18 March 2013

Nouveau Risque

For those who don't read French, the poster at left announces an exhibition of  pictures and drawings in Paris, but you probably recognize the artist Jules Cheret's style.  Cheret chose to include this work from 1888 in the collection he named Les Maitres de l'Afiiche and the Syracuse University Art gallery chose the collection as the centerpiece for their recent exhibition Nouveau Risque: A Perspective on Women and Progress.
Published in Paris as a monthly subscription, similar to a magazine, from December 1895 to November 1900, The Masters of the Poster was the inspired marketing idea of the man now considered the father of the modern poster, Jules Cheret (1836-1932).  At the same time the series made reproductions of artworks available at reasonable prices, Cheret was also elevating the poster to the realm of art.  He may have been familiar with a previous but unsuccessful attempt by the publisher Cadart who, in 1862, assembled a portfolio that included works by Edouard Manet. 

I remember the anticipation I felt as a child when a package  arrived each month in the mail  from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Similar to Cheret's portfolios,  the museum's  booklets (on an artist or a special subject) came with  a large sheet of glossy color images that could be detached and mounted on the appropriate pages   What was also similar was the ingenious combination of art for appreciation and  elucidation.   You could even collect the booklets in sturdy melon-hued cardboard folders, stamped in gold lettering.  From that experience, I can teleport myself to Belle Epoque France for the delivery of  Les Maitres de l'Affiche

Cheret is also notable for his signal creation of a type - the Cherette - a young woman definitely nouveau in her day and slightly risque.   Whether attending cafe concerts and cabarets or strolling the sidewalks, stopping to inspect some of the newly available consumer goods for sale, (art prints were a frequently depicted example), she was neither recgonizably a respectable matron nor a working class servant.   

A survey of working Parisians taken during the 1890s found that one in ten was involved in the production and maintenance of clothing. From dressmakers, cobblers, and milliners to laundresses and seamstresses it took a legion of poorly paid workers to keep the population washed and dressed.  Many women thus employed had little choice but to supplement their meager wages with prostitution.  It was to this fact, in part, that women appearing in public alone or together but without a male escort were seen as risque.

Great improvements in color lithography came along just in time to record the first stirrings of women's emancipation, a work  still in progress today. Out of the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, and influenced by the Japanese ukiyo-e prints that were the rage in Belle Epoque Paris, Cheret created a style that was originally seen in the street and then on the walls of art salons and eventually the homes of the bourgeoisie. 

Having taken some modest steps into the life of city streets, the turn of the century woman began to try other activities.  Tennis and bicycling, as we know well, are activities that call for  clothing other than ordinary street-wear.    But the split skirt or culotte was a new and daring outfit, so a sensible young woman would have a male escort at her side when she ventured out thus attired. 
Nouveau Risque, the exhibition, includes other artworks from the period, including favrile glass pieces from the Tiffany Studio. What is  most interesting and apropos, for me, is the Diana, a woman's bicycle produced by the Cortland Wagon Company in upstate New York in 1894.  It large rubber front wheel is red and the bicycle measures 45 inches in height.   The bicycle, like the automobile, has been a vehicle of mobility and freedom, precious commodities in the lives of women,  then as now.
 The 'Women's Edition' unlike the ghetto that was regular women's pages in newspapers a century ago, allowed them to particulate - if only for a day and for charitable fund-raising purposes - in all aspects of producing the paper.  Usually published on holidays, these editions were often referred  to as 'Charity Editions', with what overtones you may suspect.  They were the brainchild of  the then popular women's clubs.  From small town newspapers to the nation's flagship publications such as the San Francisco Examiner and the Buffalo Courier, women took over.  We know little about Alice Glenny Russell, but one thing we do know: she was the rare woman to have her work included in Cheret's series.   Ethel Reed (1874-after 1920) from Boston, somewhat better known, is the only other one I have found.

Nouveau Risque: A Perspective on Women and Progress, an exhibition at the Shaeffer Art Gallery, Syracuse University, January 24 - March 17, 2013.

Images: Syracuse University Art Galleries, Syracuse, NY.
1. Jules Cheret - Exposition: Tableaux & Dessins de A. Willette, 1888.
2. Maurice Debis - La Depeche de Toulouse The Toulouse Dispatch - a newspaper) , 1892.
3. Georges Meunier - Trianon Concert, 1897.
4. Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen - Two Women Looking at a Window Display, 1896.
5. Ferdinand Misti-Mifliez - Cycles Gladiator, 1896.
6. Alice Russell Glenny - Women's Edition - Buffalo Courier, 1895.
7. Ethel Reed - Miss Traumerei, 1895.

13 March 2013

From Fukagawa To Munich: Peter Behrens

He did his best work as an architect and designer but, whether you recognize his name or not, Peter Behrens (1866-1940) is most familiar for a woodblock print from Pan. a short-lived literary magazine published in Berlin from 1896-1900.  Whenever there is a revival of interest in Art Nouveau,  there is The Kiss.   Behrens gave the woodblock print to his friend, the poet Richard Dehmel, who displayed it in his dining room.
Printing from woodblocks was one aspect of the late 19th century interest in all things Japanese.  I had not thought particularity  of Peter Behrens in that connection until I saw Storm, a print Behrens made the year before The Kiss.  Obviously a reinterpretation of one of Hiroshige's 100 Famous Views of Edo (Tokyo), Behrens drew freely on the extravagantly curvilinear  style popular among the artists of Pan and Jugend, especially his friend the influential Otto Eckmann.

 Behrens removed any signs of human habitation from the landscape to make room for the play of wind and waves.  The absence of waterbirds also has the effect of making the eagle seem less menacing.  The eagle's wings curve in harmony with the imaginary lines of the wind; he might almost be mistaken for  a kite on a windy day.   In Behrens's version the large bird functions as a framing device, similar to Hiroshige's use of a giant paper lantern in Kinyruzan Temple Asakusa, another of the 100 Views.   Behrens gave Storm to the playwright Otto Hartleben who hung it in - his dining room! 


1. Peter Behrens - Sturm (Storm), 1897, State Museum, Berlin.
2. Peter Behrens - The Kiss (Der Kuss),  1898, Musuem of Modern Art, NYC.
3. Utgawa Hiroshige - Kinryuzan Temple, Asakura, July, 1856, Broolyn Museum. 
4. Utagawa  Hiroshige - Eagle over the Fields of Susaki at Fukagawa, May, 1857, Musee Guimet, Paris.

Articles posted here on another contemporary dining room, this one designed by Lucien Levy-Dhurmer and reconstructed for display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City:

1. The Wisteria Dining Room - March 22, 2010.
2. Lucien Levy-Dhurmer At The Metropolitan, May 27, 2008.

10 March 2013

Dreaming Of Spring

"In Nature's temple living pillars rise,
And words are murmured none have understood,
And man must wander through a tangled wood
Of symbols watching him with friendly eyes.
As long-drawn echoes heard far-off and dim
Mingle to one deep sound and fade away;
Vast as the night and brilliant as the day,
Colour and sound and perfume speak to him.
Some perfumes are as fragrant as a child,
Sweet as the sound of hautboys, meadow-green;
Others, corrupted, rich, exultant, wild,
Have all the expansion of things infinite:
As amber, incense, musk, and benzoin,
Which sing the sense's and the soul's delight."
Correspondences 'is reprinted from The Poems and Prose Poems of Charles Baudelaire. Ed. James Huneker. New York: Brentano's, 1919.

Using the blunt ax of professional jargon, these artworks form a 'visual cluster, ' a term intended  to differentiate how we experience their proximity to each other from iconography.  Each one has an individual consent and meaning to the viewer.  The poet Charles Baudelaire gave this experience a name: Correspondences.   I like best the theory elaborated by the German polymath Aby Warburg in the 1920s in his Mnemosyne Atlas, a panoramic survey of images across time and space that he further described as " a picture series examining the preconditioned antiquity-related expressive values".    In short, there is an affinity between artworks that  stimulates and satiates us at once.
P.S. Another affinity, a personal one I just recalled, something seasonal - Lilian Gish appears in How I Feel About Winter, posted here January 5, 2009. 

1. Edward Steichen - Lilian Gish, Vanity Fair, December, 1932.
2. Suzukia Harunobu - Dreaming Of The First Days Of Spring, 18th century, Musee Guimet, Paris.

05 March 2013

Charlotte Perriand: Beauty In Use

"Lenin is seated at the Rotonde on a cane chair; he has paid twenty centimes for his coffee, with a tip of one sou.  He has drunk out of a small white processional cup.  He is wearing a bowler hat and a smooth white collar.  He has been writing for several hours on sheets of typing paper.  His inkpot is smooth and round, made of bottle glass." *  -  (If you skimmed this paragraph, go back and read it again, slowly.)

Who writes this stuff, I asked myself irritably as I turned the pages to check the footnote.  Second rate historical fiction?  Over digested creative writing assignment? Highly regarded manifesto of modern design?  Yes, it's  Charles Edouard Jeanneret, the man who also had the poor taste to reject Charlotte Perriand when she applied to worked in his atelier in 1927, dismissing her with the comment "we don't embroider cushions here."
Undaunted by his condescension, Perriand renovated her Saint-Sulpice,  apartment into a design studio of her vision of modern architecture and design.    That's Perriand at left in her  'bar under the roof,' that became famous as Perriand's Mobilier Metallique.  Her solutions to the small spaces  of modern urban living are ours, now. She mirrored the  surfaces on furniture and walls,  enlraging them visually.   She designed tables and chairs that functioned as modular furniture.   The next year, dazzled by her virtuoso use of chrome, glass, and aluminum, Pierre Jeanerret persuaded his cousin to think again and a collaboration began,  one that allows lazy historians to minimize Charlotte Perriand's achievements to this day. 
Today, Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) is remembered for her decade long collaboration with Le Corbusier (the name Charles Jeanneret made up to differentiate himself from his talented relatives, including his cousin Pierre Jeanneret who persuaded him to take another look at Perriand's work).  More significant, I think was her encounter with  yo no bi, a concept from Japan that means "beauty is manifested in use."

Perriand met Junzo Sakakura, the Japanese ambassador to France, like her also an architect when he designed the Japanese pavilion for the 1937 Paris World's Fair.  Although he modeled it on the Katsura Palace, he used the materials of 1920s modernist design, thin steel and sheets of glass, achieving a cross-cultural idea of transparency and simplicity.  The French liked it very much.
Sakaura arranged an invitation from the Japanese Ministry of Commerce for his friend to visit Japan.  You may wonder why Perriand wanted to  leave home for a country halfway around the world that was obviously preparing for war, but she embarked from Marseilles by boat for Tokyo the day after Nazi soldiers marched into Paris.  
While in Tokyo, Perriand lived at the Imperial Hotel,  designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1922..   Seeing traditional Japanese crafts and learning vernacular techniques for weaving furniture took Perriand out of the city The experiences resulted in  Selection, Tradition, Creation, the exhibition she  developed for the Takashimaya  department store chain, combining furniture designed by Perriand and constructed in Japanese workshops with  traditional ceramics and lacquer work.  Perriand may have been inspired by her former teacher Maurice Dufrene, who directed  a design workshop La Maitrise for galreies lafayette in Paris.  
Perriand was deported  as an enemy alien in December, 1942, and spent the rest of World War II in exile in French Indochina.

 In her designs, Perriand embodied the harmony that comes from cohesion between internal and external spaces that is the aesthetic ideal  in Japanese architecture.     It must count as a twist of fate that Perriand's stackable chairs, known as the Perriand are often thought of as Japanese.   another similarity betwwen France and Japan: women were not granted the right to vote until 1946.  Perriand's real designs are, ultimately, more persuasive than Le Corbusier's imaginings.  Equally, we should be undaunted by attempts to write women out of design history, another feat of imagination.  As for Le Corbusier, Jeanneret, Leger, and the others,  Charlotte Perriand outlived and outworked them all. 

Charlotte Perriand et le Japon is an exhibition that originated at the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, Japan in 2012 and is on view at Musee d'Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Metropole. Saint-Priest-Jarez, France from February 23 to May 26, 2013.

* excerpt from L'Art decoratif aujourd'hui (The Decorative Arts Today) by Le Corbusier, translated from the French by james I Dunnett, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press: 1987.

1. unidentified photographer - Le Corbusier & Charlotte Perriand, 1939, Fondation le Corbusier, Paris.
2. Charlotte Perriand - Self-portrait In Her Studio, 1927, ADAGP, Paris.
3. Charlotte Perriand - ash bench for Etienne Sicard residence in Tokyo, 1941, Charlotte Perriand Archive, Paris.
4. Charlotte Perriand - modular furniture, no date given, Musee des Arts decoratifs, Paris.