28 April 2010

J. R. Witzel: A Jugend Artist

This little gallery of illustrations from Jugend Magazine features the work of J. R. Witzel, an artist who is little known in English. Published in the magazine from its very first year, Witzel's work exemplifies the curvilinear aspects of the Art Nouveau style. Whether in humor, charm, or political commentary, Witzel uses the curved line to fill the frame in clever ways.

I discovered Witzel in the image of a woman starled by a shadow couple that invites the viewer to invent a caption or even an entire story. Then found L'Affaiire Dreyfus (the second image here). At the time, in 1896, when this was published, it had just been revealed that the French government had suppressed evidence that exonerated Alfred Dreyfus. Justice is pictured as a woman bound from every angle. 
When you look closely at the image of the woman in the pink dress and the little girl, you find faces peering out of the letters that spell Jugend and an attention to detail that never appears fussy.

Images: J. R. Witzel, from the Library of the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

13 April 2010

Lousine Havemeyer & Mary Cassatt: The Power of Two

On the 140th anniversary of the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, let's remember the women who made the Met the home of the finest French art collection outside the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

If people remember Lousine Havemeyer (1855-1929) today, it is as the wife of the wealthy sugar baron Henry O. Havemeyer. But that is hardly the story of her luck and pluck. Lousine Elder was a young girl when her father died. Luckily for Lousine, her mother decided to tour Europe rather than stay home and be courted by the sort of men who find wealthy widows attractive. What luck for the talented Lousine to study art in the Paris of the 1870s. Even better was when her friend Emily Sartain introduced Louisine to the young American artist Mary Cassatt and a lifelong friendship began. Cassatt painted Havemeyer and her daughters several times. With H.O.'s millions and Mary's knowledge of all the coming artists in France, Lousine Havemeyer was armed and ready to collect, and collect she did.

Mary Cassatt urged Louisine to acquire works by the (then) controversial Claude Monet and his fellow Impressionists, and by her friend Edgar Degas. In searching through the Havemeyer collection at the Met, I looked for pieces that had particular interest for Mrs. H. O., as she was called. There are hundreds to choose from, so I tried to avoid some of the most recognizable ones, the ones that have been reproduced on the place mats, coasters, umbrellas, etc. in the Met's gift shops.

While her contemporaries focused on Corot's landscapes, Lousine took note of his figurative works; his The Muse of History appealed to her feminist heart. Havemeyer was no prude, but the images of women that spoke to her were more varied than those that appealed to many of her male contemporaries. Two paintings by Degas, Dancers In Green And Pink and At The Milliner's are much more avant-garde than we realize. Both are experiments in perspective and planing that appeared radical to the artist's contemporary critics who knew what vantage point they wanted their pictures painted from. Those strong vertical assertions altered the accepted order. To the viewer, just as to the prosperous customer, trying on the hat, the woman who created the hat is bifurcated almost violently, a vivid representation of social inequality.
Havemeyer's attraction to bright colors is reflected in her choice of Louis Comfort Tiffany to decorate her Fifth Avenue townhouse. The exquisite Tiffany hair ornament was a gift from Mrs. H. O. to her daughter-in-law.

It seems necessary to keep asserting the strengths of both womenin the face of decades of criticism that, being women, they were in some way not up to herculean tasks of making and collecting art. Yet Cassatt recommended and Havemeyer purchased this vibrant, lopsided Cezanne still life.

This last image, The Collector Of Prints, is an early work by Degas, painted when Lousine Havemeyer was a little girl. Just because life is easier for the rich than for poor should not obscure what strengths, what energies this woman had to marshall to imagine herself as a possible artist and collector, not to mention a supporter of the radical feminism of her time. We may have been born at a luckier time, but Havemeyer's triumph is ours, thanks to her.

Images from the Havemeyer Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC:
1. Claude Monet - The Green Wave, After 1866.
2. mary Cassatt - Young Mother Sewing, 1900.
3. Edgar Degas - Portrait Of A Young Woman, c. 1885.
4. Jena Baptiste Camille Corot - The Muse Of History, c. 1865.
5. Edgar Degas - Girl Having Her Hair Combed, c.1886.
6. Edgar Degas - At the Milliner's, 1882.
7. Edgar Degas - Dancers In Green And Pink, c. 1890.
8. Louis Comfort Tiffany - vase, c. 1896.
9. Louis Comfort Tiffany - hair ornament, c. 1904.
10. Paul Cezanne - Still Life With Eggplants, c. 1893.
11. Edgar Degas - The Collector Of Prints, 1866.

05 April 2010

Suzanne Lalique-Haviland

Art, music, and youth, all in one. This image in red, white, and blue was made by composer Francis Poulenc, poet Guillaume Apollinaire, and artist Suzanne Lalique for Le Bestiare in 1919. That was the year that the twenty year old composer first heard the grand old man of Surrealsim (Apollinaire was all of thirty-nine at the time) give a performance of his poetry. When the score of this new work was published, it was illustrated by a twenty-seven year old theatrical designer, Suzanne Lalique.

Yes, the daughter of the great jewelry designer, Rene Lalique, and painter of the only known portrait of her father, in 1931.
Suzanne was born in 1892 and, although she never took formal art training outside the family setting, she grew up to design textiles, books, and theatrical productions, and a painter.
At least two famous vases produced by the Lalique studio were designed by Suzanne: Sophora and Penthievre. She also created porcelain designs for the Haviland Company in the late 1920’s.
In 1916 Suzanne met Paul Burty Haviland, a photographer and heir to Haviland China Company. Paul was born in Paris, but graduated from Harvard and spent much of his early life in the United States. Called home ance to help manage the company in 1916, he immediately met Suzanne and in 1917 they were married.
Created in the midst of the Art Deco period, Suzanne Lalique's designs look surprisingly contemporary. Perhaps she learned early to put on her own creative blinders, to make her own way in art. She lived until 1989, a full life.

Image credit: Suzanne Lalique, book illustrations and fabric designs from the 1920s, in the collection of Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.

For more, visit Maison du Limousin

04 April 2010

A Little Girl In Spring By Lucien Pissarro

Around the time that artist Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944) and his wife, Esther, had their only child, a daughter they named Orovida, in 1893, a little girl appeared in several of Pissarro's works. Recently, Adventures In The Print Trade featured a print by Pissarro titled Little May - and there she is again.

Is May a mystery or is she simply a failure of research on my part? (I vote for choice number two.) In any case, these works form a charming tribute to wonder, of childhood, of spring.

1. Queen Of The Fishes-In The Field, 1894, color woodcut, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia.
2. Crocuses, oil on canvas, private collection, UK.
3. The Fairy, 1894, oil on canvas, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK.