onto the stage to talk not only about her role in the most recent picture from December 2012 Flying Down to Rio, but also to recount how they had worked together over twenty years ago, before marriage, before children, and why she decided to pose again after such a long gap.
Posts Tagged ‘old masters’
Venus of the Sherds 2005
One of the greatest paintings of the Renaissance, Sleeping Venus is an unusual, not to say mysterious work, even for an out of the ordinary painter like Giorgione. The work was unfinished on his death at 34 of plague to be completed by Titian who then went on to paint similar Venuses of his own. Many of Giorgione’s paintings are full of arcane symbolism carried out for unknown patrons deeply immersed in Hermeticism – the Sleeping Venus is no exception with its leaden sky, and its veiled references to foreseeing the future.
This was one of the paintings that I absolutely had to do, but where was I to find my own Venus? None of the women who had come forward for the original casting remotely fitted the bill until one evening quite by chance I met Arianna, a lawyer from the tiny republic of San Marino. What is more, not only did she have the right face and the right figure, but she was also a keen cyclist providing her own red Cannondale racing bike (so expensive she was unwilling to tell me how much it cost!) to lean against the rock in the photo.
So Arianna was perfect, but what about the landscape? In the original painting the landscape was very important , in fact Giorgione was one of the first painters to place figures in a genuine rather than a stylised landscape. In Sleeping Venus the sky is oppressive, the atmosphere threatening, the effect is mysterious. The slightly sinister outline of San Marino high on an escarpment reminded me of the painting. The miniscule republic, famous as a fiscal paradise, has massive banks and is currently under seige from the European Union. I drove around the valley below until I happened upon a rock, just like the original, surrounded by the rubble of a demolished farm building. San Marino with its distinctive fairy tale trio of castles is perched on the mountain in the distance – but on the ridge below can be seen silhouetted against a livid sky, the concrete buildings, cranes and pylons of a monstrous modernity laying siege to the enchanted city above.
The model. Arianna and I met quite by chance in Rimini. I had gone up there from Rome to meet a new model who stood me up (I was cheesed off to say the least) but as I had my portfolio with me I cheekily went up to a pretty woman who was at a table nearby in the café – that’s how we met. I took this snap that evening.
Make-up: Simonetta Baletti of Art and Make-up
This is the second photograph I have done based on Ingres’ Grande Odalisque (the other is Casalisca). Ingres is one of those artists who can give a certain comfort to artists who have passed middle age as several of his most famous works were painted towards the end of long life. The Turkish Bath for instance, which in the nineteen-sixties at the height of psychedelia, was the source for the cover of Jimmy Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland.
It is one of his most sensual and famous works and was painted at the age of eighty-two!
One of the reasons I feel drawn to Ingres is because we share an interest in beautiful fabrics. He, like Tissot later on, loved the stuff that his sitters’ dresses were made of and used expensive and exotic material to drape around his nudes. Some of my favourite photographic assignments were for textile manufacturers so I had the opportunity to borrow some beautiful cashmeres and silks to dress the sets of both this photo and Casalisca.
Ingres’ desire was to make his name as a History painter for which he is largely unknown, he became respected for his portraits, but he is loved for his orientalism – the odalisques and the hamaam. He combined the fascination for the oriental with a very French interest in fabrics. There is also something haunting in his nudes, this man who loved playing the violin turned his women into sensual cello shapes; there is something haunting in their looks, something in their shapes, something almost in their touch.
Ingres was and still is considered a reactionary painter, yet he influenced Degas, and more bizarrely still, Matisse, Picasso and the photographer Man Ray. Perhaps it is rather fitting then that I should have decided to set my second Odalisque in the fascist era. For this scene which is set in a specific year I needed some props. I went to Mussolini’s former home at Villa Carpena, near Forlì where his widow lived until the early eighties, a place with a very inhabited feel about it, and asked if I could borrow some bric-a-brac to set the scene. The curators of the villa, now a museum, kindly lent me the newspapers and magazines, both from May 1936, some original postcards and even Mussolini’s very own black fez. The papers refer to Italy’s new empire in Abyssinia.
Mussolini, squat, bald, rustic looking and sounding, was not an attractive man, but he was attractive to women. He had the qualities of a middle eastern potentate: absolute power and voracious appetite – especially for respectable women. I chose the model, 43 year old Cinzia, because she seemed to have those qualities that would have especially appealed. Clothed only in a delightful period hat with a veil, she languorously waits in her drawing room. Half haute-bourgeois, half odalisca; I have called her Fascisca.
To set yourself in the right mood listen to 1930s song, Ma le gambe piacciono di più by the Lescano trio
Behind the Scenes. I used a Sinar 5×4 view camera as well as the Mamiya. It was shot in a Villa just outside Bologna. This picture has been published in a number of magazines, below is a double page spread from The Sunday Times magazine.
Make-up: Simonetta Baletti of Art and Make-up
Plume Fatale 2009 – based on Chloe by Jules Lefebvre (1875)
The painting Chloe, which could be the most famous artwork in Australia, hangs not in a gallery or private collection but, unusually for a work of art, in a Melbourne pub, Young and Jackson’s. The Parisian model, Marie, committed suicide after a tragic love affair aged only 21. After a rapturous reception at the Paris Salon where Chloe won a gold medal for Lefebvre, the painting was imported into Australia in I879, but she had trouble finding a home – every time she was exhibited scandal erupted.
Sold in 1908 for less than she had cost in Paris to an antipodean pub could have been considered an ignominious end for Chloe, but in her new home behind the bar she proved to be a positive attraction. She has since been admired by thousands of servicemen, Anzacs, on their way to the front since the First World War on, and no doubt for many a young man Chloe was the first and possibly last view of a naked woman. In fact in an age when most young men had only the vaguest idea of what a naked woman looked like, Chloe must have been a revelation and one hopes appeared in their dreams as a beautiful night visitor to relieve the daily horrors.
In WW I all Australian servicemen were volunteers, but some were less willing than others and the white feather was handed by women across the Empire to men not in uniform, the plume fatale of this picture.
Jokes were made about over enthusiastic white feather waving ladies:
Young woman to farm-labourer milking a cow, ” I say young man, why aren’t you up at the front ?!”
Farm labourer, “Because there ain’t no milk up that end ma’am.”
But to receive a white feather was humiliating,….and persuasive. As the song goes: ‘We don’t want to lose you but we think you ought to go, good bye-ee”. How would young Jack have felt on reading the following in the Personal Column of The Times? ”Jack F.G. If you are not in khaki by the 20th I shall cut you dead. Ethel M.”
So thousands of Jacks, more coerced than persuaded, went off to war with this cheery ditty from 1915 ,’Goodbyeee’ ringing in their ears,
“Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee,
Tho’ it’s hard to part I know,
I’ll be tickled to death to go.”
It was not just women who encouraged their menfolk towards the front, but the great, the good and the famous lent their weight to the propaganda: Thomas Hardy, John Galsworthy, Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, the last two lost their only sons. Kipling wrote a heartbroken mea culpa in 1918,
“If any question why we died.
Tell them, because our fathers lied.”
18 year old Jack Kipling’s body was never found. Conan Doyle in his grief turned to spiritualism.
The framed photo on Chloe’s table is of Lt Percy H Cherry V.C. of Perth, an uncommonly brave man from Western Australia, who could well have caught a glimpse of Chloe on his way to Gallipoli in 1915. He was killed by a shell in France in 1917. Chloe stands newly bereaved in the gloaming, the dreaded pink telegram at her feet.
Wilfred Owen put it best in “Anthem for Doomed Youth”
“The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.”
He too was killed, in France, November 1918, the last week of the war.
I often used a soft focus filter in the capture in front of the camera lens which gives a sunny look to a portrait or still life, in fact I still do. This pushed the highlights into the shadows so that the white of a face seemed to glow and also lines and skin imperfections became less marked. A soft focus filter in the printing stage had the opposite effect: by placing the filter between the enlarger lens and the paper for about a quarter of the exposure time it created a sinister atmosphere. I found a method of creating this effect in Photoshop.
The sword (with the crest of George V) belonged to my grandfather Lt Colonel ‘Pat’ Somerville, MC who served for the entire length of both world wars. He went to war in 1914 and was prisoner of war in Krefeld and Strohen POW camps from 1915. To be a POW would have been relief to most people given the carnage at the front, but he escaped in 1917 and returned to the line. I have a page of his prison diary from April 1917 hanging on my wall next to me.
More Lentils, Less Lust 2009
Lautrec was an enthusiastic frequenter of brothels, as were most of his contemporaries, so nothing unusual there; but he painted the women and occasionally their clients. He seems to have had a faiblesse for redheads. No academic nudes these. Henri was not an attractive man: too much in-breeding in the aristocracy and a riding accident combined to give him a bizarre appearance; but he combined great charm with respect for women which endeared him to the Parisian demi-monde. He counted numerous dancers, artistes, models and prostitutes amongst his friends who were happy to pose for him – although pose is not really the right word as it implies immobility – Lautrec painted fast.
He used light materials, pastels, chalks, well diluted paint to catch the whirl of the world around him: the Moulin Rouge, the Galette, the bordello. Nothing is static, skirts whirl, hands fiddle violins, a woman pulls up her stocking, snatched moments immortalised forever. What idea would we have of this brilliant world without Lautrec?
Even a film like Baz Luhrman’s brilliant Moulin Rouge would have been impossible without those lightning sketches – more real than any photograph. Why does painting no longer record the demi-monde of today with its strip clubs, drinking dens, gay bars and whore houses?
The photograph is of course posed, and carefully so: I probably took a hundred times longer to take it than Lautrec to paint it. But I wanted to get close to the original, to harmonise with it, I wanted the viewer to recognise the pose – it is a very famous picture. I have added an element that is pure nostalgia, the so called Protein Man. When I studied in London there was a sandwich-man we saw, and heard, practically every day parading up and down Oxford St in his lifelong mission to reduce lust. Quiet, bespectacled, unmarried, and of no doubt blameless character, his voice I can still hear intoning “less passion from less protein – buy my booklet….more lentils, less lust……….”
Only the noise of his printing press clacketing through the night in his semi in the suburbs upset the neighbours a bit – for his public in Oxford Street, come rain or shine, he was a charming eccentric. But did he never have a day off in 40 years of campaigning? Did he never over do it with one of his eight passion proteins and fall into temptation? A tart with a heart, a siren from nearby Soho could perhaps have led him round the corner and a world away from his lonely beat up and down Oxford Street – a little bit of earthly paradise in Poland Street, un peu du faiblesse humaine?
Make-up: Simonetta Baletti of Art and Make-up
Turner painted Dido founding Carthage using a golden palette which has influenced me in this image, she was also painted by Guercino in a very theatrical setting, Rubens and others. However, I was more inspired by music: Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” and Dido’s mournful lament “When I am laid in earth”. Berlioz also composed a magnificent tragic opera “Les Troyens”, his very own labour of love that nearly bankrupted him through its ambitiousness, it was chopped about and mutilated; he never saw it performed in its entirety. Purcell who died young at 35, never saw his Dido performed profesionally in a theatre either. Apparently he caught a chill when his wife refused to open the door after a night on the tiles. A tragic loss to English music.
My model Lucia, from Rome, I met when she came into my gallery just for a look around while killing time before meeting her husband at the train station. She was intrigued by the exotic possibilities of the story, an African Queen, surrounded by her departed lover’s possessions, the silks and jewels, the purple and gold – she felt all this was in keeping with her Mediterranean personality and looks. She was touched too by the pathos of the story, and the loveliness of the music which she had never heard before. In common with most of the models, Lucia brought several objects with her to the set, the candles, the bronze bowl, incense burners.
The photograph was shot on a Mediterranean beach near Argentario on a cloudless evening. Lucia holds my late Father’s naval sword, the ship on the horizon is the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, my Father’s address on my birth certificate.
More I would, but death invades me.
Death is now a welcome guest.
When I am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
(Purcell / Tate)
Afterword. In 2011 a female psychologist from Austria saw this picture when she was thumbing through my book and without even looking at the text she said, “This is your father picture, a picture about remorse”. I was astonished. Apparently it’s the sun, the fact that it is a setting sun, and other small details which I unfortunately no longer remember.
Technical Notes. Canon 5D. A stitched panorama of two shots – the join is around her left hand. The aircraft carrier HMS Eagle on the horizon I found on the internet and added later.
Roussel is another example of those lesser, or at least less well known artists, who like Rops, is known for one painting – a one hit wonder. French, but living in England most of his adult life, he was a friend of Whistler and moved in interesting Anglo-French circles. His Reading Girl was lambasted by The Times which probably did him no harm. The painting was not after all a mythical subject in the manner of Lord Leighton who would probably have painted her reclining on a marble bench reading a scroll in Pompeii, destined to hang in a respectable drawing room.
The lovely shawl made her appear modern to the public of the time – it is Japanese and ‘Japonisme’ was all the rage – it is curious that the addition of clothing to a nude tends to make the subject more risqué – Wilson Steer never dared to exhibit Seated Nude in a Black Hat (1900) precisely because she was wearing a hat! I hope to do my version of Steer’s picture shortly.
The woman in Correspondent is not reading but typing, not passive but active, not at home reading Picture Post (although there is a copy on the floor), but out in the field – a war correspondent. I based the idea on journalist Lee Miller who was famously photographed in Hitler’s bath by David Scherman – a tie in with my Homage to Corday. Miller had photographed the London blitz in 1940 and tried to get accreditation to serve with the British Army as war photographer – it was refused. The American army were not so squeamish.
The model, young Australian Journalist Katia Sanfilippo, subsequently wrote about the experience of posing naked for art’s sake: the article has been published in several women’s magazines. The scene itself looks like a scene from The English Patient, the Japanese shawl replaced by the Burberry, and the tin hat is slung over the chair rather than on her head – after all I did not want to be too provocative.
You can read journalist/model Katia’s entertaining account of the shoot from the model’s point of view here
Tecnical notes. Camera: Mamiya RB67, using Kodak 160NC. The set was in a living room in Bologna. I shot it immediately after Klimtomania just changing the background from orange to black; the model is Katia who is also in Klimtomania. The background is a Roman ruin at sunset shot in digital and blended in using Photoshop. I found a 1940 copy of Picture Post in Charing Cross Rd and laid it under the seat in Photoshop.
Make-up: Simonetta Baletti of Art and Make-up
I have lived in Italy for over 25 years and have been working on the Belle (which means beautiful women in Italian) for 20 of those years. In this video Belle I recount how approach my models, about my mentors and more.
As this is an ongoing project I am always interested in hearing from any woman who is interested in participating in the project.
I have been working on a new photo for the “Belle” series. The models were Monica and Samuel from Lugano, Switzerland who had seen a documentary about “Belle” on Swiss TV. They wished to do a picture together so I suggested the gruesome story of Diana and Actaeon.
Why was Diana so beastly to Acteon? Perhaps it ran in the family, her brother Apollo had Marsyas the satyr flayed alive after losing at a musical duel. The unecessary cruelty appears to be part of the psycholgical shock tactics of mytholgy. When Titian painted his Marsayas a fellow Venetian had just been flayed alive by the Turks and he probably chose the subject himself.
Mythological scenes were all the rage during the Renaissance, patrons were no longer entirely clerical. The Renaissance mind found the Bible psychologically and artistically limiting with its one God, an almost all-male cast, even Mary is written out of the New Testament after a few scenes. Whereas mythology had a wonderful cast to choose from – and a lot of women. Diana is a curious mix of munificence and malignity.
It set me thinking of John Wayne Bobbitt, his behaviour was less excusable than Acteon’s but then he only lost one limb - and that to be sewn on again.