Yet Another Effort

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Imaginary Depiction of Marquis De Sade-H.Biberstein 1912
J.G Ballard once noted that the Marquis De Sade remains the spectre at the feast of European letters and thought. On the rare occasions when anyone decides to let him in from the cold, he leaves bloody footprints on the welcome mat.

A fiercely contrarian spirit, the  Marquis has been variously called, by admirers and detractors alike: revolutionary, radical, reactionary, an anarchist, a socialist. Depending on who you read he is either a much maligned libertarian or he paved the theoretical way for the homicidal tyrants of the 20th century.  No one can quite decide where the Marquis lies  on the political spectrum. The debate is probably fiercest regarding his views on gender and pornography, understandably so as the body in De Sade is always the locus of power and freedom, but even here views diverge. Virulent misogynist whose fiction continually degrade and devalue women, or a radical feminist who, in one of his darkest fictions, Juliette, shows the possibility  of complete female emancipation?

Illumination cannot be found in his life either. Strangely enough for a man who is know for transgression and excess, his behaviour as a free citizen in Republican Paris shows an unexpected moderation. De Sade didn’t avail himself of the unique opportunities present during the Terror, instead he kept a cool head while others were losing theirs.

After his release from prison in 1790 (see Citizen Sade), he lived in Paris with his mistress Marie Constant Quesnet and her six year old son. His long suffering wife Renee-Pelagie, after standing by him during the long years of imprisonment had obtained a divorce by this time. De Sade was elected to the National Convention and was appointed to the local Section Des Piques, one of the forty eight administrative divisions in the new Republic. It was in this position that he could have condemned his loathed in-laws, especially his mother-in-law, La Presidente who was responsible for the lettres de cachet that had caused him to be under lock and key for over a decade, to death. But he refrained; the Marquis De Sade had always been a principled opponent of the death penalty. This restrain and his criticism of Robespierre led to the Marquis being detained again in 1793, where he narrowly escaped execution due to a clerical error.

De Sade wrote a number of stirring pamphlets in defence of the Revolution, notably the famous Yet another effort, Frenchman, if you would become Republicans, nestled in his libertine classic La philosophie dans le boudoir (Philosophy in the Bedroom). In this text De Sade gives an outline of his version of Utopia, a minimal state that interferes as little as possible with the rights of the individual. I shall  by reviewing this work in greater depth and further detail in the next post on the Marquis.

Jupiter and Semele

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Jupiter et Semele-Gustave Moreau 1894-1895
A detail of Moreau’s stupendous and highly personal interpretation of the classical myth of Jupiter and Semele was used as the cover of Roberto Bolano’s masterpiece 2666, surely the greatest novel of the 21st century to date.

Showing the moment when Jupiter reveals himself in all his cosmic splendour to the mortal woman Semele, thus causing her death as she is penetrated by the divine effluence, Jupiter et Semele is, as critics have noted, ‘The most sumptuous expression imaginable of an orgasm.’ The crowded canvas with its startling contrasts of lush colour and deep shadow is populated by many mythological figures all seemingly unaware of what is happening in other parts of the painting. Although there is a frenzy of action Moreau has managed to create a frieze-like atmosphere; the awful stillness that happens before and after a cataclysmic event.

Moreau’s paintings are dense and hermetic dreamscapes. As Bolano notes only Moreau could convey, ‘A sense of terror, bedecked with jewels.’

Madonna

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Madonna-Edvard Munch 1894
A late and possibly the greatest of the Symbolists, the Norwegian Edvard Munch was a major precursor of Expressionism. Visiting the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo which houses a collection of his paintings is an unsettling experience. Munch’s work possesses an neurotic intensity unparalleled in Western art and seeing them side by side you become aware of his unhealthy fascination and dread of women.

This is best seen in his 1894 painting Madonna which is a very unusual devotional painting to say the least. The pose of the Madonna is sexually provocative, her halo is a dangerous shade of red and in addition to the virgin/whore dichotomy there is the suggestion that the Mother is also a vampire. All in all a stunning glorification of decadent love.

Dreams of Desire 58 (Egon Schiele)

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Egon Schiele-Woman in Black Stockings 1913
In 1907 the seventeen year old Egon Schiele met the artist who he idolised and would continue to venerate to his death, Gustav Klimt (see Dreams of Desire 57 (Gustav Klimt)Dreams of Desire 53 (Judith) and The Succubus). Klimt was known to be supportive of inspiring artists, however he recognised the talent inherent in Schiele and he took a particular interest in his protege’s career, generously buying and exchanging his own works with Schiele’s drawings, organising meetings with potential patrons and arranging models to sit for Schiele.

Although Klimt’s influence is evident in Schiele’s early work, he soon found his own distinctive style. The heavily decorative elements of Symbolism, Art Nouveau and Jugendstil are gone and in its place is raw, naked Expressionism. Schiele’s females nudes, often featured in provocative poses are emaciated and sickly looking with a distorted line that renders the figures close to grotesque. It is true that after his marriage in 1915 to Edith Hams that the models are more fully fleshed, however the doll-like appearance of these later studies makes them even more disconcerting.

In 1918 after a brief, tumultuous life which had included being imprisoned for exhibiting erotic drawings and considerable controversy for his use of teenage models (who tended to be juvenile delinquents) Schiele died in the Spanish Influenza outbreak that was gripping Vienna at that time, just three days after his pregnant wife Edith had died and only 8 months after the death of his mentor Gustav Klimt.

 

Dreams of Desire 57 (Gustav Klimt)

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Gustav Klimt-Danae 1907
In the 2013 movie La Vie d’Adele-Chapitres 1 & 2 (Blue is the Warmest Colour), a masterful  study of love, sexuality but above all else class, there is a particularly telling scene during the party at the beginning of Chapter 2.  Invited to sit down in the home she shares with Emma, Adele is asked what she does by Emma’s friends. Her response that she is a teacher barely elicits acknowledgement and soon the conversation has turned to the Austrian artist Egon Schiele who the friend is studying for her thesis. Emma counters that though she likes Schiele she finds him too tortured, too dark and too obscure and she prefers Klimt. Klimt is dismissed by the art historian as ‘florid and decorative’. Adele looks lost and returns to her hostess duties.

Although it could be argued that the above exchange sets Klimt and Schiele in a needless competition when in real life they shared a mentor-pupil relationship (Klimt was 30 years older than Schiele), a close, long lasting friendship, muses (most infamously Wally Neuzil, who went from Klimt to Schiele and then back to Klimt again), and themes, most notably the female nude in overtly erotic situations, their art is markedly contrasting. Schiele gaze is uncompromisingly morbid, rawer and decidedly more edgy. Whereas Klimt, at least in the major paintings, is resplendent with gorgeous semi-abstract decorative motifs borrowed for Byzantine, Greek, Celtic and Egyptian art, leading it to be easily assimilated with bourgeois ideals of beauty. Regardless of this, Klimt’s work is undeniably sexy.

Klimt’s studio was populated day and night by cats and naked models. He never married and was rumoured to have fathered seventeen children on various lovers. His promiscuity resulted in syphilis which undoubtedly coloured his lush, decadent vision. He died in 1918 from complications arising from contracting influenza in the worldwide epidemic of that year that killed up to 50 to 100 million people.

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My Evil Is Stronger

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That look on your face:
Take it off, wipe it away.
I know you,
You and your kind
Always taking advantage
Of every situation
With a dubious charm,
An uncertain smile
A cheeky grin
But when nobody’s watching
The smile instantly fades
From your too full
Sensual lips licking,
Cat-like in anticipation
Of a kill tonight,
Fresh meat indeed;
Your eyes glazing over
Thousand yard lasered
Hypnotic death stare
Causing electro-magnetic
Disturbances in the immediate
Field of vision and effect;
In the unnerving darkness
Echoes your stoned
Satanic laughter
Yes your evil is strong
You know a thing or two
Read between the lines
Of Faust,
Hold Prometheus
As the burning example,
A dollar store De Sade
With a stable of
Justines and Juliettes
But my evil is stronger
You could never begin
To comprehend the ways
Of me and my kind:
Contractors for the Apocalypse,
Annihilating Angels.
Our ways are
Elemental and pan-universal.
Your evil is strong
No love lost
Within your small black heart
But I am darkness incarnate
The isolate of terror,
My evil is stronger
As you will find out
Right quick,
Unless you take
That damnable look
Off your face.

Visions from the Other Side

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Alfred Kubin-Le Saut de la Mort (The Jump of Death) 1902
One of the most important of the Austrian Symbolists, Alfred Kubin was the master of macabre art and the morbid image, who in his insistence upon portraying all the horrors lurking just beneath the surface in the unconscious mind can be said to have anticipated the Surrealists.

His life reads like a cross between a Freudian case study and a decadent fiction. He didn’t meet his father until he was two and afterwards he only felt, ‘hate, hate, hate’ towards him. His beloved mother died when he was ten and the following year he lost his virginity to a pregnant friend. This unhappy childhood led to his abortive suicide attempt on his mother’s grave when he was nineteen. He joined the army but that resulted in a nervous breakdown.

After discovering the works of Odilon Redon (Visionary Noir), Edvard Munch (Madonna and Self-Portraits), James Ensor (The Entry),  and Felicien Rops (Les Diaboliques) Kubin decided to devote his life to art. Other major influences were the works of Max Klinger and Goya (The Sleep of Reason), especially in their use of aquatint.

Kubin worked primarily as a book illustrator, mainly of Gothic and fantastic fiction, notably Edgar Allen Poe, E.T.A Hoffman and Gustav Meyrick. In 1906 he married the half-Jewish heiress Hedwig Grundler and they moved to an isolated 12th century castle in Upper Austria, where he was to remain to his death. The marriage was a success, much to everyone’s surprise as Hedwig had a heavy morphine dependency that required frequent hospitalizations.

Kubin was a friend of both Paul Klee and Vasily Kandinsky and did show with their Blauer Riter group, however his avant-garde involvement ended by the time of the WWI.

Kubin was also a talented writer and his brilliant proto-surrealist novel The Other Side  of 1909 (which I intend to write about in detail at some point) was much admired by his friend Franz Kafka and also by that troubling genius of German letters, Ernst Junger.

Visionary Noir

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Haunted-Odilon Redon 1896
From 1870 to the turn of the century the French Symbolist artist Odilon Redon worked almost exclusively in the medium of charcoal drawing and lithographs. Redon called this extraordinary body of work his noirs. Throughout his career Redon’s expressed intent was to place ‘the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible’,  an aesthetic doctrine that strongly resonated with the Surrealists. Straddling that perilous hinterland between dream, hallucination and otherworldly visions, the noirs present a haunting, nocturnal world that is forever sliding into nightmare.

It was the publication of the bible of Decadence A Rebours by JK Huysmans  in 1884 that Redon found fame. The archetypal world-weary Decadent Des Esseintes collects and describes in great detail Redon’s lithographs. After 1900 Redon turned to pastels and oils in paintings that reflected his interest in Buddhism and Japanese art and that became increasingly abstract in his latter years.

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Dreams of Desire 55 (Helmut Newton)

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Catherine Deneuve-Helmut Newton 1976
Known as the ‘King of Kink’ and the ’35mm Marquis De Sade’ , Helmut Newton was the most influential fashion photographer of the twentieth century. Famous for his highly stylised black and white photographs of beautiful statuesque women in perverse narrative scenarios, Newton has alternatively been hailed as a true original or vilified as a fetishist who presents the ultimate in the objectification of women.

Born Helmut Neustadter  to a wealthy German-Jewish family in Berlin, Newton was an apprentice to the fashion and advertising photographer Yva (see my previous post Yva) from the ages  of 16 and 18. Fleeing the worsening situation in 1938 Newton went first to Singapore where he led a playboy lifestyle, before moving to Australia where he served in the Australian Army for 5 years. It was in Australia that he met his wife of 55 years, June, who was also a photographer known as ‘Alice Springs’.

Newton rose to fame in the 1960’s where his photographs frequently appeared in the French Edition of Vogue. The startling fetishtic glamour shots of the seventies are charged with eroticism and a ritualistic, sado-masochist atmosphere. During the 1980’s and 90’s Newton was one of the most in-demand celebrity photographers, anyone who was anyone during that time had a portrait taken by Newton. As Newton was obsessed by glamour, celebrity and decadence (after all he grew up in the Weimar Republic) it was a perfect fit and his photographs define that image conscious era.

Newton died in a car crash after leaving Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angeles, which served as his winter residence for many years, at the age of 83. It was, as Karl Lagerfeld noted, ‘his last picture, taken by himself.’

Yva

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Yva
Else Ernestine Neulander-Simon, known simply by her professional pseudonym, Yva, was a pioneering female photographer of  the Weimar Republic. She set up her first studio  in 1925 and briefly collaborated with the experimental photographer Heinz Hajek-Halke (see Dreams of Desire 54 (Written on the Body) before a copyright dispute led them to part ways. Initially focused on nude, portrait and fashion photography, Yva was one of the first photographers to fully realise the commercial application of the field to advertising. Her Berlin atelier was one of the most successful of its days and employed 10 assistants by the time Hitler came to power.

Yva and her husband Alfred Simon, who managed the financial affair of the studio, were both Jewish and considered for some time whether to emigrate from Germany, especially when she was forced to ‘Aryanize’ the business in 1936 (a law had come into effect that forbade Jews from owning businesses, necessitating the transfer of the company to her friend, the art historian Charlotte Weider). There was the possibility of a fresh start as Life magazine  had informed her that a job was waiting for her when she came to America. However Alfred was unwilling to start over again in a country where they didn’t even speak the language and thought maybe the situation in Germany would improve. Things certainly didn’t and the business was closed for good by 1938. Yva went to work as a radiographer in the Jewish Hospital in Berlin until 1942 when she was arrested, along with her husband, by the Gestapo and deported to Majdanek concentration camp where they were murdered shortly after.

As an interesting aside one of Yva’s apprentice’s from 1936 to 1938 was a young Jewish boy named Helmut Neustädter, who after escaping Germany would later change his name to Helmut Newton, creator of some of the most iconic fashion photography and celebrity portraits of the twentieth century.