Archive for the Fashion Category

Christian Bérard: Painter, Designer, Illustrator

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Drawing, Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Illustration, Music & Dance, Painting, Rugs, Textiles, XC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Christian Bérard, Self-portrait, 1948
Oil on canvas, 18″ x 24″
Private collection, Paris

Christian Bérard (1902-1949) was a prodigiously-talented artist, whose tremendous facility across different fields, and his status as the darling of fashionable society in the Paris of the 1920s and 1930s, undermined his reputation as a serious painter. Bérard’s work confounded the critics because his work was unclassifiable—it existed outside the current theories of art, and he interchanged techniques and disciplines. Bérard’s ground-breaking set and costume designs, fashion and book illustrations, murals, decorative screens and interior designs all demonstrated a sensitive, fluid, graceful, elegant line.

Christian Bérard, Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1932
Mural for Jean Cocteau’s flat, Paris

Christian Bérard, set for Margot, 1935
Margot’s Room at the Louvre, Act II, Scene 1
Gouache on paper

Bérard’s paintings, mostly portraits and self-portraits, added another dimension to his talent as a draughtsman. Painted with insight and great skill, in a neo-romantic, poetic style, they exhibit a deeply-felt humanism. His friend and partner of 20 years, Boris Kochno, remarked that when he was painting, Bérard’s usual childlike exuberance would vanish, and he would work with great concentration and intensity, seeming to take instruction from an unseen third party. Bérard often reused canvases, painting over work he was dissatisfied with—so one can occasionally glimpse ghost-like images, faint faces, emerging from some of his paintings.

Christian Bérard, Madame L., 1947
Oil on canvas, 32″ x 26″
Private Collection

Christian Bérard, Boris Kochno, 1930
Oil on cardboard, 43″ x 31″
Collection Boris Kochno

Christian Bérard, Emilio Terry, 1931
Oil on canvas, 36″ x 28″
Private collection, Paris

Born in Paris in 1902, Bérard was the son of the official architect of the city of Paris, André Bérard. His mother’s early death from tuberculosis was traumatic for the young Bérard. After his wife’s death, the elder Bérard married his secretary, who joined him in the constant disparaging and belittling of his son’s talents, friendships and spending habits. Perhaps Bérard’s life-long desire to please and give pleasure, and his susceptibility to flattery, was a reaction to this early and intense hostility from his family.

Christian Bérard, 1932
Photograph, Hoyningen-Huene

Bérard showed artistic talent at a young age. As a child he filled sketchbooks with drawings of ballets and circus performances that he attended with his parents. He also copied the couture gowns from his mother’s fashion magazines, which at that time were heavily influenced by the Orientalism of Léon Bakst’s sets for Diaghilev’s ballets. As a young man, he studied at the Académie Ranson with Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis and had his first gallery show in 1925. His early work was collected by Gertrude Stein, and he did portraits of his friends Coco Chanel, Jean Cocteau, Cecil Beaton and Horst P. Horst.

Christian Bérard, Jean Cocteau, 1928
Oil on canvas, 26″ x 21″
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Christian Bérard, Horst P. Horst, 1933/34
Oil on canvas, 31″ x 41″
Private collection, New York

Throughout his career, when he needed the income, Bérard continued to do illustrations for fashion and interior design magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Art et Style, Formes et Coleurs and Style en France. He had a great eye for fashion and style, and his work elevated the art of fashion illustration, updating a Watteau or Fragonard sensibility for women’s fashion to the styles of the 1930s and 40s. His work often inspired the couture collections of designers like Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Nina Ricci. Bérard also did some interior decoration and textile design—painting murals and decorative screens, designing rugs—as well as a line of scarves for Ascher Silks, London.

Christian Bérard, illustration, beachwear for Schiaparelli, n.d.

Christian Bérard, Scarf designed for Ascher Silks, London

Christian Bérard, carpet design, c. 1940
Made by Maurice Lauer/Aubusson and Cogolin, reissued 1951

Bérard also continued to do illustrations for theater and ballet posters, music scores, and advertising throughout his life.

Christian Bérard, Sketch for an illustration of Gigi by Colette, n.d.
Pastel and gouache, 13″ x 8″

Christian Bérard, Poster for the Ballets des Champs-Elysées

Christian Bérard, Empress Josephine
Illustration for Queens of France by Jean Cocteau and Guillaume, 1949
Drypoint

Christian Berard, Illustration for score by Georges Auric, 1935
Gouache on paper

Christian Bérard was a large man, with fair hair, luminous blue eyes, and a rosy plump face that earned him the nickname Bébé, given to him by his friends because he resembled the baby in an advertisement for soap that was currently up all over Paris. Bérard’s appearance was often disheveled, he would stride into Maxim’s or other society nightspots in tattered paint-spattered smock and torn coveralls, with a large patterned scarf flung dramatically over his baggy workman’s jacket. Boris Kochno also recounts long walks through Paris at night—Bérard constantly noticing and pointing out glimpses of magical scenes, almost like a conjurer. Bérard never lost his childhood enjoyment of carnivals and street fairs and threw himself with great enthusiasm into the constant round of costume parties given by his friends. He excelled at spontaneously creating costumes from fabrics and items at hand.

Christian Bérard, sketch for Cyrano de Bergerac, 1938
Indian ink and gouache
Private collection

When agitated or absorbed in his work, Bérard could be very clumsy, and he could turn a well-ordered room into chaos in short order—leaving a wake of crumbled papers, overflowing ash trays, and stepped-on tubes of paint.  He was also extremely witty and charming—his spontaneity, kindness and charisma made him very popular in fashionable circles. He was always creating—while dining with friends, like New York society hostess Elsa Maxwell, Bérard would constantly be drawing on table cloths, napkins, menus—caricatures, stage sets, costumes. The waiters would hover and often quickly whisk them away, usually to sell to collectors.

Christian Bèrard, Program for Le Théàtre de la Mode, 1945

In 1930, Bérard designed his first theater set, for Jean Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine at the Comédie-Française. Cocteau was a life-long friend, and the work that Bérard is perhaps most famous for, is his set and costume design for Cocteau’s film masterpiece, La Belle et la Bête. Unfortunately, Bérard also shared Cocteau’s vice, the smoking of opium, which lead to a life of drug addiction, repeated sanatorium cures, and contributed to his early death.

Christian Bérard, sketchess for sets for Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête, 1946
Chalk and gouache on black paper
Private Collection

In 1931, Bérard joined the company of the Ballet Russes in Monte Carlo, working with choreographer George Balanchine on the ballet Cotillon. Balanchine had taken over for ballet impresario and founder of the Ballet Russes, Sergei Diaghilev. Balanchine continued in Diaghilev’s tradition of scouring the garrets of Montparnasse and Montmartre to find unknown choreographers, set designers or musicians to collaborate with. At first Balanchine declined to work with Bérard because he thought his work was already too well-known as an artist and illustrator, but the quality of Bérard’s work caused him to change his mind.

Christian Bérard, sketch for L’Ecole des Femmes, 1936
Horace’s Costume, Gouache

In the 1930s, Bérard did the sets and costumes for four ballets as well as many plays, such as Moliere’s L’Ecole des Femmes at the Théàtre de l’Athenée in 1936. He also worked with Jean Genet and Jean Giraudoux, among others. Bérard’s work was revolutionary and changed theater design forever—his set for L’Ecole consisted of a small garden, two flowerbeds and 5 chandeliers. He believed that  sets should serve and enhance the work, he was always subtracting elements, leaving just the essentials. His set for Léonid Massine’s ballet set to the music of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, was a masterpiece of delicate, weightless friezes. Except for the judicious use of deep red, Bérard eschewed bright colors, believing that pale, soft color better served the performances. To see Bérard working on a set was to see an outpouring of inventiveness. After Bérard’s death, Jean Cocteau said of working with his friend:

Christian Bérard was my right hand. Since he was left-handed, I had a special, clever, gracious, light right hand: a magical hand.
You may imagine the emptiness left by an artist who guessed all, and with the dilligence of an archeologist, conjured up naked beauty from the thin air where she resides. Bérard is dead, but that is no reason to stop following his instructions. I know what he would say about anything, in any circumstances. I listen to him and carry out his orders.

Christian Bérard in the studio at Fourques, 1940

Christian Berard died in 1949, while at work on the costumes and sets for Les Fourberies de Scapin at the Théàtre Marigny, working with friends director Louis Jouvet and actors Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud. After giving some final instructions, Bérard stood up and said: “Well, that’s that,” and collapsed from a cerebral embolism. Jean-Louis Barrault wrote:

If I had to chose only one among the many impressions of Christian Bérard that spring to mind, it would be one that soon became for him a profession of faith: the joy of living, to the extent of perishing from that joy…It is as if, while I think intensely of him, all of the Bérards leaping about me reply:

‘Love of life is based on suffering, anguish, nostalgia, sorrow and sadness…that’s true, but all that is the source of joy.’

Wider Connections

Christian Bérard’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Menil Collection, Houston and the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.

Christian Bérard, by Boris Kochno, with an introduction by John Russell. Thames and Hudson, 1988.

James Leman and Anna Maria Garthwaite: Silk Weavers of Spitalfields

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Fashion, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Textiles, XC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

James Leman, silk design, 1717
Watercolor on paper

James Leman (c.1688-1745) was one of the pre-eminent designers of silk textiles in the first half of the 18th century in England.  In addition to being a designer, Leman was also a silk manufacturer and likely a master weaver as well, a combination of talents that was common in the silk-weaving industry in Lyons but rare in England. James Leman, of Huguenot descent, was the son of Peter Leman, a master weaver. He apprenticed to his father in 1702 and took over the family business in 1706. Ninety-seven of Leman’s watercolor designs, bound in an original Spitalfields design book and dated 1706-1730, are in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. It’s hard to believe that these designs, the color so fresh and vibrant, and the patterns so modern, are 300 years old. Note that the yellows and oranges in the watercolors represent various colors of metallic threads.

Album of silk designs by James Leman in the Victoria & Albert Museum
Various dates, 1706-1730, watercolor on paper

The influence of the Huguenot emigres on England’s textile industry was enormous, because they brought their weaving skills with them. Until that point the English silk-weaving industry had been quite small—with the expertise of the Huguenot weavers, it blossomed. The Huguenots, Protestants from France, were subject to several waves of persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries. They left France by the thousands and contributed greatly to the textile industries of Britain, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. In reaction to the arrival of an early wave of Huguenot emigres in search of employment, King James I, who ascended to the throne of England in 1603, and was an admirer of silk garments, attempted to introduce sericulture to England. James commissioned a book on the subject and provided the landed gentry with a supply of mulberry seeds and trees. The experiment was not a success, and weavers had to continue to rely on imported silk, which, as the demand grew, Britain obtained from China, Persia and the Ottoman Empire.


The life cycle of the silk worm, 1831
lithograph, signed W.S. & J.B. Pendelton of Boston
from Jonathan Cobb’s Manual containing information respecting the growth of the Mulberry Tree

An interesting aside to the Huguenot story is that one of the most prominent Huguenot families to settle in England was the Courtaulds, who fled from France in the 1680s and later became silk weavers. A descendant of this family, Samuel Courtauld, who took control of the company in 1908 (the firm invented rayon, a synthetic silk, in 1910), achieved great renown as an art collector. In 1932 he founded the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, to which he bequeathed his collection upon his death in 1947.

James Leman, silk design, 1706/7
Watercolor on paper

James Leman, silk design, 1710
Watercolor on paper

James Leman, silk design, 1711/12
Watercolor on paper

By 1700 the center of silk manufacturing in England was in Spitalfields, now part of East London. Spitalfields has had an illustrious history. On the site of what was in Roman times a cemetery, England’s largest medieval hospital was constructed—The New Hospital of St Mary without Bishopgate—in 1197. The name Spitalfields is a contraction of “hospital fields.” The area went through many transformations, eventually becoming a textile center—first for laundresses, then for calico dyeing, then, in the 18th century, silk weaving. After the silk-weaving industry failed in the 1820s, the area declined and eventually became a center for furniture building, boot-making and later, tailoring. In Victorian times it became seedier still, and was famous for grisly murders by Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Strangler. The area is largely gentrified now, and when the historic Spitalfields Market area underwent a major renovation in the 1990s, the Roman cemetery became an important archeological dig and yielded many stunning artifacts, including sarcophagi with human remains.

Court dress, British, c. 1750
Silk, metallic thread
Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The development of the silk industry in 18th century England paralleled that of the rest of the decorative arts in England—following a trajectory from  simplicity through the development of the elaborate English Rococo style, then back to Neoclassical. Over the course of the century, design influences went back and forth across the English Channel, each decade brought stylistic changes. At the beginning of the 18th century, designers began to leave behind the excesses of the later 17th century—patterns became less exotic and more naturalistic. In the 1730s french silk designer Jean Revel (1684-1751) invented a radical new technique, points rentrés, a method that enabled the weavers to create shading. These three-dimensional patterns were often woven on a plain silk background to better show off the larger, bolder, designs.

Fabric in the style of Jean Revel, c.1733-35
The Art Institute of Chicago

In the 1740s, the pendulum swung again, the English “flowered silks” style emerged with more naturalistic botanical detail, in clear, soft colors on plain backgrounds. By mid-century French influence returned and through the 1750s and 1760s more background pattern re-emerged, designs became more stylized, the fabrics became stiffer with more metallic threads. By the 1770s, as styles of dress become more informal, patterns became smaller and were often combined with stripes. By the end of the century, Neoclassic patterns dominated.

As a manufacturer, James Leman employed other silk designers: two of the best known are Christopher Baudouin and Joseph Dandridge.

Christopher Baudouin, silk design, 1718
Watercolor on paper

Joseph Dandridge, silk design, 1718
Watercolor on paper

Moving towards the mid-eighteenth century, another extremely important English designer began working in Spitalfields, Anna Maria Garthwaite (c.1688-1763). Garthwaite was born in Leicestershire and moved to London in 1730, where she worked freelance, producing many bold damask and floral brocade designs over the next three decades. She was interested in naturalistic floral patterns and adapted Revel’s points rentrés technique. Hundreds of her designs in watercolor have survived and are preserved in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Fortunately, several excellent examples of clothing made from her textile designs survive, and there is at least one contemporary portrait in which the sitter is wearing a dress made from a documented Garthwaite design.

Anna Maria Garthwaite, Waistcoat, 1747
Silk, wool, metallic thread
Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Robert Feke, Mrs. Charles Willing of Philadelphia, 1746
Oil on canvas
Fabric design, Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1743

Anna Maria Garthwaite,1742
Silk brocade
The Fashion Museum, Bath

Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1742
Blue and silver brocaded silk

Below is a silk brocade dress, made of fabric from Garthwaite’s design, in the Museum at FIT, followed by a William Hogarth painting at The Frick Collection. I am making no claim that the sitter’s gown is a Garthwaite design, but I was struck by the similarity.

Anna Maria Garthwaite, n.d.
Silk damask gown
Museum at FIT, New York

William Hogarth (1697-1764) Miss Mary Edwards, 1742
Oil on canvas
The Frick Collection

All of these 18th-century brocade and damask fabrics were woven on a drawloom. These were hand looms with a system of cords that would lift certain warp threads so that when the weft thread was passed through, intricate repeat patterns could be produced. The cords were handled by a “drawboy” who sat on the top of the loom. This method was laborious, slow and took quite a bit of skill, and attempts were made improve the equipment and speed up the process. Philippe de Lasalle (1723-1804) made inroads with his invention of the semple, a device which replaced the drawboy. The semple was also removable, so it could be transferred from loom to loom, thus saving a lot of set-up time. These and other improvements led to the invention of the Jacquard loom. In 1801, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, (who at the age of twelve had apprenticed to his father as a drawboy in Lyons), devised a system of perforated cards that mechanized this procedure, and the textile industry was changed forever. In fact, the Jacquard loom was the essentially the prototype for the  computer.

The British silk industry had been able to prosper and compete with the older, more established French textile industry because they benefited from various pieces of legislation aimed at protecting the British textile industry. By the 1820s, after the repeal of long-standing embargoes on imported textiles, the English textile industry collapsed and France once again dominated the field.

Wider Connections

Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, edited by Clare Browne
The Book of Silk
, by Philippa Scott
Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail, by Avril Hart and Susan North
Textile Production in Europe, Silks: 1600-1800, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Winifred Gill and the Omega Workshops

Posted in Ceramics, Christine Cariati, Design, Embroidery, Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Furniture, Rugs, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Winifred Gill, Sketch of dancers, 1916
Pencil, ink and watercolor on paper
The Bodleian Library, Oxford

Winifred Gill (1891-1981) was one of the unsung heroines of the Omega Workshops. The task of  creating patterns or translating existing designs to be used on textiles, furniture and home furnishings fell largely to the women of the Omega Workshops—Gill, Jesse Etchells and Nina Hamnett among others. Artist Vanessa Bell also helped to produce some of the embroidery and other needlework, but because she was also one of the directors, not as much of the handwork fell to her.

Roger Fry at the Omega Workshops, c.1913

Duncan Grant, design for embroidered firescreen, c.1912
Embroidered by Lady Ottoline Morrell
Collection of Bryan Ferry

It is largely through Gill’s letters and taped recordings from the 1960s, that we know as much as we do about the day-to-day activities at the Omega—their production methods, anecdotes about specific projects and the personalities of the participants. (Gill’s archive was donated in 2009 to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, by her niece, Dr. Margaret Bennett.) Winifred Gill not only had artistic talent, she was intelligent and energetic, with a practical side that enabled her to also manage the business and handle sales.

The Omega Workshops Showroom, 1913

The Omega Workshops, started in 1913 by Roger Fry, was a modernist incarnation of the earlier Arts & Crafts movement that was the legacy of William Morris. Fry was an art critic and painter who wanted to move the British public past the traditions of Edwardian design. He embraced the contemporary European modernist movements—Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism and the Futurists—while also cultivating a bit of a Japanese aesthetic, especially through the use of painted screens. The Omega Workshops’ expressive, colorful, bold and abstract designs were the forerunners of the British artist/designer movement that followed mid-century. In 1925, Paul Nash wrote:

The modern movement in textile design began with the establishment of the Omega Workshops.

Paul Nash, Cherry Orchard, 1930
Block-printed silk crêpe-de-chine, Cresta Silks Ltd.

Roger Fry had some experience in interior design prior to founding the Omega Workshops. Among other things, he had built and furnished his home at Durbins, painted a mural at his mother’s home in Cheyne Walk, and decorated the home of his friend, Hubert Crackenthorpe. His co-directors, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were also very actively engaged in the decorative arts, both for themselves and friends, including their home at Charleston.

Photograph of the drawing room at Charleston in the 1930s

Duncan Grant, Interior with the Artist’s Daughter, c. 1935-36
Oil on canvas
Collection of Dick Chapman and Ben Duncan

Fry chose to open the Omega Workshops in Fitzroy Square, London—then rather a shabby neighborhood—in a regular house, rather than a shop, in order to better integrate the work within a domestic setting. When the workshop ended in 1919, Fry wrote:

I have lost $2000 and five years of gratuitous hand work: I cannot waste more on a country that regards the attempt to create as a kind of Bolshevism.

Over the years, in addition to Fry, Bell and Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Paul Nash, Frederick Etchells and others contributed to the designs. Their clients included George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, E.M. Forster and Gertrude Stein—as well as Virginia Woolf, Lady Ottoline Morrell and others of the Bloomsbury set. Winifred Gill indicates in her letters that there was a lot of collaboration—Grant, Bell and others contributed designs which were stored away and later reworked into patterns for specific products by Gill, Hamnett and many of the other unheralded young women who did so much of the work.

Nina Hamnett and Winifred Gill in Omega fabrics
from The Illustrated London Herald, 1915
The British Library

Roger Fry, Portrait of Nina Hamnett, c. 1917
Oil on canvas
Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

Roger Fry, Winifred Gill by the Pool at Durbins, 1912
Private Collection

Part of Fry’s motivation in establishing the workshop was to find a way for young artists to make a living. At the time, Fry was accused of choosing the name Omega because the current usage of the word was “the last word,” meaning that he thought the workshop’s products were the last word in decorative art. But Winifred Gill wrote that Fry chose it because:

He was looking for something, some trademark, that had a name of its own that everybody knew. I think it was very effective because everyone could say Omega and remember it.

Omega also had a ready-made, recognizable symbol, Ω, and all the work of the Omega, produced anonymously, was marked with the Greek letter (and occasionally incorporated into designs.)

Roger Fry, Design for Cadena rug, 1914

Young artists would drop by the Omega, seeking employment, but often Fry politely turned them down—he liked to scout out artists for himself at art schools and exhibitions—and even artists who came highly recommended had to show a portfolio before being taken on. Gill wrote that some of the young artists, like Wyndham Lewis, broke with the Omega because they resented the anonymity of the work—they wanted to claim credit and recognition for their designs.

Omega Workshops, painted lamp bases, 1913

I seem to remember a long time painting the legs of tables. It had come as a surprise to me that black and white size paint would produce blue. When Venetian red was added, a warm mulberry colour resulted which I always connect with Vanessa. She was very fond of it, and we used it a good deal for background on our furniture. Trays too we painted. O yes, and endless candlesticks. When I remember Nina Hamnett at work it is always a candlestick she has in her hand.
Letter from Winifred Gill to Duncan Grant, 1966

Winifred Gill was invited by Roger Fry to join the workshop in 1913. Like Fry, she came from a Quaker family in Surrey, and was, at the time, working as an assistant to Fry’s sister Joan at her philanthropic foundation, as well as attending art classes at the Slade. Gill’s attraction to the Omega was not only for the artistic aspect and because she lauded the attempt to provide support for young artists, but because she also deeply believed in Fry’s pacifist social agenda. Gill played an essential role in running the workshop and beginning in 1915 she served as the workshop’s business manager. During her time at the Omega, Gill made woodcuts, paintings, designs for toys and household objects. In 1919, Gill designed some artificial flowers with Vanessa Bell on commission, to be used as part of a theater set.

Roger Fry, Still Life with Omega Flowers, 1919
Oil on canvas
Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg

Gill also designed marionettes with articulated joints which portrayed dancers and musicians. The marionettes were used in a 1917 production of War and Peace: A Dramatic Fantasia a pacifist play written by Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson which was attended by W.B. Yeats, Arnold Bennett, G.B. Shaw and Lytton Strachey.

Winifred Gill with her clown puppet Joey, c.1920
The Bodleian, Oxford

The Omega Workshops came to an end in 1919, defeated by the effects of the war, the unreadiness of the British public to embrace new ideas and internal disagreements. However, thought it lasted only six years, the influence of the Omega carries on to the present day.

1946, Miller’s Galleries in Lewes held an exhibition of Omega Workshops products, displayed in a similar fashion to the arrangements at Fitzroy Square. At the time Winifred Gill wrote to Vanessa Bell about the possibility of an Omega room as a permanent fixture at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Vanessa Bell replied:

I hope it may happen for I thought the things at Miller’s in Lewes looked very good, especially the pottery…How long ago all that time seems—it was very strange having it revived for a while…

Painted version of Omega mark used on ceramics

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Gloria Swanson

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth and last installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include: Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Nicholas Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement XIII, and the Duchess of Alba; or click here for all posts in the series.

Edward Steichen—Gloria Swanson, 1924Edward Steichen, Gloria Swanson, 1924
Silver platinum? print
(Museum of Modern Art, NY)

Steichen and the Starlet

Edward Steichen already enjoyed an international reputation as an artist/photographer, when, in early 1923, he was offered the most prestigious and lucrative position in photography’s commercial domain, that of chief photographer for Condé Nast’s flagship magazines, Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Over the course of the next 15 years, on assignment with Vogue, Steichen established the look of fashion photography that still influences the way fashion is shot today.  (Consider what the work of George Hoyningen-HueneHorst P. HorstRichard AvedonRobert Mapplethorpe and Bruce Weber would have been without Steichen’s trailblazing.) In the process, he swept away the pre-War fussy and fuzzy style of fashion photography replacing it with a crisp, detailed and highly-theatrical presentation that would better serve the emerging modernist couturiers. Unlike Man Ray or Erwin Blumenfeld, the two other art photographers of the period who lent their talents to the fashion and glamour industry, Steichen eschewed high-art stylistic features in his commercial photography, preferring a pragmatical approach that wasn’t overly high-art.

Steichen—Cartier earringsEdward Steichen, Kendall Lee, Cartier Earrings, 1925
©Condé Nast

In many respects Steichen’s images of “Hollywood” for Vanity Fair are not altogether different from his work as a fashion photographer. And why wouldn’t they be? Celebrities, like haute couture, function on some level like luxury goods, visually consumed at least by lovers of fantasy. Steichen’s approach to celebrities was also detached and slick, not unlike Art Deco, the reigning style of the time.

Edward Steichen—Poiret fashions, 1911Edward Steichen, Poiret Fashions, 1911
from Art et Décoration

Vogue was not Steichen’s first foray into fashion. In 1911, he had produced what may have been the first series of fashion shots—gauzy images of Paul Poiret couture for an article in the French magazine Art et Décoration. They are pure Steichen of the period, perfectly in keeping with the Pictorialist style, for which he was then famous. But Vogue propelled him to a an entirely new stylistic pinnacle as the first truly-effective communicator of the essential (and largely unattainable) glamour embodied by haute couture.

In the wake of WW1, the integration of industrialization into all aspects of life was profound. With mechanization came high-rises and urbanization, consumerism and mass market advertising. The glorification of the machine had ramifications throughout the fine and decorative arts; most underwent radical transformation. The stylized floral motifs of Art Nouveau became the hard-edged and pseudo-erotic Art Deco. Cubism, Futurism, de Stijl, and the Bauhaus were all inspired by notions afloat in the “Machine Age. “ Steichen was at the forefront of the transformation in photography.

By 1914, when he was commissioned as first lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps, Steichen had already abandoned the Pictorialist style so emblematic of the pre-War era. Throughout his war career, he would favor greater realism, which he expressed through strong light-dark contrasts, attention to detail, and sharply-focused effects. When he resumed his own photography after the war, he pursued this new direction.

Edward Steichen—Pastoral Moonlight, 1907Edward Steichen, Pastoral Moonlight, 1907
photogravure, from Camera Work.

By the time of his appointment to the Condé Nast publications, Steichen had come to believe that photography was the modern means of communication, even though this belief meant a break with his mentorAlfred Stieglitz (and the Photo-Succession group), who clung to the view that photography should strive to attain fine art status.  For Steichen, the consummate promoter, the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair provided an irresistible platform to fully realize his artistic goals.

Edward Steichen, Across the Salt Marshes, Huntington, 1905
oil on canvas
(Toledo Museum of Art)

In regard to his fashion work Steichen recognized the need for greater realism: “My first contribution to the fashion photograph was to make it as realistic as possible…I felt that, when a great dressmaker like Vionnet created a gown, it was entitled to a presentation as dignified as the gown itself, and I selected models with that in view.” (Edward Steichen—A Life in Photography) Given the studio circumstances under which he shot and the constraints inherent in reproduction at the time, this meant a move to artificial lighting, which required large assisting crews. Steichen was no longer a single artist, he was an enterprise.

In a break from existing norms of fashion photography which featured the couture in the limelight,  Steichen staged his models in elaborate scenarios. Their fictional personalities took center stage;  the lines and contours of their bodies artfully set off by pieces of furniture or accentuated by the backdrops. The actual costumes were often treated as a secondary detail.

Edward Steichen—White, 1935Edward Steichen, White, 1935
(Museum of Modern Art, NY)

Steichen had always recognized the value of networking. He started his Great Men series in the early 1900s and continued making portraits of well-placed people—business- and statesmen—for much of his life. His assignments for Vanity Fair in Hollywood opened a different, and in many ways, a more important door for his career. In the early years of his contract, Steichen traveled annually to Hollywood, where he networked with an entirely new group of celebrities, stars who were recognized by millions of people. Steichen was already well-known as a fine-art photographer; Vanity Fair would introduce his work to the masses.

Edward Steichen—Fred Astaire, 1927Edward Steichen, Fred Astaire—Top Hat in “Funny Face,” 1927
(Museum of Modern Art, NY)

In these portraits, Steichen established the visual language of glamour that is fused to this day with celebrity. Not surprisingly, he utilized the very same techniques that he had developed to so effectively sell fashion. The theatricality of dramatic lighting and poses reinforced the fantasy that was emblematic of Hollywood—men were dashing; women liberated. Here too his legacy lingers. Consider Annie Liebovitz.

Edward Steichen—Ah Wilderness, 1933Edward Steichen, Eugene O’Neill and George M. Cohan—”Ah Wilderness,” 1933
(Museum of Modern Art, NY)

By 1924, Gloria Swanson was a leading screen actress. On screen, Swanson cultivated the image of an exotic, mysterious, and, at times, slightly dangerous, woman. Off-screen she was stunningly frank, outrageous, and a shrewd business women. In all her worlds, Swanson was the embodiment of the modern, liberated woman. Though “different,” Swanson always connected emotionally with her audience, a key reasons for her long run in Hollywood.

Gloria SwansonGloria Swanson in her monkey fur cape.

The actress was Hollywood’s first “clothes horse,” and audiences flocked to her films to view her wardrobe as much as her performance.  Her fashion ensembles, hair styles, and jewels were legendary (her annual budget for jewels was reported to be $500,000). The actress had been oft-photographed, mostly in full costume for studio publicity shots.  Steichen’s was not the the first formal portrait of the actress. But it must surely be the most provocative.

Gloria Swanson in the 1920s.

The session that produced this portrait was a long one, with numerous changes in costumes and lighting. At the end of the session, Steichen seized a piece of a black lace and hung it playfully in front of Swanson’s face. The actress grasped the concept immediately. She instantly dilated her eyes and became the leopard camouflaged by leafy shrubbery, watching her prey.

With its dark foliage perfectly aligned against the triangle of Swanson’s eyes and forehead, the lace veil is central to the provocative effect of the portrait.  One can’t imagine that such an arresting effect —the mysterious, the lethal, the glamorous and the savage—would have emanated from a portrait without the veil.  Was the portrait a covert statement about what Steichen really saw in Swanson—in Hollywood?  (Curiously, though the one aspect of all his other portraits missing here is overt glamour, though perhaps this is exactly why the picture, among Steichen’s many celebrity shots, connects so well with the viewer.)

The Lace

Quaker LaceQuaker Lace (machine-made) inspiration for Demakersvan chain link fence below.

Given the date of the portrait, unless the piece of lace Edward Steichen held up in front of Gloria Swanson’s face  was antique, it was most-likely machine-made, perhaps by a company such as Quaker Lace (now defunct).  And in this, the Swanson portrait is emblematic of the final chapter in our history of lace—mechanization.

Lace making machines existed as early as 1805, when Joseph Jacquard (of mechanized loom fame) made important adjustments to the “lever machine.” Jacquard paved the way for full-scale mechanization of lace production. The actual death knell was sounded in 1841, when further improvements allowed lace—both gimp and motifs—to be made entirely by machine. The market was soon flooded with inexpensive lace, which was well-within the purchasing range of the middle-class. Drawing widely on the fine and decorative arts of past ages, some of the better machine lace producers replicated hand-made laces exceptionally well.

Demakersvan, Chain link fenceDemarkersvan Studio, Chain Link fence inspired by Quaker Lace Company design.

The advent of machine-made lace at first pushed hand lace-makers to come up with more complicated designs beyond the capabilities of early machines. Eventually, however, it pushed them out of business almost entirely. Further, on the consumption side, by the 1920s, the traditional cultures that still made lace by hand were disappearing in the wake of increasing urbanization. As the demand for handmade lace ornamentation on traditional costumes and haute couture died out, the textile was relegated to household goods, such as napkins, table cloths, and curtains.  And even then machines provided the bulk of the production.

Though nearly extinct by the early decades of 20th century, today hand-made lace endures in small pockets largely in Europe. With the exception of a tiny amount of high-end couture, the customer base for hand-made lace is predominantly the curious tourist, purchasing a tablecloth or set of napkins.

Though a decorative ornament, lace has left an indelible mark in the world of fine art. As this delicate textile has jockeyed its way through the annals of fashion, its use has been captured and preserved by many a prestigious artist. From its origins as a luxury good, enjoyed by the privileged few, through the mechanization of its production and resulting dissemination to a mass consumer market, lace is inextricably intertwined with the march of human civilization. A just legacy for a textile made by the intricate twisting of threads.

Tord Boontje—Grass Hair pieceTord Boontje, Grass Hair piece inspired by Quaker Lace Company pattern (©Tord Boontje studio).

Wider Connections

Edward Steichen: High Fashion
Lace in Transition (contemporary designers interpret Quaker Lace Company patterns)
Patricia Johnston—Real Fantasies: Edward Steichen’s Advertising Photography
Decorating with Lace
Pat Earnshaw—How to Recognize Machine Laces

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: The Duchess of Alba

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , on August 25, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include: Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Queen Elizabeth, Nicholas Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement XIII, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

Goya Duchess of Alba

Francisco Goya, Mourning Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, or The Black Duchess, 1797,
oil on canvas, 210.2 x 149.3 cm
(Hispanic Society of New York)

No people are more associated with the fashion of black lace than the Spanish. No lace is more linked with black than French Chantilly. And no painting more delightfully illustrates these intertwined traditions than Goya’s 1797 portrait of the Duchess of Alba.

The Dowager and Her Devotee

Goya painted many portraits of Dona María del Pilar de Silva, the 13th Duchess of Alba, possibly even as La maya desnuda. Were they lovers? That’s a question that’s set tongues to wagging since the liaison in Andalusia that produced the portrait above.

Certainly, they were an unlikely pair. Goya’s humble origins would have placed him well out of social range of the Duchess (second in line behind the Queen) were it not for the fact that he had been appointed court painter for Charles IV in 1789. Goya was charming; the Duchess was flamboyant and provocative. She had endured a loveless, childless marriage. Her husband, the 13th Duke of Alba, had died the year before and, according to custom, the Duchess retreated to her summer residence for a period of mourning. Goya followed, making numerous sketches, etchings and paintings of her over the many months. From the many sketches of that period which are not of Dona María, but resemble her, it is clear that she was never far from his thoughts.

Goya places her in a landscape unencumbered by distractions, she alone holds the viewer’s gaze. He depicts her in mourning costume;  though a style more likely worn by the maja, or peasant classes in Spain, than by the aristocracy, it is by no means simple or austere.  A black lace mantilla, which alluringly snakes itself around her, performing double duty as a headdress and fashionable shawl over her traditional Andalusian ruffled mourning dress.

Chantilly mantilla

Mantilla of Chantilly lace with velvet insets.

On the Dowager’s fingers are two rings, one stating “Alba,” the other proclaiming “Goya.”  The Duchesse also points words—sólo Goya (“Goya alone”)— on the ground in front of her. The first word was hidden for many years by paint and varnish, but when it was revealed after a cleaning in 1960, speculation heated up once again. The record shows that Goya and Dona María parted unhappily after their sojurn in Andalusia. It remains a mystery as to whether sólo Goya represented her true feelings at the time or just his secret wish.

The Duchess  died at 40 under sinister circumstances. The mantilla passed largely into history, though black lace is still worn by many women of an older generation as a religious head covering in some countries and by all non-Catholic female dignitaries meeting the Pope. Chantilly lace, of course, was immortalized in the Big Bopper song.

La Dentelle

Undoubtedly the best-known of the black laces, Chantilly is a bobbin lace worked in silk threads, rather than the more common flax or cotton. Named for the French town of its origin, Chantilly is distinguished by its fine Alençon-type réseau (netting) and outlined motifs—mostly floral patterns. The strong but comparatively light weight of this lace once made it suitable for an especially wide range of fashion accessories—the delicate covers of parasols and fan pages, as well as large shawls, although sizes of the latter was severely limited until 1758, when a French lacemaker from Calvados discovered the invisible seaming technique called point de racroc.

Chantilly Lace

Shawl made of black Chantilly lace (made in Bayeaux), mid-19th century.

Black lace first arose as a fashion need in the 16th century (predominantly as a symbol of mourning or matronliness). By the 17th century, equal quantities of black and white Flemish lace show up in purchase records. Regrettably, portraits of the era serve as the only record of the uses of black lace; almost none of the early specimens survive, because the iron-oxide mordant used to fix the black dye caused the threads to rot. (Synthetic dyes would fix this problem in the 19th century.)

The earliest Chantilly laces were made from cream-colored, not black, silk threads.  Blonde, as it was called, was a fragile lace, since the thin passive threads were required to support the heavier worker thread. Moreover, at the time it was thought to have no real artistic value, and thus was not considered fashionable. Further there was a huge demand from Spain and her colonies for black lace.  Legend also suggests that in the mid-17th century, Catherine de Rohan, local Duchesse of Longueville, established a school in her nearby castle at Étrepagny, thereby putting Chantilly on black lace-making map.

Whatever the reason, local lace-makers were able to overcome the traditional difficulty in working with hard-to-see black threads. Over the years lacemakers there experimented—with twisting and netting, grounds and motifs—eventually settling on the distinctive two-twist tulle ground and elegant flowers and garlands in relief for which Chantilly became known.

Diego Velázquez—Lady with a Fan, 1635

Diego Velázquez, Lady with a Fan, 1635
oil on canvas, 95 x 70 cm
(Wallace Collection)

Given the proximity of production to Paris, Chantilly lace soon became fashionable with the French court. Chantilly thrived under Louis XIV‘s patronage of lace and received a further boost with the arrival of his Spanish-born queen, María-Terésa, who widened the scope of its use. Although it remained in fashion through the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, the French Revolution proved generally disastrous for lace making in France. Production in Chantilly ceased after large numbers of lacemakers, viewed as royalists, were guillotined in 1793.

Vintage Chantilly lace, 20th century.

Napoleon sponsored its revival in the years between 1804 and 1815. By the 1840s, Chantilly reached the apex of its popularity, although by this time the majority of lace in the Chantilly style actually came from Bayeux, Calvados and Grammont (Geerardsbergen) in Belgium, where the lace was produced more cheaply. Although revived once again in the 1860s, sadly high-quality imitations were then being manufactured on various machines. The demise of the shawl at the end of the 19th century sounded the final death-knell for hand-made Chantilly lace.

Wider Connections

Susan Waldmann—Goya and the Duchess of Alba

Goya: Crazy Like A Genius (Robert Hughes documentary)

Museo Virtuale delle Arte Tessili (a rich resource on the needle arts)

A Lace Lover’s Diary

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Clement XIII

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Nicholaes Tulp, Louis XIV, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Pope Clement XIII Rezzonico,
1758, oil on canvas, 54 3/16 x 38 11/16″
(Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice)

The Pope

Born Carlo della Torre di Rezzonico into a prominent Venetian family, Pope Clement XIII (1693-1769) was a modest man, who may be best remembered for covering the Vatican sculptural nudes with fig leaves. Though apparently much loved, Clement was a reluctant pope, who by all accounts was nearly wholly  unsuccessful at combating the forces that preyed on the Vatican. His papacy was marked by the struggle between the traditions of the Catholic Church and the ideas of the Enlightenment, whose proponents believed reason could could fashion a better world by combatting ignorance, superstition, and tyranny (and with them the Catholic Church).

Mengs Penitent MagdalenAnton Raphael Mengs, The Penitent Magdalen
1752, oil on canvas, 48 x 64 cm
(Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)

Further, during Clement’s decade as Pope the Vatican came under siege from the Bourbon kings (France, Spain, The Two Sicilities, Parma), who successfully suppressed the Jesuits (Clement’s own order) from all their dominions and subsequently outright appropriated Vatican lands. Concurrently, this anti-Roman movement received further impetus from the spread of Febronianism, a German doctrine claiming to restrict papal power (known in France as Gallicism).

The Painter

Widely regarded in his day as Europe’s greatest living painter, Bohemian-born Anton Rafael Mengs was a highly-paid court painter (first for Augustus III of Saxony and later for Charles III of Spain), whose artistic strength lay in an ability to capture the striking likeness of the celebrities of 18th-century Europe—royalty, potentates, and aristocrats. After an early career in Dresden as a pastel portraitist, the artist returned to Rome (where he had studied art) in the early 1750s.

Mengs self portraitAnton Raphael Mengs, Self-Portrait
1774, oil on panel, 73.5 x 56.5cm
(National Museums, Liverpool)

There he became a close friend and probable lover of the German archaeologist and ancient art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Mengs shared Winckelmann’s enthusiasm for classical antiquity; he became the primary channel through which Winckelman’s ideas on Neoclassicism were spread to artists like Jacques-Louis David, Robert Adam and Josiah Wedgwood. Winckelmann, by 1758 the Controller of Antiquities at the Vatican, must have arranged the introduction to Clement. One wonders whether Mengs, as a man of the Enlightenment, paused over the proposition of painting his intellectual nemesis.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann
after 1755,
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Mengs’ portrait commemorates Clement’s election as Pope; it is one of at least three versions. In comparison to other portraits of Clement , the exceptional quality of Mengs’ representation is clear. Clement was 65 at the time, plagued by physical illness and pain. Mengs has captured for posterity the emotional weariness that must have been Clement’s constant companion in these years; his expression seems to anticipate the magnitude of the struggle ahead. In this achievement Mengs, the enlightened man, may have received his satisfaction. (Clement endured for 10 more years; mercifully, on the eve of an important summit on the Bourbon problem in 1769, he suffered a stroke and died.)

after Domenico Zapieri, Portrait of Clement XIII, 1762
engraving, from Picturae Dominici Zampierii, (New York Public Library)

Clement’s demeanor may detract from the potency of the portrait, but Mengs restores authority through the extraordinary rendering of the pope’s rich vestments. Sheathed in a traditional costume of royal carmine chasuble and white alb, Clement assumes the commanding presence befitting a pope, who at the time was invested with both spiritual and secular power. Mengs undoubtedly did not have a choice in the color iconography; still, it’s a masterful use of the available color palette. (Note how the red garments echo the cross shape.) Each of the many textiles in the painting displays its own luxury—the velvet glows, the silk shines.Not surprisely, Mengs was reputed to have a taste for expensive clothes.

Further, at the edges of the alb Mengs has masterfully captured in detail some of the most beautiful punto di Burano lace of the 18th century.

The Punto

By 1758 the traditions of ecclesiastical lace had been well-established. The Catholic Church was the first patron of lace-making—the skill was taught in its convents, while coveted lace pattern books were kept in monasteries. (Not until the 16th century did lace-making became a lay industry.)

Alb of Venetian Rose-Point Lace 17th c.Alb of Venetian Rose-Point Lace, 17th century

All high ecclesiastical dignitaries were expected to (and still are) possess complete sets of lace garments.  Not only the costume of the clergy—predominantly the dalmatic, surplice and alb—but also sacred items, such as altar fronts, were adorned with lace. The congregation eventually followed suit, dressing in lace for the milestone celebrations in life—christening, death, and later marriage.

Mengs—clement detailAnton Rafael Mengs, Pope Clement XIII (detail showing Punto di Burano cuff)
1759, oil on canvas, 54 3/16 x 38 11/16″
(Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)

Along with Flanders, Italy was the birthplace of true lace making. Strictly speaking, most Venetian laces are some variety of the punto in aria (literally “stitch in air”), or needlework (as opposed to bobbin) lace made without any netting foundation. Punto di Burano was made for two centuries on the small island in the Venetian lagoon. By the sixteenth century, the lace was renowned across Europe for rivaling the quality of Flemish lace. By the end of the eighteenth century, Burano lace came perilously close to extinction. (The tradition was revived in the 20th century.)  In particular, it is distinguished by robust floral ornamentation, as opposed to the geometric designs of its more famous cousin, reticella.

Queen Elena of Italy's lace wedding veil, punto di Burano, 1896Marriage Veil (detail) of Queen Elena, 1896, Punto di Burano lace.

Lace makersVenetian Lace Makers, mid-20th century.

Wider Connections

Doris Campbell Preston—Needle-Made Laces and Net Embroideries: Reticella Work, Carrickmacross Lace, Princess Lace and Other Traditional Techniques
Suppression of the Jesuits
Mengs—Reflections on Beauty and Taste in Painting (1762)
Antonio Canova’s Monument to Clement, St. Peter’s
Museo del Merletto, Burano, Venice
Burano lacemakers at work
Mengs in museums

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Louis XIV

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Sculpture with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include: Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Nicholaes Tulp, Clement XIII, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Louis XIV, 1665
Marble
(Chateau de Versailles)

The Sculptor and the Sun King

In April 1665 Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) succumbed to the ongoing entreaties of Louis XIV and went to Paris to work on designs for the east facade of the Louvre, then the royal residence. Everywhere along his route people lined the streets to get a glimpse of the famous artist, then in his 67th year.

A multi-talented artist, Bernini virtually single-handedly created Baroque Rome, in its totality perhaps the most elaborate visual statement of the Counter-Reformation anywhere.  Bernini was a fast-working and prolific artist, whose flamboyant personality was well-suited to hobnobbing with royals, aristocrats and popes in the pursuit of important commissions. In addition to being a virtuoso sculptor, Bernini was an accomplished architect, an expert draftsman, an adept caricaturist, and a designer of ornate fountain displays. He also wrote plays.

Bernini presented some designs to Louis, but ultimately the king rejected the ideas. Bernini soon lost favor at the French court, for he continually praised the art and architecture of Italy at the expense of that of France. Though his architectural pursuits in Paris may have ended in failure, the bust remains as a legacy of Bernini’s greatness as a sculptor.

Hyacinthe Rigaud, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1701
Oil on canvas
(Louvre, Paris)

Charles Le Brun, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1655
Pastels on paper

He re-conceived the art of sculpted portraiture, establishing the standard for a century to come. In contrast to the static Renaissance-style portraiture tradition (itself based on examples of Republic-era Rome), Bernini’s sculptures were highly-expressive renderings of their subjects. In many respects his portraits transcended reality. One sees from the other portraits of the era that Louis was not a particularly handsome individual. He is a foppish man typical of his time and station. Other imbued Louis with a regal quality. Bernini alone ennobled Louis.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV,
Marble
(Galleria Borghese, Rome)

Louis believed in the “Divine Right of Kings,” that the King was crowned by God and accountable to him alone. Bernini succeeded in capturing the majestic essence of the Sun King. His Louis is certainly dashing, enveloped as he is in the billowing fabric of his cape and the voluminous curls of a wig. But he is also supremely regal, gazing serenely and securely outward with the authority of a divine ruler.

The Lace

Among other accoutrements, Bernini’s Louis wears a lace cravat. In the mid-17th century, the cravat was a popular antidote to the ruff, which was too much of a nuisance to wear with the longer hair styles and wigs that had come into fashion at the French court. Curiously, though, the style was initiated by Croatian soldiers during the 1635 war between France and Spain.  Those cravats caught the eye of the French royalty. Concurrently, the ruff was giving way in many courts to the turned down shirt collar.  A fine cloth provided a natural solution to keeping the collar closed.

Louis XIV was the first to embrace the fashion item wholeheartedly. His “cravatier” reportedly laid out our several cravats from the extensive collection each day for the King’s selection. In time the fashion spread to Charles I’s court in London and from there to the colonies.

Charles Le Brun, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1661
Oil on canvas

The 17th century witnessed the production of the most elaborate and beautiful laces, as demand for lace was robust. Though Venice had led the fashions where lace was concerned in the 16th century, France had a small tradition making mostly inferior quality lace. Valenciennes (then in French-speaking part of Flanders) was already established as a center, though it didn’t reach its peak until the 18th century.

17th c. Versailles LaceBoots trimmed with point coupé, engraving after portrait of Marquis of Cinq-Mars

The French court had always been mad for lace.  With the ascension of Louis XIII, luxury knew no bounds. When Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, the lace ruff, along with other Spanish customs, arrived in France. By the 17th century, cuffs, collars, boot tops and stockings were all trimmed in lace.

Peter Paul Rubens, Anne of Austria, 1625
Oil on canvas, approximately 2.8 x 1.21 feet.
(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Is Louis wearing Italian, Spanish or French lace in his Bernini portrait? Throughout early part of the 17th century, various edicts forbad the wearing of Spanish and Italian laces, mostly as a measure to prevent enormous sums of money from leaving the country. The prohibitions were largely ineffectual; the nobles of Louis XIV’s extravagant court continued to wear the more expensive laces. Could Louis the cravat King really have worn inferior product?

Determined to improve the quality of French production, however, Louis’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert established Royal Lace Workshops at Alençon and Arras, even importing Venetian instructors to teach the coveted lace-making skills. This was in 1665, precisely the year of the Bernini portrait.

The French effort was going well until religious politics intervened. In 1685 Louis’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes had catastrophic effect on the French lace-making industry. With their rights revoked, Protestants left France in the hundreds of thousands, taking with them knowledge of textile manufacture, including lace making.

Bobbin Lace, Louis XIV periodBobbin Lace, Louis XIV period (1643-1715).

Wider Connections

Rudolf Wittkower—Bernini
Louis XIV in pictures
Croatian cravats
“The Tie That Binds”

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Nicholaes Tulp

Posted in Fashion, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , on July 18, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, Clement III, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here to read all posts in the series.

rembrandt—nicolaes-tulpRembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Nicholaes Tulp,
1632, oil on canvas, approximately 5.5 x 7.1 feet.
(Mauritshuis Gallery, The Hague)

The Painting

The Anatomy Lesson of Nicholaes Tulp marks Rembrandt’s first large commission, painted when the artist was 26 and newly arrived in Amsterdam. Rembrandt was to prove adept at group portraiture, and this painting has the hallmarks of many of his later group works, among them dramatic focal point and dynamic composition. Pictorial prototypes for anatomy lessons were scarce in Amsterdam at in 1632, although Rembrandt may have been familiar with Aert Pieterz’s 1603 example and Piet Mierevelt’s 1616 painting. With this portrait, however, Rembrandt pushed the genre into new territory.

Rembrandt blended spiritual and earthly concerns as no other painter before him. The painting reflects the enormous interest in and advancements made by science during the period. The subject, Nicholaes Tulp, demonstrates the workings of the hand through manipulation of forearm flexor muscle. Though painted during a period of scientific advancement, the painting displays inaccuracies, perhaps in the service of art. While Rembrandt has rendered elements of the dissected arm with with scientific accuracy, the hand of the cadaver does not clench closed as the doctor pulls on the main tendon. Further, the body cavity, which would have been opened first in a true dissection, remains untouched.

Andreas Vesalius, plate from De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1543

Apparently at Tulp’s own request, Rembrandt portrays him as the Andreas Vesalius of his age, in a pose replicated from the 1543 edition of Vesalius’ groundbreaking work De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Vesalius was hugely influential to Tulp’s generation. As the first doctor to dissect cadavers himself (the previous practice called for a surgeon to dissect while the physician read aloud suitable chapters from an anatomy tract), Vesalius was responsible for most of the anatomy that Tulp would have known.

Rather than the conventional “heads in a row” presentation, Rembrandt has arranged members of the Amsterdam Surgeon’s Guild more dynamically in a semi-circle around the highlighted corpse in various gestures of reaction. Curious given that it’s a dissection, no one looks directly at the body. Compare it to Eakin’s later painting, The Gross Clinic, in which the team is absorbed in their tasks:

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Doctor Samuel Gross (The Gross Clinic)
1875, oil on canvas, 8′ x 6’6″
(Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The corpse is perhaps the most visually arresting element of the painting, bathed as it is in intense light. The body belonged to an executed criminal, and the painting is generally read as a statement about Tulp’s rendering good from evil.  In the particular pose of this cadaver with its white loin cloth, it is impossible not read into it religious martyrdom, recalling as it does various depictions of the entombment of Christ.

Tulp held the tenets of science and religion as complementary; he firmly believed the practice of anatomy led to a greater knowledge of God. In particular, the hand with its ability to create human civilization was proof to Tulp of divine wisdom.

The Lace

By the end of the 16th century, Holland had thrown off the yoke of Spain and entered her Golden Age. In the 17th century, the Dutch were basking in the success that their  maritime prowess had brought through expanded trade opportunities and far-flung colonies. In 1632 the Dutch East India Company was in its 30th year and flourishing, returning annual profits in excess of 100%. True, Holland, with the rest of Europe, was embroiled in Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), but a decisive victory against the Spanish fleet was not far off.

Nicholaes Pickenoy, Cornelis de Graeff,
1636, oil on canvas,
(Gemäldegalerie Berlin)

Although lacemaking in Holland never reached the dimensions that it did in Flanders, the Dutch were nevertheless wild about lace. It used not only on garments, but also to decorate household objects, including warming implements. A quaint custom even called for lace around the door knocker of a Dutch home to announce a new born baby. The lace kept the knocker from waking the baby.

The eight figures in The Anatomy Lesson reflect the new economic affluence of the Dutch. The men are depicted in the manner typical of the prosperous burghers of the period—plain tailored suits ornamented with costly and often elaborate collars (a legacy of Spanish fashion). The painting is remarkable for the variety of its neckware—the pleated ruff, the “fallen” ruff, and the rather unostentatious lace-trimmed flat collar worn by Tulp himself. (A clearer version of this particular collar can been seen in Pickenoy’s 1633 portrait of Tulp.) The flat collar could be fashioned into a mini ruff by pulling its string ends closed.

Jan Cornelisz.Verspronck, Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue,
1641, oil on canvas, 82 x 66.5 cm
(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Tulp’s collar may be a form of “Dutch” lace, which was often used in the 17th century to rim collars. Dutch lace, actually Flemish, was a thick, closely worked, strong bobbin lace, worked in chrysanthemum- or cauliflower-like designs.

The ruff survived longest as an accessory in Holland; it was separated quickly from the shirt and, as such, survived well into the 17th century.  Ruffed and flat dish collars often reached absurd lengths, up to a foot and a half, and special eating utensils required for use with them.

Judith Leyster’s self-portrait notwithstanding, it would be the French who took lace fashion to dizzy heights.

Judith Leyster, Self Portrait,
1630, oil on canvas,
(National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Wider Connections

Masquelet on The Anatomy Lesson
Alison Kettering—Rembrandt’s Group Portraits
Lace and Lace Making in the Time of Vermeer
“Ruffs, ribbons, cravats, and collars”

Venetian Red Notebook: No Rainbow Without the Sun

Posted in Christine Cariati, Embroidery, Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , on July 10, 2009 by Christine Cariati

Queen Elizabeth I Rainbow PortraitIsaac Oliver, Elizabeth I (The Rainbow Portrait) c 1600

In the latest installment of A History of Lace in Seven Portraits for Venetian Red, Liz writes about a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I attributed to George Gower. This got me thinking about my favorite portraits of Elizabeth I, most of them rife with lace (and pearls.) There are so many wonderful ones, but Isaac Oliver’s Rainbow Portrait, which hangs in Hatfield House, stands out. Unlike many of the Elizabeth portraits, the thing that you first notice about this painting is the color. It is quite elegantly monochromatic, all shades of warm russet, umber and gold.

As a protege of the favored court painter, Nicholas Hilliard, Oliver painted a miniature that was a likeness of the aging Queen which could have cost him his career. In 1596 the Privy Council issued orders that all “unseemly portraits” of the Queen be destroyed—thereafter the Queen was pictured only in the so-called “Mask of Youth” and portrayed as untouched by age. Elizabeth I often referred to the sorrows of her aging body, so it wasn’t vanity that prompted this edict, rather a wish to portray the monarch as perpetually potent, ageless—especially critical for maintaining the authority of an unmarried Queen who would never produce a male heir.

Queen Elizabeth serpent
The Rainbow Portrait was painted when Elizabeth was 67 years old. Volumes have been written about this painting, interpretations that expound, variously and with great conviction, on the perceived religious, political, literary and sexual symbolism in the work. On the simplest level, it is a portrayal of Elizabeth as Astraea, the youthful goddess of justice. She is wearing pearls, the symbol of virginity; her bodice is embroidered with English wildflowers to symbolize her youth and virtue. The serpent embroidered on her left sleeve represents wisdom, also alluding to Eden and the need to be ever-vigilant against evil. The serpent also has a heart-shaped ruby in his mouth, indicating that Elizabeth’s heart is ruled by wisdom, not emotion.

Queen Elizabeth rainbowElizabeth’s mantle is covered with ears and eyes, indicating that the Queen sees and hears all–or, perhaps, that her counselors and servants see all, but that only she speaks. In her right hand she holds a rainbow, symbol of hope, wisdom, faith and peace. The rainbow is oddly colorless—but the explanation seems to be in the Latin inscription on the painting, “Non sine sole iris”—no rainbow without the sun. Queen Elizabeth is the sun, her vibrant red hair and the elaborate rays of her multi-tiered lace collar proclaim that she outshines all by her brilliance, that she is the link to the divine, and that by her wisdom and virtue the people of England will be guided to peace and prosperity.

RainbowPortraitdetail

This portrait, and the hundreds of others done of Elizabeth I during her lifetime  provide an intriguing look into the complex, interrelated worlds of politics and religion in 16th century England and the very interesting role that artists and portraiture played in that era.

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Queen Elizabeth I

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , , on July 8, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include: Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Nicholaes Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement III, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

Attributed to George Gower, Queen Elizabeth I, ca. 1588,
Oil on panel,  105 x136 cms.
(Woburn Abbey)

When she ascended to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth I inherited a relatively backwater island country, bankrupt, torn by religious strife, and perennially under threat of attack by continental powers France & Spain. Over her 45-year reign, she led England’s extraordinary transformation into a 16th-century superpower. By the time of her death (1603), not only was England free of extra-border threats, but the country was well-positioned for virtually limitless colonial expansion. At the heart of this transformation was the British navy.

George Gowers’s portrait of the Queen (one of three copies) was painted to commemorate the defeat in 1588 by the British of the Spanish Armada. The battle was arguably one of the most significant military victories in British history, for it catapulted England to maritime domination, which supported colonial expansion. For centuries afterward, Britain would reap the economic rewards of its far-flung empire.

17th century Chart showing route of Armada
(courtesy British Library)

The Battle

The conflict pitted Catholic Spain—its preeminent force backed by considerable New World gold and silver—against Protestant England, a country with little wealth, few friends, and scant defenses. In the fall of 1588, the 124-boat Armada arrived in the English Channel. . . only to suffer humiliating defeat.  The heavy Spanish galleons were thwarted by stormy Channel weather and outmaneuvered by the more nimble British fleet under the command of Sir Francis Drake. Attempting to retreat, the Armada found its direct route to Spain blocked by the British, and the ships were forced to sail around the perilous north coast of Scotland. Storms wrecked a good number of vessels; the remaining few straggled home. The message of British naval supremacy was clear.

The Queen

Elizabeth was an intelligent and pragmatic woman, keenly aware that she was as much a symbol as an individual. By 1588 the epithet “Virgin Queen” would have been in common use, although her power was in no way diminished. Further, Elizabeth was adept at deploying her images in service of propaganda, always cognizant that she must overcome perceptions of weakness represented by a female monarch without heirs.

Gower presents her as Eliza Triumphans, an iconic pose that reinforces Elizabeth as the savior of her country at the height of her political powers. The Queen is in her mid 50s—aging, yet still vital and commanding. The painting is larger than life-size, meant to impress. Further, the Queen is surrounded by symbols of her power, including a luxurious costume studded with hundreds of jewels. She rests her hand on a globe in a gesture that symbolizes her monarchical reach. Her fingers hover over the Americas; the first English child was born at the English settlement in Virginia, just before the portrait was painted.

After 1560, Elizabeth was rarely depicted without her cache of jewels. As opulent accoutrements, they signaled the affluence and separateness of Elizabeth, the Monarch, as well deflected attention from the deteriorating physical condition of Elizabeth, the individual. Pearls, said to be her favorite jewel, symbolize virginity. As a display of her purity, virtuousness, and even agelessness, the pearls would have reminded her subjects that she was “married” to them.

The extravagant and delicate white lace collar also refers to her virginity, curiously (or perhaps deliberately) mimicking the ornamental gold halos of 14th century Madonnas.

Pattern for Reticella Lace from pattern book of Cesare Vecellio, 1591Reticella Lace, from Pattern Book of Cesare Vecellio, publishing 1591.

The Lace

True lace is generally thought to have originated in the 15th century, although its birthplace—Flanders or Italy—is still disputed. Lace-making skills may have been brought to Britain by Protestant refugees, fleeing the continent in the latter half of the 16th century.

The ruff, a Spanish style, was introduced to Tudor England by Katherine of Aragon. Elizabeth may not have been the first to add lace to the ruff, but certainly she pushed the fashion to dizzying heights. In order to wear her collars higher and stiffer than her subjects, Elizabeth consumed endless yards of cut-work, purle (lace knitting), needlework and bone lace, all of which required elaborate stays and starching to hold the many embedded jewels and other ornamentation properly.

QEI-Armada-unknown-1588-89Attributed to George Gower, Queen Elizabeth I (detail), ca. 1588,
Oil on panel,  105 x136 cms.
(Woburn Abbey)

Elizabethean portraiture provides excellent documentation of the evolution of the ruff—from a tight pleated collar of lace, newly fashionable in the 1560s, through the enlarged and unfolding style of the 1570s and 80s, to the extravagant grandeur depicted in the Rainbow Portrait (1600).

Reticella cloth, late 19th century.

The lace of the Armada collar was most certainly needlework lace, as Elizabeth was known to have preferred the Italian styles. Its gossamer quality and repeating geometric design (with lovely end wheels) suggests a reticella, an early form of true lace said to have originated in the Ionian islands. As 17th century portraits report, reticella was hugely popular among European nobility,  and made only to a limited extent in England. Elizabeth would have liked its scarcity.

Wider Connections

National Portrait Gallery—117 portraits of Queen Elizabeth I
Roy Strong—The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry
Elizabeth Brydges (Lady in Waiting to QE1) 1589 portrait.  Note the outer scallops of lace in the shape of Royal Crown.
British Library—Defeat of the Armada
Reticella history

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