16 December 2014

'Tis The Season To Be Hard-Boiled

Fa la la la la, la la la la!

A plane crashes into your boudoir? Quel domage! These things happen. A girl has to finish her makeup before she greets the day. 
A school girl's riddle from my mother's adolescence.  Why do males disappear before Thanksgiving and reappear after New Year's?  If you've heard this and know the answer, then you are hard-boiled.
To be hard-boiled is an attitude, first incubated in Manhattan, a product of  the bouillabaisse that made the first truly sophisticated  American city.  Before The New Yorker  there was Vanity Fair, the home of the diamond cut on the hardness scale. 
In 1915, the Canadian Stephen Leacock wondered in its pages,  "Are The Rich Happy?"  To begin with, he had trouble finding them.  "Very often I have thought that I had found them.  but it turned out that it was not so.  They were not rich at all.  They were quite poor.  They were hard-up.  They were pushed for money.  They didn't know where to turn for ten thousand dollars."
During the next two years a young writer, Dorothy Rothschild Parker (as she was then known) appeared in the magazine's pages with a series of "Hate Songs," satirical verses on various subjects:  office life, actresses, relatives and, of course, men.  Although she was only twenty-three, Parker was already a walking anthology  of sharp edges.  Husbands, she opined, were "The White Woman's Burden" and concluded, "I wish to Heaven somebody would alienate their affections."

An unlikely novelist of the hard-boiled was Frances Newman (1883-1928) from Atlanta. I discovered Newman's two published novels when I was at college and have never forgotten them. It was the titles that seduced me: The Hard-Boiled Virgin (1926) and Dead Lovers Are Faithful Lovers (1928)  Newman was a literary modernist who layer cake structuring of time and space reminded me of Virginia Woolf. Newman also preferred to use interior monologue rather than dialogue to move her novels forward. If Newman didn't read Dorothy Richardson' multi-volume epic Pilgrimage (1915-1935) , then great minds do think alike
The daughter of a prominent judge, Newman was sent to finishing schools, in anticipation of a genteel adulthood to be spent as a librarian.  But Paris and the Sorbonne changed her mind.  Newman had finished her first novel at twenty-three but was never able to get it published.  Undeterred, she kept on writing and when The Head-Boiled Virgin appeared it was immediately hailed by the eminent James Branch Cabell as "brilliant."  In it, Katherine Farraday chooses independence over marriage. 
Two years later the publication of  Dead Lovers Are Faithful Lovers caused a sensation of a different sort.   Newman's hometown of Atlanta was outraged and the book was banned in Boston. Modernism was acceptable among a select group of readers but personifying the misogyny and racism of southern life through the characters of an angelic wife and a seductive 'other' woman was not to be tolerated.  Newman died too young and the guardians of literature were happy to forget her.  Thanks to Barbara Ann Wade, we now have a reconsideration of Newman's works.
For further reading:
1. Frances Newman - The Hard-Boiled Virgin, New York, Arno Reprints: 1977
2. Frances Newman - Dead Lovers Are Faithful Lovers, New York, Arno Reprints: 1977.
3. Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair, edited by Grayfon Carter, New York, Penguin Press: 2014.

Image: Tim Walker - for Vogue UK, London.

09 December 2014

Richard Florsheim. Who?

"I wish Mrs. Claus hadn't been so impressed by that artist who talked her into welded steel Xmas trees!"

Three years ago I received this Xmas car from Joanne Molina..  A Chicagoan herself, she was familiar with the satirical lithographs of Richard Aberle Florsheim.  I was not.  But when I looked at the card again, I was unwilling to recycle it and decided to see what more I could. find.  As the brief biography below demonstrates, I didn't find much information, but I wonder now what Florsheim learned during his time working with the French post-impressionist Emile Bernard.

What I did uncover were hundreds of Florsheims in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Florsheim's native city.  Many of them are evocative landscapes that take steps beyond the techniques that  Florsheim learned in Paris and are worthy of attention.   But  it is Florsheim's delight in the foibles of artists and their followers that I want to present here.

These 'cartoons' were drawn during the second half of the 1950s at a moment of high seriousness in politics and also in the art world where American triumphalism was the preferred mode in  art critics.  Foremost among them was Clement Greenburg who regarded the United States - and probably himself, truth be told, as the guardian of "advanced art" after the philistine rampage of the Nazis through the art collections of Europe before and during World War II.  For Greenberg, the American abstract expressionist painters were the point toward which all previous developments pointed.  For such high seriousness, Pop Art would prove vexing but that wouldn't arrive until the 1960s.
The pompous tone that Greenberg set is still the accepted one today for those who want to have their ideas on art taken seriously.  The terms have changed if only because there are new graduates hoping to make careers for themselves.  It is that tone that makes Florsheim's deflationary tactics so charming.  He was no mean-spirited Philistine; he was a serious artist with credentials.  There may be exponentially more money floating around in the art world today but human nature is much the same as it was when Florsheim created the Florsheim school of artists.

In Florsheim's world, sculptors are an especially wacky bunch. Take Shistokovich whose  scrawny, angular work  resembles a generic Giacometti man. Or Bolofinsky ["(He) always did say that someday the world would catch up with him."}] whose outdoor metalscape anticipated the television antenna.  An apartment dweller thinks that the profusion of antennas atop his building indicate that Bolofinsky's work  is "selling like hotcakes."  A work by Messovich (!) titled Bald Ego looks like nothing so much as an escapee from a psychoanalyst's couch.  His delight in naming his characters reminds me of a comment made about Constance Garnett, the British translator of some seventy books from the Russian, who introduced the great Russian novelists to English readers in the early 20th centuryHer achievement was considerable but she has also been accused of creating one giant lumpen Russian writer in all those works -Tolstoyesvky.

Richard Aberle Florsheim (1916-1979)  came from a wealthy Chicago family.  After studying at the University of Chicago, Florsheim spent two years traveling abroad (1936-38).   While in France Florsheim worked in the atelier of the painter Emile Bernard, a member of the Pint-Aven circle that developed around Paul Gauguin.  During the late 1930s Florsheim exhibited with the Salon des Refus├ęs, .  He returned to Chicago in the summer of 1939 where he rented  a studio.  There he began to produce lithographs and had his first exhibition in 1942.

Images: by Richard Aberle Florsheim, c. 1956-58, are in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
1. Welded steel Xmas trees.
2.I think it should hang this way.
3.I see what you mean by some "art lover"s being socail climbers.
4. Life class at the School of Contemporary Art.

03 December 2014

Paul-Emile Colin & Pont-Aven

Think of Gauguin, then think of Paul Serusier, Emile Bernard, Charles Filiger Armand Seguin, among many others.  What binds the members of the Pont-Aven School of artists that coalesced in Brittany is color.  Bright colors, boldly applied used to produce an effect similar to cloissonne. Black lines used instead of shadowing and a noticeable lack of perspective.  
Although he was part of the group, Paul Colin drew on other skills to make art and, in doing so, brought to our attention other aspects of life and landscape in late 19th century France.  Brittany was an antique land, inhabited by humans for hundreds of thousands of years, but not for its hospitable climate.  Winters were hard and people struggled to farm the rocky lands and fish the treacherous waters of the Atlantic.  Colin's three apple tress in winter (Trois pommiers en hiver)   exists in a different universe from Emile Bernard's Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour (1888) but they were created from the same sources, in the same neighborhood, so to speak. To pursue the point, the dreamy young Madeleine is an image all about symbolism as she daydreams in the Woods of Love while  the woman in Colin's Resources d'hiver, bent by age, is blown along by a cold wind, a symbol of those forces of nature that imprinted themselves on the human inhabitants as much as the humans made their imprints on the land.  No bright colors but lines that tell a different story. 
So who was Paul-Emile Colin?

His name sounds vaguely familiar, one of those names that flesh out a list of friends of (insert name of indubitably famous person here) but the French artist Paul-Emile Colin  (1867-1949) merits our attention for something more than the company he kept.  He  began with engraving in the 1890s and, after the turn of the century, he executed several prestigious commissions as an illustrator that benefited from his ability to put such varied worlds on paper as the mysticism of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and the 19th century tales of Gothic horror by Edgar Allen Poe.  And all this resulted from Colin's experiments as carving wood with a pocket knife.

Colin's more famous friend, a man he described as  “a fairground barker, a troubadour, or a pirate” able to “exude energy from every pore,” was Paul Gauguin.  The two young men met at Le Pouldu, a fishing village on the the coast of Brittany in the summer of 1890.   Much lateer in life, Colin experimented with color, influenced as he admitted by the powerful colors of Gauguin.  But he did not need color and it added little to the impact  of his work.  Colin needed, and took, from his encounter with the Post-Impressionists, the determination to compose line-defined images.  An intriguing choice given that Gauguin, the artist who so inspired him, was anything but a skilled draftsman.  Perhaps Colin sensed an opening for his own work to find its place in the dynamic group that surrounded Gauguin.

Depending on who tells the story, Colin was either a medical doctor who amused himself making art during his vacations of a man with a passion for art who needed to support himself by more certain gainful employment.  By 1901, Colin had achieved enough success with his engravings that he felt confident enough to give up practicing medicine to become an artst full-time.

Images: Paul-Emile Colin, Bibliotheque de l'INHA, Jacques Doucet Collection, Paris.  The collector Jacques Doucet (1853–1929) was a French fashion designer and art collector, known for his elegant dresses in pastel colors.
1. Trois pommiers en hiver (Three apple trees in winter).
2. Resources d'hiver, 1902.
3. Eglise de Galluis.

26 November 2014

The Polymathic Career of Edouard-Marcel Sandoz

"And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;"
 - excerpt from "A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts" by Wallace Stevens

To make a bronze rabbit look alive, to achieve what Wallace Stevens called "rabbit-light+,  and, further, to make a cocked ear that looks as though it will twitch at any moment, takes the combined talents of a polymath, someone who knows the properties of the materials, the ways of animals, and a deep spatial sense.   Someone like Edoaurd-Marcel Sandoz.    The same master of verisimilitude who could carve a falcon on a branch, out of a branch, could also make porcelain appear to be origami paper birds (saliere en forme de cocotte en papier), a winsome feat  trompe-l'oieil.

Edouard Marcel Sandoz (1881-1971)  was born  in Basel, Switzerland.  His father, Edward, founded  the Sandoz  Pharmaceutical  Company (now Novartis).
After  a period in Rome, Sandoz studied at the School of Industrial Arts in Geneva from 1900-03. Then he enrolled at  l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris for two years of training  with  sculptors Antonin Mercie (1845-1916), Antoine Injalbert (1845-1933), and the painter Fernand Cormon (1854-1924).  Sandoz was most influenced by a sculptor he apparently never worked with, Francois Pompon (1855-1933). Pompon had worked as an assistant to Auguste Rodin.  His L’Ours Blanc (1922), some translated as The Polar Bear in Stride, is one of the most loved works at the Musee d’Orsay .

The career Sandoz fashioned from his many interests  encompassed painter-decorator, engineer, physicist, chemist (researching dyes and their applications), inventor (the invention of the black light has been attributed to Sandoz.  “Art must include love, nature, and science,” Sandoz wrote (the translation is mine). His heart belonged to sculpture, with a special chamber for  his love of animals.
It was a shortage of bronze and stone for sculpture during World War I that led Sandoz to begin working with porcelain and to his association with the Haviland  Limoges firm from 1915-1952.  His porcelain  boxes, bottles, carafes, tea and coffee services  were  among its most sought after items.  Sandoz worked  with  other materials, such as  marble, bronze when he turned to sculpture.  Stylistically, Sandoz  easily embraced the  transition from Art Nouveau to Art Deco.  Even today, these styles may seem peculiarly foreign, even though Rockefeller Center is the center of a mythic Art Deco Manhattan, but Sandoz would surely be better known in North America if his work could travel, no small undertaking for sculptures.

That deep spatial sense I mentioned enabled Sandoz to create his masterpiece, The Crossroads of Life  (1967), that stands in the garden of the Musee Oceanograhpique  in Monaco.   The four-sided figure represents the stages in the life of a woman:  infancy, youth, maturity, age.    Viewed from the front,  she is a nubile young woman, in the curvilinear Art Nouveau style.  On the back of the statue, her hair becomes a drape, she is covered with a robe and it is the child who is naked.  The right profile, under a veil of  hair, is the face of a mature woman.  The left profile shows the face of an old woman.
Sandoz founded the French Wildlife  Society in 1933 and, with his brother Aurelius, an animal sanctuary. Sandoz's relationship with animals was deep.   There are photographs of him at work in his studio at  Denantou in Lausanne surrounded  by  a panther, fennecs, monkeys, cubs,  fish, frogs, turtles, dogs, cats, parrots, and even a cheetah.

In recognition of his many and various achievements, Sandoz was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and also a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.
He died in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1971.

For more, visit Fondation Sandoz.
1. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Lapin a l'oreille dressee (Rabbit with a cocked ear), La Piscine, Roubai.
2. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Falcon on a Branch, Fondation Sandoz, Basel.
3. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Owl, private collection, France.
4. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Saliere en forme de cocotte, La Piscine, Roubaix.
5. unidentified photographer - Sandoz in his studio.