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.
The great Italian director Federico Fellini noticed Nico when she walked through the set of his most famous film La Dolce Vita and he immediately gave her a small cameo role starring as herself. This seemed to always happen to Nico, she had got her break in modelling by simply standing outside an upscale Berlin department store. With her striking, stunning beauty she was always going to attract attention.
Nico’s life is the stuff of legend and like all legends the exact details are somewhat hazy. She was either born in 1938 or 1943 in either Cologne or Budapest (though it was probably 1938 in Cologne). She started modelling at 16 in Berlin which led to a peripatetic existence that was to continue throughout her life. She spent a large part of the Sixties in New York where she met Andy Warhol and consequently become one of his Superstars, starring in his experimental extravaganzas, most notably Chelsea Girls. Warhol then decided that The Factory house band The Velvet Underground needed a chaunteuse and who better than Nico, the Teutonic Ice Queen with her distinctive husky, heavily accented monotone? The main movers in The Velvet Underground, the singer Lou Reed and the Welsh sound wizard John Cale initially met the suggestion with consternation. Nico was a notoriously capacious and difficult character who was also tone deaf. However she featured on lead vocals on three songs (Femme Fatale, I’ll Be Your Mirror and All Tomorrows Parties) on their ground-breaking and hugely influential debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico.
She left the group to pursue a solo career, however she only started to write her own material at the suggestion of Jim Morrison of The Doors with who she had a particularly intense relationship. After his death she dyed her hair black and started to sport heavy, dark clothes and recorded with the help of John Cale the desolate, wintry The Marble Index in 1969, the first of three albums unmatched in their crushing bleakness. Unsurprisingly there all sold poorly, as Cale remarked ‘you can’t sell suicide,’ and Nico spent the next two decades as the junkie Dietrich. Her addiction was such that hardened drug fiends crossed the road to avoid her.
Nico’s death was spectacularly bathetic. She had finally getting her act together: successfully kicking her heroin habit and re-established relations with her adult son Ari from her relationship with the actor Alain Delon. She was on holiday with Ari in the Balearic island of Ibiza when she announced that she was off to buy some marijuana and on the way fell off her bicycle suffering a cerebral haemorrhage. A taxi driver found her on the hillside and took her to four hospitals before she was admitted. She was misdiagnosed as suffering from sunstroke before dying the next day.
Nico, known as the Moon Goddess and Queen of the Bad Girls was cremated and buried in her mother’s grave in Berlin.
In the September 1937 issue the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar made history by featuring the model, Surrealist muse and Man Ray’s lover Adrienne (also known as Ady) Fidelin within its page. Ady Fidelin was the first black model to appear between the covers of a major fashion publication.
in 1936 Ady, a young dancer in her mid twenties from Guadalupe met the 46-year-old Surrealist photographer par excellence Man Ray and they quickly become lovers. He introduced her to his circle and Ady features in artistic studies by both Man Ray and Lee Miller and intimate holiday snaps with Paul Eluard and the glorious Nusch Eluard (pictured above and the subject of Dreams of Desire 14 (Nusch by Dora Maar) and Dreams of Desire 15 (Nusch by Man Ray),) Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar and Leonora Carrington. With the outbreak of WWII Man Ray returned to the States while Ady remained in Paris to care for her family. Unfortunately the ground-breaking and beautiful Ady disappears from view after this point.
Assia features in several of Germaine Krull’s work of the 1930’s. She was also the muse of several other photographer’s including Dora Maar, Emmanuel Sougez and Roger Schall. She also posed for Andre Derain and several sculptors including Charles Despiau whom she would sit for twice a week from 1934 to 1938.
Assia Granatouroff was born in the Ukraine in 1911 of Jewish heritage. Her family fled revolutionary Russia and settled in France in 1922. After studying textile design she began working as a model in 1930. This proved so successful that it financed a theatrical and film career. With the invasion of France she fled to Marseilles but was arrested by the Gestapo. However she managed to escape and joined the Resistance. After the war she took to producing esoteric artworks inspired by the Tarot.
The photographs of Assia have an almost sculptural quality, emphasising Assia’s full, powerful figure and the statuesque nature of her Amazonian beauty.
Fashion model, muse, Surrealist photographer, war correspondent, writer and later Lady Penrose, chatelaine of Farley Farm House in East Sussex where the darkroom had turned into a kitchen where she perfected dishes for visiting artists including Picasso, her former lover Man Ray, Eileen Agar, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning; Lee Miller was one of the most exceptional people to have engaged with the Surrealist movement.
After reporting and photographing the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau, Miller photographed dying children in a Viennese hospital and covered the execution of the Hungarian Prime Minister. The war took its toll on Miller, however, after returning to England she would frequently experience severe bouts of depression, haunted by the atrocities she had witnessed in the concentration camps.
Below is a photograph taken just hours after leaving Dachau; in Hitler’s apartment Miller is naked in his bathtub. Her boots are covered with the muck and grime of Dachau and have soiled the bathmat. A few hours later Hitler and Eva Braun would commit suicide in the bunker.