Luxe, calme, et volupté

[Cezanne - Le Mont Sainte-Victoire 1902-04]


There's a passage in A.S. Byatt's novel Still Life in which the narrator describes a familiar feeling: the uncanny coinciding of events, motifs, phrases, and ideas, inspiring one to believe that they are being afforded a rare glimpse into the arcane workings of purpose in our world. The narrator likens it to George Eliot's mirror on which the concentric scratches radiate outward toward the candle, or to the inward-turning brushstrokes that radiate from the eye in Van Gogh's self-portraits. The ego-centrism that catches all of us at some time or another, causing one to exclaim "Me, this is a sign for me!"

This happens to me a lot, and whether that is a sign of an over-developed ego-centrism (probably) or a sign of hyper-receptivity of the signs and messages of the world (I wish) doesn't really matter. The point is that when one begins to trace out the patterns and relations of their immdediate world, there are in some sense creating a world...vivid, related, and relevant.

Still Life sparked off this current course of my thoughts, and they have culminated as a flurry of borrowed books (Mallarmé and Baudelaire, Sargent's Venetian Pictures, Fuchs' Herbal, Cezanne in Provence, the diaries of Virginia Woolf, Woolf's The Waves), a silly and predictable desire to be inspired by genius, some musing on muses, and a general taste for sun-drenched, color-flooded experiences.

The phrase that is the title of this entry is taken primarily from the composition by Matisse which in its right borrowed from a poem by Charles Baudelaire:

[Henri Matisse. Luxe, calme et volupté]
L'invitation au voyage (translation here)

Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur
D'aller là-basvivre ensemble!
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble!
Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
Si mystérieux
De tes traîtres yeux,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes. Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Des meubles luisants,
Polis par les ans,
Décoreraient notre chambre;
Les plus rares fleurs
Mêlant leurs odeurs
Aux vagues senteurs de l'ambre,
Les riches plafonds,
Les miroirs profonds,
La splendeur orientale,
Tout y parlerait
À l'âme en secret
Sa douce langue natale.
Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Vois sur ces canaux Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l'humeur est vagabonde;
C'est pour assouvir
Ton moindre désir
Qu'ils viennent du bout du monde.
Les soleils couchants
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D'hyacinthe et d'or;
Le monde s'endort
Dans une chaude lumière.
Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
— Charles Baudelaire
The Good Life: perhaps a mirage, but a perpetually compelling one nonetheless. I long for the sun-dappled groves of fragrant trees, for that salt-crusted baked feeling after the sunshine and sea that makes you paradoxically stiff and languid. I'm excited for those fantastic early days of freedom that people lose themselves in when the weather turns warm. Everyone goes a little batty, shedding layers and lingering out-of-doors.

But there's a disjunction between the Matisse posted above and what can be read between the lines of Baudelaire's poem. They are linked, but the resemblance is not as complete as it may initially appear to be.

The Matisse is a distillation of the captivating spirit of bonheur that is such an epidemic in the summertime. "Idyllic" is the word that fits. The beauty of the painting is in its wholeness of vision, tone, and meaning. It is fantastically colorful, and has a vague reality which recalls dream visions. There is no distractting irony, so worrying memento mori intruding on the viewer's rapt attention. Just "Luxe, calme, et volupte."

But the poem by Baudelaire worries me. There is an uncertainty lurking between the lines, between the words, at the back of the narrator's throat. He invokes his beloved and entreats her to travel with him to the land that resembles her. It's a simple plea, an invitation, a characteristcally sentimental entreaty at the intial moments of a seduction. The worrying part is that I feel as uncomfortable in the midst of this relationship (as conjured by the words) as I do in many of Shakespeare's sonnets. It feels too fantastic and too "idyllic" to be a sentiment capable of being returned. A Utopia is constructed, but its impossibility is so painful that blind eyes are turned.

Isn't that the problem with changing seasons? We are so fragile in our hope for something fantastic and exciting and luxurious. Springtime promises newness and summertime beckons with idle days of pleasure. Stuck in the fickle days of early April we expect both of these wholeheartedly, losing ourselves in plans for vacations and thoughts of leisure. But there's always a voice speaking with the gravity of experience. It reminds us of plans dampened, vacations in shambles, obliterating heat and haze, the horrible, horrible feeling of being thwarted by obligation when the days stretch long and the promise of fun fades away.

We all want a "Roman Holiday," or a Gauguin-splashed Tahitian trip, a langorous tour of the South American treasures, or a breezy New England weekend. I'll settle for some cherry blossoms in DC and a return trip to Provence, via the National Gallery.

Luxe, calme, et volupté

[Cezanne - Le Mont Sainte-Victoire 1902-04]


There's a passage in A.S. Byatt's novel Still Life in which the narrator describes a familiar feeling: the uncanny coinciding of events, motifs, phrases, and ideas, inspiring one to believe that they are being afforded a rare glimpse into the arcane workings of purpose in our world. The narrator likens it to George Eliot's mirror on which the concentric scratches radiate outward toward the candle, or to the inward-turning brushstrokes that radiate from the eye in Van Gogh's self-portraits. The ego-centrism that catches all of us at some time or another, causing one to exclaim "Me, this is a sign for me!"

This happens to me a lot, and whether that is a sign of an over-developed ego-centrism (probably) or a sign of hyper-receptivity of the signs and messages of the world (I wish) doesn't really matter. The point is that when one begins to trace out the patterns and relations of their immdediate world, there are in some sense creating a world...vivid, related, and relevant.

Still Life sparked off this current course of my thoughts, and they have culminated as a flurry of borrowed books (Mallarmé and Baudelaire, Sargent's Venetian Pictures, Fuchs' Herbal, Cezanne in Provence, the diaries of Virginia Woolf, Woolf's The Waves), a silly and predictable desire to be inspired by genius, some musing on muses, and a general taste for sun-drenched, color-flooded experiences.

The phrase that is the title of this entry is taken primarily from the composition by Matisse which in its right borrowed from a poem by Charles Baudelaire:

[Henri Matisse. Luxe, calme et volupté]
L'invitation au voyage (translation here)

Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur
D'aller là-basvivre ensemble!
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble!
Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
Si mystérieux
De tes traîtres yeux,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes. Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Des meubles luisants,
Polis par les ans,
Décoreraient notre chambre;
Les plus rares fleurs
Mêlant leurs odeurs
Aux vagues senteurs de l'ambre,
Les riches plafonds,
Les miroirs profonds,
La splendeur orientale,
Tout y parlerait
À l'âme en secret
Sa douce langue natale.
Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Vois sur ces canaux Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l'humeur est vagabonde;
C'est pour assouvir
Ton moindre désir
Qu'ils viennent du bout du monde.
Les soleils couchants
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D'hyacinthe et d'or;
Le monde s'endort
Dans une chaude lumière.
Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
— Charles Baudelaire
The Good Life: perhaps a mirage, but a perpetually compelling one nonetheless. I long for the sun-dappled groves of fragrant trees, for that salt-crusted baked feeling after the sunshine and sea that makes you paradoxically stiff and languid. I'm excited for those fantastic early days of freedom that people lose themselves in when the weather turns warm. Everyone goes a little batty, shedding layers and lingering out-of-doors.

But there's a disjunction between the Matisse posted above and what can be read between the lines of Baudelaire's poem. They are linked, but the resemblance is not as complete as it may initially appear to be.

The Matisse is a distillation of the captivating spirit of bonheur that is such an epidemic in the summertime. "Idyllic" is the word that fits. The beauty of the painting is in its wholeness of vision, tone, and meaning. It is fantastically colorful, and has a vague reality which recalls dream visions. There is no distractting irony, so worrying memento mori intruding on the viewer's rapt attention. Just "Luxe, calme, et volupte."

But the poem by Baudelaire worries me. There is an uncertainty lurking between the lines, between the words, at the back of the narrator's throat. He invokes his beloved and entreats her to travel with him to the land that resembles her. It's a simple plea, an invitation, a characteristcally sentimental entreaty at the intial moments of a seduction. The worrying part is that I feel as uncomfortable in the midst of this relationship (as conjured by the words) as I do in many of Shakespeare's sonnets. It feels too fantastic and too "idyllic" to be a sentiment capable of being returned. A Utopia is constructed, but its impossibility is so painful that blind eyes are turned.

Isn't that the problem with changing seasons? We are so fragile in our hope for something fantastic and exciting and luxurious. Springtime promises newness and summertime beckons with idle days of pleasure. Stuck in the fickle days of early April we expect both of these wholeheartedly, losing ourselves in plans for vacations and thoughts of leisure. But there's always a voice speaking with the gravity of experience. It reminds us of plans dampened, vacations in shambles, obliterating heat and haze, the horrible, horrible feeling of being thwarted by obligation when the days stretch long and the promise of fun fades away.

We all want a "Roman Holiday," or a Gauguin-splashed Tahitian trip, a langorous tour of the South American treasures, or a breezy New England weekend. I'll settle for some cherry blossoms in DC and a return trip to Provence, via the National Gallery.

The Fall of Icarus by Bruegel

[Landscape with the Fall of Icarus - Pieter Breughel ]

I had mentioned a post or two back that this painting by Bruegel has been so ubiquitous for me lately that I thought it merited its own post. Here it is. (right-click to enlarge in a different window...its worth it)

This painting is my painting. When I say that I mean that it is the piece that I could look at for long durations of time and feel at peace, yet invigorated...content with the harmony, but not content to rest idly while observing it.

It's the painting I would own above all other things (if only I could). It's the one shard of realized beauty that I would want to keep with me if all other luxuries were denied.
When my eye falls upon this painting, it works. When my mind falls on this painting it recognizes beauty. There are layers of perception here:

1:
I am suffused with color. I fall into the red that is so obviously central, so assertively commanding. But once it has done its purpose, the red moves away and the delicate golden tones take over. I look at the man's face, the profile pleases me, as does the off-center cap, the downward tilt. My eye follows the angle of his nose, moves along the most perfect pleats down to the most perfect topographical gradation. A completely harmonious-sinuous-mellifluous movement. I lose myself in the slightly-off plow, it seems to be making the earth move elastically, not like earth, but like some extended taffy-substance, smooth, pliable, resilient. I dwell in those curved furrows in the earth all day long, I luxuriate in the simplicity of their line, in their perpetual ability to move me, to activate my senses and to keep them electric. Look how the concenctric earth circles continue to echo beyond the horse.

No, wait, look at the horse! This is no mythic
Stubbs monstrosity, this is the horse in my mind: the image of plodding, diligent, work. It is cartoonish in its flatness of plane, but it is Horse to me. The horse makes me turn to the sheep. Little, perfect sheep. The sort of friendly sheep that exist in dreams or in children's books, the sort of sheep that actually frolic (and are there black sheep? a sheepdog? a shepherd?).

The "pastoral" quality isn't lost on me and I bask for a moment with those sheep, warming myself in those golden rays, capable of lighting the clearest of seas into a vivid cerulean blue. I may spend some time wondering about that seaside village off to the left, or wondering if that's a building on the island, or where those ships are headed. I think of the ships and my eye hits that immensely billowing sail. It's a gusty warm day, I imagine that strong warm breeze, lifting the sails and pushing the boats out to sea.

I might even imagine the cries of the few birds in the air, noticing that their feathers have detached themselves and floated down around the boat. I follow the feathers down. And I find legs, splashing, sinking, stuggling legs. Feathers don't come from fallen legs. Then it clicks: Sun, Wind, Feathers, Disappearing Legs. Headstrong and foolhardy was Icarus, a prodigal son who wouldn't be welcomed back.

2.
Consciousness of a painting's import (whether valid objectively or not) is arresting. Arrived at from a commentary or preconceived notion of expectation, this consciousness may not filter down from pure superficial fact to wrenching feeling. It is one thing to know what Guernica is about and quite another to feel what it is about.
I know this Bruegel now. Or do I? Now my knowledge must inform my pleasure of looking at the colors and lines and atmosphere. Now I cannot stop the nagging whisper of "why?" How can these idyllic creatures be so clueless? Or is it sill Icarus, flopping off to stage right who is distracting? Why couldn't he have listened to his father and stayed out of my lovely picture? Instead, he plunged, headlong (as Michael Frayn has helped me with) into the mix. He is there and I can't get him out. His legs are locked forever on the cusp of drowning, horrible plunged drowning. He was flying in those warm breezes that I felt for a moment, flying above sails and birds and sea. He saw that glitter-play of sunshiny-light on water. And then this...this wet, cold, Shocking moment of reality. I can't stop thinking about him. He nags at my enjoyment of this painting, and then the floodgates of "Why?" really open up.

3.
Bruegel paints Icarus into this painting for a studied reason. The beauty of not knowing this reason is that we might combine our pure sensual enjoyment of the image with this annoyingly important and frustratingly assertive Icarus story. We want to luxuriate in the pleasure of seeing, but we also crave to know the "Why" of the juxtaposition...the "Why" of the two stories needing one another to produce this one.

I have said that this painting has become ubiquitous for me. I have used it for over two years as my computer wallpaper (and I STILL love it...shows the true worth of this image for me). About two weeks ago, one of my favorite faculty members came into the library and we entered into the sort of art-historical conversation that is common to us. He mentioned having recently read Michael Frayn's novel Headlong which takes its title from this painting and involves our friend Bruegel very intimately. He carelessly referred to a poem by Auden that I didn't take the initiative to search out. About a week later, before receiving this book through inter-library loan, I was reading through the lovely FMR magazine, which I have mentioned before, and came across an article on Catherine the Great's collection of Dutch art entitled: "The Flemish Window: A picture-puzzle" by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. In it he mentions Bruegel, The Fall of Icarus, and W.H. Auden's famous poem which was not yet famous to me, but concrete enough to make me finally go and read it:

Musee des Beaux Arts
W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
1940

This poem, now known to me, enriches my initial and quotidien enjoyment of this painting. I enjoy the poem through the painting and am sorry to Auden for that. But the painting came first, it is a picture lodged in my memory and omnipotent in its power. A chain of connections is marvelous when found...and I can think of no thing I'd rather have exerting such a strong impression on me.

The Fall of Icarus by Bruegel

[Landscape with the Fall of Icarus - Pieter Breughel ]

I had mentioned a post or two back that this painting by Bruegel has been so ubiquitous for me lately that I thought it merited its own post. Here it is. (right-click to enlarge in a different window...its worth it)

This painting is my painting. When I say that I mean that it is the piece that I could look at for long durations of time and feel at peace, yet invigorated...content with the harmony, but not content to rest idly while observing it.

It's the painting I would own above all other things (if only I could). It's the one shard of realized beauty that I would want to keep with me if all other luxuries were denied.
When my eye falls upon this painting, it works. When my mind falls on this painting it recognizes beauty. There are layers of perception here:

1:
I am suffused with color. I fall into the red that is so obviously central, so assertively commanding. But once it has done its purpose, the red moves away and the delicate golden tones take over. I look at the man's face, the profile pleases me, as does the off-center cap, the downward tilt. My eye follows the angle of his nose, moves along the most perfect pleats down to the most perfect topographical gradation. A completely harmonious-sinuous-mellifluous movement. I lose myself in the slightly-off plow, it seems to be making the earth move elastically, not like earth, but like some extended taffy-substance, smooth, pliable, resilient. I dwell in those curved furrows in the earth all day long, I luxuriate in the simplicity of their line, in their perpetual ability to move me, to activate my senses and to keep them electric. Look how the concenctric earth circles continue to echo beyond the horse.

No, wait, look at the horse! This is no mythic
Stubbs monstrosity, this is the horse in my mind: the image of plodding, diligent, work. It is cartoonish in its flatness of plane, but it is Horse to me. The horse makes me turn to the sheep. Little, perfect sheep. The sort of friendly sheep that exist in dreams or in children's books, the sort of sheep that actually frolic (and are there black sheep? a sheepdog? a shepherd?).

The "pastoral" quality isn't lost on me and I bask for a moment with those sheep, warming myself in those golden rays, capable of lighting the clearest of seas into a vivid cerulean blue. I may spend some time wondering about that seaside village off to the left, or wondering if that's a building on the island, or where those ships are headed. I think of the ships and my eye hits that immensely billowing sail. It's a gusty warm day, I imagine that strong warm breeze, lifting the sails and pushing the boats out to sea.

I might even imagine the cries of the few birds in the air, noticing that their feathers have detached themselves and floated down around the boat. I follow the feathers down. And I find legs, splashing, sinking, stuggling legs. Feathers don't come from fallen legs. Then it clicks: Sun, Wind, Feathers, Disappearing Legs. Headstrong and foolhardy was Icarus, a prodigal son who wouldn't be welcomed back.

2.
Consciousness of a painting's import (whether valid objectively or not) is arresting. Arrived at from a commentary or preconceived notion of expectation, this consciousness may not filter down from pure superficial fact to wrenching feeling. It is one thing to know what Guernica is about and quite another to feel what it is about.
I know this Bruegel now. Or do I? Now my knowledge must inform my pleasure of looking at the colors and lines and atmosphere. Now I cannot stop the nagging whisper of "why?" How can these idyllic creatures be so clueless? Or is it sill Icarus, flopping off to stage right who is distracting? Why couldn't he have listened to his father and stayed out of my lovely picture? Instead, he plunged, headlong (as Michael Frayn has helped me with) into the mix. He is there and I can't get him out. His legs are locked forever on the cusp of drowning, horrible plunged drowning. He was flying in those warm breezes that I felt for a moment, flying above sails and birds and sea. He saw that glitter-play of sunshiny-light on water. And then this...this wet, cold, Shocking moment of reality. I can't stop thinking about him. He nags at my enjoyment of this painting, and then the floodgates of "Why?" really open up.

3.
Bruegel paints Icarus into this painting for a studied reason. The beauty of not knowing this reason is that we might combine our pure sensual enjoyment of the image with this annoyingly important and frustratingly assertive Icarus story. We want to luxuriate in the pleasure of seeing, but we also crave to know the "Why" of the juxtaposition...the "Why" of the two stories needing one another to produce this one.

I have said that this painting has become ubiquitous for me. I have used it for over two years as my computer wallpaper (and I STILL love it...shows the true worth of this image for me). About two weeks ago, one of my favorite faculty members came into the library and we entered into the sort of art-historical conversation that is common to us. He mentioned having recently read Michael Frayn's novel Headlong which takes its title from this painting and involves our friend Bruegel very intimately. He carelessly referred to a poem by Auden that I didn't take the initiative to search out. About a week later, before receiving this book through inter-library loan, I was reading through the lovely FMR magazine, which I have mentioned before, and came across an article on Catherine the Great's collection of Dutch art entitled: "The Flemish Window: A picture-puzzle" by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. In it he mentions Bruegel, The Fall of Icarus, and W.H. Auden's famous poem which was not yet famous to me, but concrete enough to make me finally go and read it:

Musee des Beaux Arts
W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
1940

This poem, now known to me, enriches my initial and quotidien enjoyment of this painting. I enjoy the poem through the painting and am sorry to Auden for that. But the painting came first, it is a picture lodged in my memory and omnipotent in its power. A chain of connections is marvelous when found...and I can think of no thing I'd rather have exerting such a strong impression on me.

On Lucy Snowe, or Confessions of a Bronte-phile

As I am reading St. Augustine's Confessions at the moment, excuse me if I get a little too into the spirit of revelation.

I was fortunate enough to spend a proportion of months living in London as one of those ubiquitous study-abroad-ers. Along with developing serious Anglo-philia, I also returned to the States as a card-carrying member of the Bronte society. My love of the Brontes began early and progressed at a fever pitch upon returning from England.

I can remember where I was when I first turned the pages of Jane Eyre: I must have been about 13, at my brother's soccer game. We frequently did this sort of trade-off (everyone would trek to my swim meets and sit sticky and chlorinated to watch me swim for about 3 cumulative minutes; I would hunker on cold metal bleachers with a book and a half-hearted scowl). I remember that is was warm, that the grass was itchy, that there was a leaf as a bookmark. I remember Jane and Mr. Rochester and crying and not knowing why it was that Jane's cries moved me so much.

I also remember the first time I read Wuthering Heights. It was summertime and I was a part-time lifeguard/ part-time participant of early early morning swim practices. We would be required to plunge into that cold pool well before daylight, swim through sunrise, and climb out when the lawnmowers had started up and the sun grew strong. On the days I didn't botch the pool readings so that the swimmers could be sent home, I would sit in the little pool office with Heathcliff and Cathy and Catherine, trying to understand a world I had never before imagined: passion, wild wild nature, cold that chilled your soul and emotions that cracked it open.

[Ruisdael: Landscape with Waterfall and Church]


I was prime for Bronte-philia when I arrived in London...and took a vivid and wonderful trip to Haworth to walk in the steps of my beloved family (as well as the hordes of Japanese tourists who had got there first).

Since those early experiences, I had re-read both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights multiple times, found some of the Juvenilia, picked up Shirley, discovered Anne's tales, and fallen in love with Villette. Villette is my great literary romance. Lucy Snowe is the great enigma of my reading past. I encounter the pages of this book with a Sortes Vergilianae sort of holy anticipation.

Lucy Snowe possesses some of my favorite lines in all literature. She is at turns retiring and shadowy, fierce and resilient, witty and sarcastic, highly suspicious, highly romantic, passionately pragmatic. She is the most complicated woman I have ever encountered. She exalts herself and defeats herself and in the end triumphs over her enemies in a way only she can see.

But all of this is a prelude to what I was intending to write. I could quote at length from Villette, I am fascinated by the supernatural aspects: the phantoms, the ghostly fiances, Mme Walravens, stormy disturbances, total annihilation of spirit.

But I am also fascniated by Lucy's interior battle of wanting to remain in shadow and wanting to be lit up in brilliance. Before Mme Beck's fete, the girls of the pensionerre at which she is a English maitresse assemble to be coiffed, dressed and arrayed. Lucy is swept up in their activities and offers these reflections:

In beholding this diaphanous and snowy mass, I well remember feeling myself to be a mere shadowy spot on a field of light; the courage was not in me to put on a transparent white dress: something thin I must wear - the weather and rooms being too hot to give substantial fabrics sufferance, so I had sought through a dozen shops till I lit upon a crape-like material of purple-gray - the colour, in short, of dun mist, lying on a moor in bloom. My tailleuse had kindly made it as well as she could: because, as she judiciously observed, it was 'si triste - si peu voyant', care in the fashion was the more imperative: it was well she took this view of the matter, for I had no flower, no jewel to relieve it: and, what was more, I had no natural rose of complexion.

We become oblivious of these deficiencies in the uniform routine of daily drudgery, but they will force upon us their unwelcome blank on those bright occasions when beauty should shine.

However, in this same gown of shadow, I felt at home and at ease; an advantage I should not have enjoyed in anything more brilliant or striking.


[Sargent: Venetian Interior]

Shadows will haunt Lucy throughtout this story. She is forever struggling to maintain her anonymity while asserting her brilliance. How is a woman of her strength of mind and steadfastness of conviction supposed to manage these warring tendencies? She is comfortable in her "gown of shadow" comfortable so long as it is of her own choice. She speaks much later of an offer made to her to be the companion of a much-loved young lady. She declines this offer saying:

I was no bright lady's shadow - not Miss de Bassompierre's. Overcast enough it was my nature often to be; of a subdued habit I was: but the dimness and depression must both be voluntary - such as kept me docile at my desk, in the midst of my now well-accustomed pupils in Madame Beck's first classe; or alone, at my own bedside, in her dormitory, or in the alley and seat which were called mine, in her garden: my qualifications were not convertible, nor adaptable; they could not be made the foil of any gem, the adjunct of any beauty, the appendage of any greatness in Christendom.


A shadowy nature imposed on her is repugnant. When Graham, the golden idol of her heart calls her an "inoffensive shadow," she remarks:

I smiled; but I also hushed a groan. Oh! - I just wished he would let me alone - cease allusion to me. These epithets - these attributes I put from me. His 'quiet Lucy Snowe,' his 'inoffensive shadow,' I gave him back; not with scorn, but with extreme weariness: theirs was the coldness and the pressure of lead: let him whelm me with no such weight.


[Sargent: Street in Venice]

Something interesting happens when Lucy dons a dress of not-so-misty color. Upon going to a concert with Graham and his mother she is given a new dress, a horrifyingly pink dress. She balks, turns stubborn, and finds herself bedecked in a "splendor" that terrifies her:

I thought I should not: I thought no human force should avail to put me into it. A pink dress! I knew it not. It knew not me. I had not proved it.

Without any force at all, I found myself led and influenced by another's will, unconsulted, unpersuaded, quietly over-ruled. In short, the pink dress went on, softened by some drapery of black lace. I was pronounced to be en grande ténue, and requested to look in the glass. I did so with some fear and trembling; with more fear and trembling, I turned away. Seven o'clock struck; Dr. Bretton was come; my godmother and I went down. She was clad in brown velvet; as I walked in her shadow, how I envied her those folds of grave, dark majesty!

Graham stood in the drawing-room doorway.

'I do hope he will not think I have been decking myself out to draw attention,' was my uneasy
aspiration.

'Here, Lucy, are some flowers,' said he, giving me a bouquet. He took no further notice of my dress than was conveyed in a kind smile and satisfied nod, which calmed at once my sense of shame and fear of ridicule. For the rest, the dress was made with extreme simplicity, guiltless of flounce or furbelow; it was but the light fabric and bright tint which scared me, and since Graham found in it nothing absurd, my own eye consented soon to become reconciled.

How scared she is! Yet so hopeful at the same time. She is comforted by the obscuring black lace but holds back with anticipation for Graham's response. She hates to be thought of as displaying her plumage, but Graham's approval allows her to see the dressas an acceptable garment and not a frightful costume.

Lucy's battle can be summed up in one heart-rending internal monolgue. She loves Graham but she is an orphan, a schoolteacher, without beauty, without fortune, without those charms which are a woman's only comfort. She yearns to hope for passion and feeling, she yearns to hope for a letter from Graham:

'If,' muttered Reason, 'if he should write, what then? Do you meditate pleasure in replying? Ah, fool! I warn you! Brief be your answer. Hope no delight of heart - no indulgence of intellect: grant no expansion to feeling - give holiday to no single faculty: dally with no friendly exchange: foster no genial inter-communion. . . .'

'But,' I again broke in, 'where the bodily presence is weak and the speech contemptible, surely there cannot be error in making written language the medium of better utterance than faltering lips can achieve?'

Reason only answered, 'At your peril you cherish that idea, or suffer its influence to animate any writing of yours!'

But if I feel, may I never express?'

Never!' declared Reason.

I groaned under her bitter sternness. Never - never - oh, hard word! This hag, this Reason, would not let me look up, or smile, or hope: she could not rest unless I were altogether crushed, cowed, broken in and broken down.


I think it may be time to thumb these well-worn pages once again.

On Lucy Snowe, or Confessions of a Bronte-phile

As I am reading St. Augustine's Confessions at the moment, excuse me if I get a little too into the spirit of revelation.

I was fortunate enough to spend a proportion of months living in London as one of those ubiquitous study-abroad-ers. Along with developing serious Anglo-philia, I also returned to the States as a card-carrying member of the Bronte society. My love of the Brontes began early and progressed at a fever pitch upon returning from England.

I can remember where I was when I first turned the pages of Jane Eyre: I must have been about 13, at my brother's soccer game. We frequently did this sort of trade-off (everyone would trek to my swim meets and sit sticky and chlorinated to watch me swim for about 3 cumulative minutes; I would hunker on cold metal bleachers with a book and a half-hearted scowl). I remember that is was warm, that the grass was itchy, that there was a leaf as a bookmark. I remember Jane and Mr. Rochester and crying and not knowing why it was that Jane's cries moved me so much.

I also remember the first time I read Wuthering Heights. It was summertime and I was a part-time lifeguard/ part-time participant of early early morning swim practices. We would be required to plunge into that cold pool well before daylight, swim through sunrise, and climb out when the lawnmowers had started up and the sun grew strong. On the days I didn't botch the pool readings so that the swimmers could be sent home, I would sit in the little pool office with Heathcliff and Cathy and Catherine, trying to understand a world I had never before imagined: passion, wild wild nature, cold that chilled your soul and emotions that cracked it open.

[Ruisdael: Landscape with Waterfall and Church]


I was prime for Bronte-philia when I arrived in London...and took a vivid and wonderful trip to Haworth to walk in the steps of my beloved family (as well as the hordes of Japanese tourists who had got there first).

Since those early experiences, I had re-read both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights multiple times, found some of the Juvenilia, picked up Shirley, discovered Anne's tales, and fallen in love with Villette. Villette is my great literary romance. Lucy Snowe is the great enigma of my reading past. I encounter the pages of this book with a Sortes Vergilianae sort of holy anticipation.

Lucy Snowe possesses some of my favorite lines in all literature. She is at turns retiring and shadowy, fierce and resilient, witty and sarcastic, highly suspicious, highly romantic, passionately pragmatic. She is the most complicated woman I have ever encountered. She exalts herself and defeats herself and in the end triumphs over her enemies in a way only she can see.

But all of this is a prelude to what I was intending to write. I could quote at length from Villette, I am fascinated by the supernatural aspects: the phantoms, the ghostly fiances, Mme Walravens, stormy disturbances, total annihilation of spirit.

But I am also fascniated by Lucy's interior battle of wanting to remain in shadow and wanting to be lit up in brilliance. Before Mme Beck's fete, the girls of the pensionerre at which she is a English maitresse assemble to be coiffed, dressed and arrayed. Lucy is swept up in their activities and offers these reflections:

In beholding this diaphanous and snowy mass, I well remember feeling myself to be a mere shadowy spot on a field of light; the courage was not in me to put on a transparent white dress: something thin I must wear - the weather and rooms being too hot to give substantial fabrics sufferance, so I had sought through a dozen shops till I lit upon a crape-like material of purple-gray - the colour, in short, of dun mist, lying on a moor in bloom. My tailleuse had kindly made it as well as she could: because, as she judiciously observed, it was 'si triste - si peu voyant', care in the fashion was the more imperative: it was well she took this view of the matter, for I had no flower, no jewel to relieve it: and, what was more, I had no natural rose of complexion.

We become oblivious of these deficiencies in the uniform routine of daily drudgery, but they will force upon us their unwelcome blank on those bright occasions when beauty should shine.

However, in this same gown of shadow, I felt at home and at ease; an advantage I should not have enjoyed in anything more brilliant or striking.


[Sargent: Venetian Interior]

Shadows will haunt Lucy throughtout this story. She is forever struggling to maintain her anonymity while asserting her brilliance. How is a woman of her strength of mind and steadfastness of conviction supposed to manage these warring tendencies? She is comfortable in her "gown of shadow" comfortable so long as it is of her own choice. She speaks much later of an offer made to her to be the companion of a much-loved young lady. She declines this offer saying:

I was no bright lady's shadow - not Miss de Bassompierre's. Overcast enough it was my nature often to be; of a subdued habit I was: but the dimness and depression must both be voluntary - such as kept me docile at my desk, in the midst of my now well-accustomed pupils in Madame Beck's first classe; or alone, at my own bedside, in her dormitory, or in the alley and seat which were called mine, in her garden: my qualifications were not convertible, nor adaptable; they could not be made the foil of any gem, the adjunct of any beauty, the appendage of any greatness in Christendom.


A shadowy nature imposed on her is repugnant. When Graham, the golden idol of her heart calls her an "inoffensive shadow," she remarks:

I smiled; but I also hushed a groan. Oh! - I just wished he would let me alone - cease allusion to me. These epithets - these attributes I put from me. His 'quiet Lucy Snowe,' his 'inoffensive shadow,' I gave him back; not with scorn, but with extreme weariness: theirs was the coldness and the pressure of lead: let him whelm me with no such weight.


[Sargent: Street in Venice]

Something interesting happens when Lucy dons a dress of not-so-misty color. Upon going to a concert with Graham and his mother she is given a new dress, a horrifyingly pink dress. She balks, turns stubborn, and finds herself bedecked in a "splendor" that terrifies her:

I thought I should not: I thought no human force should avail to put me into it. A pink dress! I knew it not. It knew not me. I had not proved it.

Without any force at all, I found myself led and influenced by another's will, unconsulted, unpersuaded, quietly over-ruled. In short, the pink dress went on, softened by some drapery of black lace. I was pronounced to be en grande ténue, and requested to look in the glass. I did so with some fear and trembling; with more fear and trembling, I turned away. Seven o'clock struck; Dr. Bretton was come; my godmother and I went down. She was clad in brown velvet; as I walked in her shadow, how I envied her those folds of grave, dark majesty!

Graham stood in the drawing-room doorway.

'I do hope he will not think I have been decking myself out to draw attention,' was my uneasy
aspiration.

'Here, Lucy, are some flowers,' said he, giving me a bouquet. He took no further notice of my dress than was conveyed in a kind smile and satisfied nod, which calmed at once my sense of shame and fear of ridicule. For the rest, the dress was made with extreme simplicity, guiltless of flounce or furbelow; it was but the light fabric and bright tint which scared me, and since Graham found in it nothing absurd, my own eye consented soon to become reconciled.

How scared she is! Yet so hopeful at the same time. She is comforted by the obscuring black lace but holds back with anticipation for Graham's response. She hates to be thought of as displaying her plumage, but Graham's approval allows her to see the dressas an acceptable garment and not a frightful costume.

Lucy's battle can be summed up in one heart-rending internal monolgue. She loves Graham but she is an orphan, a schoolteacher, without beauty, without fortune, without those charms which are a woman's only comfort. She yearns to hope for passion and feeling, she yearns to hope for a letter from Graham:

'If,' muttered Reason, 'if he should write, what then? Do you meditate pleasure in replying? Ah, fool! I warn you! Brief be your answer. Hope no delight of heart - no indulgence of intellect: grant no expansion to feeling - give holiday to no single faculty: dally with no friendly exchange: foster no genial inter-communion. . . .'

'But,' I again broke in, 'where the bodily presence is weak and the speech contemptible, surely there cannot be error in making written language the medium of better utterance than faltering lips can achieve?'

Reason only answered, 'At your peril you cherish that idea, or suffer its influence to animate any writing of yours!'

But if I feel, may I never express?'

Never!' declared Reason.

I groaned under her bitter sternness. Never - never - oh, hard word! This hag, this Reason, would not let me look up, or smile, or hope: she could not rest unless I were altogether crushed, cowed, broken in and broken down.


I think it may be time to thumb these well-worn pages once again.

The gossamer thread of "now"

(What follows could rightfully be called a "hodgepodge." Warning has been given.)

[Sargent's Street in Venice]

But she’s no more aware of her beauty than a child,” said Mr Bankes, replacing the receiver and crossing the room to see what progress the workmen were making with an hotel which they were building at the back of his house. And he thought of Mrs Ramsay as he looked at that stir among the unfinished walls. For always, he thought, there was something incongruous to be worked into the harmony of her face. She clapped a deer-stalker’s hat on her head; she ran across the lawn in galoshes to snatch a child from mischief. So that if it was her beauty merely that one thought of, one must remember the quivering thing, the living thing (they were carrying bricks up a little plank as he watched them), and work it into the picture; or if one thought of her simply as a woman, one must endow her with some freak of idiosyncrasy—she did not like admiration—or suppose some latent desire to doff her royalty of form as if her beauty bored her and all that men say of beauty, and she wanted only to be like other people, insignificant. He did not know. He did not know. He must go to his work.

~To the Lighthouse

I was speaking with someone the other day about my impressions of the currently running Whitney Biennial, he had asked me what I thought, and though there was much that had made me think and wonder and feel very encouraged, the first and most intense impression of the large and a bit overwhelming exhibit was the art by Jennie Smith.

I was positively entranced by her little creatures and delicate colors, whisked away by them to some world where Charlotte and her web coexisted happily alongside Gorey-like stories and a Virginia Woolf penseroso breeze.

I realized that her images recalled a nexus of impressions that represented my most fancifully ideal springtime season: kite-worthy breezes, smells that taste like colors, innocent urges to run or wander or plunge. It's as if my nostalgia, rooted in a childhood of make-believe, Nature, and imaginative worlds, forgets that it's nostalgia and becomes, for a time, anticipation. The surge of past experience is felt as present and cannot help but influence that present.

This is where Charlotte's Web becomes a big ol' metaphor.

The Web is so wonderful because it is the network of threads tying the glories of a childhood-as-remembered to a life-as-active. My childhood isn't the web, but the web is my memory of all that has occured; a delicate and easily tangled thing of utter beauty. All along the length of my web can be found experiences: thoughts, conversations, emotions, encounters with books and works of art. (I've always played with the idea of my autobiography being found in the history of the texts that I was drawn to and lived through...life as the integration of a particular fiction with personal reality).

If I were to pluck the current thread of my life, these are some of the vibrations you would hear:

Dorothea Brooke and Isabel Archer
Sargent's Street in Venice
Woolf's To the Lighthouse
Scrolls of wrought iron
Edward Gorey's illustrations (dark for spring, but there you have it)
Bruegel's Fall of Icarus (which merits its own post in the near future)
Creative construction vs. the concept of ruins
and perserverance.
Borges' Labyrinths and Calvino's Invisible Cities

Who can accurately trace out enough of what is certain so that they can discern what remains as potential? A.N. Whitehead (the philosopher responsible for much of what I am reading nowadays) writes that it is in the empty space, the space between reality and activity, that we find the shadowy and unfathomable depths of novelty. Creativity darts through those recesses and brings to the surface originality. Our experience, taken at its grandest scale, continues to grow, deepen, proliferate.

"True" art, if we must make a distinction, is novelty at its greatest. In the labyrinthine world of reality and possibility, art, in any of its forms, lights a new path of sensing, experiencing, or understanding.

The gossamer thread of "now"

(What follows could rightfully be called a "hodgepodge." Warning has been given.)

[Sargent's Street in Venice]

But she’s no more aware of her beauty than a child,” said Mr Bankes, replacing the receiver and crossing the room to see what progress the workmen were making with an hotel which they were building at the back of his house. And he thought of Mrs Ramsay as he looked at that stir among the unfinished walls. For always, he thought, there was something incongruous to be worked into the harmony of her face. She clapped a deer-stalker’s hat on her head; she ran across the lawn in galoshes to snatch a child from mischief. So that if it was her beauty merely that one thought of, one must remember the quivering thing, the living thing (they were carrying bricks up a little plank as he watched them), and work it into the picture; or if one thought of her simply as a woman, one must endow her with some freak of idiosyncrasy—she did not like admiration—or suppose some latent desire to doff her royalty of form as if her beauty bored her and all that men say of beauty, and she wanted only to be like other people, insignificant. He did not know. He did not know. He must go to his work.

~To the Lighthouse

I was speaking with someone the other day about my impressions of the currently running Whitney Biennial, he had asked me what I thought, and though there was much that had made me think and wonder and feel very encouraged, the first and most intense impression of the large and a bit overwhelming exhibit was the art by Jennie Smith.

I was positively entranced by her little creatures and delicate colors, whisked away by them to some world where Charlotte and her web coexisted happily alongside Gorey-like stories and a Virginia Woolf penseroso breeze.

I realized that her images recalled a nexus of impressions that represented my most fancifully ideal springtime season: kite-worthy breezes, smells that taste like colors, innocent urges to run or wander or plunge. It's as if my nostalgia, rooted in a childhood of make-believe, Nature, and imaginative worlds, forgets that it's nostalgia and becomes, for a time, anticipation. The surge of past experience is felt as present and cannot help but influence that present.

This is where Charlotte's Web becomes a big ol' metaphor.

The Web is so wonderful because it is the network of threads tying the glories of a childhood-as-remembered to a life-as-active. My childhood isn't the web, but the web is my memory of all that has occured; a delicate and easily tangled thing of utter beauty. All along the length of my web can be found experiences: thoughts, conversations, emotions, encounters with books and works of art. (I've always played with the idea of my autobiography being found in the history of the texts that I was drawn to and lived through...life as the integration of a particular fiction with personal reality).

If I were to pluck the current thread of my life, these are some of the vibrations you would hear:

Dorothea Brooke and Isabel Archer
Sargent's Street in Venice
Woolf's To the Lighthouse
Scrolls of wrought iron
Edward Gorey's illustrations (dark for spring, but there you have it)
Bruegel's Fall of Icarus (which merits its own post in the near future)
Creative construction vs. the concept of ruins
and perserverance.
Borges' Labyrinths and Calvino's Invisible Cities

Who can accurately trace out enough of what is certain so that they can discern what remains as potential? A.N. Whitehead (the philosopher responsible for much of what I am reading nowadays) writes that it is in the empty space, the space between reality and activity, that we find the shadowy and unfathomable depths of novelty. Creativity darts through those recesses and brings to the surface originality. Our experience, taken at its grandest scale, continues to grow, deepen, proliferate.

"True" art, if we must make a distinction, is novelty at its greatest. In the labyrinthine world of reality and possibility, art, in any of its forms, lights a new path of sensing, experiencing, or understanding.

Paris Fashion Week : Wrap-up

Some favorites from Paris FW :

YSL: Stefano just does it for me, and so does Irina. She makes this dress (which on Vlada or Doutzen, etc would look entirely different), it's not frilly or poufy but straight up gorgeous, delicate, and a little bit dark.



A. McQueen:

Simply the most dramatic show of the season and heartily welcome after scary-skinny gladiators of last season.

A yummy mix of couture details and beauty: decadent dresses, tweedy English romance, falconry and millinery (!), hologramic Kate Moss, and a collective, continued intake of breath



Dries van Noten:

Easily my favorite runway (as runway); as always the prints were perfection and the pieces were the sort that you want to have forever, not for a one-night stand



Sophia Kokosalakai:

Definitely darker than previous collections, and suspiciously lacking a profusion of knotted, twisted, draped chiffon. I loved the pieces that reminded me of her past collections, like this dress with its beautiful knotted hem- and neckline, and the fashion-forward shape.



Louis Vuitton:

I'm not as much of a MARC!!!!!! fan as many, but his draping at Marc Jacobs was beautiful and made me want to be Katherine Hepburn and comfortable, and his coats at LV were jaw-dropping:


(all images: style.com)

There was more, but isn't there always when it comes to fashion? Sometimes (most of the time) I'd rather read the testimonies of those people who sit a bit more still and amass an actual "look," not a phony sort of look, a "signature style" encouraged by glossies and sales reps, but a true outpouring of one's aesthetic emotions and intellectual convictions...if that's even possible.

Fashion Week always begins rapturously and ends with me a bit sick to my stomach.

Paris Fashion Week : Wrap-up

Some favorites from Paris FW :

YSL: Stefano just does it for me, and so does Irina. She makes this dress (which on Vlada or Doutzen, etc would look entirely different), it's not frilly or poufy but straight up gorgeous, delicate, and a little bit dark.



A. McQueen:

Simply the most dramatic show of the season and heartily welcome after scary-skinny gladiators of last season.

A yummy mix of couture details and beauty: decadent dresses, tweedy English romance, falconry and millinery (!), hologramic Kate Moss, and a collective, continued intake of breath



Dries van Noten:

Easily my favorite runway (as runway); as always the prints were perfection and the pieces were the sort that you want to have forever, not for a one-night stand



Sophia Kokosalakai:

Definitely darker than previous collections, and suspiciously lacking a profusion of knotted, twisted, draped chiffon. I loved the pieces that reminded me of her past collections, like this dress with its beautiful knotted hem- and neckline, and the fashion-forward shape.



Louis Vuitton:

I'm not as much of a MARC!!!!!! fan as many, but his draping at Marc Jacobs was beautiful and made me want to be Katherine Hepburn and comfortable, and his coats at LV were jaw-dropping:


(all images: style.com)

There was more, but isn't there always when it comes to fashion? Sometimes (most of the time) I'd rather read the testimonies of those people who sit a bit more still and amass an actual "look," not a phony sort of look, a "signature style" encouraged by glossies and sales reps, but a true outpouring of one's aesthetic emotions and intellectual convictions...if that's even possible.

Fashion Week always begins rapturously and ends with me a bit sick to my stomach.

Interlude: FMR, "The most beautiful magazine in the world"

I discovered FMR, the magazine of Franco Maria Ricci, while doing a walkthrought of the periodicals section of the library where I work. It had been mentioned to me previously by a lovely woman, the wife of one of the professors at the College who had art history interests herself.

I picked up a few volumes and WOW, this is one scrumptious publication. It features articles and full page enormous printings of the art being discussed. The artists and works featured are many and varied. Volume 29, which I have just finished, features :

  • Ladies of the Court: Fontainebleu
  • The Face of Yemen
  • Mr. Tiffany's Lamps
  • Those Obscure Objects of Design: Fornasetti
  • Fragrant, Flagrant Fragonard

When I first opened this volume, I found myself staring at this:

Not an easy image to look at on the subway (which is where I unfortunately happened to be) but still a gorgeous two-page spread of the painting. The publication is filled with these, and its self-proclaimed superlative: "The most beautiful magazine in the world," is justified.

The most fantastic part about this publication is the writing they have selected to go along with the art. Generally, for every art "topic," there are two writing pieces that accompany it. These pieces vary greatly: one may be a short dedicatory passage taken from a contemporary of the artist; one may be a mid-length scholarly or biographical essay from a current writer; one may be an idiosyncratic writing contemporary to the artists and of as much interest in and of itself to us.

Accompanying the Fragonard piece in volume 29 was a variety of images that were selected to support the exhibit of Fragonard's work being held at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais at a time current with this publication. Also included was a short passage from Pierre Rosenberg who was chief curator of the Louvre's Department of Paintings, and a wonderful essay titled: "Poet of the bed-chamber" by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt which was first published in an article in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1865.

In 1865 they wrote:

The last century had no poets; I do not mean rhymers, versifiers, word-spinners; I say poets advisedly. Poetry in the noblest and most profound sense of the term, poetry which is creation through imagery, poetry which is an enchantment, an enhancement of the imagination, an ideal of pensive meditation or smiling delight offered to the human mind, that poetry which lifts us from the earth, with throbbing wings, the spirit of an age, the soul of a people, such poetry was unknown in eighteenth-century France; her two poets, the only two, were painters: Watteau and Fragonard.

And thus are we allowed to enter into the thoughts of a contemporary of the artist, being given both image, primary source account, and contemporary-to-us commentary.

Designboom has a good page dedicated to the man behind the magazine, I have just begun to explore some of this information and it is fascinating that someone so "Renaissance-man" in their talents and interests still exists. The magazine is still published, and for a pretty penny you can subscribe (159.50 for a year of six volumes)

Here's a link to the interview they did with the man himself:

http://www.designboom.com/eng/interview/ricci.html

One more fascinating thing: Fornasetti, a new designer to me, is discussed in this volume as well.

Here is a link to a bit of information on him, also housed at Designboom, and the following link is to a page where you can purchase products designed by Fornasetti.

http://www.designboom.com/world/fornasetti/index.html

http://minimadesign.com/gallery.asp?gallery=Fornasetti

I've only read through 4 of the many volumes of this magazine...and already there are so many interesting avenues revealed to me that i hardly know which to explore.

Interlude: FMR, "The most beautiful magazine in the world"

I discovered FMR, the magazine of Franco Maria Ricci, while doing a walkthrought of the periodicals section of the library where I work. It had been mentioned to me previously by a lovely woman, the wife of one of the professors at the College who had art history interests herself.

I picked up a few volumes and WOW, this is one scrumptious publication. It features articles and full page enormous printings of the art being discussed. The artists and works featured are many and varied. Volume 29, which I have just finished, features :

  • Ladies of the Court: Fontainebleu
  • The Face of Yemen
  • Mr. Tiffany's Lamps
  • Those Obscure Objects of Design: Fornasetti
  • Fragrant, Flagrant Fragonard

When I first opened this volume, I found myself staring at this:

Not an easy image to look at on the subway (which is where I unfortunately happened to be) but still a gorgeous two-page spread of the painting. The publication is filled with these, and its self-proclaimed superlative: "The most beautiful magazine in the world," is justified.

The most fantastic part about this publication is the writing they have selected to go along with the art. Generally, for every art "topic," there are two writing pieces that accompany it. These pieces vary greatly: one may be a short dedicatory passage taken from a contemporary of the artist; one may be a mid-length scholarly or biographical essay from a current writer; one may be an idiosyncratic writing contemporary to the artists and of as much interest in and of itself to us.

Accompanying the Fragonard piece in volume 29 was a variety of images that were selected to support the exhibit of Fragonard's work being held at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais at a time current with this publication. Also included was a short passage from Pierre Rosenberg who was chief curator of the Louvre's Department of Paintings, and a wonderful essay titled: "Poet of the bed-chamber" by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt which was first published in an article in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1865.

In 1865 they wrote:

The last century had no poets; I do not mean rhymers, versifiers, word-spinners; I say poets advisedly. Poetry in the noblest and most profound sense of the term, poetry which is creation through imagery, poetry which is an enchantment, an enhancement of the imagination, an ideal of pensive meditation or smiling delight offered to the human mind, that poetry which lifts us from the earth, with throbbing wings, the spirit of an age, the soul of a people, such poetry was unknown in eighteenth-century France; her two poets, the only two, were painters: Watteau and Fragonard.

And thus are we allowed to enter into the thoughts of a contemporary of the artist, being given both image, primary source account, and contemporary-to-us commentary.

Designboom has a good page dedicated to the man behind the magazine, I have just begun to explore some of this information and it is fascinating that someone so "Renaissance-man" in their talents and interests still exists. The magazine is still published, and for a pretty penny you can subscribe (159.50 for a year of six volumes)

Here's a link to the interview they did with the man himself:

http://www.designboom.com/eng/interview/ricci.html

One more fascinating thing: Fornasetti, a new designer to me, is discussed in this volume as well.

Here is a link to a bit of information on him, also housed at Designboom, and the following link is to a page where you can purchase products designed by Fornasetti.

http://www.designboom.com/world/fornasetti/index.html

http://minimadesign.com/gallery.asp?gallery=Fornasetti

I've only read through 4 of the many volumes of this magazine...and already there are so many interesting avenues revealed to me that i hardly know which to explore.