermit willfully wandering on the fringes of art and society, and yet others emphasize the creepy, voyeuristic aspect of his life, a man whose largely repressed sexual urges were the engine behind his work as he struggled to dominate, at least representationally, the various female figures he venerated as muses. As Solomon demonstrates, Cornell was an extremely complex individual, and all of the above characterizations might contain elements of truth but nonetheless fail to capture the whole. Her portrait of the artist documents all of the individual facets of personality, and demonstrate how they shift and permutate with even the slightest alteration of perspective.

Cornell emerges as an endlessly baffling bundle of contradictions throughout Utopia Parkway, but to Solomon’s immense credit she does a remarkable job of not simply accounting for these “quirks” but regards them from an empathetic perspective that makes them understandable. This is largely achieved by continuously insisting on contextualizing Cornell’s life and the art that it inspired within larger social, cultural, and artistic movements, rather than even attempt to “figure him out,” pathologizing or even diagnosing such an enigmatic subject (though, perhaps inevitably, the study is not completely free from such impulses, especially in the later sections).

joseph cornellOne reviewer on Goodreads found this book “kind of a downer, about a sad and very limited life,” a description that rather took me aback, because as we find out through Utopia Parkway, Cornell’s life seems anything but—what is remarkable is how rich of a life he seemed capable of creating for himself, largely within the carefully controlled confines of his own home. Despite any reclusive tendencies, he managed to know just about everyone (from Duchamp to Breton to to Marianne Moore to Toumanova to Sontag to Yoko Ono and just about anybody who’s anybody in between). Which is ultimately what proves to be so inspiring: so many life stories of famous people and artists in particular seem to involve extensive travels, glittering parties, heartbreak and ecstasy in equal ,alternating measure, all of the glamorous, easily romanticized trappings of what many of us to constitute the stuff of “REAL living”—especially when it comes to those we consider geniuses or exceptional individuals in some way. Cornell points to possible alternatives, and how richness of the mind, creativity and great accomplishment can take other forms as well.*

This probably isn’t the ideal place to start one’s explorations of Cornell’s work—it’s much more enriching when one at least has some idea of some of the work Solomon constantly alludes to—but an essential resource for anybody who is already a fan.

*I wrote this review long before encountering Benjamin Kahan’s Celibacies: American Modernism & Sexual Life (2013), but I suspect that this fascinating study would be a very productive place to start such a reevaluation, something I allude to in my thoughts on the book itself.

[This is a revision of a review that was originally posted on Goodreads.]

Works Cited

Kahan, Benjamin. Celibacies: American Modernism & Sexual Life. Durham: Duke UP, 2013.

Solomon, Deborah. Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell. Boston: MFA Publications, 2004. Print.

IotD: America Through the Eyes of Florine Stettheimer

There seems no better way to mark the Fourth of July weekend than to consider Florine Stettheimer’s Cathedral series, her four large paintings that Linda Nochlin describes as “grand, secular shrines dedicated to the celebration of American life” (107). All four of the paintings, The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929), The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931), The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), and The Cathedrals of Art (1944), are currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

As seen in the photo below, the Met displays the paintings together on a single wall, creating a lively, prismatic-like panorama of New York City life in the first decades of the twentieth century. The close proximity also draws attention, I imagine, to Stettheimer’s wry sense of humor and incredible attention to detail, which at once seems whimsical and precise. Nochlin considers the Cathedrals as being “perhaps the most consistent and ambitious expressions of Stettheimer’s social consciousness,” and the paintings certainly exude an exuberant, celebratory tone. But at the same time, “beneath the glowing admiration for American institutions and personae in this work… exists a pointed and knowing critique of them as well” (107, 113).

While the nature of this critiques isn’t always immediately accessible to a contemporary viewer, Stettheimer embedded within all paintings individuals and incidents that would have been recognizable to the New York artistic and cultural communities, of which she and her mothers and two sisters were considered to be major figures due to the fashionable salons they hosted. Marcel Duchamp in particular was a close friend of both the family and Stettheimer herself, and while I would never go so far to call her own style “surrealistic,” she certainly possesses a sly sense of humor and capturing a sense of absurdity in these paintings and throughout her entire body of work–qualities which I think allow her to capture a glimpse into American society and culture that, many decades after they were painted, continues to resonate with my own perspective of this country.

florine stettheimer cathedrals of broadway

The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of fifth avenue

The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of wall street

The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939)

florine stettheimer cathedrals of art

The Cathedrals of Art (1944)

WORKS CITED

Nochlin, Linda. “Florine Stettheimer: Rococo Subversive.” 1980. Florine Stettheimer: Manhattan Fantastica. Ed. Elisabeth Sussman and Barbara J. Bloemink. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1995.

PROVENANCE

The Cathedrals of Broadway (1929), The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931), The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), and The Cathedrals of Art (1944)
Florine Stettheimer
Oil on Canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Full size images via Art Spheric

Iotd: John Ashbery’s Collage Work

john ashbery collage the painter

“The Painter” (2014) by John Ashbery 

Exactly how I managed to be unaware until today that John Ashbery is an accomplished collage artist is something of a mystery, but now that a blog post over at The Paris Review has alerted me of the situation I’ve spent a pleasurable morning rectifying this situation.

According to the press release put out by New York City’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Ashbery has made collages ever since he was an undergraduate student at Harvard in the 1940’s, and goes on to note that Ashbery’s “approach to poetry and collage is very much the same.” I admittedly have little experience with Ashbery’s prolific body of work, but this observation certainly applies to my memories of reading Flow Chart (1991), which remains my most sustained interaction with Ashbery to date (which reminds me, I really, really must take on Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror one of these days).

This is the fourth exhibition of Ashbery’s collage work, and in 2008 when he exhibited his visual art for the first time at the age of 81, the New York Times ran a nice overview by Holland Cotter of this branch of the poet’s career. Reportedly friend and New York City School associate Joe Brainard encouraged Ashbery’s interest in collage work, and the piece includes a lovely anecdote about Ashbery visiting Brainard in Vermont in the 1970’s, and that “after dinner[they] got in the habit of sitting around and cutting up old magazines and making collages.”

chutes and ladders collage john ashbery

Chutes and Ladders (for Joe Brainard) (2008)

Regarding Ashbery’s collage work in general, Cotter states:

“One thing he obviously values in collage is its implied anyone-can-do-it modesty, its lack of high-artiness, its resistance to monumentality. His own collages have this character. They’re light and slight. They feel more like keepsakes than like art objects, souvenirs of a life and career that gain interest primarily — some might say entirely — within the context of that life and career.”

I like that a lot, and at this point I’ll just let the images themselves speak for themselves. The Tibor’s current show is a joint exhibition of recent collage work by Ashbery and Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, an honorary queer artist if there ever was one (if you haven’t experienced the surreal pleasures of Sissy Boy Slap Party, do yourself the favor–it’s four minutes well spent). Maddin’s collage work is wonderful too, and well worth checking out. Several more images from the current exhibit, which runs through July 31, 2015:

john ashbery collage bingo beethoven

“Bingo Beethoven” (2014) 

john ashbery collage P.K.

“P.K.” (2015) 

Collage work featured in previous exhibitions at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, via the New York Times:

john ashbery collage acrobats 1972

“Acrobats” (c. 1972)

john ashbery collage Apres un reve 1977

“Apres un Reve” (c. 1977) 

john ashbery collage Mannerist Concern

“Mannerist Concern” (2008) 

IotD: JERRY by Paul Cadmus (for Jared French’s birthday)

Jerry by Paul CadmusA few days late, but I wanted to acknowledge Jared French’s birth date on February 4 by posting a few thoughts on Jerry, Paul Cadmus’s 1931 portrait of French. The painting so immediately conveys that the two artists were lovers–a complex relationship the men maintained even after French’s marriage to Margaret Hoening, a fellow artist which they together artistically collaborated with under the clever acronym PaJaMa –that it is one of the reasons, I imagine, that it was not publicly seen until the 1970’s and only recently transitioned from the French family’s personal collection to permanent display in a public institution (more detailed information via Tyler Green).

Jared French photo by George Platt Lynes

Jared French, August 1938 by George Platt Lynes

The intimacy of the portrait is striking, in terms of not only location (a rumpled, obviously slept-in bed) and proximity (even photographs don’t often dare creep so close to its human subject), but also in terms of its gaze: that of the artist behind the easel, of course, but also the one frankly and uninhibitedly returned by the subject himself. Usually when a subject gazes directly out of the image–be it a painting, photograph, film, or anything else–it is characterized as engaging the viewer and/or audience, but whenever I look at this image I’m struck that the facial expression and eye contact Cadmus captures makes me feel as if I’m not being implicated at all, but merely allowed to witness an intimate exchange that I’m not necessarily being invited to participate in. Somehow the image maintains its secrets and privacy despite its ostensibly exhibitionist display.

It’s also impossible not to be intrigued by the conspicuous presence of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which as John Coulthart notes, was a text banned in America at the time, and would be for several more years (he even wonders if it’s the first painted representation of the novel). But following the project Russell Meyer undertakes in his study of Cadmus’s work in Outlaw Representation: Censorship & Homosexuality in Twentieth Century Art, I am drawn to the idea that Cadmus employs the presence of one obvious illicit element (Ulysses) to signify another (the love “that dare not speak its name”). It’s a delightful visual strategy.

I generally have mixed feelings in regards to much of Cadmus’s work, conceptually appreciating what he is doing but not responding to his intentionally swollen and vulgar aesthetic, but Jerry has become one of my very favorite pieces of art not only of the modernist era, but just in general. It’s a marvelous testament to a relationship, be it erotic, artistic, and/or otherwise.

The 1000 Museums website has an amazing high resolution image of Jerry that allows for the painting to be inspected in closer detail than I’ve ever had the opportunity to do so before (and is probably the next best thing to seeing it in person at the Toledo Museum of Art). In line with Jerry‘s celebration of intimacy, here are a few details from the painting to scrutinize–and savor.

Jerry by Paul Cadmus

Jerry by Paul Cadmus

Jerry by Paul Cadmus

Provenance

Jerry (1931)
Paul Cadmus
Oil on canvas
Toledo Museum of Art

Jared French, August 1938
George Platt Lynes
Gelatin silver print
Metropolitan Museum of Art

IotD: Francis Rose Depicts Stein & Toklas at Home

stein & toklas - sir francis rose

stein and toklas - sir francis rose

Sir Francis Cyril Rose was a titled British painter that Gertrude Stein patronized throughout the 1930’s, but despite her best efforts she was never able to generate much sustained interest in his work and he remains an obscure figure of the era.

And while Rose is certainly no Picasso or even a Matisse, there’s a quality to his art that more immediately compels than the work of either of those more famous artists. I particularly like how he is able to evoke a sense of comfortable queer domesticity at 27 rue de Fleurus, with as much emphasis on Toklas and their beloved dogs as on her famous modern art collection. The Stein glimpsed here is certainly a far cry from, say, the imperious sibyl immortalized by Picasso some twenty years before.

I did a fair amount of research on Rose several years ago in conjunction with a paper I wrote on Samuel M. Steward, and truly, there are aspects of Rose’s life that are stranger than fiction. I’ll have to write up some more information on this curious figure sooner than later.

Provenance

TOP: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1939)
Sir Francis Cyril Rose
Tempera and gouache on cardboard
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

BOTTOM: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1939)
Sir Francis Cyril Rose
Gouache on paper
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

IotD: The Many Faces of Charles Henri Ford

I’ve gushed about Deviates, Inc. before, and I can’t help but repost a mini-collection that was posted there yesterday, which contains multiple sketches of young Charles Henri Ford drawn by Pavel Tchelitchew. My guess is that all date from the 1930’s, in the period just after Ford and Tchelitchew met in Paris and embarked on their decades-spanning romantic relationship.

From Ford’s diary, July 1953:

“Twenty years ago tomorrow was the beginning of what has resulted in a twenty-year relationship, constant association, with Pavlik. I wrote Parker [Tyler] then: ‘I’ve found a genius.'”

charles henri ford by tchelitchew 1

charles henri ford by tchelitchew 3

charles henri ford by tchelitchew 2

See the original post at Deviates, Inc here.

WORK CITED

Ford, Charles Henri. Water from a Bucket: A Diary, 1948-1957. New York City: Turtlepoint, 2001.

 

IotD: Soirée by Florine Stettheimer

fssoiree

Before I get too far along, I thought I should specify the painting that serves as the main avatar for this blog: Florine Stettheimer’s Soirée (1917-19), also sometimes known as Studio Party. I’ve long been entranced by Stetteimer’s witty and whimsical sensibility, and when it came to select an image that would best encapsulate the intentions of this blog, her paintings seemed a somewhat inevitable choice. I’m consistently dazzled with how she utilizes minute but sharply observed details to embed narratives within her images, and she’s at her best when depicting groups of individuals interacting with each other within a specific space. A number of her paintings capture this dynamic, but Soirée is my very favorite of them all.

Florine Stettheimer c. 1917-20

Florine Stettheimer c. 1917-20

“Queer modernism” is a necessarily ambiguous term that defies precise definition or categorization, but the overriding dynamic I constantly return to is the emphasis on connection and collaboration. The individuals I generally consider “queer modernists” seemed to actively and intentionally construct extensive relational networks (both professional and often personal in nature), and what is consistently thrilling about studying these figures is how they all seemed to know each other in some way. Queers often served as the key conduits for the promotion of modernist art, and many (most?) of the great, storied salons of the modernist era were held by figures that were queer: Stein and Toklas at 27 rue de Fleurus, Natalie Barney’s Académie des femmes, Carl Van Vechten’s racially desegregated house parties, etc, etc–and while the salon of the three Stettheimer Sisters, the subject of this particular painting, is not as well known today as those three gatherings, it functioned as a vital site of queer modernist expression as well.

I have a number of Stettheimer-related images and material lined up for future “Image of the Day” and other types of posts, but until then the excellent art-oriented blog Venetian Red has a wonderful post on Stettheimer that serves as a nice overview or introduction to the artist, and features a number of high-quality images of her paintings, something which is absolutely essentially to fully appreciate their intricacies and keen visual wit.

Provenance

Soirée (1917-19)
Florine Stettheimer
Oil on Canvas
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Joseph Solomon from the estate of Florine Stettheimer

Info Source: Yale Digital Content; Image Source: Venetian Red