27 July 2012

Eva Besnyo: Lines & Angles

 "  With  camera in hand I awoke.  Together we faced the world.  I was a rose among the thorns  (Doornroosje) and the camera was my prince." - Eva Besnyo

At first glance this wild-haired young woman could be our contemporary, but then you notice the antique Rolliflex.  Her name was Eva Besnyo (1910-2003) and she died less than ten years ago.  Why do we know  so little of her work?

The selection of images posted here reveals her impressive eye and mind at work. Besnyo used her camera to create images both razor-sharp and beautiful to look at.   From the beginning she seemed to see images as a series of diagonals.  There is much wit in her work, a quality that must have seemed natural to her when one considers the many difficulties she would experience throughout her long life.

Budapest, where Besnyo was born,  was home to a large number of  impressive photographers, including the boy who lived next-door to the Besnyo family: ndre Friedman who became famous under the name of Robert Capa. (It was at Besnyo's urging that that Capa took up photography.)  It may have been almost as much to shut out the pervasive pictorialism of the Budpaest photographers as to escape the repressive regime of Miklos Horthy that Besyno needed to get away.
She began her photographic education in the Budapest studio of Josef Pecsi, in whose library she first encountered microscopic photography and  the bird-like perspectives of  Escher.

Her father would have preferred to see her choose Paris instead of the Sodom and Gomorrah that was Berlin under the Weimar Republic.  "Paris is romantic" Eva admitted, "but think what you can learn in Berlin."  So, with a copy of  The World Is Beautiful by Albert Renger-Patsch in her bag, and the Rolliflex camera her father had given her, Eva Besyno left for Berlin in the autumn of 1930.
A friend from  Budapest,  Gyorgy Kepes, was already working  there as an assistant to the Moholy-Nagys.  Kepes was intelligent and full of ideas and Besnyo was quick to look him up for companionship away from home.  He introduced her to his new passion: the works of the Russian Constructivists.. The two fell in love.

Besyno rented a studio and went looking work.   She found it as a press photographer at Neofot, a job that required her to do what she had done at home in Budapest for fun:  wander the streets at all hours in search of subjects for her camera.   (Most of her work for Neofot was lost during World War II, as was the archive of her hero Renger-Patsch.)

During the summer of 1931 Besyno returned to Hungary for her family's summer svacation at Lake Balaton.  The photographs she took during those six weeks are like an explosion of beauty   This small group of striking pictures show how nothing was lost on her.  

With Hitler's rise to power in 1932,  Eva became conscious of her Jewishness.  The streets of Berlin were taken over by the brown-shirts who beat passerby with impunity.  Eva began to feel unsafe and decided that she needed to leave quickly.   An English photographer who was in love with her urged her to move to London but John Fernhout,   won out, convincing her to take her chances on Amsterdam - and on marrying him.  The son of painter Charley Toorop (and grandson of Jan Toorop), Fernhout had come to Berlin, capital of European film-making in the 1920s.  Besnyo  encouraged his interest in camera work and he won her away from Kepes.  . Although the marriage eventually failed, Besnyo's relationship with her mother-in-law, Charley Toorop, introduced her to a wider public for her work. Again, during the war her photo archives were mostly lost during the bombing of Rotterdam.

Eva Besnyo: The Sensuous Image is on exhibition at the Jeu de Paume in Paris from May 22 through September 23, 2012.

 Eva Besnyo, photographer, from the collection of the Maria Austria Institute, Amsterdam.
1. Self-portrait in a mirror, 1931.
2. untitled - young man and boat, 1931.
3. Girl reading, 1931. 
4. International exposition - Paris, 1937.
5. Stadium at Grunwald-Berlin, 1931.
6.. Gypsy orchestra at Balaton,  1931.
7.. Pavillon d'Elegance - International Exposition Paris, 1937.
8.. Summer House at Groet, 1934. 
9. Amsterdam, 1951.

18 July 2012

A Full Plate Of Suzanne Lalique-Haviland

Some women are overshadowed by a man, usually a husband.  Suzanne Lalique-Haviland (1892-1989) was triply obscured,  as the daughter of the glass master Rene Lalique,  as the wife of photographer  Paul Burty-Haviland, and as a designer for Haviland & Cie producer of fine porcelains, whose owner Theodore Haviland often received the credit for her designs.  Even today the Los Angeles County Museum of Art credits him for Lalique-Haviland's work.  It isn't accurate and it isn't fair.

Lalique-Haviland, unlike many children who work in the same field as a famous parent, apparently had no desire to imitate her father's style.  Her work is as emphatically of the Art Deco style as Rene Lalique's was of Art Nouveau. 

Although Lalique-Haviland studied painting and had her first official job working for her father's company, she began exhibiting on her own with the Society of Artist Decorators in 1913 when she was only twenty-one.  The group promoted designers of the new style - Art Deco - that, as the name implies, is a modern, technically sophisticated expression of the pleasure principle. We often think first of  interior design when we think of the Deco style and two of Lalique-Haviland's plum commissions were designing the interiors for the steamship Le Paris in 1921 and the Cote d'Azur Pullmann Express in 1929.  To this end, she designed furniture, fabrics, and porcelains. 

Lalique-Haviland still found the energy to paint and in 1931 the prestigious Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris presented a solo show of her paintings.  She turned to theatrical set and costume design in 1937, with the Comedie Francaise.  Lalique-Haviland was the designer for Francis Poulenc's opera Les Mamelles de Tiresias in 1947.  Her versatility became her in every endeavor. 
Two years ago when I was searching  for information about Lalique-Haviland in the archives of French museums and libraries, it didn't occur to me that there had never been an exhibition devoted solely to her work.  It seems unthinkable, but that was the case as I know now, thanks to a communication from someone who works at the Musee Lalique  in Alsace.  Suzanne Lalique-Haviland, le décor réinventé opened at the Lalique Museum on July 13 and continues until November 11.   It's about time.

You may also be interested in Suzanne Lalique, posted here April 5, 2010.

1. Design for a screen - undated, Musee des Arts decoratifs,  Paris.
2. Polka dot design for dinner service, c. 1930, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 
3. Animal/Vegetal decorative plate, 1925, Musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris.
4. Snail design for fabric. undated, Musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris.