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